Entries by Simon Thompson

Brazil: Smashing Bricks

By Stephen Thompson
August 23, 2011

The BRIC concept has always seemed contrived to me, and now that I visited all five BRIC countries, I can base my refutation on personal evidence. True, I only spent one day in India, but how much do these economists know about Brazil, Russia, India and China? The BRIC acronym calls to mind construction and growth and has taken on a life of its own; the BRIC countries, or the BRICS with South Africa tacked on, are now holding regular conferences and attempting to form joint policy as if they had something more in common than the happy coincidence of belonging to the same acronym.

The original motive for formulation of the BRIC concept by Jim O’Neill in a 2001 paper entitled Building Better Global Economic BRICs” was that they shared common characteristics: large populations, large land masses, and thus potential for rapid growth. Goldman Sachs weighed in, arguing that by 2050 the combined BRIC economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. (Currently they account for more than a quarter of the world’s land area and more than 40% of the world’s population)

But how much do China, India, Russia and Brazil really have in common? True, they both have large land areas, but there the similarities end. The main link between them is found in the huge commodity boom, and in this they are trading partners, with Brazil and Russia supplying the enormous appetites of China and to a lesser extent, India. As a result Brazil in particular suffers from wild fluctuations in its exchange rate, the curse of many resource rich nations. The commodity price boom has pushed the exchange rate up again, damaging national industries and generating a consumer boom of imported goods. Basking in unmerited popularity, the government has seen fit to put urgently-needed reform on hold until the next crisis. Brazil also differs from China in other ways: it is sparsely populated, rich in raw materials, has few natural hazards, good relations with its neighbours, and a political culture which leans towards excess liberty since the end of the dictatorship.

China on the other hand is overpopulated and has a shortage of land and of almost everything else, except people. It is frequently devastated by droughts, floods, typhoons and earthquakes and has fought wars with all its neighbours in recent decades. Its government is dictatorial and corrupt but also cunning, pragmatic and ambitious. After three decades of communist totalitarianism, it did the world’s most successful policy U-turn and now presides over a growing capitalist economy. One of China’s best policy decisions was to link the Yuan to the dollar at a low exchange rate.

As for Russia, how can it be classified as a developing country in the same category as India? Russia was the economic powerhouse which outdid Nazi Germany in the second year, building so many planes and aeroplanes that Churchill said the Russians “tore the guts out of the German Army”. In the 1950s the Soviet Union put the first man in space. Russia is more a de-industrialised nation than a developing one. It lost its industries during the hyper-deflation of the 1990s, when Boris Yelstin and other ex-communists asset-stripped the country. It is sparsely populated and its population is actually falling. Not long after Putin’s coup, Russia began to suffer from a commodity boom, cushioning the corrupt and despotic elite from real challenges to power, and allowing it to bask in popular approval. Putin and his mafia gang seem to have little ambition other than to continue to enjoy their privileges and it is hard to see Russia become anything other than another oil-igarchy.

Like China, India is poor in anything except people, and like China it suffers from traditional cultures which hinder development, only more so. But it has the massive advantage of being a democracy with freedom of information and free speech which will help it overtake China in the long run. It has not made the mistake of trying to artificially lower its population with over-zealous family planning and now has more young workers and consumers than China. Indians are known for their entrepreneurialism around the world.

If we were to smash the BRIC in two, we would have to put India and China in one half and Russia and Brazil on the other. The greatest resource of India and China are their people, and it is this which has sucked in foreign capital to make China the factory of the world. The Chinese government has played its hand well in this respect, extracting favourable conditions such as technology transfers from western companies desperate to get a piece of the billion-strong market. China has invested heavily in infrastructure, building whole metro systems in several cities in just a decade.

Brazil and Russia are on the opposite end of the scale. They have lots of land and small populations and suffer from the resource curse. Elites postpone political reform while the dollars flow in from commodities like oil, gas and minerals.

Alternatively, we could group India and Brazil together, as they are both failed democracies which prove that democracy on its own is not successful when it contends with a culture of corruption. Both have large under castes of former slaves who have not been incorporated into mainstream society. Russia and China both suffer from political traditions of despotism.

Either way, we seem stuck with the BRIC rubric for now. Other nations have been invited, and Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey all seem to qualify, but the economists can’t think up good new acronyms to include them.

NB. Goldman’s Sachs BRIC notion initially included Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, but the R.U.B.I.S.C acronym did not fly so well.

