AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And now we go to Rio de Janeiro. That's where my co-host Melissa Block has been all week with stories about the upcoming 2014 World Cup, the growing middle class and the complex racial balance of Brazil and much more. She joins me now with some final thoughts from way up high over the city of Rio. Hey there, Melissa. Where are you?
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Audie, I am about halfway up to Sugarloaf Mountain, which is this massive mountain of stone. You can't miss it when you're in Rio. It looms out over the harbor and from up here, you get a really great view of the sweep of this city. There are mountains ringing it. Off to my left I've got Copacabana beach, which is where some of the Olympic venues are going to be in 2016. And straight in front of me, the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue high up on another mountain over Rio.
CORNISH: And now, you're actually ready to head home from Brazil. Can you talk a little bit about some of the impressions that you're left with?
BLOCK: Yeah. You know, I've never been to Brazil before. I've never even been to South America before and part of what's so overwhelming about this country is the sheer size. I mean, it's bigger than the continental United States so even in two weeks here, we really only saw a tiny sliver of this country. But I was struck by a couple of things.
One is that, you know, we've all heard about Brazil's rising economic power as it vaulted into the world's stage so I was kind of surprised when I was talking with an economist here. His name is Samuel Pessoa and he was quite cautious. He said, you know, don't think of Brazil's economy like the so-called Asian tigers.
If the Brazilian economy is not a tiger, it's not like the Asian tiger.
SAMUEL PESSOA: No, no, no. It's not a tiger.
BLOCK: What animal is it?
PESSOA: An elephant.
BLOCK: It's an elephant.
PESSOA: Or a whale because a big country, huge country.
BLOCK: So elephants and whales, both big animals, Brazil's a big country, but not super fast. They're not running like a tiger.
PESSOA: No, no, no. (Unintelligible) country. If you're running, you sweat a lot. It's better to walk.
CORNISH: You're running, you sweat a lot.
BLOCK: Yeah, better to walk. I should say, Audie, that I've checked this out and actually some whales do swim almost as fast as tigers can run, but you get the idea.
CORNISH: So what are some of the other surprises for you in Brazil?
BLOCK: The other thing, Audie, is that I really expected to see huge levels of Brazilian pride. With the World Cup coming up next year, you do see soccer games on here all the time. This is a country that is mad for soccer. But when I talked to people, what I heard over and over and over again was deep concern about all the money being spent, billions of dollars, on stadiums, also on roads and airport improvement for all the fans coming in not just for the World Cup, but also for the Olympics here in Rio in 2016.
And everywhere I went, this was the chorus that I heard, people saying you could build 100 schools for the price of one stadium. What we need is schools and hospitals, not these mega events. And the real question is, are there going to be huge protests around the games next year? We saw them earlier with the Confederations Cup games here in Brazil this summer.
Or will Brazilian national pride and their soccer mania finally take over. The country will shut down for the World Cup. And as we talk about elsewhere in the program today, Audie, they are looking for redemption here. The last time the World Cup was in Brazil was in 1950 and Brazil lost, an ignominious loss to Uruguay. They can't forget it. They haven't shaken it and they want to right that wrong.
CORNISH: My co-host, Melissa Block. Melissa, safe travels.
BLOCK: Thanks. See you next week, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.