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).
When I left Florianopolis, I took a 14 hour bus to Foz do Iguaçú not only to see the famous waterfalls, but also for my curiosity about the tri-country border. I had read on the internet that the Brazilian-Paraguayan border is delineated by a river which is crossed by a bridge called Ponte da Amizade. Every day, hundreds of thousands of pedestrians, cars, and trucks pass the bridge freely due to the MERCOSUR agreement. This is probably the most important spot for Brazilian trade. Anyway, I wanted to see Ciudad del Este, and the problem was that a $160 reciprocal visa fee was required for US citizens, and obviously I was not going to pay that for a day trip…
Consulting the internet, I learned that the border is barely controlled. This belief was further confirmed by my new Brazilian friend Wellen, who goes to medical school in Paraguay. I was still unsure about crossing over illegally, but with Wellen’s encouragement and offering to take me over I decided to do it.
The next morning, we got on a bus (a really crappy one I might add – you could tell which buses were from Paraguay and which were from Brazil by the way they looked) headed towards Ciudad del Este. A couple hundred meters before the bridge the traffic begins – Wellen says it is not uncommon to be in traffic for two hours to cross the narrow bridge that had one lane in each direction.I was really nervous as we approached the border, which unfortunately Wellen noticed and said loudly a couple times “Are you nervous?”… Me: “Shh there are other passengers in here!!”
I’ve traveled enough to not be surprised anymore when I see a Chinatown in every major city that I’ve been to. I usually try to visit these “Chinatown” areas to see how Asian immigrants live in other countries. Usually, the community consists of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean immigrants. Therefore, it was VERY surprising to find a piece of Taiwan in Paraguay, literally in the center of South America!
From Foz do Iguaçú, with my Brazilian friend Wellen I crossed the Ponte da Amizade separating the Brazilian city from its Paraguayan counterpart, Ciudad del Este. CdE is an important trade city in Paraguay because it connects Paraguay to Brazil. So, many Taiwanese have set up shop in Ciudad del Este, not to mention that Paraguay is one of the few countries in the world that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Taiwanese trade all things, but the biggest industry is electronics. In fact, when Wellen and I stepped off the bus, we were approached by a Paraguayan solicitor asking if we wanted to buy electronics, and Wellen gestured at me and said “Look at where she’s from, do you think she needs to buy electronics?” The guy laughed and walked away.