One thing that you learn very quickly when you travel is that thanks to global mobility and immigration, Asians are everywhere. My friends are often surprised when I tell them that Asians are in South America, but in fact there are so many of them that there are Chinatowns / Japantowns / Koreatowns in many of the larger cities. People think it’s weird that I love visiting the Asian communities in every country I visit, but to me it’s a must-do because these people have so much in common with you in background yet grew up so differently. I love seeing how we are similar yet very different, and it is one of my guilty pleasures to imagine myself growing up in South America. Here is a list of the Asian communities that I’ve found (with a special interest in Taiwanese communities) and where to find them (Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Ciudad del Este).
@ Buenos Aires Korean Cultural Center
Foreigners in Buenos Aires should definitely take advantage of this little-known public service.
All around the city, you can see people on these yellow bikes, and yellow stations with bikes lined up in front of it. This is the city’s free “Eco Bici”/”Mejor en Bici”(“Better with bicycle”) program, available to locals and foreigners alike.
Buenos Aires has an AMAZING public transport system (and the bus system in Montevideo is equally awesome, too). It is fast, cheap, and well-connected. However, navigating it is not the easiest for the first timer, so let me try to break it down for you. You have the options of 1) Taking the subway 2) Taking the bus 3) Renting a FREE bike. I will cover subway and bus on this post, and you can find my guide to renting a bike in Buenos Aires on this post.
First of all, get a SUBE card. You can obtain it at most “Locutorios”, Newspaper Kiosks/Convenience stores, and subway stations. They come at the price of 15 pesos at the time of writing, and it is well-worth it as it gives you a discount when you use the system.
Second of all, you need to charge your SUBE card with value. The place that you get your SUBE card can do that for you. Most kiosks and locutorios will charge you 1 peso for the recharging service, but subway stations and some kiosks (that have on the sign saying that there’s no service fee) do it for free. Either way, don’t forget that it’s merely the cost of a dime… You’re free to denominate how many pesos to charge. Charging 10 pesos will give you about 4 rides. Continue reading
One of the biggest travel faux-pas one can commit when visiting Buenos Aires is not bringing in a wad of US dollars (or Euros)!
The reason is Argentina has been in the middle of a currency crisis for awhile, and inflation is ever on the rise. Argentinians need to secure their assets by converting the majority of their cash into a secure currency, as the US dollar. However, this would create a vicious cycle of depreciation of the Argentinian peso, so obviously the government doesn’t want that. To prevent this from happening, the government makes it virtually impossible for one to obtain US dollars in Argentina, foreigners and locals alike. Of course, people manage to work around it; Colonia in Uruguay is just a 1.5 hour/$40 boat ride away, and in the ATMs there one can extract US dollars directly. Another common way is to resort to the “Blue Market” – this de facto black market that everyone knows about exists because of the demand for US dollar supply. Basically they buy dollars from tourists & folks with US dollars for a rate higher than the official rate in exchange for the peso, and sell the US dollars back to locals. Continue reading
When I was in the South of Brazil, couple of people asked me if I’m Argentinian. Argentinians, by the way, are known for looking “European”, having blond hair, tall physique, etc. That’s because many of them have Italian, German, or Spanish descent; there are pretty much no indigenous or African people in Buenos Aires. Therefore, in Brazil, I assumed that there must be a fair amount of Asian Argentinians in Argentina – Brazilians probably thought that I speak Portuguese with an accent, therefore I must be from a Spanish speaking country.
When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I actually initially did not observe many Asians on the streets. Those I did see, are as we call “fobs”, folks that still speak Chinese to each other and probably from the immigrating generation. However, there’s more to this than meets the eye.
First of all, there is a “Barrio Chino”, Chinatown district in Belgrano, which is about 3 streets worth of cheap Chinese grocery stories, and restaurants, including Taiwanese restaurants! It also has the stereotypical arch that marks a Chinatown.
Second of all, I stayed at a Taiwanese Argentinian’s place in Colegiales. One day I accidentally stumbled into the room the cat is staying in, and realized in the dark that it was a little supermarket! I realized that my host’s parents’ business is Chinese supermarket.
From then on, I’ve peered into all the little supermarkets I’ve walked past, and half of them are owned by Chinese people. Even playing Chinese music as you browse the aisles.
A couple days ago, I heard about this cheap buffet place next to the hostel, and went and got a 18 pesos buffet meal… damn!! Looking up at the cash register, I realized the cashier is Chinese. Ah.. that’s why it’s so cheap. Later that day, I peered into all the buffets in the area, and all the owners are Chinese.