Rio!

Polarizing – that’s the word that sums up my first impression of Brazil thus far, particularly Rio de Janeiro. When I told my family and friends that I was visiting Rio, everyone was telling me how gorgeous the locals were. The hype on Rio is astonishing. Shoo – even I bought into the hype. I spent nearly a month before my trip exercising and dieting like a mad woman so I wouldn’t look like mush next to these so-called stunning cariocas. When you click on Google Images of Rio, all you get is pictures of Christ the Redeemer, along with the astonishing landscape of lush forests, dramatic cliff top mountains, and beaches. To a certain degree, seeing the statute and being on top of Corcovado fulfills the hype. The view from the mountain offers fantastic views of Rio.

What I didn’t expect though was the huge divide between the rich and poor. The middle class does not exist here. Glamorous women in bikinis will walk alongside the beach and pass a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk. Yet, the physical distance between the rich and poor is so close. In fact, it’s to the point where the slums are only four blocks from my hotel. Thus, it’s not permissible for me to walk far because I’ll likely get mugged or robbed.

That’s another thing I didn’t expect about Rio. The crime is really bad. Granted, with the Summer Olympics set to arrive in 2016, the city of Rio has been hard at work to clean up the crime. At Copacabana Beach, I saw police officers frequently stroll along the side walk. In the favelas, I am told the army and national security forces have stepped in and are building police stations to ferret out the violence.

Still, it’s disheartening that I can only sparingly whip out my camera to take pictures. It’s also sad I can’t thoroughly walk long distances and explore neighborhoods without worrying about entering the slums. I’m also discouraged that I can’t enter the favelas without taking an official tour due to safety concerns.

I’m from Atlanta and many of my classmates are from New Orleans, so exercising due diligence is a way of life. Maybe living in Portland close to two years has affected my psyche, but it’s disappointing to know that I can’t step out and explore local neighborhoods, get lost, and freely take pictures. That’s my hallmark of being a care free traveler. The fact that I have to be so constricted in my movements and my photo taking shots has somewhat negatively colored my impression of Rio, and in extension, Brazil.

Yet, despite the high rate of crime and violence, I have been charmed by the locals. I don’t speak a word of Portuguese beyond abrigado (“thank you”) and ola (“hello”), but the cariocas have been patient and warm. Everyone will freely smile back at you when you smile at them.

That was expressed to me last night when I was in Lapa. I had the time of my life. Lapa is an old colonial district in northern Rio, and is known for their vibrant nightlife and violent crime. Indeed, my professor urged me to only go in a large group and walk no more than a 3-4 blocks radius within Lapa. Despite the limitation, because I was with some protective guys, I was able to walk more freely. The bars and clubs were housed in old run-down colonial buildings. Crowds were pouring out into the streets. Late night food stands were open until the wee hours of the morning serving mixed cocktail drinks and hotdogs. And this was a regular Saturday night! I can only imagine what the scene is like when Carnival is here.

After walking several blocks, we entered a club called Bazooka. Despite the cheesy sounding name, the atmosphere was fantastically vibrant. Afro-Brazilian musicians were lined up dressed in white pants, striped t-shirts, and Panama-style hats. They were beating drums, strumming guitars, and singing in glorious unison. The mix of Afro-Latin melodies and beats was so wondrous, I couldn’t help but start to sway my hips. After having some sips of caprinhia, I went downstairs and joined the locals, and was tapping my feet and dancing to samba trying my best to imitate the locals. I would exchange smiles with the musicians giving them my nod in approval, and they would smile back. My new friends also joined in and were joyously dancing to the music. It was at that moment that I felt like I entered a little pocket of Brazilian society and felt uplifted by the people. I was feeling a bit down in the dumps before I came to Brazil, so having a band of strangers lift my spirits made me feel so incredibly happy. It also made me see how travel can do so much to alleviate whatever insecurities and anxieties I have in life. It’s made me see how being in a foreign land and connecting to strangers, whether it’s through music and dance, can make you feel alive.  Thus, despite the poverty, the wide socioeconomic divide, and the prevalent violence, Brazilians have created a culture infused with vitality through its music, culture, and positive, upbeat attitude. The jury is still out on Brazil and I’ve only been here a couple of days, but whatever misgivings I have about the place, I’m looking forward to see more of what it has to offer.

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NYC: Shout out to Eddie Huang of Baohaus

On the second-to-last-night of my time in New York, I saw Baohaus and knew I wanted to try out their brand of Taiwanese street food. I lived in China for at least a year and grew accustomed to eating pork buns. Did I mention I love eating them? Those steamy, sweet tastes of goodness is equivalent to eating a big mac, but only better tasting. Needless to say, Baohaus totally fulfilled my pork bun craving.

