To say that I am fortunate that my company sent me to Brazil on business is an understatement. No one else in our office here in Manila (or at least from the IT department) has ever been sent to Brazil on business. And when I think about it, I don’t really know a lot of people who have been there. So when it was decided a couple of months ago that I would fly to Sao Paulo to kick off a project there, I was pleased and eager.
I guess part of the reason why I don’t know a lot of people who have been to the 5th largest country in the world is because it isn’t exactly the easiest country to go to, at least not from Manila. Of course, I had to navigate through 36 hours of flying time to get there and 41 hours going back home! I don’t have a US visa and there really wasn’t time to sort one out. Also, the flight that my travel agent got through Europe was cheaper than the one that went through the US. Of course, this meant I added almost 60,000 miles to my frequent flyer program (that’s a free trip to the US already) so at the end of the day, jetlag notwithstanding, it wasn’t all that bad.
(I will talk about the interesting little details of my flights to and from Brazil in another post. What I will focus on here is my experience in Sao Paulo. Summing it up – it was pretty darn cool.)
I arrived there Sunday night, at 730pm, but it took so long to get through immigration that I only got to my hotel room around 1015-1030pm. Much of the week was also spent just going to and from the office, so Leo, my Indonesian colleague who was on that same business trip, and I crammed all our sightseeing during the weekend (we both had evening flights on Sunday). Where did we go?
Parque de Ibirapuera (Ibirapuera Park)
Too bad the weather wasn’t very cooperative. Otherwise, we could’ve taken nicer pictures. Of course, we wouldn’t let rain stop us from enjoying so we still headed out to the park (without jackets or an umbrella, I might add) and enjoyed the scenery (check out the neat lake with the fountain centerpiece),
as well as the flora and fauna (there were a lot of birds there, and in fact I saw wild vultures for the first time in my life).
Considering the weather, there were actually quite a few people there: running, biking, rollerblading, or playing improvised football or volleyball. What was also cool was that in the horizon, beyond the treetops, you could see the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo which providing a neat, contrasting backdrop to the calm and serenity of the park.
Praca da Se
What I love about Sao Paulo is that there is a lot of greenery in the middle of the city, and nowhere else is this more evident that in Praca da Se.
You have this little square right smack in the middle of the city that is mostly asphalt and concrete. Here you can find palm trees reaching almost as high as the buildings next to them.
Add to that a Theater patterned after the Opera House in Paris, as well as dramatic fountain that immediately draws attention, and you have a marvelous oasis right smack in the city center that you just can’t help but love.
This is short for Museo de Arte de Sao Paulo. It has a pretty good collection of paintings from all over the world, including originals from Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Chagall, and Van Gogh, to name a few. Too bad most of the Brazilian paintings were being restored (or maintained, whatever you call it) so we only saw a few paintings from a guy who is apparently one of the more famous and influential painters in Brazil.
In Sao Paulo, the order of the day is buffet, buffet, buffet. Most restaurants serve buffet (which cost pretty much the same as an ala carte meal), and in fact I had only four meals in my entire 7 days and 7 nights in Brazil that wasn’t buffet. Japanese food is quite popular in Sao Paulo (mainly because you can find in Sao Paulo the largest community of Japanese people outside Japan), as is pizza, although during my entire stay I never had pizza and ate Japanese food only once. Personal highlight – the entire project team had dinner in Jardineira, where you not only have dinner buffet, but you have waiters who keep swinging by your table serving you more and more churrasco (or steak on a stick) – the waiters slice of pieces of churrasco onto your plate whenever they pass by (my favorite steak had to be the pinheira, or rump steak, with garlic). We all ate so much that the next day, none of us really ate much during breakfast and even lunch. Other interesting Brazilian food items I had when I was there: cheese bread, Chocottone, Fejoada (which is like different meats cooked in what is like a black soup which I think is made of refried bean paste), Guarana soda (which is made with the flavor of an indigenous Brazilian fruit), and Cachacas (a light alcoholic drink made from sugar cane).
The people in Brazil are really hospitable and accommodating, very much like South East Asians when I think about it. On my first day in the office, Daniel brought me and Leo to a mall and helped me buy a couple of shirts (Air France lost my luggage, so I had to buy shirts to wear to the office the next couple of days). On Sunday, our colleague Guilherme took me and Leo around the city, bringing us to Praca da Se, MASP, and also to Sala Sao Paulo (which is kinda like a train station-cum-concert venue) and a nice little restaurant near Avenida Paulista.
And the evening before that, another colleague of mine, Tarcisio, with whom I had a 30-minute discussion during the week, heard that I was going to be in Sao Paulo during the weekend and asked me if I was interested to watch a dance musical called Milagrimas (which is a kind of like a play on words – it combines the Portuguese words for “a thousand tears” but then it also sounds like “Miracle”). I went to see it, and I really loved it. The dancing was amazing, and the music and lighting added depth and dimension to the program that left a very strong impression on me when I left. I got the CD after the show, and I have to say that a few of the songs there are so haunting that I hear them and I see the show all over the again in my head. It was amazing! But the most amazing thing about the show is that all the dancers are young men and women from underprivileged families. An NGO in Brazil, for which Tarcisio’s wife works, set up this program wherein underprivileged kids can express themselves in dance and hopefully give them the self-confidence and self-belief to succeed in life. Considering that these kids are not professionals, the quality of their performance is astounding. I am kinda kicking myself in the butt now for not getting the DVD.
So for the most part of the weekend, we had colleagues bringing us around Sao Paulo and helping us enjoy our stay there. But besides the clear effort from the Brazilians to make us feel welcome and comfortable, there also is subtle proof of the openness and friendliness and warmth of the Brazilians. By the end of the week, we had a pretty good bond with our colleagues there that when we said hello or goodbye, the handshake was firm and it came with a half-hug, and it was beso-beso with the women.
The only unfortunate thing now is that I don’t think I will be able to go to Brazil again, at least not on business. Oh well, maybe I can just use the miles I earned to go there on leisure. That way I can get to see more sights and cities (like Rio, the Amazon, and Iguacu falls). Cool little bit of trivia – Filipinos don’t need a visa to go to Brazil as tourists. Nice. =)