Monday, January 31, 2011

Sons of Maria

Our couchsurfing host Maria rushed out of her apartment building and greeted us with warm hugs. Already her smile made us feel a lot more at ease after a long day of travelling.  It is Rio de Janeiro after all, a city with high-crime reputation that made us quite a bit nervous. After all we have received enough warnings from fellow Brazilians.

Maria introduced us to her mother first, then later on her younger son David who was in his early-twenties and was surprisingly shy around strangers. During a later conversation, Maria mentioned that both her sons were professional ballet dancers. “Oh yeah, I read in your Couchsurfing profile that you dance samba very well!”I said to Maria,”So it runs in the family!” Maria heard me and just smiled.

The second day morning while having breakfast, we heard Maria’s mother singing to songs played in the radio. Such a beautiful voice to a body weakening by cancer. I commented to Maria and was told that Mother had been singing in a choir up until last year even through several years’ cancer treatment. Once again I commented,”Looks like plenty artistic genes in your family!” Again Maria just smiled.

Later that day the topic of Maria’s sons’ performances came up again while we were in the kitchen. While showing me photos of various performances, Maria casually mentioned me that both her sons were actually adopted. David at birth, and the older son Javier much later. “How?” My curiosity never ends.

Maria carried on flipping the photo album and pointing here and there while answering:“Well, David and Javier became friends when they studied in the same dance school since they were boys. Many years later, Javier’s family found out that he was gay and kicked him out on the street, so he had been staying with different friends. For a while he was staying at my home and we got along great. The little while turned to a longer time period. Then one day Javier asked me if he can invite some friends over. Of course.”

“Then he asked,’When I invite my friends, instead of saying that it is at my friend’s mom’s house, can I just say it is at my mom’s house?’”

“That was a few years’ back, and we have been a family since then. Now Javier wears a tattoo that says Son of Maria.”

When Maria finished telling the story, I saw through my teary eyes that her hands were still caressing through the photos. It was with such tenderness and pride.

Rio de Janeiro is indeed what people call “Cidade Maravilhosa”, Marvelous City. It gives you what you are looking for if you look hard enough. Some times hope, sometimes fear, and sometimes even a mother.

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Fine Print: The names in the story are changed to respect family’s privacy, but this is a real story.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quiz Question

Some say the following accessory is for back-scratching. Some say it is for fishing. What do you think it is for? I will give you a clue. It is commonly used by motorcycles in Brazil!

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Live from Uruguay

The photo album of Uruguay part of the journey is here. The highlight was undoubtedly the amazing drum performance by Nico Arnicho. We thank our Couchsurfing host Javi for this wonderful tip! Check out this video that Q took. (If you cannot see the video link, click here.)

Personally I thought Uruguay was a small country with strong beats that should not be missed.

Now onto Brasil!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A is for Asado in Argentina

Now that we are heading north, we have left the gaucho (cowboy) country behind. However I feel compelled to blog about one of the most essential cultural signatures in Argentina: Asado.

Asado is essentially barbeque, but done in a very patient and artful way. A typical asado consists of many different types of meats, besides the common steaks, there are often interesting parts like intestines, sweet bread, blood sausages - all the same delicious in different ways. A good asado is served over the course of several hours, with the meat selection getting increasingly better and more delicious.

2011-01-01 20h52m05s DMC-LX3 P1010925_RW2Just about every Argentinian man takes extreme pride in his techniques in making the perfect BBQ - it may cause a heated debate as to who is the best asador. But there is no doubt in my mind that the best BBQ is in Argentina.

We have had the honour of joining a few and it never failed to impress. Here are some great asado moments. (Sorry to make you drool, dad!)

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(Courtesy of Juan Pablo in Puerto Madryn)

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(Courtesy of Claudia y German in Tucuman)

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(Courtesy of Bas y Sas in Buenos Aires)

There, A is for Asado. Now you know the most single important cultural fact about Argentina. If only if you can taste the meat yourself. So tender, so delicious…

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“Where Are You From?”

It is one of the most frequent questions we get from the curious strangers, and it is the one we dread answering most. Some days I feel like getting the following laminated and stick it to our foreheads.

Driver: Half-Filipino Dutch.

Passenger: Chinese Canadian.

Motorcycle: UAE-registered German.

Bet you can’t imagine all the questions that answer would invite, and very quickly instead of a 10-second speed chat, we are telling the whole dozen-page story. Sometimes hearing myself makes me feel like a broken record player, telling bits and pieces about ourselves and trying not to be too confusing at the same time.

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Often we just reduce our answers to single words, out of sheer laziness. Mine is “Chinese” and Q’s is “Holland”.  But with a slightly more educated or observant crowd, Q gets himself into trouble with the simplified answer. “You don’t look very Dutch.”

Crap. Here goes the broken record again. I guess at the end of it, we are eager to see those satisfied nods because we too can be curious sometimes.

So where are you from?