Sao Paulo is like Prince Harry in Vegas; a good idea that got out of hand. I recommend that anyone with an ego problem visits Rodoviaria Tiete, the principal bus terminal, and any lingering delusions of grandeur will swiftly pale into feelings of insignificance. Around twenty million residents have created the third largest metropolis in the world, dwarfed only by Tokyo and New York, and after fighting my way through the swarms of Paulistas battling for buses, I felt this was a conservative estimate.
I checked into Havana hostel and took my laptop to their Cuban-themed bar and immediately began researching exit routes. This is when I discovered my charger was broken. The receptionist told me about Rua 25 de Marzo, Brazil’s largest market, named to commemorate the signing of their first constitution on 25th March 1824. Soon after, waves of Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants began arriving and settling at the nearby port. Indeed, there are more Japanese, Chinese and Lebanese in Sao Paulo than anywhere other than their respective homelands. They opened shops and started trading with relative ease until the 1960’s when the area suffered from frequent flooding. The resulting necessity to sell inventory before it became water damaged established the market’s reputation as a centre for wholesale pricing. This sounded like the perfect place to pick up a cut-price charger.
The market was clustered by genre. I walked through the jewelry district, the fashion area and the toy section before encountering the electronics. I asked a man, who appeared to be presiding over every appliance produced in the last decade, whether he had a Macbook charger. He said yes, and rustled through a laundry bag full of multicoloured wires. Finally, he produced a charger and handed it to me. It was white, which was a good start. I inspected the input device and screwed up my face in thought.
“I’m not sure this is gonna fit,” I said.
“What laptop do you have?” He asked.
“A Macbook Pro,” I replied.
“Yes, this will work,” he said. I had a feeling I could have told him I had a GameBoy and his answer would have been the same. I looked closely at the shape of the charger again and my doubts remained.
“I don’t think it will.”
“Trust me, this is the charger.”
“Okay, if I buy it, and it doesn’t work, can I bring it back tomorrow for a refund?”
“Of course,” he nodded.
“Okay,” I said and, sale confirmed, prepared myself for the bargaining process. We settled on a price of around £20, which seemed fair considering the extortive Apple store charges sixty. And there’s no Apple store in South America.
“I hope I don’t see you tomorrow,” I said as I walked away.
Back at the hostel, I took my laptop out of my locker and laid it on the table. I extracted the charger from its cheap plastic bag. I moved the charger towards the laptop and attempted to insert it. It didn’t fit. I took a deep breath and headed straight to the Cuban bar.
I was the first person at breakfast the following morning and had sunk three coffees to ready myself for battle before anyone else had even considered rising. By the time they did, I was on my way to the metro station; I had business to attend to. I marched through the first few streets of Rua 25 de Marzo, heart beating slightly faster than usual.
“He-llo!” I said, grinning widely. The Charger Man did not respond.
“Remember me?” I raised the cheap plastic bag with the charger inside. The Charger Man shrugged.
“Let me remind you. I bought this from you yesterday and you said if it didn’t work, you would give me a refund. And guess what? It doesn’t work. So, how about you give me that refund, we’ll say no more about it and I’ll be on my way.” The coffees were clearly still buzzing through my system.
“No, you buy, you keep,” he said, busying himself by untangling a football-sized squabble of wires.
“That’s funny, because yesterday you said you’d give me a full refund.” I had expected this, and I had a plan.
“No, sorry,” he said.
“So, here’s the deal,” I said. “Either you give me a refund or I will personally ensure you sell nothing for the entire day.”
He shrugged and shook his head.
“Okay, see you in two minutes.” I walked back to the toy section and bought a pink plastic Barbie chair for a couple of pounds. I returned to the Charger Man’s stall and sat right beside him. He eyed me suspiciously. For ten minutes. Then, an American couple arrived and asked if he had any headphones.
“Would you mind if I interjected?” I was on coffee number four now. The American couple looked at me.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” I said, enjoying myself.
“Do you not work here?” The lady asked.
“On the contrary,” I answered after a large guzzle of coffee. “I am here to inform you that nothing this man is selling will work. And when it doesn’t, he will refuse to give the refund he promised, just like he did with me yesterday,” I shook the cheap plastic bag a little too vigorously and spilt some coffee on my shoes.
“Really?” The man asked.
“Oh yeah.” I nodded wildly. They consulted each other briefly and decided to leave. Whether this was because they were unwilling to buy a faulty pair of headphones or because they were scared of the weird, coffee-wielding maniac, we’ll never know.
Ten minutes later, a woman approached the Charger Man’s stall and said something in Portuguese. He rustled about in his laundry bag.
“He-llo! What are you looking for today?” I asked her. She looked at me blankly.
“English?” I asked. She shook her head. The Charger Man smirked.
I took my phone out, turned on data roaming and accessed Google Translate. I realised 3 Mobile would probably charge me more than the cost of the charger for the privilege, but this was war.
“Nada que você compra a partir daqui vai funcionar,” I said in my best Portuguese accent.
“Si?” She turned towards me, worried.
“Si.” I nodded, shaking the cheap, coffee stained plastic bag at her.
She paused, then left. The Charger Man emitted a rueful chuckle, shook his head then turned towards me. I waited for him to throttle me. He shook my hand and offered me my money back. I returned the bag with the charger and apologised for the coffee stains.
A few stalls further down, I found the model I required for £5 cheaper. Jubilant, I strutted triumphantly towards the metro station. En route, I passed a mini casino with slot machines. Feeling like the king of the world, I entered and briskly frittered away the £5 I had saved on the new charger. Realising I was now not only high on caffeine, but also dangerously confident, I considered returning to the hostel via the bus station, to bring my ego back down to earth.