Wanna Buy the Sugar Loaf?

      Buy the
      Sugar Loaf?

When you see two buses alongside one another and about four arms on
each side extended swapping business cards, passing them down the aisle on the bus, you
really come to understand commerce is the center of human activity.
By John Miller

Postcards from Rio


The thing that I love about working in Windows-95 in Portuguese is it is so easy to do
things that you do not expect to happen. The other day I was wandering around the screen,
and I enter some piece of software by accident, that I have no idea what it does because
it is all in Portuguese. All of a sudden I got those lovely flapping wings that show your
files are being trashed and removed from the system. Now I had not done a backup for about
4 weeks (I know naughty boy), and I am just watching weeks of work go flying out the
window. So I just act really relaxed, calm, and ripped the FUCKING power cord out of the
wall as quick as I could.

This is one reason why I was such a lousy engineer. I just resort to extreme measures
when the machine does not behave the way I want it to. And like, as if pulling the plug
out of the wall is going to work any faster than switching the machine off. But that’s the
point, I do not think this way, I just imagine all those electrons are better cut off at
the source. As if my files are going down the earth wire and I can catch them at the power
lead and stuff them back in, and hence the pull the plug approach. Ended up I lost only
about 15 files, but oh boy, using Windows-95 in Portuguese is a little challenging. And
why does Microsoft not say on the front of the box:

"Warning, any moron Australian who does not understand Portuguese should not
attempt to use this software".

I think they assume too much.

The Rio de Janeiro Zoo

Marta, the Bugs Ear (Marta’s niece, Ana-Paula) and I went to the Rio de Janeiro
Zoological Gardens one Saturday. Sounds dull eh? Read on…

Rio de Janeiro Zoo is just like most other good zoos, it has elephants, bears,
giraffes, monkeys (I am told there are more monkey species in South America than any other
continent), and some close relatives of Ron Casey from 2KY (for my North American readers
substitute Ken Starr or Charlton Heston).

First it cost about 2 coconuts to go to the zoo, I like the price for a day’s
entertainment. The best way to get there is to catch the 474 bus from Ipanema. It does a
wonderful tour of the city to get to the gardens that surround the Zoological Park. Next
to the park is the old Imperial Palace of Rio de Janeiro, where Emperor Dom Pedro I &
II used to hang out, just your average Buckingham Palace type thing with about 200 rooms,
etc. The palace is now the one of the main museums in Rio de Janeiro.

The park is about the size of Centennial Park in Sydney. This is family country,
picnics, BBQs, kites, rug rats everywhere, fairy floss, all sorts of sweet things that are
not good for your teeth, plus the ubiquitous buttered sweet-corn (I love the smell, but
just deadly on my constitution for some reason).

So we go inside the zoo and the first thing you have to do is negotiate your way past
some of the most dangerous and savage animals you have ever seen in South America. These
are the professional photographers, who are hawking Polaroid snapshots of you with any
animal in the zoo (or not in the zoo for that matter). They use painted backdrops of
animals in the zoo for the photo of your rug rat. So you do not need to go any further,
just take your kid for a photo with the animal of your choice and then you have seen the
Rio de Janeiro Zoo. Why waste all that valuable time in the zoo learning about animals,
having to push a pram around, kids whining at you all day, when you can have the whole
experience by just having a photograph taken for $11. Even mount it on a plate so you can
have the experience every time you feed your son or daughter. So we buy a photograph of
Ana-Paula and leave the zoo. This ends the visit to the zoo.

Just kidding. Lets check out the birds first. You have to understand that the South
American continent is home to some pretty weird animals, and birds. Most notable the tucano
(that is toucan). Now I have never seen a toucan in the flesh before (or wearing feathers
for that matter), and some species are very rare now. Tucanos are just amazing, the
colors incredible, the beaks look like they have been hand-painted. I keep thinking of Pro
Hart paintings on Jimmy Durante’s nose (I am having a little help tonight with the cachaça
writing this section, so my typing is terrible, I will tidy up tomorrow). The Rio Zoo has
5-6 tucanos species, and a separate aviary area for other birds of the Amazon.
Parrots of all sorts and sizes, maracanãs (yes the football stadium is named after
a bird), eagles, jaburu, owls, wow even a guy dressed as a Power Ranger in one cage
(Am I really writing this stuff or getting divine inspiration. No, just my third glass of cachaça).
I have not seen so many colorful birds since the previous Sunday on Ipanema Beach (not the
most politically correct joke, but come and get me).

