Amazonas Frontier

Manaus, Brazil
July 3, 2002

We finally arrive in the frontier town of Manaus. Jack Sun, our second story here, picks us up at the airport and drops us off at the hotel. The heat and humidity is quite nasty. We’re very close to the equator here.

Kwoi airport
Kwoi airport

We explore along the riverside down through the banana market to the docks where the Amazon boats come in. All around the neighbouring streets lurk sex workers… I could swear I saw Black Vanilla from Tamatave around the corner. The surrounding pool halls are probably full of gangsters and assassins just killing time until their next hit. They stare us down as we cruise by. No one bothers us, but there’s definitely anarchy in the air. We are in the Brazilian frontiers.

We take a boat up the Amazon today with Jack and three Chinese dudes from Hebei province. The breeze from the speedboat is deceiving… it’s actually an unbearably hot and humid day. We travel along Rio Nero and Rio Bianco. The passing landscape along the riverbanks appears raw and untouched since time existed. Each time we pass by any signs of life, I’m curious how long these river people have lived there and what their lives are like.

Our boat finally comes to a pit stop. We pull into a lagoon area of a swamp. Before we even come to a full stop, the boat is swarm by children beggars charming the gringos for US dollars with their exotic jungle pets. It’s Tijuana in the swamps! My “Tarzan” notions are finally shattered… if these once raw river swamps of the Amazons have been gentrified for the new millennium… how will the remaining rain forests survive?

We get back to civilization… if you can qualify that. We stroll along the seedy river port through the red light district… the frontier bars… arriving at Jack’s Mandarin Restaurant. It’s an unpretentious buffet style cafeteria with sparse Chinese décor.

Jack introduces us to his son Eddy. He strikes me as totally Asian American, probably from his university years spent in Seattle. However, he claims to be more of a chameleon… fitting into whatever the situation or environment presents him. He might be right, seeing how he has manage to capitalize on his Chinese background in landing his position within a Taiwanese chip manufacturer that has set up shop in Manaus’ tax-free zone.

Manaus has a similar look as Tamatave, but with a booming gold rush atmosphere and full of opportunities. People here are making bucks fast however illegal it might be. The Teatro Amazonas is physical proof of this. This opulent piece of highbrow culture can only exist with the support of an affluent, elitist society with some bucks behind it.

Back at the Mandarin, it’s lunchtime again. After lunch, Jack takes us back to his house for an interview. He’s a straight shooting guy who views identity in a global way. He despises old Chinese thinking… comparing China to an old man who is burden by history. He sees Brazil as a young man with new ideas and full of opportunity. But I think he is referring to a China that he left behind in the 60’s. Nonetheless, I can see where Eddy gets it from.