Feeling like you are one in a million… Anzac day and being part of a minority ethnic group in Sao Paulo

28 April, 2008

Sure I may have been out of New Zealand since 1996 and Cath out of Australia since 2001, but living in Australia and then London, you never really feel like a foreigner. But coming to live in Sao Paulo, we were suddenly and dramatically thrown into being foreigners. Where in London you hear a kiwi or aussie accent every day – in a pub, on a bus or on the tube, at least once a day you would always hear a familiar accent, but since we have been in South America, apart from our friends and people at Caths work, you can go days or even weeks without hearing anyone speaking English, and we have only ever heard one other Australian accent since we have been here, a random bloke from Sydney who had just spent six weeks tramping in the very south of Argentina.

Never hearing English spoken is a great help when it comes to learning Portuguese, we are slowly picking up bits and pieces of the language, but its not easy, the printed word is much easier than the spoken word, but its still a hard job learning another language.

So given our “isolation” from our fellow country men and women, when we got an email invite to the joint Australian and New Zealand embassies ANZAC day dinner, we jumped at the chance to immerse ourselves in our native cultures. We invited Zoe and Luccas – our resident QLDer and her Brazilian better half, and made a date – that date of course being Friday the 25th of April, and the location being the very swanky Grand Hyatt hotel.

So the hotel is only 6km from our house, and the start time was 8pm, so we got ready into our bestest outfits and jumped in a taxi, allowing 45 minutes to travel six kilometres may sound a bit excessive, but it is Sao Paulo on a Friday night, so we left a good amount of time. We got in the cab at 7:15 and 1 hour 45 minutes later we had travelled about 4 kilometres, the whole of Sao Paulo was in grid lock, there was a ring of stationary traffic stretching 10kms from the city centre and tail backs on the motorways into and out of town stretching up to 45kms. All around us stress levels were starting to rise, people were driving the wrong way down one way roads, motorbikes were streaming down the footpaths, and people were standing beside their cars, stuck in the middle of eight lanes of stationary cars. So with the clock ticking we were left with no option but to walk.

Now if we were in London or down under, we would never hesitate at the thought of walking 2km in the evening, but in Sao Paulo the idea is about as strange as walking on the moon, people just don’t walk around in the dark, its not safe, its not sensible and its bloody scary. Sure some people do walk around after dark, but they are generally only doing it because they are too poor to catch public transport, so the image of two gringos, one in a suit, tie and shiny shoes and a blonde bombshell in a cocktail dress walking through the not so nice parts of the city must have raised some eye brows. But heh, this was our chance to drink free kiwi and aussie wine and eat some real kiwi lamb, so we were desperate! We ended up arrive at 9:15, two hours after leaving home. We arrived just in time to hear poor Luccas (the lone brazilian in the room) singing the Brazilian national anthem, and then for the first time in many years (apart from sporting events) Greg and Cath took turns to join in the singing of the Australian and new Zealand national anthems. This was followed by speeches from the Australian and New Zealand ambassadors on ANZAC day and what it means to our countries, it was made even more poignant knowing that Gregs brother Joel had been among the crowds of Aussies and Kiwis at ANZAC cove earlier that day.

The dinner was lovely, and the Spy Valley sav blanc and big aussie red went down a treat, a starter of fresh Australian prawns and a main of New Zealand lamb, were a nice change to the beef focused diet we enjoy in Sao Paulo.

After the dinner there was lots of mingling and chatting i think there were about 60 or so guests, everyone was dressed to the nines, and either an Aussie or Kiwi or married to one, we had a great night talking to lots of Aussies and Kiwis, some of whom had been here for decades, and lots of others like us who are much more recent arrivals.

We were amazed to learn talking to Embassy staff that they estimated that there were only about 75 Australians and 55 New Zealanders in Sao Paulo, its no wonder we don’t hear familiar accents very often, we are totally lost in the population of 20,000,000 in Sao Paulo. They think there are about 200 Aussies spread over Brazil, and only about 100 New Zealand passport hodlers, we were also surprised to learn that only about 2,000 Australians visit Brazil any year, so we really are a rare minority group over here!