The jacaré swamp is also impressive. (Does anyone know the collective noun for
a collection of crocodiles, alligators? A pod of jacarés I think). The turtles and
tortoises share the same swamp pen and lay about in one giant heap warming each other in
the sun. (This I am told is a misconception by my resident anthropologist Tim Moulton who
stopped over to share a glass of cachaça. Tortoises are cold blooded, so it does not make
any difference). The tortoises were performing very very slow sexual acts, I could tell,
because the female tortoises were all yawning and polishing their nails. Can you imagine
the female tortoises saying, "George, can’t you go any faster?"

They have a great range of felines here, every type of cat you can imagine, all the
great jaguars, panthers, leopards, plus the imported bengals, lions, Gary Ablett, Benny
Elias, etc. (Do I have to explain this as well?). Mais uma cachaça Marta, por favor.

Other interesting animals in the zoo include the armadillo, tapir, capybaras, and an
anaconda that could swallow Dean Lukin in one sitting. I think it had a pig half digested
in its guts when I saw it.

Like most zoos, it has turned to private enterprise for sponsorship, and all the
exhibits have tastefully made signs showing who is financially supporting the animals
including Ernst & Young, Petrobrás, McDonald’s (funny, it was the Brahma cow cage;
was this some Carioca attempt at corporate humor), O Globo newspaper. This is a
great way to spend corporate dollars, a great learning and educational tool and a lot of
fun for the adults (I think the kids like it too).

Only one range of animals not found in this zoo, you guessed it. Boy, you wonder why no
one knows Australia in South America, and the Australian Government & Zoological
people cannot even get one single Australian Mammal in the zoo here.

No kangaroo, no wallaby, no emu (plenty of ostriches), no koala, no platypus, no fairy
penguin, no blue tongue lizard, no kookaburra, no Oz salt or fresh water crocodiles, no
black swan, no dingos, no magpies, no pelicans, no bandicoot. No Tasmanian Devil, no
possums (but plenty of opossums—South America has lots of marsupials like gambás,
cuícas, marmotas, four-eyed opossums, wooly Opossum), no wombats, no
quokkas, no Major Mitchells, no unusual Australian marsupials full stop. No frilly lizards
or deadly poisonous snakes, no cane toad (oh that’s right, we got the cane toad from Latin
America, please, Australian does not need any more cane toads, we have enough already).

How can Brazilians be expected to learn about Australia if we have no animals in their
zoos. I am dumbfounded about this. It is not as though this zoo is not up to standards, it
is a good quality zoo, and they have loads of space. I really had a tough time explaining
this to the Bugs Ear, Ana Paula. She was so disappointed not to see a kangaroo.

Look, I know this sounds all very Barry McKenzie, Crocodile Dundee and Paul Hoganish,
but that is where the cultural thing is at the moment. Maybe Australians want to show the
world that we are more sophisticated than cute animals with pouches and good beaches and
great wine & beer, but the golden rule is "give the punter what he wants".
And if they want to see kangaroos, give them kangaroos, including meat exports for the BBQ
(anyone want to invest in a refrigerated container of jumping steaks, por favor?).

Anyway we left after Ana-Paula ate me out of $18 of hot dogs, fairy floss, Pepsi,
freshly crushed sugar cane juice, roasted cashews and cheese pastéis (Where does
she put it all?). OK, so I chugged 3 pastéis (turnovers) and a couple of beers as
well. Give me a break, I’m tired and going home to sleep this off. But a fun day I must

More Bus

When are these salesmen (it does seem to be mostly men) going to get something
different to sell? I had a serious talk to Marta about this, and I said half the problem
with these salesmen on the bus is that they all sell the same stuff. Marta made a good
point though, they have been doing it for a living a lot longer than I have (no, I have
not tried selling wine on the bus, yet), so they know their consumer.

