Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some Brazil facts...

Well, to prove that I have actually learnt something from my time in Brazil and didn't just spend it lying about on beaches, here are some very exciting BRAZIL FACTS for y'all! Yes, the Cheeser does try to be educational...so unless you're already an authority on Brazil I bet there's something new for you to learn. Read and absorb!

The Brazilian currency is the Real. In terms of conversion/worth a Real is (at present) approximately one third less than the British pound i.e. 37 Brazilian cents (like British pence) = 1 British pound. Therefore if you’re a tourist it’s totally wonderful e.g. a beer costs the equivalent of about 40p; you can get a decent pair of shoes for £10-15… shopping paradise! From the p.o.v. of Brazilians though this means that anything outside Brazil is horrendously expensive e.g. an air ticket to the UK.

Brazil is a second world country and has a “developing” economy but there is quite a lot of unemployment. Unlike the UK, people who are jobless get no benefits or supplements from the state i.e. they have absolutely no money to live on. On a similar note one thing that has repeatedly struck me about Brazil when I’ve visited is the stark contrast between people that have money and people that don’t – you can literally see it all around you. One of the most notable examples of this was the children who came up to me on the beach in Rio asking for money! In Rio in particular, there are a lot of crooks and pickpockets around too and Gustavo was continually telling me to be on the lookout – don’t dress expensively or ostentatiously as it can draw attention to you, don’t carry a wallet (I put all my cash in a waist bag thing inside my pants – and as attractive as I am I didn’t get many people coming up to me attempting to touch my crotch – not such a pity after all); don’t leave your iPod on the beach etc. All extra things to think about, but then again better to err on the side of caution! Unlike the UK, the rich and the poor in Brazil tend to coexist side by side. In your average English city you’ll have your “deprived” areas, council estates and “rough” districts like Hackney in London for example, where inhabitants are mainly only poor or working class people and they tend to be confined to one area. In Brazil it’s more mixed up and there's a much sharper distinction between rich and poor.

The most physical manifestation of the extreme poverty in Brazil are the favelas, shanty towns often found on the edge of a city but also on hillsides (as in Rio). You thought some council flats/estates looked depressing? Wait until you see a favela, then you'll really open your eyes. Yes, back home you might live in a bit of a run-down flat or an undesirable part of town, but be grateful that you’ve still got a proper roof over your head, not to mention heating, hot water and electricity. People that live in favelas don’t have all of these things; and a lot have none atall. For instance, on our tourist trip in Rio we were on the bus, on our way to see the statue of the Christ and were travelling through a long tunnel which unusually, had absolutely no lighting. This was because apparently the people from the nearby favelas had stolen the lights for their homes. Desperate times.

There is no major rail network in the country. The only cities which have underground rail systems are Rio and Sao Paulo. Consequently, to get from A-B you either need a car or motorcycle or have to make long bus journeys. Or take an internal plane flight (but these can be expensive and not something you can do all the time). So given the size of Brazil, if you're travelling by road (as most people do) the distance and journey time between cities can be considerable. We made several trips by car whilst I was there, some of which took 7-8 hours. Most grueling of all for me was the bus ride Gustavo and I had to take from Rio to Uberaba, his family’s home town – 12 hours!! It was overnight and I don’t sleep well on public transport anyway so it seemed interminable. So basically if you don’t have your own method of transport, you’re screwed.

Brazil boasts some very funny product names. Did you know that the maker of one brand of bread in Brazil is called "Bimbo"? And there's a washing powder called "Snob"? You do now! Consequently a visit to a supermercado (supermarket) can be very enlightening.

The Gay scene in Brazil is both different and similar to the scene in other parts of the world. Gustavo tells me that the attitude amongst gays in Brazil is quite different. They're not quite as "showy" as in other countries and there is a harder, more macho kind of mind-set amongst some of the men, perhaps because in a Catholic country like Brazil it's harder for homosexuality to be accepted. To some extent gay guys have to "act normal" in order to pass and not attract trouble. Odd in a country that you'd associate with the carnival and being ultra-flamboyant! But in the clubs we visited I did detect a kind of "closedness" about some of the men there and I didn't find all of the people particularly welcoming or friendly either. Rather attitude-y in fact. A defense mechanism maybe? Yet, you still have guys who dress ultra-trendy, have fabulous bodies and six packs and whippety hips wherever you go. (Although they probably go back to sensible top and cord trousers when they go home to Mama). As for the music, from what I heard it tended towards Hard House or techno, which was very limited and unexciting. The English Gay scene for instance seems to have a much wider variety of music on offer and hoorah for that. Something Brazil needs to work on I reckon.

