Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dinner in Brazil. (Mr Smith Goes To)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Dinner in Brazil. (Mr Smith Goes To)

Article excerpt

The man who sat next to me at the dinner party in Brazil couldn't have looked more Japanese, though in fact we were in the country of his birth. Perhaps something of the duality in his background came through in his demeanour. He wore a dark-grey, double-breasted suit and as much hair oil as a Thirties gigolo, an extraordinary habit in such a hot climate. His name was Mr Lo and he was a consultant with a multinational bank. In perfect English, he said things that you wouldn't expect, now, of the afternoon play on Radio 4: "I do assure you..." he would begin. But this grave and respectable demeanour gave way to uproarious, Drones Club laughter. He had brought a present for his friend Silas, who worked on a financial magazine. Silas's big thing was cooking, especially at his weekend place, "my mountain house". Silas had discovered a new recipe for foie gras. "Oh, thank you!" exclaimed Mr Lo, clapping his hands together happily. This dish was his favourite.

Brazil has the largest concentration of ethnic Japanese people outside Japan. Mr Lo belonged to the helicopter-riding classes of Sao Paulo. The top people at the banks are choppered from their moneyed and stockaded enclaves, known as "alphavilles", to the helipads on top of their downtown skyscrapers. This keeps them out of the clutches of kidnappers, and also knocks hours off the commute through the sprawling and gridlocked city, the third largest in the world. But Mr Lo himself preferred to drive. …

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