Anyway later in the month I did some mathematics on this bus selling. Lets say the guy
selling on the buses starts at 9:30 am, and finishes about 7:00 pm (they are allowed to
work the evening peak hour). Now I reckon an hour off for lunch. That means 8.5 hours. The
bus salesmen would do about 6 X 5 minutes trips per hour, and average would be 1 sale per
trip. Average sales price = 0.50 cents. Average cost of goods = 0.25 cent. So that equals
6 trips per hour X 8.5 hours X $0.50 = $25 per day less 50% costs = $12.5 per day * 25
days per month = $312.50 per month profit (no tax). Double this as I put Marta out as
well, then you put your family of 8 children out to do the same, hey I’m in the wrong

I use the 123 bus from Ipanema to Centro pretty regularly. Even know some of the
drivers, they all have their own personality behind the wheel. One of my favorite drivers
is a really big Brazilian guy, maybe 250 pounds of black, roly-poly, huge smile, loud
singing voice, the works. This guy is a natural at his job, good driver, and is known by
everyone for his good humor at the wheel and singing to entertain the passengers. Only one
thing I do not like about his driving abilities; I am pretty certain he only has ONE EYE,
the other is glass!!!!!! "Hey driver, do you mind not blinking so much!!!"

One of the favorite pastimes of the bus drivers is drag racing the intersection.
Imagine a couple of buses pulled up alongside each other at an intersection in Avenue
Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. The traffic signal is red. The two drivers look across at
each other, grinning, give the old thumbs up sign, and then starting revving and clutch
burning awaiting the change of signal from red to green. The green light comes on, and you
get thrown back in your seat as the two bus drivers try to nail down any straggling
pedestrians on the other side of the intersection, and race for the imaginary checkered
flag. Once through the intersection, the guy on the inside track plays chicken with the
guy on the outside. All of this is done while both drivers are grinning away, thumbs up
signs, and smiling as if getting the passengers on board from A to B was a distraction
from the real objective, which is practicing for Formula 1 racing. All in a good day at
the office.

Another pastime on the bus is doing business in traffic. In fact, this is done on all
forms of transport, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles. Lets say it is gridlock time, you
already have the windows open, and the person in the next lane is no more than spitting
distance from you. This is the ideal time to start handing out the business cards. It just
never stops here. When you see two buses alongside one another and about four arms on each
side extended swapping business cards, passing them down the aisle on the bus, you really
come to understand commerce is the center of human activity.

The telephone,
Cariocas and

Let me give you a couple of examples of a typical phone conversation. I am going to
break this down into a couple of categories, so you get a feel for things.

1. Inbound call from within Brazil ( I answer the phone)

Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

John: "Hello".

(If it is a long distance call, you get this lovely chiming sound and a voice in
Portuguese saying that unless you hang up straight away, you are wearing the cost of this
long distance or international call).

3rd Party: "Boa noite. Eu gostaria de falar com Maria Lisboa, por

John: "Who, sorry, quem?"

3rd Party: "Droga. Eu gostaria de falar com Maria Lisboa, por favor."

(Now at this point, if Marta is around, I usually say "momento" and
hand off to Marta, but if not, it gets real fun"

John: "Desculpe, eu não falo Português".

3rd Party: "Não falar Português!!!!! Hey gringo, when you
going to learn Portuguese, this is Marcos Frota here. I was just testing you". (He is
always pulling pranks like this on me).


3rd Party: "Não falar Português!!!!! Can you speak me Maria Lisboa, por

John: "Desculpe, there is no Maria Lisboa here".

3rd Party: "É cinco, oito, nove, nove, dois, três, sete (589-9237)?

John: "This is 521-8568".

3rd Party: : "É cinco, oito, nove, nove, dois, três, sete? "

John: "This is 521-8568".

3rd Party: Beep beep beep beep beep beep.

2. Outbound Call – John Miller to customer / business in Rio de Janeiro

Dial 681-3297

Beep Beep Beep ……… (engaged)

(This is the worst part, because you are encouraged that A) you got a line B) you know
someone will answer the phone when they hang up, so you try again. )

Try Again.

……………………. (nothing, no line ) wait ten minutes.

Ahh, dial tone


……………………….. (vacuum, nada)

Hang up, wait ten more minutes.


Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,
Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,
Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,
Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

(Where did they go?) Wait 10 minutes.


Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

3rd Party: "Alô, cinco, nove, tres, quatro, quatro, zero, um (593-4401)".

