Brazil: The many things I loved after 10 days in Rio de Janeiro and Buzios

Blanka layin' the SMACK down on Zangief
Blanka layin’ the SMACK down. BRAZEAL!

In February, I spent 10 days in Brazil – 3 in Buzios (it of the Bardot statue), and 7 in Rio de Janeiro (5 of them during Carnaval).

Brazil is a top 5 city for me. The top 5 right now would be:

1. New York (see my Quora answer)
2. Shanghai
3. Los Angeles
4. Tokyo
5. Rio de Janeiro

I need to spend more time in Europe (Scandinavia is high on the list), and I’ve never visited Australia, so I expect this list to evolve.

Here are random observations and things I loved about my time there.

View from our Buzios room
View from our Buzios room

In short, I can’t wait to go back; I spent the same amount of time in Argentina but don’t feel the same way.

Rio is an absurdly beautiful city. Locals say God created Rio when he was drunk. GORGEOUS mountains. GORGEOUS beaches. A GORGEOUS lake (5 miles around). Most cities would be happy with even one of those gifts. Rio has them all. And all with the buzzing vitality of a large city and friendly, fun-loving people.

Farofa is a very popular side dish that can be mixed with beans, meats, veggies, just about everything. Made from the manioc root, it’s Brazil’s ketchup. I LOVE IT. Maybe not as much as Ichiran, but I miss that crunchy, savory flavor. Like a more subtle, grounded up Cheetos.

Some farofa goodness at 10 o'clock
Some farofa goodness at 10 o’clock

You know what still amazes me? The universality of American culture. Nothing is more influential than Hollywood and everything it represents – our movies, tv shows, music. No matter what traveler you’re talking to – whether from Hungary, Australia, Japan, or anywhere in-between – they can recount Friends episodes, laugh at Cartman’s jokes, and compare The Wire v. Breaking Bad (The Wire is more intense and socially profound, Breaking Bad is BETTER TV).

Carnaval was ridiculous. Essentially a giant street party, for young and old alike. But I can understand why many locals dislike it and leave the city for quieter pastures. You get a bunch of loud, obnoxious, alcohol-fueled non-locals who make noise day and night, and leave tons of trash everywhere they go. But who doesn’t like baile funk??

Crazy street parties (blocos)
Crazy street parties (blocos)

When traveling, I really enjoy doing my “US things”, like going to McDonalds, buying coffee at Starbucks, going for a run, or watching a movie. It’s familiar and comfortable, and yet it’s in a whole new environment so it adds that extra bit of excitement and uncertainty.

People in developing countries don’t stand a chance against largely America-influenced and America-led consumerism. Taking a 3-hour bus ride to Buzios, I counted at least 10 huge billboards promoting the latest Bob’s Burger deluxe meal (a popular fast-food chain) with extra fries and extra cheese and extra bacon. And we drove by a MASSIVE Carrefour (a French version of Costco). No wonder countries become obese.

Subway's popular
At least Subway’s popular

Funny how some behaviors are just so universal. Maybe it’s learned through media, but some of it is instinctual. For example, teenage girls everywhere love to hangout at malls, drinking lattes and gossiping at Starbucks.

Brazil either has a very large gay population, or is very liberal and supportive of that community. There’s a specific gay section at Ipanema Beach (Posto 8), and gay bars throughout the city.

Yet another reason I love traveling – you learn SO MUCH, not only about the country & cultures that you’re visiting, but others too. How Aussies are generally crazier and party harder than most, how Swedes enjoy electronic music, etc etc etc. Gross generalizations, of course, but fascinating nonetheless.

Interesting to me how, in both Argentina and Brazil, laundromats are all wash & fold. I have yet to find a self-serve. Labor costs are low, perhaps laundromats are few & far-between…

Argentina, and even more so, Brazil, seem to have a big tattoo culture. Just a part of expressiveness and fashion. I love it.

