Another instance of Whiskas' travel-motivated commentary

Echoing Monica's comment of a few weeks ago, Brazil impresses by its accelerated economic growth. Internationally-traded stocks are on all-time highs, exports blossom, and foreign companies invest heavily. Nevertheless, the magazine I picked for reading on-board still had as its cover story racism issues and the social disparities between races. Browsing through the articles, this contrast is strikingly visible: whereas one discusses the Central Bank's decision on interest rates and another reports of BMW's plans to expand its dealerships and even contemplates setting up a manufacturing plant, reports on the low levels of investment on primary education or a story about the lack of an effective witness protection program to safeguard the lives of those who attempt to raise voice against the ever-present corruption in the higher spheres of the Brazilian society show that the South American giant still has a long way to go before it can have the label of 'developed country' stamped upon itself.

I dwell further. Brazilian science advances with the growing economy as local industries realize the potential of applied research in the vast - and capable - University environment. But at the same time, laboratories still struggle under the bureaucratic machine to maintain their expensive lab equipments running: a million-dollar atomic force microscope (AFM) employs probe tips costing, in Europe, but a few dozen dollars each. Boarding to Brazil, a fellow physicist asked me whether I could help out their lab by bringing some AFM tips, as they are hard to find - and then, usually prohibitively expensive - in the local market. I don't want to go Machiavellic here - that is to say, employ the "the ends justify the means" adage -, merely illustrate another point where the land still must come to terms with its own progress.

And then there is the Critical Mass incident. Critical Masses (CMs) are anarchic manifestations, mostly by bikers, attempting to call attention to the fact that today's urban (traffic) planning leaves alternative forms of transportation mostly sidelined, what in greater part can be blamed on the automobile-centred mentality which permeates the views of (almost) everyone living in an urban environment. The first CMs took place in North America, before spreading now to be found in virtually every continent, and in particular in cities and countries where a sufficiently large community of alternative, liberal minded cyclists attempt to fight, outnumbered, the status quo. As a cyclist, I took part in some of the first CMs in Porto Alegre, then dubbed "Bicicletadas". After a few rounds, I ceased to participate, as I had the impression such events would foster more annoyance among drivers rather then actually spreading a positive image about the idea. But I digress.
Two weeks ago, during the monthly edition of Porto Alegre's CM, as the manifestation cycled through a tight downtown street, a driver lost his temper and ran over over a dozen cyclists, knocking them out of the way or over his windshield, fleeing immediately afterwards. Behind, the almost one hundred participants were left in uttermost shock - amateur videos of the attack remind of a Carmaggedon game scene, and it was by sheer luck that no one was killed, no, wait, murdered. (Shameless plug: always wear a helmet!). After overcoming the shock from the news, and finding out that my friends who took part were mostly unscathed, I was, needless to say, relieved to be cycling in a way friendlier environment...
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I flew Business for my 26th crossing of the Atlantic. I'm terribly spoiled by having insiders in Brazil's largest airline - which usually translates into getting cheaper deals for a ticket or an upgrade for the 12-hour haul over the Big Water Pond. I figure I wouldn't have enjoyed most of these crossings so much, were it not for the added comfort of the extra leg room, fully reclining seat - and the wine menu, of course :) . Thanks again, Roni!
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Put together all the points above, the bending of rules, or their re-interpretation, and one should be able to draw a pretty good picture of the famous "Brazilian way" - the jeitinho brasileiro, which could be translated as the institutionalization of helping one's own (including oneself) out. This unique approach leads to innovation, flexibility and tolerance, but seems also to be, at the very same time, the most infamous character trait of the Brazilian society - precisely when it is translated to impunity, or lack of observance to valid standards, regulations or safety measures.
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Among the ponderings of the past few months, I've spent time trying to figure my identity more precisely. I was born and grew up in Brazil, but I don't fully grasp the culture or the people in its entirely. Most of the country is unbeknownst to me, being familiar only with the European-influenced southern states - and, in fact, I had never cooked the traditional beans dish until last week :) . At the same time, I am German, I live in Germany, and have grown up in a half-German family with many influences from my Old Continent relatives - and yet, in many senses I am still a foreigner.

During my time in Canada, I would often identify myself as Brazilian, but spent more time with German-speaking friends. Coming back to my home town this week, I again faced myself with the identity question. Fortunately, I came to realize that such lack of a properly defined answer must not be taken negatively: never mind that most of my closest friends have some sort of migration or living-abroad background; I am among my own in different countries, continents and cultures. Home, finally, is always where the heart is.

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