Memories of my Asian Vacation

Damn SKIPPY, shit changes in a matter of months, now doesn’t it?

Last time we were together (you and I), I was telling you about my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia. No longer “upcoming,” I can now say this trip was amazing, though ridiculously tiring, more so than I could have ever imagined. In the end, we didn’t even go to Cambodia due to the following scene stealer: a month and a half before the trip baby finds out she’s preggo.

We had to scratch Cambodia and opt for modern and clean Singapore instead and as such, this became the final destination on our trip. We began our festivities in Sydney, Australia, where my cooler-than-yours cousin showed us the sights. I had never been to Sydney and was thankful to Tony for showing us sights that are usually reserved for locals (though of course, as you can tell from the picture, we also hit up the usual tourists traps.) I was once again pleasantly reminded of what it was like to be in a place where a variety of food from different cultures was readily available – with the added bonus of it actually being tasty. Also the sense of security I felt in Sydney was welcoming after two and a half years living in Chile and never leaving the house without the angry “I-will-kick-you-in-the-shin-if-you-so-much-as-brush-past-me” look on my face (think of it as armor in this big, bad Santiago). Yes, yes, it was nice to give my face a rest from the perma scowl I sport on a regular. (Hopefully I was able to shave some years off with that facial release….)

After Sydney, G and I hopped an 8-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What I can say about my limited time in Kuala Lumpur is this:

  • Only the City Centre, where the Petronas Towers are located, is truly modern. Outside of this area, the city experience is much more cultural and much more real.
    Petronas Towers – view from our hotel room
      • I fell in the love with the religious diversity that surrounded me. Do you need a Catholic Church? Just about three miles down. Do you need a Mosque? Right around the corner from the Church. Need a temple? Yeah, we’ve got that too. There were people walking past me in burkas, and next to them, people walking in tank tops and shorts. When you live in Homogeneous Haven (i.e. Chile), things like this really strike you and you begin to embrace with added passion that kind of diversity.
        • The KLCC Shopping Mall was a whole other experience in commerce. I’d never seen anything like it, not even in Tokyo! I particularly fell in love with the Isetan Supermarket located there even though my admitting this may sound rudimentary and ridiculous to some. Isetan is a Japanese retail chain in Malaysia, focused on offering “total lifestyle” options to its shoppers. In KLCC Shopping Mall Isetan spans five floors and offers everything a typical department store might offer and more! The “and more” is what appealed to me most, with its supermarket located on the first floor. Delightfully pristine and bright, I felt like I was Alice wandering around Wonderland. The retail presentation was neatly divided into segments (meat and poultry, frozen foods, health care, desserts, etc, etc) and reminded me of a futuristic Whole Foods. I fell in love. If only we had discovered it sooner so as to have guaranteed a larger chunk of my time there …

        We did see more, mind you. We even did those Hop-on Hop-Off bus tours so as to guarantee seeing as much as possible of the city during our short time there. But this isn’t a travel blog and I have no intention of delivering it as so. What I can tell you is that if you’re in Kuala Lumpur for a short time, like we were, the tour bus option is a great way to get a general overview of the entire city. It also enables you to choose exactly what you’d like to see with more detail in your time allotted by enabling the option of getting off at one point and picking back up where you left off some time after. And it spares your feet from massive amounts of walking!

      Our next stop was Phuket Thailand where we stayed at the Twin Palms Phuket located in the Surin Beach Area. Surin Beach was a great option for us because it was quiet, mellow and very laid back. Absolutely zero party vibe. If you’re into that sort of thing, which we are because we’re old folk trapped in 30-some-old bodies.  I highly recommend this beach. What struck me is that none of the hotels are located along the beach front, a la Mexico and its lovely Caribbean getaways. This is obviously a security measure that makes absolute sense after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which caused immeasurable destruction and loss to the majority of Thailand’s beach areas. This means we had to walk from our truly lovely hotel to the beach and though it wasn’t the most scenic walk, it was short and sweet and the view offered once you walked the 2-minute road was worth it.

      Crystal blue waters of Surin Beach.