Overemployment. Our Airbnb host brought this up, and I definitely concur. The local supermarket has 3x the people it needs. A third stand around and chat, a third are active, and a third seem to be engaging in productive activity but really aren’t. I ask for a bag of ice, and it takes 10 minutes, and several discussions between groups of 2-3 people, before one is procured.

Rio has such a big beach culture. It really is a way of life. All of the sports it enables (like foot volleyball, body boarding), the foods that are popular (like frozen acai), the clothing styles (tank tops, shorts, hats, bikinis, etc). Growing up in Austin and spending much of my adult life in the Bay Area, I’ve never experienced this firsthand. Amazing and addictive

The Redeemer!
The Redeemer!

You know you love a city, when you’ve only spent a week there and dread the idea of leaving.

How does it feel to be a country that has never seen a major war? A country that does not learn about its own violent history in grade school (I remember taking Texas History class in 3rd grade and easily 1/3 of the textbook was about our wars with Native Americans, the Spanish, the Europeans, the rest of America). A country that does not know a friend or relative who fought and perhaps died. I wonder how that history, or lack thereof, affects the national ethos and its peoples’ values: on things like gun control, military service, geopolitics…

Ending with this Rio quote from the NYT (I’m sure basketball fans out there appreciate the irony of this totally unintentional comparison):

The place makes Miami look like Cleveland. […] We stopped saying things like “wow, look at the view,” because we saw stunning views almost everywhere we looked.

The Good Life: Lessons from Robert Greene’s Mastery

mastery-by-robert-greeneTl;dr: download the Good Life guide, a 4-page PDF drawing life lessons from Robert Greene’s Mastery.

This is my 4th Good Life guide. Here are the other 3:

  • Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life [link]
  • Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues [link]
  • Greg Epstein’s Good Without God [link]

I chose Greene’s Mastery because I feel like a “jack of all trades but master of none”. This book crystallizes why highly successful people are masters at a specific (and often narrow) discipline, and the steps they took to get there. In addition, it comes highly recommended by Tim Ferriss and I’m a fan of Greene’s 48 Laws of Power.

The Good Life guides are “CliffsNotes for personal growth”. Less comprehensive summary, more focus on how a book’s stories, themes, and facts can help us live a Good Life: one of personal fulfillment, long-term purpose, and value to society (usually all intimately-related anyway :).

It’s a 4-page PDF, free to download and share. You can also view it in Google Docs.

I’ve included below some of my favorite highlights from Mastery. This is my 4th Good Life guide – I’d love to hear how I can make them more useful for you!

If you’d like to buy the original, here’s my Amazon affiliate link.

EXCERPTS FROM THE GUIDE

  • Learn from existing Masters through apprenticeships

    Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest Masters, past and present

    The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character

  • There are 3 steps to the Apprenticeship:
    • Step 1: Deep Observation (observe and notice everything, especially the details)
    • Step 2: Skills Acquisition (learn to do what they do extremely well)
    • Step 3: Experimentation (learn to make those skills your own, and go beyond them!)
  • Feedback, feedback, feedback. Learn to love criticism
  • It helps also to gain as much feedback as possible from others, to have standards against which you can measure your progress so that you are aware of how far you have to

    Sometimes greater danger comes from success and praise than from criticism. If we learn to handle criticism well, it can strengthen us and help us become aware of flaws in our work. Praise generally does harm. Ever so slowly, the emphasis shifts from the joy of the creative process to the love of attention and to our ever-inflating ego.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BOOK

At these times, other people seem less resistant to our influence; perhaps we are more attentive to them, or we appear to have a special power that inspires their respect.

Masters return to this childlike state, their works displaying degrees of spontaneity and access to the unconscious, but at a much higher level than the child.

As a classic example, compare the lives of Sir Francis Galton and his older cousin, Charles Darwin. By all accounts, Galton was a super-genius with an exceptionally high IQ, quite a bit higher than Darwin’s (these are estimates done by experts years after the invention of the measurement). Galton was a boy wonder who went on to have an illustrious scientific career, but he never quite mastered any of the fields he went into. He was notoriously restless, as is often the case with child prodigies. Darwin, by contrast, is rightly celebrated as the superior scientist, one of the few who has forever changed our view of life.