You can contact Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Brazil: 10 Years After
Reinforcing Stereotypes of Brazilians
The Lula Football Curse and the Lula Olympic Nightmare
Are China and Brazil Ganging up on Google?
China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?
Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Brazil: 10 Years After

By Stephen Thompson
August 2, 2011

It was 10 years ago that I moved to live in Brazil. I had several reasons for wanting to give it a try apart from curiosity; I was trying to recover from an annoying injury and my doctor said that warmer weather might help. I also thought that I might get on better with my wife, who is Brazilian, living in her own country.

I had already spent several fabulous summer holidays in Brazil, but I soon found out that settling down was different. I arrived in March with bad timing, just in time for the São Paulo winter and to a series of viral infections. The first shock was difficulties involved in renting an apartment; it must be impossible if you don’t have Brazilian friends willing to pledge their own house as a guarantee. I hadn’t expected apartments to be unfurnished, too.

I had imagined that I would carry on working in web development, but the dot-com boom was bursting. On cold winter mornings I taught English classes at a Japanese company located off Avenida Paulista. The students were lovely people; easy-going, friendly and talkative, they were easy to teach and from them, I learned a bit about Brazil. One student, a keen motorcyclist, told me the import duties on bikes was very high. Another explained to me that in Brazil you have to do something very bad indeed in order to go to jail. Another conversation was about how the company was cutting 20% from its energy bill as demanded by the government, because of the power shortage that year, and we talked about that too.

After a few more weeks of colds and power cuts we had a weekend break in Rio de Janeiro. With this warmer weather, beautiful scenery and charming colonial architecture I couldn’t help asking my partner again, why aren’t we living here?”. But Paulistas are fiercely proud of their city and I guess it’s like asking a Scot why he isn’t English.

The following year was a sad one for me. We discovered my partner was expecting, but the doctor failed to do anything about my wife’s gestational diabetes and the baby died two weeks before term. It was a classic case of medical negligence and I would have sued if this had happened back home. But the medical establishment closed ranks behind this doctor, and I had already heard enough about the Brazilian legal system to doubt that I would ever get justice.

The grief affected my health and I lost my voice and my hands ached after just a little typing. Out of work and low on funds, we went back to London and sold our apartment. It was good timing as the Real was low and interest rates were high. For a while, we were Real millionaires! Suddenly life in Brazil seemed a lot more attractive. I hired a personal trainer to help me get fit, and the chronic pains went away. We enjoyed ourselves looking at a lot of beautiful real estate and almost bought several times. Rural properties with land especially attracted me and I nearly bought one, but I was put off by stories of violent attacks – at least in the city you are never far from a police station. Once I settled on a property just outside Paraty, only to find out that the owner had no paperwork – the land belonged to an absentee landlord, and the squatter had a right through long term occupation. He told me he would carry on living there after he sold to me, so that this right would continue – and so no one else would squat there.

Looking for a change of career, I bought a camera and found a professional photographer called Alex Robinson to give me some lessons, he was a fellow Brit with a Brazilian wife like me. I worked as his assistant a few times in Rio and other places. Once on a shoot we went on a wild excursion to Isla Grande to take photos of a highly profitable yoga retreat for stressed New Yorkers. Later in the year I travelled up north by car with one of my English students and his friends, a place so tranquil and beautiful I didn’t want to leave. But my wife was eight months pregnant, so a few days later, I rode back to São Paulo by motorbike, nearly killing myself on the way, to see my baby daughter born at Albert Einstein hospital. The service was excellent; they even had an excellent buffet “Rascal” restaurant on the ground floor.

Meanwhile, I was trying to open a bank account to invest the money from our flat, a process which took several months. Finally, the formalities were completed, and I told the bank manager I wanted to put the money into the Bovespa stock market fund, but he persuaded me against this, saying it was far too high, said the bank manager. We were going through money fast and I wanted a good investment to bring in some more income so I bought a restaurant which promised a good return, and fell for a con-trick; the owner had lowered the cost of the meals to push up volume, but he did not have any profit. It could have been more fun if we had refurbished and opened as a kind of gringo comfort food stop, but our money had run out so we had to sell the restaurant – back to the original owner, for a fraction of the price we had paid!

Meanwhile, I had been getting some work interpreting for Chinese-Brazilian trade groups and several Chinese people told me that I would have more chances of work in China than in Brazil so in 2006 I moved to Shanghai to see if there was more work there. Very soon, I had two Brazilian friends visiting, and I was part of a Shanghai Brazilian community with parties, Samba shows, churrasco, etc. I met a group of Brazilian entrepreneurs who wanted to open a sports company and I was very keen to keep up the fitness I had gained in Brazil, which I was losing already. But they took years to get organised and in the meantime I was hired by a wine company and then a real estate company as a salesman. I got some work guiding Brazilian reporters around China and worked as an editor on an Olympic special. Eventually, the sports company got off the ground but the partners began fighting soon after and closed the company after just a few months. My family moved to China and we rented a house in Hong Kong which offered a better quality of life, and one that reminded me of Brazil, faintly at least, because we have a beach nearby. We still speak Portuguese sometimes and recently we have started listening to CBN Brazilian radio.