      Now, if you’re anything like me, you like to bob or swim in the ocean until you prune. This is what I’m like even though I can’t swim (yes, you read that correctly.) I like to walk into the water until it hits right below my boobs and just … bob. I frolic and wade to and fro … it’s lovely and I have a grand ol’ time. Sometimes I hold my nose and go underwater, just for shits and giggles. Sometimes I do my super doggy paddle (my version of swimming.) But mostly I just bob like a human buoy. I find great pleasure in this and could spend hours and hours doing this, mixed in with some reading under an umbrella. I truly enjoy the view and experience and NOTHING makes me happier than being near (or in) a body of water. I think I was a guppy in my former life, but that’s neither here nor there.

      My husband is a completely different kind of animal when it comes to this. He views beach time as a “to-do” in a beach destination and once he steps foot on the sand, sits for five minutes and dips in the ocean for another two minutes, he figures he can check off beach time from said to-do list and move on to the more interesting parts of travel, walking around aimlessly and getting lost in the culture. Now, I’m all for the last part of this but HOW COULD YOU NOT SPEND MORE THAN 20 MINUTES ON A BEACH IN THAILAND??!! I concluded something is seriously wrong with him and that, truly, the swimming skill is vastly wasted on him. (If I had that skill I’d never leave the water!) He did his best for me though, and all together I think we spent a total of six hours on the beach (we were there six days, mind you). I guess that’s better than nothing.

      We then took a private tour of the island of Phuket for various reasons:

      1. Due to my annoying pregnant-state-of-being, we couldn’t do any excursions to nearby islands (bumping along in a power boat in the middle of the Andaman Sea isn’t advised, I guess.) This was so annoying and so unfortunate, I almost exploded in rage and in no way was I comforted by “but the baby will be ok by staying put” thoughts. I was pissed! Did this baby know how much money, planning, energy and time this trip took to plan??!! I’ll be having a word or two with it regarding the matter once it makes its lovely debut into the world
      2. The Northern Thailand floods were making all kinds of headlines during our two week trip to SEA and repeatedly we read stories about how the flood waters were entering Bangkok and how the majority of tourist attractions were closed to the public. G and I had two choices: risk continuing on with our itinerary to Bangkok, come what may, or stay in Phuket, switch hotels and beaches and just chill until our next destination, Singapore. It was a matter of “stick to what we know” or “wander into the unknown” and as a result, risk losing time and money. We chose to stay three additional days in Phuket and moved on to Karon Beach.

      Before that though, we took the cultural tour of Phuket Island itself. This was a welcomed change for G, given he was overdosing on beach time (how??? I have no idea) and since we wouldn’t have the opportunity to hit Bangkok, this was the next best thing during our stay in Thailand. We opted to hire a private tour guide from our hotel – whose name I forget because I’m horrible like that – but he was great! He took us to some mostly interesting places, such as:

      Old Town - Phuket

      As well as:

      Phuket's Big Buddha in Chalong.

      Fascinatingly enough, funds for this revered project in Phuket come almost entirely from donations. This is the reason as to why it’s taken literally YEARS for this project to be completed. The view from the Big Buddha, is, in short, breathtaking, as are most views from any hilltop in Phuket:

      It’s a little embarrassing to admit that one’s dear, sweet husband needed a “break” from such amazingly pristine water, but alas, such was the case.

      Another high point of our private tour was our visit to Chalong Temple, or Wat Chalong. This temple is dedicated to two very important monks and is a point of pride for many Thais.

      It’s a very impressive compound with various buildings (as well as various souvenir stands, ready to exploit well-intentioned visitors) and is an active religious site where many go to ask for a particular wish or need or show gratitude for a granted wish or need (clearly expressed by the sudden, loud firecrackers that go off – a noisy and startling sign of one’s gratitude.)

      Temple in Wat Chalong

      Our nice driver took us to other places as well, including the Phuket Butterfly Farm where I proceeded to have one anxiety attack after another and faced the realization that, thanks to the ugly moths that invade Santiago during certain times of the year, I actually HATE butterflies. I’m sorry, but aside from their pretty little wings, butterflies are ugly, hairy creatures. I recommend it only if you’re all about butterflies weaving in and out your hair and clothes … but I wasn’t at all impressed. In fact, I pretty much freaked out and have sworn off butterflies for the rest of my life.

      I could go on and on but I insist, this isn’t a travel blog and so, suffice it to say that traveling through the island was quite interesting and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Phuket and have the time.