“Why bother working for years to attain mastery when we can have so much power with very little effort? Technology will solve everything.”

What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. In the past, it was organized religion that often supplied this. But most of us now live in a secularized world. We human animals are unique—we must build our own world. We do not simply react to events out of biological scripting. But without a sense of direction provided to us, we tend to flounder. We don’t how to fill up and structure our time.

A false path in life is generally something we are attracted to for the wrong reasons—money, fame, attention, and so on.

The road to mastery requires patience. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts.

You must adopt such a spirit and see your apprenticeship as a kind of journey in which you will transform yourself, rather than as a drab indoctrination into the work

The initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it

You will know when your apprenticeship is over by the feeling that you have nothing left to learn in this environment. It is time to declare your independence or move to another place to continue your apprenticeship and expand your skill

Your access to knowledge and people is limited by your status. If you are not careful, you will accept this status and become defined by it, particularly if you come from a disadvantaged background.

To attain mastery, you must adopt what we shall call Resistance Practice. The principle is simple—you go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice. First, you resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic; you see your work as if through the eyes of others. You recognize your weaknesses, precisely the elements you are not good at.

We live in the world of a sad separation that began some five hundred years ago when art and science split apart.

We must constantly ask the questions—how do things work, how do decisions get made, how does the group interact?

What makes the mentor-protégé dynamic so intense and so productive is the emotional quality of the relationship. By nature, mentors feel emotionally invested in your education. This can be for several reasons: perhaps they like you, or see in you a younger version of themselves, and can relive their own youth through you; perhaps they recognize in you a special talent that will give them pleasure to cultivate; perhaps you have something important to offer them, mostly your youthful energy and willingness to work hard.

You will want as much personal interaction with the mentor as possible. A virtual relationship is never enough.

People often err in this process when they choose someone who seems the most knowledgeable, has a charming personality, or has the most stature in the field—all superficial reasons.

What immediately struck him was the intensity with which Pacquiao focused on his instructions and how quickly he caught on. He was eminently teachable, and so the progress was more rapid than it had ever been with any other fighter. Pacquiao seemed to never tire of training or to worry about overdoing it. Roach kept waiting for the inevitable dynamic in which the fighter would begin to tune him out, but this never came. This was a boxer he could work harder and harder. Soon, Pacquiao had developed a devastating right hand, and his footwork could match the speed of his hands.

By moving past our usual self-absorption, we can learn to focus deeply on others, reading their behavior in the moment, seeing what motivates them, and discerning any possible manipulative tendencies. Navigating smoothly the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills.

To become indignant at [people’s] conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter. —ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

Often it is the quiet ones, those who give out less at first glance, who hide greater depths, and who secretly wield greater power.

It is always wise to occasionally reveal your own insecurities, which will humanize you in other people’s eyes.

It is not generally acknowledged or discussed, but the personality we project to the world plays a substantial role in our success and in our ascension to mastery.

This ability to endure and even embrace mysteries and uncertainties is what Keats called negative capability.

Many of the most interesting and profound discoveries in science occur when the thinker is not concentrating directly on the problem but is about to drift off to sleep, or get on a bus, or hears a joke

In moments of great tension and searching, you allow yourself moments of release. You take walks, engage in activities outside your work (Einstein played the violin), or think about something else, no matter how trivial.

The hand-brain connection is something deeply wired within us; when we attempt to sketch something we must observe it closely, gaining a feel through our fingers of how to bring it to life. Such practice can help you think in visual terms and free your mind from its constant verbalizations. To Leonardo da Vinci, drawing and thinking were synonymous.

The more experienced, wiser types, such as Ramachandran, are opportunists. Instead of beginning with some broad goal, they go in search of the fact of great yield—a bit of empirical evidence that is strange and does not fit the paradigm, and yet is intriguing.