The grass is always greener and after five years, I miss Brazil. But from what I hear it is too expensive to move back there now. We were lucky to live there at the time when we did.

You can contract Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Reinforcing Stereotypes of Brazilians
The Lula Football Curse and the Lula Olympic Nightmare
Are China and Brazil Ganging up on Google?
China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?
Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Reinforcing Stereotypes of Brazilians

By Stephen Thompson
May 30, 2010

An The Lula Football Curse and the Lula Olympic Nightmare
Are China and Brazil Ganging up on Google?
China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?
Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Are China and Brazil Ganging up on Google?

By Stephen Thompson
May 10, 2010

This January, Google decided that it had had enough of censorship in China after endless and increasing requests to censor its search results, followed by organized hacking of its servers and theft of intellectual property.

But apparently the top country censoring Google’s search results is not China, but Brazil! This according to an article in the China Daily, the English-language propaganda mouth piece of China’s Communist Party. The claim is based on Google’s own censorship request report. In a barely-disguised attack on the company, which embarrassed the Party by publicising censorship in China, the article mentions other problems that Google is having, to suggest that China is not alone in censoring Google. China’s own censorship requests are not revealed in the Google report, because they are a state secret, according to the paper. (But the international federation of journalists has a list of censorship requests for China which is interesting reading.)

At least Brazilian Government censorship demands on Google are not a state secret. And nobody is saying that censorship in Brazil is anything like it is in China, where the Communist Party re-writes history, blocks half the world’s most popular sites, and has an army of police and censors who delete comments and blogs. But still, it’s a worrying day when Brazil finds itself being quoted in this way by an authoritarian dictatorship. What’s going on? Are the Brazilian authorities learning how to censor the internet from China?

It’s too soon to say for sure, but here is a worrying sign: according to an Indian news report: On Mar 23, 2010, a Brazilian court in the northern state of Rondonia slapped Google with a giant with a fine of 2,700 dollars for each day that certain web pages remained up on the Orkut social networking site. The court also ordered Google to stop sleazy material from being posted on its social networking site, brushing aside the internet behemoth’s argument that it did not have the technical means or workforce required to police or censor pages on Orkut. The court also noted that Google already implemented such curbs on its pages in China. The lawsuit reportedly came up when two teenagers complained that the jokes on Orkut pages offended them.

It seems that some of Brazil’s judges are emboldened by the example of China new political fiance of Lula’s Workers Party. Certainly they must be envious of the power of China’s Communist Party, which owns and controls China’s main TV channels and newspapers, and tells them what to report and how to report it. This week, all China’s websites and newspapers were told to appear in black for two days, in mourning for earthquake victims, and they all did. The earthquake victims were Tibetans, and the exercise was useful to show how much China cares about Tibet. The Brazilian government simply does not control the media in this way. According to surveys, since the end of the Military dictatorship, Brazil’s media is mostly free of censorship, at least by the government.

But outside Brazil, the influence of the Brazilian Government is less benign. Outside of nondemocratic countries like China, Brazil has become the biggest obstacle nation to advancing universal human rights and freedoms,” Jos Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying in this article in the Wall Street Journal, which went on: “Brazil has abstained or watered down United Nations human-rights resolutions targeting the likes of Sri Lanka, North Korea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. What’s more, in February, President Lula visited Havana a day after a political prisoner died from an 86-day hunger strike where he was photographed joshing around with Fidel Castro; he defended Cuba’s right to lock up political opponents. He has compared dissident hunger strikers to common criminals.”

Which as I argued in my last post is rather strange for a union leader who came to power after leading a strike wave against a military dictatorship.

You can contract Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?
Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

The Lula Football Curse and the Lula Olympic Nightmare

By Stephen Thompson
May 10, 2010

It’s World Cup time again and we’re getting ready for some fun. The Brazilian team has been playing well and should play entertaining football, and I’m hoping to find a mega-screen on the beach to watch it at. South Africa’s will be the last cup before the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The two countries have interesting similarities; they are joint-world champions for violent crime and social injustice. Both are classified as flawed democracies by the Economist Democracy Index. In both, white minorities control most of the wealth – despite the end of apartheid and eight years of Workers Party government. The poor find distraction from social exclusion through sport and carnival, while governments distract attention from their failure to pursue political reform with expensive events, when their education and health services desperately need more investment.

