Sunday, May 02, 2004

São Paulo

I hired a taxi from the front drive and took it to the nearest Metrô stop (their subway was built within the last 10 years but does not reach the area where the hotel is). It was fascinating to see the shanty town on one side of the large avenue and on our side, a hill with some beautiful houses of the wealthy looking down on them. Sadly poetic. In Sao Paulo, rich and poor are yin and yang. A couple of 12 year old lanky boys juggled tennis balls in the street for a handout at one stoplight.

The Metrô is clean, efficient and feels safe. It took me directly to Plaça Republica for R$1.90, which is about 64 US cents. Upon leaving the train, it felt great to be in warm sun, among thousands of happy people moving through the stalls. It was interesting to see that the fair (held every Sunday) was sectioned: wooden items in one area, semi-precious stones in another, leather in one area, and an incredibly large section devoted to (mostly awful) paintings. There was also a food section.

Not seeing much of interest, I looked to find the nearest McDonalds - always the best place to find a clean bathroom in any foreign city, fyi. As I neared one, five teenage men created a "scene" in front of two hefty American middle aged men on the Avenida Ipiranga. The two men tried to understand what was happening; a sixth man entered the scene from a store, and went up one of the American man's polo shirt and literally ripped off the gold chain from his chest; he ran into the street and away so fast, it would have been impossible to catch him (although another man tried); the other five then disappeared. The mugged American just stood exactly where he was, stunned to have been so blatantly violated in the middle of a sunny day on a busy street. About four seconds had passed. I checked my person, felt comfortable with my safety, then went on my way, also a bit leery.

I took the Metrô to Sé, the centre of the city. A massive cathedral exists - frankly, much much larger than anything I had expected. I took some pictures, and met two young men who took my photo - and I theirs. We got to talking, and it was ironic to hear that they were from Maastricht, in the Netherlands only 20 kms from my childhood home. They are on a six-month tour for a company on behalf of their university, searching potential sites for the company to expand. This was their second week in São Paulo and they leave this week to southern Brazil, then Chile and Argentina. Nice kids.

Next up was a short walk to Liberdade, a region that has the largest number of Japanese in the world outside of Japan. I had no idea, and it is no lie. The entire area is like Chinatown in San Francisco, but it is Japantown in São Paulo. Tons of Japanese food stores and shlocky shops (anyone up for Hello Kitty! in Portugese?!). As I walked down the street, I ordered a aguadecoco. Literally, what they do is take a green coconut, make a v-cut in the top with a machete, then insert two straws. It cost R$1.50. Not as refreshing as pure water, but by then it was probably 90 degrees out and anything helped. And I met three ladies from Japan who were **so** excited to get this (?!) and I took their picture, and they took mine. This area of town felt very safe. It is on a crest and is halved by a massive freeway, but it is sunken into a hill, so all the streets run over it. What is neat is that you get a chance to see a view - of so many buildings, all highrises, it is unbelieveable. I've frankly never seen anything like it.

The weather was so nice, everyone was outside. It started to get too much, so I dived into a grocery store and bought some aguardente de cana - it is an alcoholic drink used in making caipirinha, the brazilian drink. A fifth cost R$2.90. That is US $0.98. I bought three of them, also bought the mixer for it, it is so cheap. It was neat to go into the store. Basically, the goods seem very similar to the designs found in Europe. Nothing shocking, really.

I took the Metrô home and then ran to get a bit of sun (which, actually, I got anyways just being outside today), then worked out and hit the Grand Club. Free cocktails and hors d'oeurves at night.

Looking forward to a good room service dinner and a good night's sleep... sweet dreams!

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