Your project or the problem you are solving should always be connected to something larger—a bigger question, an overarching idea, an inspiring goal. Whenever your work begins to feel stale, you must return to the larger purpose and goal that impelled you in the first place.

What is interesting to note is that many Masters who come to possess this high-level intuitive power seem to become younger in mind and spirit with the passing years—something that should be encouraging to us all.

Empathy plays an enormous role in learning and knowledge.

One time he learned a new word that a Pirahã explained to him meant “what is in your head when you sleep.” The word then means to dream. But the word was used with a special intonation that Pirahã use when they are referring to a new experience. Questioning further, he saw that to them dreaming is simply a different form of experience, not at all a fiction. A dream is as real and immediate to them as anything they encounter in waking life.

…for more, download the free PDF or view it in Google Docs!

March: Amazing books and articles that I recommend

Each month, I’ll post the best stuff I read in the prior month. So this is for February.

Books

February was a bit slower than January, primarily because I was focused on getting things done for Hyperink and prepping for the Shanghai move. Even though I finished 4 books, the bulk of the reading was done in January.

I finished:

mastery-by-robert-greeneMastery by Robert Greene [Amazon]. Came highly recommended by Tim Ferriss, and I’m a big fan of Greene’s 48 laws of power. While I don’t find Greene to be the most entertaining or efficient writer, he makes a strong case for the importance of becoming “the best” at something, and the steps necessary to get there (including picking the right field, tons of hard work over a long period of time, finding the right mentor(s) to guide your development). Examples range from Mozart to Darwin to Paul Graham.

talent-code-by-daniel-coyleThe Talent Code by Daniel Coyle [Amazon]. Of the 4 books that I finished this month, I read through this one the fastest and its lessons will probably stick with me the longest. Coyle examines places that have generated a disproportionate number of world-class performers, ranging from Brazilian favelas to Korean female golf players, and deconstructs the 3 elements that they all require (ignition, motivation, and mentorship). Some overlapping themes with Mastery. It’s a bit handwave-y at times, and not without its share of “hindsight is 20/20”, but Coyle is a great writer and his research is both thorough and accessible.

the-big-miss-by-hank-haneyThe Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods by Hank Haney [Amazon]. While in some ways, I’m disappointed that someone whom Tiger trusted so closely was willing to write an expose of sorts, I’m fascinated by elite performers and this is the closest anyone has come to understanding and then sharing insights about one of the world’s most private athletes (minus that one bizarre scandal, of course). The book contains much more golf jargon and Hank-giving-a-written-golf-lesson than I expected, so I skipped over those parts, but the few insights that Hank does share about Tiger’s personality, his approach to the game, and his behavior quirks are more than worth the price and time. For example, did you know that Tiger loves having a popsicle after dinner, but does not proactively offer them to his guests?

name-of-the-wind-by-patrick-rothfussThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss [Amazon]. I generally don’t read fiction, because I like to think that reading nonfiction kills two birds with one stone (ie, entertainment AND education), but that’s probably wrong. However, I still don’t read much fiction. I used to love sci-fi, and this came highly recommended, and I found myself having a hard time sleeping soundly when I ended the night reading deep-educational/political-shit. So this book accomplished its goal (of helping me sleep soundly), and was very entertaining, and I will *most likely* read book 2. Rothfuss is a strong writer, and while there’s nothing groundbreaking in the story and I find his usage of written accents tew bee vairy bahhhhd.

Articles

Here’s the best stuff this month. Note that not all of it is “fresh”: I emphasize quality, not what just hit the wire (because most of the time that’s crap).

  • DEEP INSIDE: The Story of 10,000 Porn Stars and Their Careers (Jon Millward, his own site). Data-driven approach to shit guys talk about all the time.

    We now have our average porn stars: Nikki and David. They’re of normal height, but both weigh less than the national average. Nikki has smaller breasts than you might expect and she’s a brunette. She got into the business aged 22 and is originally from California—or at least, that’s where she now lives. David got into the industry aged 24.