How will South African authorities protect fans from violent crime? The Brazilian authorities will be interested, presumably. Nervous Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has promised no mercy” for criminals during the games. They will pull out all stops – emergency services are to be diverted to venues, despite leaving the population uncovered.

Brazil has four years to come to a solution to similar problems. The government wants to create a good impression, to promote investment and tourism. Helicopters being shot down in Rio when the world’s media is here will not help this. Will they deal with crime by addressing the roots of the problem, such as lack of opportunity for poor people? Or attempt to cover it up with a massive heavy police presence, backed up by the Army? Lula came to power promising “zero hunger”, a slogan adapted from “tough on crime” New York major Guiliani with his “zero tolerance” on minor crime. Tramps were thrown in jail for street drinking and litterers got heavy fines. Now Brazil has invited Guiliani to Rio to help Lula clean up Rio. Do they really think they can start by stamping out jaywalking in Brazilian favelas? It’s hard to argue with making sure everybody had enough food to eat, but this is a completely different approach.

Unfortunately this kind of scenario is all too familiar and to be expected. In the run-up to the last Olympics in Beijing, the authorities suppressed dissent, restricted access to the country, and swept up undesirables including sex workers and street traders, while all the time promising greater openness. They justified this in the name of patriotism. The government spent 44 billion on the Games, even though 35 million of their citizens have live on less than US$120 per year. The money spent was equivalent to 10 years income for each one of these poorest people.

Now Brazil has signed up to both the football World Cup and the Olympics. As one former Brazilian professional soccer player said recently, “they steal from the public funds during normal times, imagine what they’ll do with all contracts for infrastructure. If it costs a million to build something, they’ll put in a bill for 3 million”.

Brazil has only recently paid off national debts which crippled investment on education for two decades. In the 1970s, governments built up massive debts with expensive projects such as the trans-Amazonian Highway. Now their pockets are flush from the commodities boom, they are at it again, with not one but two ruinously expensive, corruption fuelling mega-events.

Lula claims to represent the poor at home and developing countries abroad, but he acts more like a Roman emperor, pacifying his population with bread and circuses. He offers the poor “popular broadband” services, while cosying up to Fidel Castro, who doesn’t allow the Cuban people to have an Internet connection at all.

No one can blame Lula for loving football or supporting his favourite team, Corinthians, and there’s nothing wrong with his frequent use of football metaphors in his political speech. To borrow his style, he is now in the last minutes of injury time, and he has just scored two own goals against his team. The next coach to take over the Brazilian team will have ample reason to curse him in the dressing room.

You can contract Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Are China and Brazil Ganging up on Google?
China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?
Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

China-Brazil Relations: Amnesia or Ingratitude?

By Stephen Thompson
April 20, 2010

Nothing is stranger and more remarkable in the world of international relations and alliances than the recent cosying up of Brazil’s new democracy in the post dictatorship era with the people’s dictatorship of China. How can Brazil’s leaders, who themselves were persecuted socialist dissidents in their youth, identify so closely with a party-state which has abandoned socialism while maintaining dictatorship with censorship, propaganda and repression? The answer lies in the shared opposition to US hegemony, more than infatuation with China’s model”.

China’s ruling CCP has a long history of “exploiting contradictions” between its foes and making alliances with the enemies of its enemies. For example, following the 1960 Sino-Soviet split, China fostered proxy wars to undermine the Soviet Union’s influence in Angola, by funding the UNITA guerilla army, which was then fighting the Soviet backed government in Luanda. Similarly, China’s reluctance to sanction Iran can be understood as support for a proxy who is pushing back against the US, and this support is only limited by China’s realistic assessment of it’s continued weakness in relation to the US led anti nuclear proliferation alliance.

Another example of this could be seen in China’s relations with Europe in the last decade, which it tended to value more, and tended to improve, during conflicts with the US. Growing assertiveness on China’s part is leading to a closer US-Europe relationship, as the two sides find themselves more frequently on the same side in disputes with China

Brazil’s leaders also see value in alliances with countries which share their hostility to US foreign policy and its Monroe doctrine. This hostility springs from their experience in their youth of repressive dictatorship which was supported by was CIA, which was well documented at the time by Philip Agee and others. CIA support was crucial in undermining other democratically elected governments in Chile, Argentina and other places, where they were replaced by authoritarian dictatorships which ignored human rights far more than China does today. In Brazil, several hundred people were murdered in a few years. It was this failed policy which led Brazil’s socialist leaders to their current cynicism towards of US human rights advocacy, and their friendly relationships with China, as well as Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and others. The negative repercussions of earlier US policy in its “back yard” are still being felt in the South America.