      A happy me on Karon Beach.

      After Surin Beach, G and I decided to switch hotels and head off to a more “popular” beach and so, we opted for Karon Beach. I did my usual bobbing and buoying in the crystal clear water, enjoyed fresh fruit under our umbrella (provided by the lady who rented the chairs along the beach) and pretty much sat in awe of the fact that I was sitting there (sweating balls, but there.) The one big downer about this beach was our hotel choice. While G and I normally stick to smaller, boutique style hotels, due to the short notice change in plans (i.e. not traveling to Bangkok after all) the only hotel we could find with vacancy was the Hilton. While the hotel itself is fine, it’s just a big chain that’s been around since DAY ONE on Karon Beach, and has its usual signs of wear and tear. Plus the grounds were just much too big for my liking and the final insult, in my opinion, was the fact that a chain hotel didn’t have a piece of beach designated for its hotel guests. It was fine, no big deal really, but it’s just a personal preference I have when staying in hotels near beaches. Even our small boutique hotel on Surin Beach had a small stretch of beach reserved for its guests. Perhaps we were just spoiled the first time around …

      And so, after six whole days in Thailand, G and I were pretty sunned out and ready to head on to Singapore. And that we did, bound for what we would soon find out would be the most freakishly clean and orderly city south of Tokyo.

      The first thing you notice about Singapore is just how modern it is. The next thing you notice is that it has absolutely no culture and no apparent history (at least, not to the naked eye). I kid you not,  Singapore could easily be “The Truman Show’s” city of choice – nothing and no one is out of place. Chinatown is a good example of this … of all the cities I’ve ever visited with a Chinatown, Singapore’s was the first where bargaining was just not done. G and I made HUGE fools of ourselves trying to haggle prices, only to be looked at with eyes of pity. We had just come from Thailand, where bargaining was the language of choice, where G and I honed our acting skills (walking away if our price wasn’t met, pretending we couldn’t care less for those fake Gucci sunglasses, when really, I did). How could it be that this country frowned upon bargaining in CHINATOWN??? It continues to boggle the mind. But hey, herein lies the glory of traveling – learning that not all drummers march to the same beat. What works in one Chinatown, simply doesn’t work in Singapore’s Chinatown.

      G and I were in Singapore for four days and split the time like this: two days in Sentosa Island and two days in Singapore itself. I’m not really sure what’s behind the whole concept of Sentosa Island but it’s a destination that’s supposed to be a type of fantasy island with various attractions, restaurants and things to do. On the island, the attractions you’ll find are a man-made beach, golf courses, five star hotels, as well as Universal Studios Singapore. We didn’t even step foot on the man-made beach, mainly because we had just come from Phuket and the idea of being on a fake beach in Singapore that boasted views of cargo ships in the short distance was just not an enticing option. I’m not really sure what I can highlight as positive or fun in Sentosa because I simply wasn’t impressed. In addition, I can’t see the mission in behind the establishment. It was neither relaxing, nor interesting nor fun. In the end, G and I left with a very “meh” feeling about it and the only reason I’d recommend going would be to hear other perspectives on it.

      Call me shallow, wickedly short sighted and 100% wrong when it comes to Sentosa Island but I much rather enjoyed Singapore itself in comparison. Though of course there’s still a part of me that is highly suspicious of how orderly everything is, in the end Singapore is a great destination for nature lovers and shoppers alike. Orchard Road is the main commercial street and is lined with numerous stores, high end, bargain and everything in between. Our favorite destination was Cold Stone Creamery, where G was introduced to the concept of mixing your own ice cream. Going to Orchard Road is a little indescribable because I really can’t find a comparison. How many places can you think of with 22 malls located on the same street??!! After going into two malls, we were pretty much over the mall scene and opted to focus on the other major city sites instead.

      Singapore Flyer and the views it offers:

      View of the city from the Flyer.
      View of the harbor from the Flyer.
      View of the harbor from the Flyer.

      Marina Bay Sands Skypark, though we didn’t actually go, we did enjoy the view!

      Marina Bay Sands Hotel

      What kills me about the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is, who thought it would be a charming idea to build three towers and place a large boat on top of them? Who was the intended target audience? Who thought of this and namely, who approved it? In short, what’s the point? These were questions that I wondered about when sitting in the park taking in this view from across the water. Yeah, it looks cool … but, I insist… a boat on top of towers?