Greg and Cath dressed up to the nines…


live naked flesh auctions, lasers, smoke machines, a podium, a cage, a dodgy MC, terrible music and of course cows?!?!?!? It must be late night TV Brazilian style

20 April, 2008

Every day we are here, we learn a little bit more about Brazil, late last night for example we switched over to Canal Rural, one of the many local channels (we have four channels solely dedicated to religion alone) to see what looked like a combination of a strip club and a rotary club dinner, a large room was full of tables of blokes dining and drinking, at the front of the room was a large podium, with a cage around it, the room was full of loud music, laser lighting and a lot of smoke and the crowd was pretty excited, of course this had to be something dodgy didn’t it, well it was in fact a live cattle auction. As well as the people there attending, you could also phone in and bid, I was of course tempted, but given the size of our flat I didn’t think that we really had room for family of Brahman cattle beasts. At least it means that Brazilians are going to be among the few other nations in the world that would understand how come “a dog show” could make it onto TV in New Zealand.

So we have been a bit quiet on the blog front for the last couple of weeks, Greg has been focusing on writing his book, which has somewhat taken away the urge to write for fun, but with a long weekend over here and our adventure plans cancelled at the last minute, I now find myself with some time on my hands. So here’s a quick recap of what we have been up to:

Last weekend we headed down to Buenos Aires to watch our friend Robert Lindstedt play in the Davis cup tie between Sweden and Argentina, now we don’t need much excuse to visit BA, it’s one our favourite cities in the world, but we also got the chance this time to celebrate/disrupt the Olympic torch which was a great bonus.
So Greg went and watched the first days play on Friday while Cath worked in the BA office, now the only other time Greg has seen live tennis was watching Robert play in the very civilised atmosphere of Wimbledon, these games turned out to be somewhat different, the Argentines’ hadn’t lost a single match at home in the last five years of Davis Cup, and after spending some time there I think I know why, they have a 15,000 person tennis stadium, and every day there was at least 10,000 argies there, they acted like they were at a soccer match which was great, continually yelling, chanting and screaming, we joined in the very small Swedish supporters group (about 20 of us) but any attempt at a chant or a song was quickly drowned out by the Argentinean supporters, there screaming and yelling was continuous, even the umpires couldn’t shut them up.

So after watching some tennis on Friday I headed down town to try and get amongst the action at the torch relay, now let me explain my politics here, I fully support the Olympic movement, and the right of athletes to compete, but I also think if you are stupid enough to want to host the Olympics, you better make sure you have clean underpants on first, because the whole world is going to be watching. I also think that any non sporting part of the Olympics is fair game for protesting and point raising, so I was glad to get the chance to join in the free Tibet protestors during the torch relay. After watching the “events” in Britain, France and USA, I thought the argies may have clamped down on things when their moment in the spot light came around, but I didn’t expect it to be as heavy handed as it was, it appears that the argentian police don’t focus on the same sort of community policing that we are used to, they more fancied batons and motorbikes as crowd clearing tools. Groups of pro Tibet and Falungong supporters were forcibly dispersed by the police, anyone who waved a Tibet flag or any type of protest was quickly dragged away, and groups of people who congregated to protest were quickly dispersed by groups of police or pro china supporters. As you can see in this shot, by the time the Olympic torch actually arrived, there was no chance of anyone getting through the five lines of protection that the torch had surrounding it.

The great celebration of Olympic spirit (and police brute force)

I have to say though, if China feels a little uncomfortable with people invading it’s parade, imagine how the Tibetans felt when China invaded their country… I did join a group of mainly English backpackers in chanting free Tibet for a brief period of time, but we were again quickly dispersed by a large mob of pro china supporters, these people were a bit of comedy in themselves, nothing says organic community based support like having absolutely everyone wearing matching red jackets now does it?

Pro china supporters – I wonder who funded these smashing jackets?

But it was great to see people making their protests in their own way – something that is just not possible in Tibet:

Libre Tibet!