John: "Desculpe, wrong number". Hang up. Could have sworn I keyed in
the right number!

681 3297

Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

3rd Party: "Alô, seis, oito, um, três, dois, nove, sete."

John: "Bom dia, could I speak to Marcello Luiz Henrique Vicente Paulo Lopes
Gonçalves, por favor?"

3rd Party: "Marcello Henrique Luiz Marcello Yuri Gonçalves?".

John: "Yeah, the same one".

3rd Party: "Errrrrrrr, você não fala Português?".

John: "Não, desculpe. Eu não falo Português."

3rd Party: "Momentinho………………"

You would think I would have worked out the problem by now, but no, I am such a slow

3. Inbound call from Australia (4:30 am Rio de Janeiro time).

Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

Hmmmmmmmmm, What the f….

Marta: "John, wake up, the phone’s ringing".

John: "Hmmmmmmm, ok, ok, I’ll get it". (In the back of my mind I am thinking,
`gees, if you heard the phone ringing first, why did you wake me up to have the phone
answered?’ I could sleep through WW III with this much cachaça in my body.)

Stumble around in the dark, kick my toe against the bed, walk into wardrobe door that
mysteriously swings open during the night, swear profanity, race to the phone.

John: "Ummm, hello". Look at clock next to the phone.

Kevin: "Hey John, its Kevin, I got your message on the answering machine, what’s

Yawn, wipe sleep from face, try to get eyes to focus.

John: "Do you know what time it is?".

Kevin: "Yeah its 5:30 in the afternoon, just finished watching the Sydney Swans
trounce Collingwood".

John: "I meant do you know what time it is here?".

Kevin: "Um I guess it is, oh sorry about that. Anyway what’s up? What do ya

John: "I just called the other day to say hello, see how things are going, you
know, stay in touch type thing".

Kevin: "Oh, is that all. Yeah, well nothing much has been happening. Got your
message the other day. Gee, you sure are having fun. I bet that bus adventure was a real
experience. Keep up the good work, we really love to receive your mail, and we photocopy
and send to all our family and friends. They really appreciate us doing this. My wife
(Noreen) and I have been meaning to write, but you know, we have been kind of busy you

John: "Yeah, not me. I just sit on the beach all day, reading O Globo, and
drinking beer. Business is just flocking to my door. I have so much free time that I just
sit and write letters all day to stop the boredom setting in. By the way, I hear John
Howard and Peter Costello are putting the razor about, some Asia debt crisis or

Kevin: "Yeah, bloody hell, it’s bloody tough here at the moment, things are really
bad, looks like recession time again. Well I have to go, this phone call is costing me a
bomb!!! When are you coming back to Sydney?"

John: "When I can afford it, real soon I hope. Love to see you all."

Kevin: "Yeah, we would to. Bye."

Beep, beep, beep…………………………

John: "Tchau".

4. Outbound call from Rio de Janeiro to Australia

Dial Global Access, get line to connect from Brazil to USA.

OK Dial Australia +61 ……………………

Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrrriiiiinnnnnggggg, Brrrriiiiinnnnnggggg,

Beep Beep Beep Beep

Receptionist: "Hello, this is Company X, Norelle speaking, please

MUZAK, 2DAY FM, some banal advertisement for their product.

Meanwhile back in Brazil, the hour glass is ticking at $3.00 per minute courtesy of

10 minutes later.

Receptionist: "Hello, this is Norelle, how may I help you?"

John: "Yeah, my name is John Miller, I am calling from Brazil, can I speak to Mr.
So and So?"

Receptionist: "I’ll just see if he is in. One moment please."

This is where you hear the receptionist whispering in the background something like
this, "I have a guy on the phone calling from Argentina or some place in the jungle,
he says he wants to speak to you. What do you want me to say?"

Receptionist: "Mr. So and So is not in right now, if you leave your number I’ll
make sure he gets your message."

Now at this point, you really have to make some tough decisions.

So I have developed a couple of work around strategies using a fake accent or two:

John: "Goddamn Aussies, this is NEW YORK calling, put me through to Mr. So &
So straight away".

Receptionist: "Yes sir, right away. Who may I say is calling?"

John: "Henry Kissinger for all it matters. Look I am planning to buy your little
Australian company in the next week or two, so I suggest you put me through NOW!!!"