What about food? Brazilians love their meat and fish and consume large amounts. A typical Brazilian meal consists of lots of meat, rice and beans. Being a vegetarian can be problematic; there are not many vege restaurants and no meat substitute products like Quorn over there! One of the most famous Brazilian meat dishes is Feijoada, a stew of pork and beans and I have to say it's pretty delicious. In fact...confession time! Before meeting Gustavo I was only eating chicken and fish and eskewing red meat altogether in the name of health! But also, I admit, because I was too lazy to cook red meat - it can be a hassle sometimes. However the Brazilians do wonderful things with their meat (perhaps I should rephrase that) using herbs, spices, chilies, sauces and a variety of ingredients to really bring their dishes to life - and I am now a happy convert. English cooking is very bland by comparison. I'd also highly recommend the Brazilian hot dog which is sooo much tastier than the English version. I remember eating one when we left the gay club in Santos and it was fabulous - not only a sausage in a bun, but with loads of accompanying condiments like mashed potato, peas, olives, corn and others. Totally delish!

And confectionery? It's always fascinating to see how a country's sweeties compare to your own. Brazilian chocolate is for the most part, gorgeous and definitely tastes different to English – made from real coco beans unlike the so-called chocolate made in this country with re hydrated fats and so forth. You can really taste the difference. I brought back a ton in my suitcase and still haven't finished it. Will I ever lose weight?

Soap operas or as they are known in Brazil, telenovelas, are very popular. Unlike their UK counterparts however, they usually run for a short period - i.e. about 9 months or so - before a brand new one comes along! The Brazilians must have short attention spans mustn't they? Can you imagine them trying to endure Coronation Street or Eastenders for years on end? Whilst I was there, a novela was showing called Paraiso Tropical, set in none other than Copacabana, Rio, and populated by a cast of rich and beautiful characters. I got to see a few episodes and actually quite enjoyed it (in spite of my not being able to understand Portuguese - what the hell!) So it seems that Brazil likes its glitz and glamour too. It also had a hilarious "romantic" theme tune with some crooning guy going on about "Copacabana" with wonderful accompanying aerial shots of Copacabana beach etc (as in the shot above - how strange that we didn't get any shots of favelas though). And tinkly piano interlude bits for the advert breaks. The funny thing is, although I can hardly speak any Portuguese, I could still tell that many of the situations (not to mention the acting) were still pretty melodramatic and OTT with lots of characters snogging, arguing, fainting and doing all the requisite dramatic things that you encounter in soap operas. The language might be different but the situations are pretty much the same, the world over.

Well...hope all of that proved enlightening. Ciao ciao!


  • At 1:32 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Ironic that Ronnie Biggs should move to Brazil considering the country has no trains!

  • At 11:00 pm , Blogger The Sagittarian said...

    Ooh, loved the food descriptioin and so on. Many years ago now The Stud and I went to Melbourne (in Aws-tray-lee-ar) and had a meal at a Barzilian restaurant and really enjoyed it but we did wonder how authentic it was.

  • At 3:10 am , Blogger Deemer said...

    Thank you for two great posts about your travels. I enjoyed reading about your trip and am inspired to travel to Brazil.

    Interesting I read today in Newsweek that there is a type of tourism cropping up called "Poorism" where you pay the travel agency to give you tours of poor areas around the world. One of the areas featured was a tour of the favelas in Brazil. I don't know what to think about this type of tourism.

  • At 1:26 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Tim - Ha ha, yes I never thought of that!

    Sagi - Yep Brazilian food is pretty good. Mmm well I suppose there must be some authentic Brazilians living in Aus so presumably the food was too? I guess you never can tell for sure. I know it was years ago but what did you have to eat?

    How nice of you to refer to your other half as "The Stud". Does he resemble Oliver Tobias?

    Deemer - Thanks again! Yes if you get the chance to go to B you should. It does help if you can speak Portuguese though...

    Wow, the "Poorism" thing sounds strange. I mean, nothing wrong with visiting poor areas in some countries but I think you'd be well-advised to avoid the favela areas in Brazil. If you've seen the film "City of God" you'll know what I'm talking about e.g. drug problems and young children walking around with guns! Maybe they erm, equip all the tourists with armour when they take them round the favelas. Don't think I'd fancy it though!

  • At 9:42 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Yeah, I think I would love the beaches but the poverty would do me in.

    Still -- how exciting you were there!!!

    I think I'm reading these posts in reverse!