So after that adventure I caught up with Cath and we headed out for another beautiful feast of Argentinean meat, after this trip there is no doubt, they have the best beef in the world….
Saturday we went to watch Robert play his doubles game with Jonas Bjorkman against the fairly impressive pairing of Guillermo Canas and David Nalbandian and 10,000 of their supporters. Though Robert had a great game, it didn’t go their way, and they went down to the Argies 5-7, 4-6, 4-6. Here are some shots of Robert and Jonas in the game:

Robert Lindstedt

Robert and Jonas

And you think you had a bad day at work, imagine this feeling…

On the Sunday we headed back to SP, where we are now, enjoying a nice quiet long weekend at home in BA, but planning our next set of adventures.
A quick update on work from us both, Caths work continues to go great, she is making a name for herself over here and already delivering some great results in LatAm, I think there is a good chance they will try and adopt her at the end of the 6 months. Gregs book continues to roll along, with 100 of the 350 pages submitted, Greg is realising just how hard it is to write a book, the first chapter was a complete nightmare, but now he is settled into something of a rhythm, so hopefully the chapters will start to flow a bit faster!
That’s all for now. Over and out of here.
Lots of love,
Greg and Cath

The dance floors full at 5pm, we must be in Brazil….

7 April, 2008

So after many weekends of travel and adventure around LatAm we were really looking forward to a bit quieter weekend exploring Sao Paulo. We started off Saturday with Paula, one of Caths workmates who was our tour guide for the morning.

Paula took us to “downtown” to visit the Mercado Municipal – Sao Paulos biggest food market. It may seem a little odd, but after three months in Sao Paulo we have never visited downtown – the centre of the city. The centre of Sao Paulo is a maze of small streets, full of old buildings, has many green parks, but as with many of the bigger cities in LatAm the centre has been virtually abandoned in the last 20 years. Despite all of the factors that could add up to make the centre of Sao Paulo beautiful and scenic, many of the buildings have been abandoned, others are simply falling to the ground, its dirty, full of rubbish, covered in vandalism, there a shacks and shanty towns tucked into many of the corners, and the poor and homeless are everywhere. All in all it’s a pretty depressing place, the locals advised us not to bother visiting, the guide book tells you to avoid it and our friends drive through with their windows wound up and their doors locked. I will head back down another time with my camera to try and capture the scene, but I am pretty sure you can imagine it. Contrasting downtown Sao Paulo with the area that we live in is amazing, sure we have some homeless families living near us, but we also have dog manicurists, children’s hairdressing salons, book shops and bakeries with valet parking and buildings with helicopter pads on the roof. I don’t think we will ever quite get used to the extremes of Brazilian society.

So on our way to the Mercado municipal we passed by the infamous Rua 25th March, this street which is right near the very posh indoor central market is a massive street market at the other end of the price scale, it’s really quite manic, the shops are in decrepit old buildings (crying out for renovation) but as well as the crowded shops, the footpaths and the road are crammed with people buying and selling everything. I am pretty sure you could just about buy anything you can imagine there, some of the highlights for me were a shop full of 1,000 varieties of coat hangers and a street vendor selling corn juice – yummy not!

So the Mercado Municipal is a massive undercover food market, crammed with butchers, fishmongers, fruit and veggie stalls and restaurants and bars, it was awesome, again you could buy almost anything here, but this time just in the world of food. With the help of our guide Paula we ended up buying a ton of fruit, all weird South American varieties none of which we had seen before, none of this stuff was cheap, though, and we ended up spending £50 on fruit and in total we probably only got 2 dozen individual pieces… The other thing that the mercado is famous for is its bacalhau and mortadella sandwiches, now for those who aren’t up on their traditional Sao Paulo foods, a pastel is a deep fried pastry pocket usually filed with beef or cheese and mortadella is an Italian meat (like a posh version of luncheon from New Zealand). So there are only two real dishes to eat, either a pastel filled with bacalhau (a chunk of dried salted cod from Norway) or two pieces of white bread wrapped around 500grams of mortadella. For me the choice was pretty easy, 500 grams of luncheon meat, or some yummy fish, so I had a pastel, I think it was a bit early in the morning for Cath who opted for a much less stomach churning Portuguese custard tart!