Another reason why I came here was because of its owner, Eddie Huang. I’ve frequented his blog, Fresh Off the Boat (http://thepopchef.blogspot.com/) several times and find his entries filled with humor and insight. He’ll discuss about anything – food, race, etc. – and spin it with hip hop slang that’s funny, perceptive, and fresh. Also, I loved his essay where he pays tribute to his dad (http://thepopchef.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-my-chinese-dad-saved-my-life.html). Like Eddie Huang, I also have a father who worked hard to support his kids. While he had a bit of the Amy Chua-tiger-dad-thing going on when I was growing up, he always had my back, whether it’s to pursue a career in law or to travel the world. For an Asian kid, that means a lot.

Day 4: Sunday brunch, waffles, and pork buns

On Sunday, we headed off to the Astor Room for brunch. The Astor Room has a storied history, with Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and the Marx Brothers would dine as frequent guests due to its former location as the main studio for Paramount Pictures. The Astor Room pays tribute to its cinematic past with Bela Lugosi Blood Mary drinks, silent film posters, and live jazz singers performing Cole Porter tunes. FYI: The Astor Room is now in the Kaufman Astoria Movie Studio, which is where Sesame Street is filmed!

I had the hollandaise sauced eggs benedict with Canadian bacon, English muffin, salad, and home fries. Yum!

Afterwards, we headed to the Lower East Side for some shopping. Upon seeing the Wafles & Dinges Belgian food truck, Minh was insistent that we try their waffles. Although I was pretty stuffed from my last meal, I was curious to see how amazing these waffles really were. One bite of the peanut better whipped cream waffle, and I instantly understood why there was a queue of anxious folks lined up. The waffle was pretty a-maz-ing.

 
 

Day 3: Makeover in the City

On our way to the bridal salon, we stumbled upon a make-up trailer from Sephora. We checked out the make-up items, when an associate asked Uyen if she wanted to get a make over and be featured in a commercial. She happily agreed.

Kim also get a makeover. Doesn’t she look dramatic with the backdrop of New York City behind her?

NYC – Day Two

Uyen expressed a desire to have an English tea party theme for her wedding. To play off the theme, my cousins and I agreed to throw her a surprise tea party at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon. Located at the Inn at Irving Place, Lady Mendl’s evokes images of refined socialites of yesteryear sipping tea to discuss the latest news and gossip. One can imagine Edith Wharton, one of my favorite writers, sitting at the table studiously observing all the attendees, taking notes, and using them as inspiration for novels such as “The Age of Innocence.” Anywhoo, I digress. Inadvertent disclosures and a random burp aside, the tea party went without a hitch. The sweets were sweet, the tea was soothingly good, and the ladies had a lovely time.

Spring Break in New York – Day One

Greetings!

I got back last week from a memorable trip in New York. The purpose of the trip was to spend time with my cousins and to help my cousin, Uyen find her dream wedding dress. The trip was a mix of girlish decorum, downtown shopping, and rich foods with a dash of English tea – literally! Here’s a rundown of the highlights on the first day:

John Brown Smokehouse, Queens

A neighborhood joint specializing in Missouri City, Kansas-style BBQ, John Brown serves a hearty serving a mac n’ cheese, baked beans, and smoked and fried meats. My personal favorite are their burnt ends, a beef brisket cooked twice making the meat deliciously moist, with a savory fatty and burnt texture.

No trip to New York isn’t complete without a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a wonderful way to get a skyline view of the City.

After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, we spent time exploring DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Just a little FYI: Dumbo, the classic animated movie from Disney, got its name from the Brooklyn neighborhood. We passed by many interesting shops, but no place charmed me more than Dumbelle.

Dumbelle was started by Elaine Pedlar, an illustrator and fashion designer. She designs black-and-white couture paper cut-outs of fashionable girls, so little (and big girls such as me) can color  in the outfits. Upon passing the window of Dumbelle, my inner child wanted to grab a cut-out and head straight to a nearby desk to color away.

Intro

Hello world!

I’m finally taking the dive and entering the serious world of blogging. I admit, I have had blog adventures in the past with Xanga and still have a blog with blogspot, but this is the first time I’ve purchased a domain title, spontaneousbhomebody.com. It’s kind of exciting. I got an inquisitive mind and avid interest in articulating my passions in artful, witty ways. Thus, I’m ready to share my escapades with all things pertaining to food and travel and inspire homebodies to become more spontaneous. Ultimately, my purpose in writing this blog is to embrace your inner joie de vivre and also to remind myself to do the same. Enjoy!

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