      On the other hand, our visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens was AMAZING and for someone like G who brakes for plants and all things green, it was a short trip to heaven.

      Orchids from the Orchid garden.

      We of course did many more things, like ride the hop-on hop-off city tours and visit the Singapore Zoo (amazing!!!) but again, I’m no travel blogger.

      In the end, Singapore was an interesting country to visit and if given the chance, I’d probably go back. But one need not stay longer than one week because, after all, how much more time do you really need in a city state that measures 260+ square miles?

      This trip came about in the beginning of 2011 and it was our intention to do one last BIG trip, one that we figured would be very hard to do in the future if and when we had kids. Not so much because of Asia itself but because of the distance one needs to travel just to ARRIVE in any Asian country (believe me the air travel was loooooong). Neither of us had ever been to the countries we visited and it was, for us, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Was it relaxing? Not in the least. Maybe because I was in my first few months of pregnancy, but it was tiring mostly because our main mode of transportation was our own two feet. Plus hot, humid weather is not the best way to enjoy the preggo state of being, no matter what month you’re in. But I was a trooper (I believe) and beyond requesting a rest stop every so often (and an occasional nap thrown in), I marched on alongside my husband, like a champ. Was it relaxing? No, not at all.

      But was it amazing to see, learn and witness all that we did? Abso-fucking-lutely.

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Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia – Oh my!

If there’s something my blog ISN’T is a travel blog. It’s not because I haven’t – or don’t – travel, but because I feel you really need to have a special talent to write about such an experience. Traveling is three-dimensional, it’s taste-touch-feel and many times I wonder if I would have the ability to accurately describe travel experiences and the rich adventures that are related to it. I just feel that, personally, I’d repeatedly use the words “awesome” or “amazing” or “unreal.” Yes, there is always the option of pictures and in times past, I’ve very well incorporated them in my blog posts pertaining to travel in the past. So truly, trust me when I tell you that I’m not doing you any favors when writing about places visited and sights I’ve seen. I leave that to the experts (and there are many, many far more interesting experts in the blogging world today.)

Having said that, I WILL be breaking my own rules in exactly two months. I, of course, guarantee the overuse of rudimentary words such as “weird,” “stoked,” “amazing,” and “awesome,” and despite this, the main reason I want to write about it is because I want to be able to go back and REMEMBER as much as I can!

Married muffins during our mini-moon in NYC last year.

Here’s the story: when G and I got married last year, I was in the middle of school (post-grad) and we had literally ZERO time for a real honeymoon. Seriously, I had started school on a Tuesday, the following Saturday we were getting married, and the following Tuesday night (a week after starting classes) we took a few days off to travel to New York City. It wasn’t exotic, it wasn’t relaxing and it wasn’t by any means the type of honeymoon one imagines with the mere mention of the word “honeymoon.” It served its purpose though and to be honest, it was the first time we had been back to NYC – as a couple – since we first met, so it did mean a lot to us to be able to go back to the city where we first met so many years ago (even if the romance didn’t bloom at that time).  It was also the first time I had gone back since moving to Chile and it meant the WORLD to me to be able to see some of my best friends. Our mini-moon actually looked a lot like a mini-move to lovely Manhattan, complete with our (temporary) apartment in the Upper West Side, dinners with friends, date nights over cocktails, strolls through Central Park, visits to Whole Foods and, of course, tummy-filling brunches whenever possible. Yeah, actually now that I’m thinking about it, this mini-moon was pretty f*cking kick ass and though it was short, it was an awesome trip (see? Overuse #1 of the word).

However, said awesomeness (overuse #2) a honeymoon does not make. Yes, we’re lucky to have gone ANYWHERE and even more so, lucky to have had the chance to go to such an amazing city (arguably the center of the universe, really) and spend five days chillin’ like city villains. But the thorn in our side has, since the wedding, forever been that we didn’t really want a wedding and we don’t really know why it went down the way it did. In fact, though it was cool and we were happy to share, in the end G and I are much simpler creatures when it comes down to it and we’ve decided that a far better way to have spent that money would have been with a crazy, money-is-no-object, trip somewhere. Since we didn’t do this and we instead gave into peer pressure (provoked and self-induced) we’ve always looked back on our wedding hoopla with a wrinkle in our noses.

