RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians have a reputation of loving soccer with a crazy passion that is unrivaled. Based on my own experience here (at least after one day), that reputation is fully justified.
We had just arrived into Rio de Janeiro from the US and Diana and I decided to watch the Brazil vs. Chile match amidst a crowd of Brazilians to capture the full atmosphere. We walked over to a bar named Botequim Informal soon after the game had started. There were Brazilian flags everywhere hanging from above, and painted on the streets. Speaking of the streets, they were absolutely empty and eerily quiet. Everyone was watching the game either in their homes or at bars and restaurants. When people say that everything shuts down in Brazil for their soccer matches, it’s not far from the truth. We hadn’t even walked one block when we heard screaming from one home. Then another. And then everyone on the block was screaming, all from indoors. Horns started going off. Fireworks started going off. That’s how I knew Brazil had just scored.
We finally arrived at Botoquim Informal and it was packed! A group of Brazilians finally let us have part of their table after we waded through the crowd of customers, all watching the game. Just about everyone was wearing a Brazil shirt, or at least wearing Brazil colors. With at least 10 TVs in the joint, any seat had a good view of the game. A few men were shouting obscenities at every Brazilian mistake and missed chance. The Brazilians there were absolutely into it, and I figured it’d be fun just watching a game in that atmosphere. I ended up getting much more than I bargained for.
As I was sitting at my table, watching the game intently, a Brazilian man suddenly appeared next to me and asked to take a picture with him. I was confused as to why, but figured it was harmless fun so why not? Soon after, other fans watching wanted to get pictures with me; a woman even brought her dog with her to get a picture with me. Now I was thoroughly confused. Some of them started talking to me on Portuguese, and of course I had no idea what they were saying since I understand maybe a total of three words. But they were very friendly, and gave me high fives and thumbs up and shouts of “go Brazil!” I thought I might be the butt of some joke as a foreigner, but decided to take it all in stride and have fun with it.
The shootout was tense, but everyone was optimistic, chanting Julio Cesar’s name before each Chilean shot, and the names of each Brazilian shooter before their respective attempts. Whenever Julio Cesar saved a Chilean penalty, many of them pointed at me, gave me a thumbs up, and cheered.
When the final Chilean penalty came back off the post, everyone erupted in celebration. I was grabbed up and every started high-fiving and hugging me. Everyone wanted to hug me! Before I knew it, I was lifted up in the air and given the “bumps”! As I was being carried, everyone wanted a picture with me – I think three separate groups switched in for pictures and selfies! Even though I didn’t really understand what was going on or why I was being made out as such a celebrity, I could tell they were ecstatic. Brazil made it through a tense penalty shootout against Chile, and they were going to celebrate and go wild. To be in the middle of all that was amazing!
As we were about to leave, another Brazilian man who spoke English explained that everyone thought I was Japanese (for the record, I’m a Chinese American from California). Given the close relationship between Brazil and Japan, they decided to adopt me, this “Japanese” kid in a Brazil Tshirt, as their good luck charm that would deliver victory for their nation. Say what?! All I could do was chuckle in disbelief and marvel at the craziness of it all. I had only been in Rio for five hours, but already this is for sure going to be one of the highlights of my trip here. I was in the middle of the passion and craziness of the Brazilian fans, and – at least in the eyes of a few dozen of them – proved to be Brazil’s good luck charm.
Editor’s note: Travels In Brazil is a series of articles written by Jameson Lam, who is in Brazil for the tournament, where he tries to capture the mood, atmosphere and spirit of the World Cup, to share it with the readers of World Soccer Talk. Read the other articles in the Travels In Brazil series.