Receptionist: "Putting you through……..".


In mid August we were invited by an amigo to his house in Petrópolis. His name
is Otávio, an architect who designs and builds houses in Petrópolis. We had lunch with
Otávio, his wife, two rug rats, and some other friends who lived in Melbourne for four
years in Parkville. They were keen to refresh their fond memories about Australian wine.

So it’s bus adventure time again as we travel from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis one
Sunday. Petrópolis is about 1.5 hours by car or bus from Rio de Janeiro. Petrópolis is
situated in the surrounding tropically lush mountains, elevation about 1200 meters, a
climate not unlike Cairns in Northern Queensland. It is very green, lush, very steep,
beautiful tropical rainforests, paradise. Petrópolis is famous as a weekend retreat for
Cariocas, some older well-preserved hotels (ex casinos), and a beautiful place to walk
around. Population of Petrópolis is about 300,000 although it felt more like 500,000.

We hit the bus about 10:30 am and about ½ hour into the journey the freeway hits a
snag. Well lets say a 5-km snag, right in the middle of Baixada Fluminense. We are stuck
here for a while, but it is not dull either, in fact I have never been so entertained in a
traffic jam in all my life. What can possibly be entertaining in a traffic jam?

Selling of course. Now a traffic jam for a street seller is like the Second Coming of
Christ, and Jesus has descended and made his day. There are guys just racing from the
surrounding suburbs setting world records for the 200M sprint, some on bikes carrying, ice
cream, Coca-Cola, beer, you name it you can get it. And boy, when you are in a traffic
jam, the thermometer is starting to climb, you got mum, six kids, probably your in-laws in
the car as well, it’s thirsty time. And just out the window of the car is a guy waiting to
sell you that icy cold, thirst-quenching, refreshing, Coca-Cola. Man, what a product. Go
anywhere, any time. "Hey, pass the Marlboro Lights while you are at it, and maybe a
chokito or two, hey Pedro, you want an ice cream? Marcia, here is a copy of the Sunday O
Globo to read? Hey, they look good, pass me a couple of those pastéis, por favor.
And that coconut ice, man you say your Mum makes this, she is fantastic, you accept a

Now a bus is just like cream on a cake for these sales guys, because the bus has all
these bored people inside just needing a can of icy cold Coca-Cola to pass the time. Man,
the local Coca-Cola sales rep would have been proud of his distributors today, they were
working double time. I was very tempted to do a wine tasting on the bus at this stage to
the fellow passengers, but I just got so absorbed in all the action going on around, that
I forgot.

So the jam lasts about 45 minutes and we climb the mountains to Petrópolis, a really
scenic drive, very windy road, lots of tunnels through the mountains, and finally arrive
at the house of Otávio. Now I am in Australia, this is ¼ acre block country, lawn to be
mowed (not much, the house took up most of it), beautiful garden, brilliantly architect
designed house, and the usual exotic colored pet tortoises! The land is very steep here,
but just the most beautiful surrounding rain forest, just breathtaking. It’s actually
quite cool, and they even have a fireplace, which they use on the colder winter nights.
And a very well stocked cellar, this guy knows his wine very well.

It is like Sunday in Australia today, great lunch, veal, salad, potato, rice, some
vegetables I do not know, Aussie wine, and some imported liqueurs from Italy, France and
Germany. The wine flowed, the bossa nova played, the conversation stimulating. A
cleansing ale to finish the day. And a sale of two dozen wines (I feel like an Amway
person). Next stop a Tupperware party.

We finish the day about 6:00 pm and Otávio gives us a lift back to the bus terminal in
Petrópolis. His parting words to me were:

"John, as you know I lived in Los Angeles for five years and when I first arrived
in LA I knew no one. So I know what you are going through. Just remember you are not alone
in Brazil. Call me anytime, it is a pleasure to help".

I am pretty sure that if I die here, it is because the Brazilians have killed me with
kindness. Totally humbling experience this. Totally.

John Miller is an Australian, living in Rio de Janeiro, selling Australian
wine. `Postcards from Rio’ is a journal of his journey in the land of the Cariocas.

For contact:

John and Marta Miller
Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 106 / Apt 1001
Copacabana CEP 22080-030
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: +55 (021) 521 8568
E-mail: millerj@gbl.com.br

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