ALL OF THIS CHANGES IN ABOUT TWO MONTHS, PEOPLE.

While we can’t change the fact that we did do the wedding hoopla and we can’t change the fact that we didn’t take a “real” honeymoon to some exotic place immediately following the wedding (though, seriously, who cares?) and really, there’s not much we can do about either, after almost a year and a half post-wedding, we decided to embark on the adventure of a lifetime (so far) with regards to travel: we’re off to Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.

Yeah, I said it.

Are we excited? Is Obi-Wan Kenobi a legendary Jedi Master? YES HE IS!!!!

This trip planning was no easy feat. We actually visited two different travel agencies and explained to both companies what we wanted and though they took down our information, wish-lists, emails and numbers, neither of the two agencies called us back (Chilean customer service at its best – I guess there was zero interest in the travel agency fee). So what other option did we have besides researching, comparing and booking every aspect of our trip ourselves? And though it sounds exotic and awesome (overuse #3), when we first sat down to plan our Southeast Asian itinerary, we were at a loss. I mean, there were so many places we wanted to visit and we knew that this trip would seriously be a once-in-a-lifetime chance (seriously speaking when will we EVER have the chance, time, resources, etc to do this again in the future? Who knows?!) – the pressure was on. We were determined to research as much as we could so that we could make the most informed decisions possible regarding places we wanted to visit.

So we sat down … where DID we want go? Where in the world did we ache to visit? What place (or places) were always tucked away in the back of our minds, filed under “SOMEDAY?”

Thailand was a no-brainer for us. We’re obsessed with Thai food, we’re equal parts scared and excited to visit the seedy underbelly of Bangkok (which we imagine is in all parts of the city), and in general, we’re quite eager to learn about the culture. And since we were already thinking Thailand the next no-brainer was, of course, the lovely, infamous and perhaps touristy beaches of this fascinating country. And though we’re fully aware that we aren’t going to find quiet, serene, untouched-by-humanity beaches, who can resist wanting to visit this?:

Photo courtesy of jacobssalon - Flickr photostream

Next on the list was a suggestion from G – Kuala Lumpur. And really, though it’s probably a city, full of sophistication, bustle and smog, as any other city in the world can be, again, I ask you again, who can resist visiting this?:

Image courtesty of haleyweb - Flickr photostream

The final destination changed from one month to the next during these past few months of planning. When all of this hoopla started, we were 100% sure we wanted to visit Tokyo as well. Then we decided Tokyo was too far so we contemplated Singapore and for a few months, this was a confirmed destination. Then we decided that if we were going to travel the distance, we should go to a far more cultural place than Singapore (not that this country itself isn’t cultural but, in the end, we were talking yet another city.) So we contemplated Vietnam because I’m obsessed with the idea of spending a night on a Junk, cruising along Halong Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) – call me crazy:

Images of Halong Bay Cruises 365 (website)



That was then discarded due to limited time and distance involved. I’m a little sad about that because, truly, ever since I read an article on Vietnam and its development post-war, I’ve been enchanted by this lush, green country and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to visit it. But the options are limitless and I’m not about to convey even an ounce of discontent because the destination that has officially been decided on, booked and all, is Siem Reap, Cambodia. We’ll be there a couple of days but it’s enough time to visit the main attraction (which I’m personally most excited about):

Angkor Wat

Post-trip all of the images above (of the places we’ll be visiting, of course) will be replaced by my own personal pictures. At least that’s the idea though I doubt my pictures will be half as lustrous or profesh-looking as these. I don’t think my post (or posts – who knows?) about the trip will be the most influential, mind-blowing travel writing you’ll ever encounter but I’ll be more than happy to share it, especially because, as I mentioned, I will look back on it fondly. I know what it’s taken for us to finally get here and all that was involved. I’m so thankful-slash-excited-slash-overwhelmed (but in a good way) about this trip, it’s nuts. I can hardly believe it’s an opportunity that’s awaiting us. So much so, I had to write about it BEFORE the actual trip, just to begin believing it.

But I still kinda don’t believe it’s coming up … somebody pinch me!

