Our first two weeks in São Paulo, Brazil was a shock to the system for a number of reasons: we had just left a month of travelling (with great companions, no less) behind for a new country, new language and new vibe. This energy was one-third true to Brazil, one-third FIFA World Cup craze and one-third due to the sudden foreigner invasion; Brazil is not new to tourists (far from it!) but the city & people of São Paulo seemed surprised by others’ interest in their home turf. Kiernan and I were asked many times why of all places we decided to come to Sampa; not in a curious, interested way, but rather with puzzlement or confusion written all over the question as if to check if we were sure we were in the right place. Anyway, more about that a little later ;).
Coming here at the end of our travels meant we were very much pilfering any savings we had left and though we knew that our energy reserves would be refueled solely by rice and beans (with a side of more beans), we had also originally planned on focusing on finding work here after World Cup. This was not an option anymore… Absolutely not an option. Especially after the “mixup” (read shakedown) at the Paraguay-Brazil border… We had gone through the emigration/immigration procedure without hitch from Argentina to Paraguay, but only at the consequent Paraguay-Brazil border did we realize with horror that the empty booth back at the Arg-Par border, was where we were supposed to have gotten some official stamp. Everyone being distracted by the FIFA World Cup and the booth being very decidedly empty, we didn’t solicit any official stamps from it, and had to cough up a “fine” on our way into Brazil. No receipts, no paperwork, he just asked us for US$100 each, with a straight face and when we didn’t have it (not even close), he was apparently satisfied with “whatever we had on us” (his words) and so we lost the US$150 we had which can go quite far in Argentina and Paraguay. So yeah…quite the warm welcome.
Our last two days back in Paraguay had been spent looking up English schools and agencies to apply to; the English teaching system in Brazil is so vastly different from what either of us were used to in Taiwan (or what we’ve read about in asia)! To give somewhat of an idea: my experience in Taiwan is to Brazil, as baking chocolate cookies is to baking a three-tiered, red velvet soufflé (if such a thing is even possible). As with lovers or book-to-movie adaptations, comparison between countries/cultures is a veritable road map to disappointed expectations and feelings of betrayal, so let’s not get into that.
Since we wanted to get to know the city we decided to couchsurf around to see different areas, talk to some locals, and just get an overall feel. The best part of spending the first 2 weeks couchsurfing was seeing and experiencing parts of the local culture that we wouldn’t naturally find until months later. Kind of like invite-only events that we got to crash because we were guests. So thank you to Thiago for giving us our first tastes of brigadeiro, taking us out for feijoada, and even our first coxinha. Thanks to Mitie for introducing us to the SP couchsurfing group and inviting us to a surfer’s house to watch the world cup game that weekend and meet loads of travellers. Also thanks to Fabricio and Silvia for giving us subtext to the city we were moving to: what people were talking about, social issues, just the current situation that perhaps only a post-graduate digesting hundreds of articles and books can truly give. He also gave us our first taste of aged cachaça, and took us to his family’s house on the weekend to have feijoada with his family which was really fun and randomly new for us. Last but not least, thank you to Steven for giving us some insight into the English teaching market in Sao Paulo (seeing as he runs his own school here) and letting us tag along to an amazing performance of classical music in the old, converted Luz train station. Before even knowing who he is, we got to see the famous Brazilian pianist and conductor João Carlos Martins do his thing, and we were treated to quite a fancy evening the likes of which we had not experienced for quite some time.
The truly saddest event to occur for me during our entire South American road trip, happened during our first week in Brasil. After checking with a few people and weighing my options. It became evident that to find work I would have to make an effort to look presentable. After much reflection I agreed to cutting off a piece of my soul. On a rainy night in some back alley corner, I allowed a man with scissors to cut off my beloved 2 year ponytail. I don’t think his laughter was necessary but that he tossed in for free. I also completely shaved my 6 month beard of manliness. There I was naked like a newborn, a type of ugliness the professionals call “hireable”.