China on the other hand is always quick to take advantage of antagonism towards the US, and it uses this effectively in its government propaganda. Propaganda has been a hallmark of Communist Party’s “fight for hearts and minds” ever since the birth of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1920, and before that in the Bolshevik experience of information use, from which they learned this method. To this they added the traditional shrewdness of Chinese strategy, which is well known in the west through Sunzi’s “Art of War” – disinformation has a long history in China, and religion has never exerted a moral deterrence against lying to the extent it has in Northern Europe since the protestant reformation. As early western travellers such as Lord Macartney noted, their is no shame in lying in China. The same could be said for the Catholic religion, where all is forgiven at confession.

When Hu Jintao visited Brazil in 2005, Brazil opened its market to China in the hope of political support for its bid to join the UN security council. The gesture, which cost Brazil thousands of jobs, was not reciprocated. Indeed, no advanced country has recognised China as a market economy, because this means giving up the right to take action against dumping in the WTO. And China is clearly not a fully market economy – the Communist Party-State has a monopoly of the main industries there. So why did Brazil make such a wasteful concession to China with no guarantee of return?

It could be that Brazil’s leaders just do not understand China – they have not done their homework. Unlike Europe, North American and Japan, South America has no sinologists, no university courses in Chinese Studies, few Chinese language courses or exchange programs with Chinese universities. So when Itamarity needs advice on China policy, they have no home-grown expertise to turn to for advice.

But it could be that even with such advise on hand, Lula would still push for his grand alliance regardless of cost. He seems to share with the Chinese a love of making large wasteful displays. Witness his recent emotion on winning the Olympic Games, even though he must know this is equivalent of pouring gasoline on the endemic fire of Brazilian corruption, and even though Brazil desperately needs to increase spending on more important things, such as health and education.

Ultimately, it seems that Lula has no gratitude – gratitude for the forces of Democracy which brought him to power. He began his career in an era of military dictatorship, without free elections, and with press censorship, when dissidents and activists were routinely abducted, tortured and even killed by the Brazilian police. Without the democratic rule which was won in the 1980s, he would never have come to power. So why is he now allying his country with China, which leads the world in censorship, repression and authoritarian rule? Does he have no sympathy for the hundreds of people who are in jail in China because they tried to get compensation for their injured children, or because they organized a petition, or because they sent an email to a foreigner? Brazil’s alliance with China undermines the forces of democracy which brought Lula power. So Lula must have a short memory, or no sense of gratitude.

You can contract Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Running After My Boss
Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Running After My Boss

By Stephen Thompson
June 29, 2009

My boss went off on an ultramarathon leaving me with a mad deputy who fired me for promoting his run. I raced to the end of the world…

I work for a running company. I am supposed to be Business Developent Manager. But what do you do when your boss, a running fanatic, switches off his cell phone and goes off to run the world’s longest ultra marathon for two months, leaving you under the command of his deputy, who turns out to be mad, and who fired me for promoting his boss’s this ultra marathon?

Last week I raced to the end of the world to catch up with my boss, Chen Jing Rui, at the end of this race. I had to talk to him about what had been happening in his absence and appeal to him to give him my job back. I aimed to meet up with Chen and the forty plus other runners who had survived to the final stages of the 4700km Italy-Norway Trans Europe ultra marathon in Nord Kapp, the northern most point of Europe. It was a last minute decision and a crazy journey but the inspirational sight I saw when I got there made it worth the time and money spent. The joy of the runners who reached their destination was obvious and I started thinking, I should try this too! Phrases like Never give up, never run away from your dreams, when the going gets tough the tough get going all flew through my head.

To get there I flew from Shanghai to Rovianiemi on the arctic circle in Finland, the “land of the midnight sun” and then drove the rest of the way, 800km, to North Cape. As I rushed through the midnight sunlit night, I worried that I might not get there in time. It was only 800km and I had 12 hours, but the roads got narrower the further north I got. I might not even be able to find them as I did not know the route they would take to North Cape. I also worried that I might not be warmly received. I wondered if I would be sworn at, punched and kicked. Would my actions really cause a diplomatic or military dispute between Taiwan and China, as my manager feared? It seemed absurd but that was the reason for his ferocious opposition to my trip and to my writing about Rui’s race.