    Such is the way with me.

  • At 11:10 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    Place the chocolate all over your chest and belly and then get your man to lick it off once it begins to melt! Oh, and take photographs, too! Your loyal readers will want to see!

  • At 1:20 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty, it is actually kind of possible to avoid the poverty. The favelas are kind of "out of the way" as it were. You do get poor or homeless people coming up to you on the streets, but as with most major cities you just have to ignore it. There's still a lot to appreciate.

    Nowt wrong with doing things in reverse...

    Oh Minge, we did the chocolate thing AGES ago. However I suppose I could conduct a poll to see if that's what my readers REALLY want...(Although a bit of cash might be a good incentive as well, lol...)

  • At 4:06 am , Blogger japanesewhispers said...

    Brazil looks brilliant.

    I've had a few handsome Brazilian students over here and I definately wouldn't give up red meat after teaching them :P

    I actually really enjoy teaching Brazilians as they're cultural backgrounds are from all over; Japan, Portugal, Germany but they all think Japan is as mad and crazy as I do. Sometimes we'd just sit and talk about how weird things are here. Not that Scots and Brazilians are cultural the same but we're a hell of a lot more similar than Scots and Japanese, there's still that wee backdrop of European culture in Brazil.

    The food looks brilliant. I love food, something which my girth will attest to. I've never tried Brazilian food but I think I may look up a few things on the net and start trying some recipes.

    Although, having been to poor parts of Asia I know how upsetting it can be seeing absolute poverty. I agree there are parts of my home town that are in poverty and I would say absoulte poverty relative to the cost of living in the UK. Although as poverty is relative seeing aboslute poverty in a country with a cost of living way below the UK just makes you feel so excessive in everything you do.

    In saying that at least you got to use Real money and not the monopoly stuff used elsewhere.

  • At 4:18 pm , Blogger Flaming Nora said...

    Is it true that there's an awful lot of coffee there?

  • At 10:06 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I must admit, South America was never one of my dream destinations (I always had a thing for Egypt and North Africa) but your descriptions and photos have definitely awakened a burgeoning interest in Brazil...

  • At 1:10 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Mr Whispers! Glad to hear you won't give up the meat, ahem!

    Interesting what you say about Brazilians. This might sound obvious but it's really only the ones who have been out of the country and visited Europe who have the "European culture" that you're talking about...at least that's what I think! One thing that has stuck me when visiting Brazil is how far away from Europe it really is - another continent! - and many people from there have never ventured out of their country, in their lifetime! Gustavo's parents, for example, who are in their 50s, have never been overseas! Which I think is sad, but a reality for many, one of the determining factors being - as I was saying - the high cost of air/travel if you live in Brazil - for many people it's just too damned expensive.

    I think Brazilians bring a great perspective to us Europeans though (don't you think?). Certainly they can teach English people a thing or two about enjoying life and having the right attitude - it's a cliche but they are a warmer, more open and expressive people than us Brits I would say.

    Yes you must try some Brazilian nosh! Do it! Or do they have any Brazilian restaurants in Japan? (Not many I would have thought?) Actually Portuguese food is very similar too...

    You're right about the excessive poverty thing. I mean a lot of people in Brazilian live relatively okay I think but there does seem to be a lower overall standard of living across the board - people make do with less, it would seem.

    And yes I did use REAL money, ha ha. Erm, that was a pun on "Real" wasn't it?

    Nora! Yes there are lots of coffee plantations (not that I actually saw any) and I brought some back with me. I heart Cafe com lache!

    Steve! I think you have to go to the right bits of South America. Some of it is quite arid and barren I should imagine. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere ain't exactly fun. But I'm sure you, Karen and your boys will love Rio. Glad I've aroused your interest, ahem...oh shut up you saucy Cheeser!

  • At 9:33 am , Blogger Jason said...

    Very interesting facts, thank so much! I'm interesting in all Brazilian! I really want to buy in Brazil property and move there! Because I have been to Brazil and enjoyed very much! It is amazing and exotic country!

  • At 8:05 am , Blogger Funkeiro Da Rocinha said...

    I live in favela of Rocinha..yes it poor place but I like my comunity very much..


  • At 7:39 pm , Blogger jesper said...

    Hello!!!! how you doing!?
    i found your blog very interesting and well done let me tell you,
    it's amazing how you write about that kind of things, can't wait to see another one from you!!! ñ_ñ

    buy viagra

    viagra online

    generic viagra

    Jesper Gronkjaer
    3711 Hamill Avenue
    Los Angeles, CA 90017


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home