So on Saturday afternoon we had a completely different view of Brazilian culture, with two more of Caths workmates, Renato and Danilo we headed to a venue called Traco De Uniao, our instructions were to be there at 2pm to make sure we got a seat, now I was a bit sceptical of any venue that you have to be at early to get a seat, and sure enough we arrived at 2pm and the place was virtually empty. The bar was very basic, its apparently modelled on Favela bar, it had an area for the band to set up in the middle, not much in terms of decorations, cheap and cheerful tables and chairs, and a concrete grandstand along one wall. My initial impressions were a little disappointing, this place was totally empty, and it didn’t really ooze atmosphere, but as usual, little did we know what we were in for!

We started off with some beers for the boys, and a caipirinha or two for Cath, then we had a great feijoada – the national dish of brazil, as discussed in an earlier post, is quite a feast, lots of meat, rice, beans, fried banana, sausage, washed down with caipirinhas and beer. By the time we finished lunch the place had really started to fill up, and by 3pm it was packed, there was a salsa band belting out hit after hit and the place was heaving. The great thing was that this wasn’t some tourist show (we all remember senor tango don’t we) this was just 500 Brazilians all about our age having a great party and we certainly joined in, we danced, we drank, we partied, and let our hair down like we haven’t since we arrived in Sao Paulo.

So now its Sunday afternoon, we are sitting at home, eating out fruit and trying to get over our massive hangovers…

Thanks Paulo, Danilo and Renato for a great weekend!

Living in Sao Paulo, its just like living in London except….

2 April, 2008

1 You don’t need a prescription to get medication at a pharmacy, so if you want any medication you just go an buy them, the pharmacies are meant by law to have a resident pharmacist to help and advice, but often they only work part time in each pharmacy so in reality you are served by a kid fresh out of school whose main interest is in giving you a basket to help carry all the drugs you are buying.

2 Most people work 6 days a week, sure office workers work five, but most real workers work six days, holidays are also a luxury we take for granted, lots of people we have talked to think we are making a joke when we ask them what they did for their holidays, they appear not to get any – except the public holidays.

3 Footpaths are not publicly maintained, if you have a footpath outside your house or building it’s up to you to build and maintain it. This great if you always wanted to do something nice with your piece of footpath, like put down some marble slabs, or concrete it and paint it green, but in reality it means the footpath is more like a minefield, some pieces are not maintained at all, others have ramps, or steps or walls built into them, for this reason prams and buggies are very rare over here, they just don’t work, its easier and probably safer to carry your kids than push them!

4 Most places have valet parking, that’s right drive up to your local bar, leave the man the keys for small fee (about £3) and when you have had a skin full of beers, ask the guy to bring the car round to the front so you can weave your way home. Valet parking is also big for restaurants, clothes shops, shoe shops, supermarkets and even our local bicycle shop!!

5 Road rules are for sissies. We live above a busy intersection, so I could fill a full blog with just what happens outside our building, where we see or hear a traffic accident at least every two days. Some of my favourite Brazilian driving tricks are:

a. Quickly turn at the traffic lights across the path of the oncoming traffic before they get across the intersection.

b. Ignore traffic lights completely, well maybe not completely, only when its dark, raining, your running late or any other reason you can think of.

c. Every road is a double lane motorway, no matter how wide the road is, there is always room for second car to just slip past you, don’t worry about the laws of physics, common sense or gravity, there is always room to sneak through. This rule of course means that a real three lane motorway becomes a six lane scramble!

d. If you own a fast car, the speed limit doesn’t apply to you, this seems to be the case for owners of Porsches, Ferraris, black BMWs and WRX owners who love seeing how fast they can get from traffic light to traffic light.

An adventures blog with no adventures…

1 April, 2008

So Craig and Janine have gone back to London, Easter has come and gone and we are now back in Sao Paulo with no more holidays planned in the near future… this doesn’t bode well for excitement and adventure now does it?

So I am not sure what I am going to fill the pages of our blog with except for the not so exciting stories of our day to day life in Sao Paulo. So here goes….

Today I did some washing, flooded the laundry, and well, um, er… no this probably isn’t going to work is it….

I promise I will be back tomorrow with something exciting to say…

I am of course open to any suggestions….

Till then see ya!