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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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