• Wed
  • Apr 16, 2014
  • Updated: 10:00pm

Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 September, 2008, 12:00am

Thronged with surfers and sunbathers, and decorated with two large characters for 'Macau', a thriving Chinese-owned snack bar seems strangely out of place in the suburbs of Salvador, northeastern Brazil. Mr and Mrs Wong, the owners of Macau Lanchonete (lanchonete means 'snack bar' in Portuguese) have been living in Barra, one of the city's most popular beach areas, for about 10 years.

'We lived in Macau for a few years before coming here - that's why we named the business Macau Lanchonete - but we're originally from Guangzhou,' says Mrs Wong. 'There aren't any Chinese in Salvador from Hong Kong, or none that we know of, anyway. People in Brazil have all heard of Macau - it's the common Portuguese heritage I suppose - but none of them have ever heard of Guangzhou.'

Macau Lanchonete does a roaring trade on weekends but it's quieter during the week, Mrs Wong says. Typical Brazilian snack-bar food and drinks are on offer: toasted sandwiches, pasteis (savoury pastries), sucos (fresh fruit juices), beers and caipirinha - the Brazilian national tipple, made from sugar, lime, plenty of ice and a belt of cachaca (the potent local sugar-cane spirit). Other than spring rolls, nothing Chinese appears on the menu. 'That's not what people here want to eat,' Mrs Wong says, laughing. 'Much better to offer what they are used to.'

'Brazil is an OK place to live,' Mr Wong says. 'Salvador is a nice place and it's always warm.' But certain aspects of the Brazilian lifestyle get him down at times.

'Everything here is just so slow - it takes them forever to get the simplest things done; look at this resurfacing work on the praca (open square) in front of us here. We used to have 10 tables out there - every one of them full all day and half the night. Now look at it - all dug up and we can't put even one table out till it's finished. How are we supposed to do business like that? Now, at home in China, it would be finished in a fortnight or so - probably less in Hong Kong - but here? They say it will be finished in about three months. Let's see.

'What's life like here as a Chinese? Well, Brazil has all kinds of people - all sorts of races including plenty of Japanese - so we don't face any particular problems. We know [the Brazilians] think we Chinese are dirty and they think we exploit the people who work for us; we hear them say so all the time. But so what? We're not here as a charity. More and more Chinese are coming to settle down in Brazil - there are plenty of business opportunities here these days.'

Mrs Wong says they've adapted to their new home and find the locals friendly. 'I like them; they're outgoing and always laugh and joke with me. Brazilians are much friendlier in Salvador than in other places, such as Sao Paulo, but you do have to pick the language up fast to survive in Brazil. We speak it well enough for what we need day to day.'

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