I arrived at Rovianemi at 10pm and I drove all night in the sunshine, or should I say, I drove all day, because there is no night there in summer. I arrived just in time to bump into the runners of the Trans Europe foot race on the road in North Cape, the northeastern most point of Europe. They were a funny looking bunch. I saw a runner stuffing a banana down his throat as he ran along, another whose upper body was 45 degrees to his lower body, and several carrying national flags. Then I saw Rui. I took a picture of him from my car, before he recognised me. He came over to talk to me. He didn’t swear at me or punch me, in fact he was very friendly. I told him “jia you” which means “step on the gas” in Chinese. Later I took a picture of him at the finishing line, and he put his arm around me for a shot. Then we had a coffee. He told me that he trained for several years to run this race and that he was lucky to complete it without injury. He said it got boring after a while just running, eating and sleeping every day. But he said he felt a huge sense of achievement at finishing the race and he wants to write a book and commercialise his great journey. He hopes the book will inspire people to strive for their dreams.

The roads in Finland and Norway were very good, with almost no traffic, and the scenery was beautiful. The midnight sun cast long shadows and shafts of golden sunlight over the pine trees, scattered timber farmhouses and occasional reindeer. These latter did not look anything like I imagined from Christmas cards; despite their aggressive antlers they are docile and scared of humans. I took a lot of photos of them.

When I crossed the border into Norway I still had 300km to drive but almost no petrol; the gas gauge was flashing empty. Unlike Finland, the Norwegian gas pumps don’t take cash so I was stuck at a gas station in a small village, too scared to drive on until 6 or 7 very drunk Norwegians lent me their credit card in exchange for a lift home from the pub. Despite being so drunk, they were no more aggressive than the Reindeer!

I didn’t know if Rui would speak to me at North Cape because I didn’t know what Marco had told Rui about our fight. But my boss Rui was seemed very surprised and happy to see me and kept asking me why I had come. First I told him that I was inspired by his determination to run across the whole of Europe on foot and that I wanted to personally congratulate him at the end. I told him that I wanted to help promote his run commercially, to get publicity for our Running company and the charities we support, like China Breast Cancer Foundation. He said he had heard that I had fought with his deputy Marco while I was away and he asked me why. I explained that Marco did not want me to publicise the race because he feared that the Chinese government would get upset about the Taiwan issue; Rui has both Taiwan and Brazilian passports but the website registered him as “country-Taiwan” which is politically incorrect in China, but Marco does not speak Chinese or understand the subtleties of China like I do. I thought that it was unlikely there would be a problem, because even though Rui is Taiwanese, he is a businessman and not a politician. At Nordkapp, Rui agreed with me that the risk of us publicising the event was minimal, and told me I did the right thing to publicise his race. Chen registered as Taiwanese Brazilian but the organises only registered him as Brazilian. But coincidentally, he ran with the number 55, the international dialling code for Brazil.

Then, before I could raise the issue of my job, Rui had to get on the tour bus. We agreed to meet in Shanghai in July. I drove 15 hours back to Rovianiemi. On the way I bought a Metallica CD to keep me awake.

At the finishing line I also met Russel Secker, listed on the race website as American but actually British. His www.infinitum-sports.com, Marco Oliveira told me to delete it. He was so angry at my insubordination that a week later, he refused to renew my work visa and I had to leave China temporarily. When I returned the following week, I found he had changed the locks and told my clients that I had resigned. He said that as I no longer had a work visa, I had no legal rights and he had no obligation to pay me. This made me really angry and I had sleepless nights, imagining more primitive forms of justice. He wouldn’t answer my calls. Eventually I went to the office to talk to him and the cleaning lady let me in. When he saw me inside, he lost his temper again and began to swear at me. I tried to take my computer away but he stopped me leaving and began to hit and punch me. I called the police who told us to sit down and negotiate calmly. Since then he refuses to talk to me, and only communicates by email.

He tells me that he is consulting his lawyers, even though I was hired without a work contract by a group of investors from Taiwan, Chile and Brazil claiming to represent a company called Infinitum Sports from Brazil. They said they wanted me, a Briton, to help them set up a company in China. But after my fight with Marco Olivera I began to doubt the veracity of their claims. I phoned their company in Brazil and the number does not exist. I could find no CNPJ company registration number. So perhaps I can sue them in Brazil but it’s a long shot, in China I have no rights.

I hesitated a long time before flying to North Cape because I was unsure if Rui would finish the race, I was unsure if he would talk to me, and because it was an expensive flight, as the mid summer sun is popular with tourists. But I think Rui was impressed by my effort to join him. He will be promoting his race in future and he would he happy to have a story about him in Runner’s World or another magazine. I don’t have any rights to sue him or his company. But Rui knows I did the right thing, and he is the big boss. I have to persuade him to pay me for the two months when he went away running, renew my visa and give me my job back. But what ever happens, I have the memories of that delirious race in the mid night sun, and the beauty of those vast northern skies and landscapes, plus the inspiration of those runner’s who never gave up on their goal of the world’s longest and most arduous ultra marathon.