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Work and travel, travel and work

My husband’s a busy guy. On top of that, he actually loves to work. So when it came time to plan yet another business trip to China to attend the Canton Fair, he went full throttle and built his agenda to include back-to-back meetings with suppliers, as well as back-to-back viewings of showrooms, booths and, in some cases, even factories. Meaning that even though he’ll be in China (including fabulously sophisticated Hong Kong) for two weekends, he’s left himself absolutely no time to sightsee, let alone rest.

Such a 180 from my days of international business travel. There were many times when I found myself working over the weekend and I’ve most certainly had my share of working on major holidays. Running from one meeting to another, schmoozing and negotiating from one client to the next, waking up at 6 am and going to bed at 1 am, and in between sitting in absurd Latin American traffic for hours on end. But despite this, I always found time to dabble in the sights, sounds, food and culture of the different countries where I had the privilege to do business. In fact, even my superiors were ok with mixing business with cultural expansion. Maybe it had to do with the fact that in knowing the culture, we were learning how to sell and market to said culture. Whatever the real reason (maybe we were all just slackers?) I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to travel for work for a good part of my career. Moreover, I’m in eternal debt to those who sidelined slave work for a moment and who shared the experience of being tourists with me, if only for a few hours.

Coworker and me on the beach in Cannes, France.

At Monserrate, a Church overlooking Bogota, Colombia.

Banderitas Mexicanas … yes, that’s Tequila and yes it was lunch time.

Well hello, Louvre!

Intersection outside the Shibuya station in Tokyo, quite possibly the most
congested pedestrian crossing in the world.

I see you Cristo Redentor!

And a dabble here and there in Leblon.

Hey, I know you!

Viva LV! I started with US$15 at the roulette table and proceeded to win US$420.

Traveling for work might seem 100% fabulous to those whose job doesn’t require them to travel. I agree. To a certain extent it IS fabulous. But it’s more like 20% fabulous, 50% stressful, 30% exhausting. The kind of exhaustion you just don’t recognize in your day-to-day life because when you’re at home you usually aren’t trying to adapt to different cultures, languages, business etiquette and so on. When traveling for work, you have to be on your toes, 100% of the time. Even sleeping isn’t necessarily all that great since half the time the hotel bed is a lumpy ol’ mess, no matter how fancy the hotel.

I hope that G finds a balance during his million-hour stay in China and that he comes back telling me about something amazing he saw, ate or did while he was there. So far, I’ve heard some stories but unfortunately they’re all still related to work. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not there with him right now … I’m not sure he’d really get the work done that he’s expecting of himself.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that if I ever traveled with him for work, I’d be the rotten apple, bad influence, Chileans-Gone-Wild instigator of the trip. As depicted below:

Downtime during a layover in Sydney before heading off to China (about three years ago.)

My version of downtime (business trip in Buenos Aires, night before heading home) About 2 years ago.
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The land of samba: insights from my recent trip to Brazil

A few blog posts ago, I wrote a quick note from Brazil as I was on a business trip on behalf of the company I work for in San Francisco. I kept in mind a few things about Sao Paulo that really caught my attention on this trip because I realized that despite various trips I had taken previously to the country, there were just some that completely escaped my all-too-analytical eye. I thought about why this could be and it occurred to me that perhaps I never gave Sao Paulo much mind (aside from the agonizing traffic and congestion) because I always looked at it from the eyes of someone who grew up in San Francisco. After all, what could be better? Picturesque city where the liberals and conservatives alike have seen it all.

After living in Santiago for a little over a year, I landed in Sao Paulo only to realize a fraction of a second later that I LOVE IT THERE! Obviously this outrageous claim comes from someone who lives here, not there and it’s coming from someone who didn’t have to partake in any of the bad things about the city (namely the traffic and the crime.) Furthermore, I was living in a hotel. Ease and plush included. Adding in the fact that I ate out at every dining chance and that my dinners were initiated by a caipirinha each time, you’ve got to ask yourself, what’s not to love about that country?

