Why Rio de Janeiro??
When I was a boy, our family would visit grandparents on my mother’s side almost every summer. My grandparents lived in Kumamoto prefecture, on the southernmost island of Kyushu. Kumamoto is known for many things, one of them being the climate--unbearably hot and humid during the summer season. Shoes being an unrealistic option for daily use, I would travel everywhere in my flip-flop sandals. One day, our family and relatives decided to go out to the hot springs and the famous Kumamoto castle, but there was one problem. I couldn’t find my flip-flops. So I just put on the thing closest resembling sandals that I could find--“Kenkou-Sandals(健康サンダル)” or “Healthy Sandals”, special sandals with numerous fine bumps in the soles that automatically massage the pressure points in your feet as you walk--and took off.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
The sandals were great at first. The bumps massaged my feet perfectly. But slowly, I started feeling a change. As my feet became raw from the endless massaging, the bumps started turning into blades. In the end, it felt as if I was walking on porcupines, durians, sea urchins--anything spiky imaginable. I couldn’t stand it anymore, and ended up walking around barefoot. This was maybe ok (not really) in the castle grounds of Kumamato-jo, but not so in the Tsuruya department store where we were going to have dinner. My aunt promptly bought me a new pair of flip-flop sandals--a sleek black pair with a printing of the Brazilian flag.
I don’t know if this is the reason, but ever since childhood, I’ve had a fascination with Brazil (afterall it did save me from my “healthy sandal” hell). During the 2002 World Cup, I rooted for Brazil and the 3 Rs (Ronaldo was my favorite). Even in the NBA, I root for Brazilian players. Every time I wore those flip-flops, even back in the US, I would imagine the beautiful beach of Ipanema, where the people would eat churrasco and drink mate tea, while happily dancing to the rhythm of the samba. I understood these were stereotypes, but they also brought tremendous joy to the daydreaming little Leo, staring out of the classroom window at the never-ending autumn rain.
So when I needed a South American city for my project, Brazil, was the first to pop into my head. And if my childhood fantasies weren’t enough making my decision, Brazil is in an interesting state now both economically and politically, with the World Cup finished and the Olympics coming up. What a great time to visit the Marvelous City.
Why Rio de Janeiro??