absentfather

Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Rio de Janeiro: caipirinhas and lightning

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Dear George

I’m on my way home after a week in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro on yet another work trip. The first time I came her I didn’t enjoy it a great deal – thick humid air, shabby hotels and it rained a lot. This trip couldn’t have been more different and Brazil has worked its charms on me. I love it.

The highlight was a day off in Rio on Sunday when I went to Ipanema Beach in the morning and climbed Sugar Loaf Mountain in the evening. The beach is the heart of city life in Rio and is throbbing with the stereotypes you expect – bikini girls of rollerblades, muscle men jogging, thongs, oiled up brown bodies, coconut sellers, surfers, silicone and the human form in all shapes and sizes, unashamedly displayed. It has a real party atmosphere, with entrepreneurs selling everything you might need and shouting out their goods to sunbathers. Ice creams, beers, jewellery; some even carry around little stoves to bake cheese snacks whilst punters wait. It’s hot, so I got a beach parasol, but managed to slice my thumb open on a serrated edge whilst sticking it in the sand. It bled a lot and cut my visit short whilst I went to find some super glue to stick the wound together rather than have to go to hospital.

Thumb in one piece, I had a wander around Ipanema and went to the pool on top of the hotel with views around the city and up to Christ the Redeemer. A group of colleagues mentioned they were going up to Sugar Loaf Mountain to watch the sunset, so I decided to join them (my policy is to say yes to everything now). Sugar Loaf is a big gherkin shaped rock sticking up out of the sea and with views back to Rio and it’s sweeping bays. The cable car had a bit of a queue but soon we were up to the first stage of the mountain before having to board another cable car to the top. It’s a surreal moment when you find ourself looking at one of the most famous views in the world unexpectedly and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. It was clear, breezy and beautiful. As the sun went down the clouds gathered and a thunderstorm bubbled to life on the horizon. The city lit up, first with street lights and then with bolts of lightning every ten seconds or so. One of the guys I was with managed to capture an amazing photo with his iPhone which I got him to send to me. I drank a few local beers (Bohemia) and felt very lucky to do the job I do.

The Brazilian people have blown me away with their warmth, humour and beauty. They are straight forward and love to have a good time – they must smile more on average than any other nation I’ve been to.

I went out to a churrascuria (traditional Brazilian all-you-can-eat BBQ restaurant where meat is sliced off the skewer and onto your plate) last night and had about ten different types of meat including chicken hearts and probably the nicest steak I’ve ever eaten, all washed down with caipirinhas. They are dangerously strong and I soon felt a bit tipsy, but very content. On the way back to the hotel I bumped into some of the girls that had organised the exhibition. They asked me if I wanted to go with them to Lapa to go samba dancing. In typical English reservedness I said no, but as soon as their taxi had driven off I felt a pang of regret. A very poor breach of my yes policy. How often does one samba in Rio? I’ll bring your mother next time and we can do it together.

What a great city. I’ve decided I have to learn Portuguese.

Love,

Dad

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A week in Taiwan

Dear George,

No surprises, I’m on board a plane again. I’m on the Tarmac at Taipei’s Taoyuan International airport waiting to fly 12 hours to Amsterdam then home to Nottingham.

I haven’t been away with work since Hong Kong in August but now have a devilish couple of months when I am away 4 weeks out of 5 in 4 different countries and will mean I see very little of you. To make matters worse, I am only back from this trip for 2 days and for most of those you will still be on holiday in Mallorca with your mum, grandparents and cousins. I see you for one evening and then wake up at 4am to fly to Brazil. You’re at an age (almost 2 now, where did the time go?) where you are doing new things every day and I’m missing them. Skype has let us down this week which makes it worse.

So what of this trip? Not much to tell you really, it was all work until into the evenings and then moving on to the next city. I went to Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichuhng, Tainan and Kaohsiung then back up to Taipei. All I really saw were hotels, Starbucks, a Karaoke bar and a couple of restaurants with no time for being a tourist. I’ve been to Taiwan so many times now and all I have seen is the cities. One day I’ll make time to see the eastern side and middle of the island that everyone here assures me is beautiful. Taipei continues to grow in population, sucking the youth from the rest of the island whilst the middle-aged move out to Hsinchu and Taichung to larger, cheaper housing and commute on a fast train. There is real worry about the economy as wages haven’t gone up in the best part of a decade, growth has slowed, the hi-tech industry is being out-competed by other parts of Asia and the population is ageing. The rich are rich and everyone else is slogging away for not great returns, so property is too expensive for most couples and this is delaying family life. Someone told me that people have kids more out of duty than anything else – to help the economy.

Karaoke is massive in east Asia. In the UK it is a public performance, but here you go to huge buildings full of lots of small private rooms for only you and your accomplices to use. You can order all types of food and drink with waiter service and usually even have your own toilet. It is a time-sucking black hole once you are inside and have drunk a couple of beers – the hours fly past in a blur of Blur, crooned Frank Sinatra, and frankly optimistic Whitney Houston . The performances start, the Viking in you comes out and everyone starts crucifying well known tunes. It is great fun, but only because it is so strange to us Europeans and treated as a bit of a joke. Locals use is as a social and business forum and not the drunken screech-fest that we do. I am particularly good at Faith by George Michael and Chasing Cars by Razorlight (by that I mean not totally appalling) and not much else.

Some things I saw this week:

– Din Tai Fung – a Michelin starred but very reasonable dim sum restaurant, which was excellent
– The Eva Air check in desk at Taipei airport which is Hello Kitty themed. Hello Kitty is a cultural phenomenon in Taiwan and has arguably influenced visual culture in the asiatic region for the past twenty years – hence their fondness of cute characters in all advertising, etc
– Painted junction boxes. It’s like middle class street art
– Kiss and ride sign. This is the drop off point for cars at stations/airports, although it sounds much ruder

My flight has taken off now and it’s close to midnight, so I’m going to kick back and try to get some much needed sleep.

Love,

Dad

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