You can contract Stephen via stephenthompson@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Brazil: Run for your life!
If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Brazil: Run for your life!

By Stephen Thompson
April 21, 2009

As of April 19, 2009, Chinese-Brazilian Iron Man athlete Chen Ching Hui, President of Shanghai Infinitum Sports Ltd, will wake up facing the hardest test of his life. Because he will know that today and every day for the next three months, he will have to run an ultramarathon. He has just set out on a journey of a lifetime in order to raise awareness about the importance of physical activity in preventing cancer and other diseases. During the next few weeks, he will run almost 4700 km, from Bari in the south east of Italy to Nordkapp in the far north of Norway, through Italy, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Norway. The Trans Europe Foot Race lasts 64 days and is the longest ultramarathon on earth. Hui will run an average of over 70 km per day, which is equivalent to almost two standard 42km marathons per day. Not bad for a guy in his 50s!

The race begins April 19 in Italy and finishes June 21 inside the Arctic Circle. Of the 68 runners who have qualified, Rui is the only Chinese, and also the only Brazilian, since he now has dual Taiwan-Brazilian nationality. Rui will probably get through half a dozen pair of shoes. If he does get injured, he will have to keep running through the pain if he wants to finish the race. For the next few months, he’ll wake up at 4 or 5 am each day, hit the road by 6 am and run for 7 to 14 hours. To fuel that exertion, he’ll eat at least 7,000 calories a day, including plenty of carbs. That’s three or four times as much as most people need to eat. The youngest runner is 26 and eldest is 74. The majority are from Germany or Japan, most of the rest are from Holland, Switzerland and Scandinavia, with one runner each from Turkey, Korea, the USA and Brazil.

These days, people just don’t take enough exercise. They spend too much time messing around with their computers, playing LAN games or writing things like this. Put simply, they spend far too much time sitting down in front of their computers staring at screens and not nearly enough running round. Why is this bad for us? Simply because the human body wasn’t designed for this, it is designed to function best with frequent exercise. When it doesn’t get this stimulus, it adapts by gradually consuming its muscles, until all that’s left is the useless fat. In recent years, we have seen ever increasing levels of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes due to lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits. Rui is so concerned about this he wants to make a statement by getting more exercise in the next three months than some young people of the computer generation are likely to get in their whole lives.

Born in Taiwan, Chen lived in Brazil for over 10 years, building a highly successful export business. Now he is president of Shanghai Infinitum Sports and Quality of Life Management Ltd, the first Brazilian sports company in China. He has three children with his wife Margaret.

Rui is no stranger to this kind of endeavour: last year he was third placed in the 1150km La Transe Gaule race across France.

On his return, Rui’s company will be holding a race in Shanghai on October 10, to raise awareness about health and prevent medicine in partnership with the China Breast Cancer Foundation. After the race, spectators and runners will be free to explore more than 2400m of recreational activities organised by sponsoring companies on the themes of health, lifestyle and sports. We wish Rui a good run, and hope he’s not too tired to run in his own company’s race when he gets back to China!

This is the official site of the Trans Europe Foot Race: secker.blogspot.com.

Stephen Thompson is Business Development Manager of Infinitum Sports – If God is a Brazilian…
Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

If God is a Brazilian…

By Stephen Thompson
February 24, 2009

Sometimes I think back nostalgically to the days that I lived in Brazil, when I thought that battling Brazilian bureaucracy was my biggest problem, and that life would be better in China! I took for granted the good things about Brazil, things like political and religious expression, but especially quality of life.

By quality of life I mean things like weekends spent doing eco-tourism” in places like Brotas or Bonito, or walking in the serene valleys of the Chapada Diamantinha. Things like the possibility of retiring to a sitio in the Atlantic Rainforest, a place I saw by a waterfall with a view of the sea and where I imagined myself. Things like the wide availability of delicious fruit and vegetables of all kinds. Things like the high quality physical education professionals working in Brazilian gyms, where I had the best healthy post work out buzz I’ve ever felt.

It took me ages to find a decent gym in Shanghai, and I still think the personal trainers at Competition in São Paulo are better. So when I had the chance to work for Infinitum, a Brazilian company bringing personal trainers and quality of life to China, I jumped at the opportunity. Infinitum plans to organise road races in China to raise money for charities fighting child obesity, diabetes, hypertension and breast cancer. These diseases are all increasing rapidly as Chinese abandon their bicycles for cars, eat more junk food, and spend too much time on “business entertaining”, and get stressed out trying to make the most of the current economic boom. There will be short and medium runs, from 3k to 10-15k, and we will encourage sponsors to display their products and services in a pavilion at the start and end of the race. We will offer pre-race fitness training to those who are require it. We’re looking for sponsors who work with health-related products and services, such as healthy food, water filters, hospitals and gyms.

