Wrapup on Brasil

July 27 2008

Spend five days in a country, any country, and you barely start to get a taste for what it is like.  Visit its two largest cities, and that sense is very distorted, especially for a country as large and diverse as Brazil.  

As a motorbike driver deliberately smacked the rearview mirror of my colleague Ricardo's car in retaliation for something so audacious as a lane change, while we were dodging highway-side peanut and beverage vendors, I saw a bit of the traffic tension that I had heard about in São Paulo (though it still didn't strike me as different than other large cities).  This was contrasted with the entirely pleasant ten minutes stuck in traffic along Copacabana in Rio on Thursday.... a "traffic jam" with a view of one of the world's most beautiful beaches.  I saw the difference between a business hotel where the customer was constantly +1 for additional fees, versus the JW Marriott on Copacabana where the service could not genuinely have been any nicer (as it was when I was there two years ago...highly, highly recommended).  I experienced the pride of the Brazilians, as they "competed" between Rio and São Paulo (sorry, guys, Rio wins) and Fogo de Chao vs. Porcão (Porcão was a wow, better food, better experience, and a beautiful setting across the harbor from Sugarloaf Mountain).  Yet I saw the poverty of the street vendors, the graffiti on fenced-off statues, and the serene blue paint on a section of favelas seen in the distance from high up in an office building.

I came to Brazil for many reasons.  As of July 1, IBM is managing Latin America as a separate operating region, to provide more resources and focus in this "emerging market".  It was only my second business trip to South America, so I spent much more of my time listening than talking (yes, I know, this is quite a surprise).  I listened to the beauty of spoken Brazilian Portuguese ("oi, tudo bem" just sounds so much more pleasant than "howareya"), the excellent English of my colleagues, and the hopeful sounds and expressions of my customers and business partners.  I watched the organized chaos of the open work area (no cubicles) at a customer site, wondering how anyone could be productive amongst so many young, confident, beautiful people buzzing around with fresh ideas and attitudes.  And I laughed, smiled, and thought a lot about what I learned.  

Simply, while I don't have a camera full of pictures, I have a mind full of memories and ideas.  And I will be back.

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