Here are some reasons why Brazil has a gold star next to it in my book, despite having taken this long (about eight trips) to appreciate it for all it’s worth:

Have you met happier people? It’s true that one of the first things I learned to appreciate about Brazilians is how happy they always seem. They could have been sitting in traffic, NOT MOVING AT ALL, for a complete hour and still, they arrive at their destination with a smile. And even if they’re upset about something, a lighter view on the topic is never far behind (“Aw, it will be all right. Probably just my turn in the day to sit in it. When I head home it won’t be the same.”) Whereas, in the same situation, I’ve been known to throw down a few f-bombs, laced with a little shiz-nat here and a d*mmit there. They’re always smiling, always cracking jokes, always finding the lighter side of the coin. It’s amazing and inspiring. Why can’t I be like that? Why do I take a sour situation and turn it into the worst, life-altering, apocalyptic situation that could have possibly befallen anyone? Whereas they take the same sour situation and turn it into Spanish Fly, offer it around and start a party! I’ve decided I needed a little more of them and a little less of me in said situations.

By far, they’re the most diverse group in the entire region. True story. It turns out that they’re history brought people from far and wide to their ginormously large country and as a result, one sees people that are dark, or light brown, or pale and blonde or … aisan! Specifically, Japanese or Japanese descent. The point being that they aren’t a homogeneous crowd, at least not in Sao Paulo which is an EXTREME 180 to the reality you find in Santiago, where pretty much everyone has dark brown hair (or regular brown hair), stands at about 5 foot 3 and shops at Falabella. Oh and Chileans only wear black, brown or gray AND they wear boots until about October. Open-toed shoes are unheard of before then, as is going sockless. Because of this diversity, they too are the kind of people who have seen it all – kind of how I equate San Franciscans. What does that translate to? Brazilians DON’T STARE!! They probably don’t stare because they have either seen someone 1) prettier than you, 2) uglier than you 3) fatter than you 4) just overall better/worse than you. Do you know what a relief that is for someone who comes from California to live in a foreign country? The fact that not one person stared at me – not at my shoes, clothes, hair, make up, bag, iPhone, etc – seriously had me as a happy as a clam! I could just blend in the way I always remember blending in. Sure that might sound boring and sad, but it’s not. In fact, after a year of living in Santiago, I find it boring and sad that EVERYTHING seems to catch their attention and everything is “novedoso” (or newsworthy) either because it’s weird or because it’s cool. I miss the anonymity the States grant you and appreciate the anonymity Sao Paolo lent me while I was visiting that week. Upon returning to Chile, since I’ve been trying to enforce observation #1 listed above, I’ve tried to conquer the overwhelming feeling I get to b*tch slap obnoxious starers. So far, it’s going ok. No one’s been hit this week.

So here’s another theory: because Brazilians have it all and have, as a result, seen it all, what else does that translate to? Brazilian fashion is, in a word, awesome. Whether awesomely atrocious and weird or awesomely fabulous, it definitely makes its mark and it invites you to view colors, lines and styles in a way that might blow the minds of the average Chilean. It blows my mind and I lived in California all those years – of course I’ve seen weird stuff! But really, the fashion and the designers themselves, speak quite a lot to the country’s diversity and it’s a shame that Chile can’t make a home for local designers in the same manner. Raise your hand if you’re sick of including Saville Row as the one-true Chilean designer? Word.

But here’s what I find most attractive about Brazil: the confidence that exudes from the majority of the Brazilian women. A confidence, that from what I can tell, isn’t laced with envy towards anyone else. This observation actually struck a chord with me some time ago – about 5 years ago actually. I went to Rio de Janeiro on business with my boss and since we had an afternoon free, we went to Copacabana Beach. I remember seeing the quintessential itsy-bitsy bikinis that have become infamous and synonymous with Copacabana and Ipanema beaches… except I saw these bikinis on women who were … “entraditas en carne” or as we say in English “big-boned” (in short, a nice way to say that someone was slightly overweight, to say the least.) My first reaction is one that I’m now ashamed of since it slaps me across the face as quite typical – something I hate. My first reaction was a snotty, obnoxious “Ew. WHAT is she wearing? She shouldn’t be wearing that.” That reaction lasted all of five minutes and here’s why: as I watched these women, one in particular, move gracefully from their towels, to the ocean, speaking casually to their neighbor, laughing and soaking in the sun, I realized how completely, wonderfully, 100% relaxed they were in their own skin. That is something that I’ve seen very few women pull off, no matter how thin they are or how great their boobs look in a bikini top. In fact, TO THIS DAY, I conjure up images of this one particular woman just to remind myself that confidence doesn’t come from six pack abs (which I don’t have), sculpted legs and perky breasts (which, sadly actually, I don’t have either). It comes from somewhere else … somewhere called Brazil…

