Yesterday, Ken, our generous and knowledgeable sponsor here in Sao Paulo, took us to the nearby mall to arrange for two necessities: cell phone service and Internet/TV service.

The trip was mind-blowing. Especially for someone who basically hates shopping, and abhors malls. (The photo above is just a web image. Didn’t take photos yesterday.)

From the outside, as seen on Google Maps, the mall looks smallish, with an Outback Steakhouse positioned on the outer rim. There are no windows on the outer walls, so it is hard to tell on Google what was there, beyond parking.

Ken drove, since we have no car yet and are still uncertain of our terrain, taking us what appeared to be the long route to the mall, rather than just driving down the street that runs by us directly to the mall. Too many U-turns necessary if he went that way, he explained. Consequently, I couldn’t now find my way there again, at least not on his route. (Along the way, I saw an almost-naked homeless couple lying on cardboard beneath what looks like a banyan tree in a small traffic circle. I’m not sure, but I think the man was tattooing the woman’s thigh. It was just a quick glimpse, but that was my take on the image.)

The parking garage at the mall is a fantastic warren of multiple levels; I have no idea how many. But as you drive along the ramps, there are lighted signs indicating the spaces available in each area. When you turn into a parking area, you see small red and green lights along the ceiling. These indicate taken and open spaces, respectively. Such a great help when seeking a parking spot!

After taking the parking ticket (the size of a credit card) from the automatic barrier, we parked on level E89, whatever that means. I only know that once we entered the mall, there were at least five levels below us, and each level stretched out a full block. The place was massive! I immediately went into deer-in-the-headlights mode and began hyperventilating. I thank God that Ken was with us, or I would have immediately tucked my tail and scurried back to the car.

Ken pointed out the cashier by the door, where we would pay for parking before we went to our car. Cost is about 9 rais (pronounced hay-ice) for the first hour (about $5), and rapidly accumulating after that (we paid R20 when we left). As we descended on the escalators, Ken said that the best way not to get lost, besides dropping bread crumbs, is to remember what stores you first encountered off of each escalator. That way, you can ask for directions, eventually.

The mall was a disconcerting kaleidoscope of colors and lights, packed with families, each member carrying at least one bag, and in many cases, multiple bags. Dress was casual, but expensive, as were the shoes. Baby strollers were top of the line, and the dads pushing them looked very tired.

The bags-in-hand crowd amazed me, because everything is 2x or 3x as expensive here as in the U.S. Some things are 4x and 5x, if electronics. A simple watch cost 360 rais ($205.71). Not a Rolex, but maybe a knockoff Swatch. I asked Ken how the mall could be so jammed at those prices. He explained that people buy everything on time…with no interest due. Every price tag is initially appealing: R30 for a watch. That’s not bad! But then when I deciphered the tag, I saw that was the price for buying on time, the monthly cost, over 12 months. To buy “on the spot,” the price was R360. There is no extra cost for buying on time, and no interest. So much purchased on credit. How do they do it? How do they keep track? I’d be flat broke in no time.

It boggles my mind, but everyone was so happy to be out shopping and dining and sharing time with each other! The Brazilians seem to enjoy socializing, and I envy their camaraderie. Some day….

With Ken and Tom’s help, I was able to get service for my iPhone (which I can’t use in public, apparently, for fear that it will be ripped out of my hand; some fellow lost his when a guy on a motorcycle grabbed it from him and rode off), and we arranged for Internet and TV service to be installed on Monday. My cell phone service is through Tim (pronounced Chin), and I can keep my initial plan or just go to a top-up-as-you-need system. I’ll know better once I use the phone and see what my expenses are.

After that, we descended several levels, down to the food court. Okay, part of it was a food court as we know it, complete with Subway, McDonald’s, and other fast food entities. But the other half was fancy restaurants: Indian, Italian, Japanese, American Fifties Diner, etc. We ate Italian. No appetizers, agua con gas to drink, pasta for each, and two (fantastic) coffees. Total cost, R200, for three of us.

As we prepared to come here, people constantly advised us to buy and bring, from clothing to cleaning supplies to office goods to food. “Everything is so expensive,” was the catchphrase. Well, I’m here to tell you, they weren’t kidding!

Still and all, it is big city living, with a massive population, so things are going to be expensive, especially due to the import and sales taxes. Gotta get used to it and lose the look of wide-eyed amazement. It is what it is, bubba.

So, we survived our first trip to the mega-mall, though we probably saw only 1/100th of the place. Someday, I will venture back, I know. But more as an expedition than to shop.