  • Five important lessons from the dustup over the NYT’s Tesla test drive (Katie Fehrenbacher, GigaOm). Not the most comprehensive write-up but a good one on a fascinating story.

    Don’t f*ck with Elon Musk: A friend who’s spent a decade in the legal industry told me once that you shouldn’t start a fight unless you’re ready to take it to the mat; i.e. take it all the way. Elon Musk will always take it to the mat.

  • Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (Bill Gates, his own site). Bill Gates writes book reviews. That’s right, Bill Gates WRITES BOOK REVIEWS. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?? PS I have yet to read this book but I will.

    If you’re going to read one book about modern China in the period after Mao, then this is the book you should read.

  • What tips and tricks have you learned that have made it easier to live in China? (Kaiser Kuo, Quora). Most of you know I’ve moved to Shanghai to experience China first-hand, and the advice here is very applicable and original.

    Chant the mantra, “Don’t be a whiny little bitch.” Don’t surround yourself with complainers. Steel yourself to the fact that people will crowd you, will spit, will cut queues, will stare at you at least outside of first-tier cities if you look foreign, will ask you direct questions that in your home country might seem wildly inappropriate.

  • Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building (Wright Thompson, ESPN). Great article on the greatest retired athlete ever. Keyword: retired.

    Jordan might have stopped playing basketball, but the rage is still there. The fire remains, which is why he searches for release, on the golf course or at a blackjack table, why he spends so much time and energy on his basketball team and why he dreams of returning to play.

  • 50 Sure Signs That Texas Is Actually Utopia (Summer Anne Burton, Buzzfeed). Just because I’m from Austin, the greatest city in the great state in America, that doesn’t make me biased. Really!

    4. Breakfast tacos. An essential part of every Texan’s diet. The New York Times once ran an entire story titled “Tacos In The Morning?” about how Austin loves breakfast tacos and we were all like, “YES, TACOS IN THE MORNING. Tacos all the time.” Get with the program.

  • The Gates Foundation Annual Letter (Bill Gates, The Gates Foundation). Like all great, long-lasting performers (Jordan, Madonna), Bill Gates has reinvented himself well.

    According to a long-held Ethiopian custom, parents wait to name their children because disease is rampant, health care is sparse, and children often die in the first weeks of life.

  • What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage (Amy Sutherland, NYT). Not the first time I’ve shared this, but great reads are both re-reading and re-re-reading.

    I was using what trainers call “approximations,” rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can’t expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can’t expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

For a complete list, check out my Amazing media page. Most of these will be added there.

What did you read and love in February? Please share! Thanks as always for your time.

March Quotes: “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” (Mark Twain)

For a full list of my favorite quotes, see here. Send me yours, I’m always looking for more.

At 15 my heart was set on learning; at 30 I stood firm; at 40 I had no more doubts; at 50 I knew the mandate of heaven; at 60 my ear was obedient; at 70 I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing the norm. – Confucius

/** The man is so ridiculously wise and insightful…did you know the Chinese gov’t has setup Confucius Institutes around the world as an investment in soft power? **/

An intellectual giant. The world’s loss now that he’s gone. – random YouTube commenter on David Foster Wallace

/** Just started reading Infinite Jest. It is not easy. It is quite different from anything else I’ve read. DFW is clearly very smart, and a great explainer-of-things. **/

The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes – Mark Twain

/** Another really smart man, and one who is able to tell hard truths by using humor. **/

Comparison is the thief of joy. – Teddy Roosevelt

/** Yup…desire is the root of suffering. **/

Evict your inner wussy – one of David DeAngelo’s 77 Laws of Success :)

/** I’ve had the good fortune to work with Rob Kelly, who is the former CEO of David’s company Hot Topic Media, and he clearly lives by many of these principles (whether consciously or not). Quite inspiring **/

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” – Chinese Proverb

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Thanks for sharing with me Diane!

In the vein of Emerson’s familiar poem (which, interestingly, is not actually Emerson’s!), and among my favorites now. Hope you enjoy!

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.