Of course, it’s not like I’m packing my bags and about to hop a plane to Sao Paulo hoping to start my life anew yet again (Egads, no! I’m just now getting accustomed to living in Chile.) But the few things I pointed out above really make Brazil stand out in a way that Chile can’t possibly aspire to achieve. Not that Chile is worse in comparison. It’s like I told my professor the other day when he asked me about my Finance final … I told him “Hey, I have many strengths. Numbers happen to fall way below the top three.” (He vehemently agreed, much to my disappointment.) But this blog isn’t about Chile’s strengths, as some of the top things about living in Chile were well documented back in May. This is about my newly-found appreciation for Brazil and my hope to highlight some of what makes that country and its people so refreshing.

But you know me … a little dark, a little pessimistic, a little rebellious …Here’s what’s super weird about Brazil (again, just some minor points.)

  • Avocados don’t make the list of what they would consider top foods in their diet. In fact, most Brazilians have eaten avocados with SUGAR! Yes, as in a dessert. That, or their mothers used to mix the avocado with MILK and serve it in a smoothie. Coming from a country and a culture where avocados (“paltas”) are like the Emperor’s Child and we all form circles around it to show our gratitude and awe, this to me is really, really weird. The “churrascarias” (Brazilian steakhouses) have amazing salad buffets … yet are missing one, crucial element. The palta. Nope, Brazilians just don’t do their salads (or their salty’s in general) with avocado. Homey’s don’t play that. I wonder how the Chileans who live there adapt?? (Seriously I can’t begin to emphasize how much of this fruit Chileans eat.)
  • Pedestrians REALLY don’t have the right of way. Ever. I used to think that it was just Latin Americans, or specifically Chileans, who were so rude about pedestrians, but now in comparison I really believe that Chileans are quite courteous to the two-footed beast crossing the street. In the U.S. our noses are rubbed into the notion that pedestrians always have the right of way, whether we like it or not. Yeah in Brazil this never holds true, EVEN IF, you have a green light. For instance, I was crossing the street, green light in my favor, as cars begin to turn left and of course, I almost got hit. Not once, but twice. That was my first day in Sao Paulo. By the last day I took to watching the locals who only crossed the street when NO CARS were coming. Screw the light. This little morsel might save your life in Brazil so, seriously, I advise you to take heed. Watch the locals and do as they do!! Don’t go thinking that just because you have a green light means you’re entitled to walk. Or live, for that matter.
  • Personal space doesn’t exist in the world of the Brazilians. This is huge for Americans. We like our personal space. And since I’m kind of Latin, even I used to cross comfort zones when merely talking to someone else… however Brazilians take it to a whole other level and this, on many occasions, gets awkward. They speak much closer than I’m used to, use hand gestures that invade “my” space and generally tend to be all up in my grill (really close to my face.) I’m not saying that Chileans are keen on respecting the space of others, but in comparison to the general experience I’ve had in Brazil, I have enough space to set up camp for a night or two here in Chile. Brazil’s notion of personal space only allows for tenement camps.

I feel like Brazil is a must-do regardless of the good and the bad. Actually BECAUSE the good and the bad combined make it such a unique place and because I feel (and again, my own humble opinion) it offers more diversity than I’ve seen since the Meatpacking District circa 1990s (during it’s peak transition period.) Or perhaps I’m just once again projecting what I’d want on to others. In fact, I guess if you’re coming from a pretty diverse area, seeing only Chileans or only Argentinians or only Peruvians is just what one might want. Maybe that’s why I never really regarded Brazil as diverse as I see it now when I lived in California and worked in San Francisco. But man, oh man. Try living in the most homogeneous of societies and watch how quickly you begin to miss people who look different than you, act different than you, are extreme and weird or sophisticated and priceless.

Hmmm. Extreme might just be the word here. The idea that something is so far beyond the norm, it stands out to infinity and beyond (Buzz Light Year style).

Yeah … I miss that feeling of seeing the extreme and not batting an eyelash.

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