Saturday, October 17, 2015

Brazil business trip

I had a long 3-week business trip to Brazil in September. Though business travel is not like leisure travel, particularly when you work for Samsung Korea, but it was a new country for me to experience so I thought I should write a little something about it.

For one thing, Brazil is really FAR from Korea, about as far away in the world as you can get (I think only Argentina is more distant). To get there, we flew 10 hours to Abu Dhabi and then another 15 hours to Sao Paulo! Thank goodness we had business class seats on Etihad. It was my first time flying quality business class for a long flight (I have had subpar business class experiences on shorter United and Vietnam Air trips) and I enjoyed the luxuries of high-class travel. Champagne before takeoff... Yes please! Sleeping is much easier when you are actually flat. The Etihad business class lounge in Abu Dhabi is quite splendid and has a great buffet (the airport there is not so splendid, however). It's hard for me to believe that I have survived 9 business trips to US/Europe with Samsung flying economy.

Once we landed I stayed awake in the car to watch late afternoon in Sao Paulo. We landed on a cool overcast day and the city felt quite bleak. Everything felt dilapidated somehow. Motorbikes zipped between lanes in the traffic, graffiti everywhere on the sides of the road. Sao Paulo seemed to have an endless array of unfinished buildings and work-in-progress pillars for new roads and trains. I couldn't help but wonder how many of these projects had been abandoned. My young Korean colleague in the car said, "This doesn't feel so exotic."

We had all been scared pre-trip with warnings about Brazil's safety. Don't walk alone at night. Beware looking conspicuous at the airport. Pray that you're not kidnapped by a gang. I expected Koreans to be paranoid, but my external research was similarly ominous. I felt anxious.

However, thankfully the Samsung Brazil subsidiary, near Morumbi Mall, was in a decent part of town away from the favelas. I quickly grew comfortable with walking on the sidewalk from hotel to office during the day (a lot of people were also walking), and in the early evening I would walk in a pack with colleagues. If I felt afraid, smartphone apps like GrabTaxi seemed to work well and taxis in Sao Paulo are cheap.

Brazilians, Koreans, and *me* ... enjoying steak
That said, I was not in Sao Paulo to enjoy myself or explore. Korean-style business trips mean long hours and a lot of Korean food! Actually being forced to eat Korean food in Sao Paulo with my team was really frustrating. There is enough Korean food in Korea... Expand your palates a little! I really wanted to visit a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, a churrascaria, and was really sad that my team did not want to try this uniquely Brazilian dining experience.

I had a bit of time to myself during the first 2 weekends that I was in Brazil. I went out to try drinking caipirinhas and enjoy life music. The Sao Paulo social scene seemed to have a relaxed dress code and I felt like I fit in quite well.

Actually, I fit in a little too well... Everyone was trying to speak Portuguese to me! I hadn't known how diverse Sao Paulo is, a lot like New York or Houston in the US. I told my girlfriend that I seemed to blend right in and she was shocked, thinking that all Brazilians have dark features (definitely not all).

Real pizza and dark beer ... I love it!
I quickly discovered that Sao Paulo is a center of business and not a good place for tourism. My first 2 weekends there were cool and gray, and after seeing the Parque Ibirapuerra (a nice walk) and the Sao Paulo Cathedral (dangerous neighborhood), I didn't feel like there was anything more to see. Avenida Paulista was dull.

I did enjoy Sao Paulo food greatly. Beans and grilled vegetables and delicious grilled salmon and chicken and beefsteak... Yum yum yum. Also so many tropical fruits in Brazil. Passion fruit! Starfruit, guava, papaya as well. In addition, because Sao Paulo was settled by so many Italians (more even than New York) one couldn't help but find great Italian food too! Speaking of which, Sao Paulo is full of Italian-style espresso shops. A shot of espresso, a cube of sugar, and a little biscuit or wafer... For $1.20, so cheap! It made me feel a little bitter what I pay to drink mediocre coffee in Korea.

Diversity ... you see I do fit in at Brazil!
Sadly, despite the lack of attractions I did not escape Sao Paulo during my 3-week stay. Rio de Janeiro would have been the obvious place to visit, but my first two weekends in Brazil had awful weather, and my Korean team called me into work on the third weekend when the weather had turned sunny and glorious. Damn. I have a 10-year visa to Brazil now, so I guess I will need to return.

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