Charting the uncharted
By Liang MeiIan
“When I first heard an exotic dismal ballad from afar sung by a people we later knew as Pantaleiro, I burst into tears because the music was so full of loneliness and nostalgia – the song of a people lost in a strange land.” Xiao Linjie said. Brazil: Poem of Love, a documentary film and photo exhibition, presents the experiences of Xiao and her husband Zhan Yanjun during their 12 years spent exploring Brazil. The collection is coming to China as part of a culture exchange.
With the 2014 World Cup bound for Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics in 2016, many Chinese people are looking to Brazil for business and travel. But the tropical, multicultural country has more to offer than coffee, soccer and dancing.
A Chinese couple that has lived in Brazil for 12 years has seen more than most of their countrymen can ever imagine. They have seen almost every city and hiked the dangerous wetlands deep into the Amazon.
Their thousands of photos and home movies are being compiled into a documentary set to be released to domestic audiences next month. Their in-depth cultural exploration might be the country’s First glimpse of the real face of Brazil.
Zhang Yanjun, 48, is a former transport aircraft commander, military photographer, photojournalist and e-commerce entrepreneur. He and his wife, Xiao Linjie, live in Brazil, where they run a bilingual magazine dedicated to cultural exchange.
Their first trip id Brazil came when Xiao was appointed by the Ministry of Culture to go negotiate the introduction of samba dance to China in 1999.
“As a photographer, l was exceptionally exited to have the opportunity to go to Brazil where l could shoot the breathtaking landscapes of the Amazon,” Zhang said.
Gradually, as they integrated into local life, the couple became curious about Brazil’s multiculturalism.
Before realizing their dream to travel deep into the Amazon rainforest, Zhang and his wife began planning some visual productions based on their experiences in cities and towns as cultural outsiders.
In 2000, they created Charm of Culture, a visual project that grew to become a cultural exchange project between the two Countries.
The first part is a documentary film and photo collection called Brazil: Poem of Love that explores regional differences in Brazilian culture. The collection will be displayed in China in April.
Modern Brazilian culture is composed of many elements brought by immigrants from around the world. These cultural aspects conflict and fuse through social development to define
“In the complex process of cultural development, what we concerned about is the nostalgia emotion for immigrant culture we find in all the migrant subcultures in Brazil,” Zhang said.
The couple’s visual collection records the annual beer festival in the city of Blumenau in southern Brazil, which was registered as a city in 1850 by 18 German soldiers.
“We were shocked by ihe grand scale of the festival held in such a small city. It was no smaller than the worldfamous Munich Beer Festival. It seems the municipal government helps organize the festival for 15 days nd matter the cost,” Zhang said.
“Later on, when we observed more of the city and did further research, we found the city is devoted to not only commemorating the original traditions of Germany but also keeping German lifestyles by force. The city insisted on using German as the only language in schools before a Portugues class opened just a few years ago,” Zhang said.
“In my point of view, the core of Brazil’s migrant cultures is ihe memories of its original culture. Though many people cannot figure out the original meanings of these traditions brought by their ancestors, they strive to keep and fight for what they consider their distinct features,” Zhang said.
Almost all of Zhang’s productions in Brazil reflect migrant memory and the blurring of cultural identities, including a stunning recording of the couple’s three-year jourhey across the Pantanal wetlands.
One day in 2003, they got lost while filming and drove deep into the wetlands. Their GPS failed because the area had never been charted. At night they had to keep driving to avoid being attacked by wild animals. When they ran out of gas, t.hey had to start finding ways to use plants as fuel.
They brought their 2-year-old sou with them during the trip, and their second daughter Vivian Zhang was born in the car.
On the adventure, they met the descendants of old gold prospectors who got lost in the wetlands and became a new ethnic group, the pantaleiro.
“When I first heard an exotic dismal ballad from afar sang by a people we later knew as Pantaleiro, I burst into tears because the music was so full of loneliness and nostalgia – the song of a people lost in a strange laud,” Xiao said.
Brazil: Poem of Love, the documentary film and photos to be shown in China, also demonstrate another experience of the adventurous couple as they made their long-postponed trip into the Amazon rainforest.
Though well-planned and equipped with helicopters and high performance Jeeps, they still faced many unforeseen dangers.
A 60-year-old Chinese immigrant and priest of an indigenous tribe living deep in the forest helped the couple cross half the Amazon, going further than the exploration team led by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1913 – previously the deepest expedition.
Determined to tinish the first-ever trek across the Amazon, the couple is currently busy prepariug for a second expedition.
The old guide they last hired has refused to come again, since he does not know a safe route that can lead them any deeper. This time, they will have to blindly chart a new course.
“But since we decided to do it, we are sure we can succeed and won’t give up no matter what happens,” Zhang and Xiao said.
To make the cultural program a mutual exchange, the couple is organizing a project to invite Brazilian filmmakers, photographers and explorers to go on an adventure into Lop Nor later this year. The team’s visual productions will be shown in Brazil as a Chinese cultural presentation.
the core of Brazil’s migrant cultures is the memories of its original culture. Though many people cannot figure out the original meanings of these traditions brought by their ancestors, they strive to keep and fight for what they consider as their distinct features.