If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that just seven days ago I was in a completely different country. São Paulo, or Sampa as the locals call it, is as different from Salvador da Bahia in almost every way imaginable. While part of me is really going to miss the beach and (maybe) the relaxed lifestyle of Bahia, São Paulo is exactly what I was looking for when I chose my study abroad destination
This city is massive. The view from the 18th floor apartment in which I reside is just an endless sea of skyscrapers in all directions. The streets don’t seem to be planned in any particular fashion, which has led to some interesting strolls around my neighborhood in the six days that I’ve been here. The city is hectic, there are people everywhere at all times of the day, an infinite number of international restaurants, bars, and clubs to choose from, as well as an efficient metro system. The contrast between the lifestyle of Sampa and Salvador is hard to emphasize enough, especially regarding one thing I never thought I would see in Brazil, and that was definitely not discussed in my Portuguese classes at Georgetown: hipsters.
I live in the bohemian neighborhood of Pinheiros, about a mile from Avenida Paulista, the main street of the city, and from PUC where I will begin my classes tomorrow. Every other store on the street outside of my apartment building seems to be a music store, selling everything from rock music to saxophones. The people who hang out around here, mainly younger people, wear skinny jeans, smoke cigarettes, have thick glasses, and many tattoos. Many bars between here and Vila Madalena usually play live music, be it rock or jazz, and have a distinctly different feel from Vila Olimpia where most of the electronic music clubs are located. Last Saturday we went to a club in the neighborhood which acts as a clothing store during the day, but opens its back doors to a dance floor and bar at night. The club played strictly Brazilian beats, mainly Samba and some Bossa Nova, and was very popular with the younger crowd.
While the city is fascinating to say the least, I’m constantly reminded that this is not representative of the Brazilian reality, what the person sitting next to me on my flight from DC told me is the “real Brazil.” This reminder is my room. I live in the maid’s room in my apartment, which while comfortable is much smaller than my room in Bahia. In fact, I’d say it’s probably smaller than many master closets in the houses in my neighborhood, most of which are modest in size. I have a twin bed, about three of feet of space to move around, a large dresser opposite my bed, another dresser on the other side of room, and built in cabinets. Basically, I will never run of storage. I also have my own bathroom with shower. While small by American standards, it is the largest maid’s room I have seen in Brazil. The other ones I have seen had barely enough space for a mattress, let alone personal belongings. To the average Brazilian, a room the size of mine would be ideal for one person. And, just as I am separate from the rest of my host family, the average Brazilian is separate from me. Unlike in Salvador the poorer, more dangerous neighborhoods of São Paulo lie along the periphery of the city, as opposed to being in proximity to the wealthier neighborhoods. As a result, crime here is much less visible. Since we live in a wealthier neighborhood, the streets are generally clean and well policed.
Unlike in Salvador, we don’t stand out here. São Paulo is extremely diverse, and the students on my program get much less unwanted attention for being gringos. We blend in with a hard working crowd that has to work non-stop to afford the outrageously expensive rent and cost of living in this part of the city. So far, my room has been one of the few subtle reminders that we don’t live like most Brazilians. I hope to volunteer a little later in the semester, and perhaps then I’ll get a glimpse into the life that most Brazilians lead. For now while I’m getting to know my neighborhood and just starting classes, I’ll have to keep exploring, people watching, and learning more about what gives this lively city its unique and lively character.