We also hope to organise an exhibition about the environment in Brazil, more specifically the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest represents the best of Brazil; its greatest and richest concentration of plants and wildlife diversity, its oldest and most exotic indigenous cultures, languages, arts and crafts, preserved by people some of whom have still not been contacted by outsiders.

During the last few years of China’s rapid development, imports of raw materials from Brazil have increased rapidly, directly increasing the pressure on the Amazon rainforest, as Brazilian soya bean farmers discover a new market.

We hope to have a race to mark the opening of the event; we imagine thousands of people running through the streets, calling out for fresh air from the “Lungs of the Earth”.

There has been a positive response from professionals in the exhibition business with whom I have spoken. They see it as unique, a first of its kind in China, and bound to be a success. They also see many associated potential business opportunities for sponsors, including sales of Amazon products, tours and health-related products. They think that if we successfully hold the exhibition once, the subsequent publicity will guarantee domestic corporate sponsorship for future events in Shanghai or other cities. They also point out the timeliness of the event, as the Chinese government and civil society are increasingly preoccupied with pursuing sustainable development rather than the breakneck industrialisation which characterised the 1990s.

It took us nine months to get our company opened in Shanghai, showing that Brazil is not the only place with bureaucracy problems; long enough to give birth to a child! But finally we are in business and looking forward to bringing Brazilian quality of life to China…

Stephen Thompson lived in Brazil from 2001 to 2005. He is married to a Brazilian and has a daughter.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo
Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

Amazon Exhibition in Tokyo

By Stephen Thompson
February 16, 2009

I have just been to see the Amazon exhibition in Tokyo. It was a colourful, multimedia event with lots of beautiful photos as well as videos and actual objects from the Amazon forest. Although the information was in Japanese, Neusae, a friendly Brazilian guide showed me around, translating into Portuguese and pointing out highlights. She also gave me a catalogue with all the text in Portuguese.

The exhibition explains the vital importance of the Amazon as a cooling mechanism in the Earth’s climate system, as well as its value as the richest collection of flora and fauna on the planet. It shows the tragic destruction caused by deforestation, but also provides information on the many positive initiatives currently underway to protect the forests, its peoples, cultures, animals and plants. These include actions by the Brazilian government, protection of reserves by indigenous people, sustainable agriculture and support of indigenous peoples lifestyles and cultures.

Near the entrance was the large seed pit, filled with shiny red seeds called tento vemelho, from an Amazonian tree. The pit is large enough for children to get in and roll around in the seeds. Moving on, there is a small body of water, bordered on both sides by a dense mass of vegetation, provided by a local Japanese plant company, since customs regulations prohibit the importation of live plants. Embedded within the vegetation are video monitors showing images of Amazon fish and mammals.

Around the corner are cabinets displaying a selection of insects butterflies, including some huge beetles. There is also a picture of the world’s largest leaf, and a microscope through which you can view the world’s smallest leaf. There are illuminated photos of wildlife.

Later on there is a replica of a stall selling bottles of Amazon produced drinks, and a place where visitors to the exhibition can leave messages of goodwill to the Amazon. There are also drawings by Brazilian schoolchildren, as well as animals made from rubber and many other artefacts made by Indians.

The exhibition revived my interest in the Amazon rainforest and I learned new facts about it: Amazonia is 14 times larger than Japan, produces 20 billion tons of water vapour daily, has 23,000 km of river’s navigated by more than 100,000 boats and is 6857 km long from its source to its mouth in the Atlantic. There are 173,000 km of illegal roads, enough to circle the Earth four times. There are still 70 tribes of indigenous peoples who have not been contacted by outsiders. Amazonia actually contains 23 different ecosystems including mountain plateaus, savannas, and mango swamps as well as rainforest.

I had the fortune to visit Manaus in 2004, and I stayed for a week, including two nights in a floating river hotel, from which there were guided excursions into the forest on foot and by canoe. The animals come out at night, and the eyes of the jacare glittered like yellow jewels when caught by the guides flashlight. It’s an incredibly peaceful place to be, so far from the stimulation of city life, and I would love to spend a week in a canoe floating down the rivers.

Stephen Thompson lived in Brazil from 2001 to 2005. He is married to a Brazilian and has a daughter. He works for Xpress Holdings, a Singaporean printing group, as their Shenzhen Marketing Manager.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Other Places to Speak Portuguese (Apart From Brazil): Macau
Brazilian Music in Translation
China is Quite Popular in Brazil These Days
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 2
Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy