“I’ll take you to the nearest stop and get you on the right bus home,” the owner of Restaurant Lai Lai assured me.
I wasn’t expecting this level of service when I got to Buenos Aires’ Barrio Chino last tonight. I was simply looking for a meal to take me a little closer to home, and perhaps an ethnic Chinese or Asian grocery store to get some instant noodles. But when Señora Hu, Lai Lai’s owner, heard my Taiwanese-accented Mandarin, she invited me to stay longer and chat. My initial hope of a short meal and some time to reflect and write my journal turned into an animated conversation about my trip to Argentina and Hu’s 20 plus years’ stay in BsAs as a Taiwanese Argentinean. It’s funny that my first substantive conversation in town wasn’t in English or even Spanish, but Chinese.
I would compare Belgrano to some of the more fancied American neighborhoods like Brentwood in Los Angeles or parts of Park Slope in Brooklyn. Originally founded as a northern suburb to Buenos Aires, Belgrano has been integrated into the city and is situated close to venerable institutions such as the Argentine Polo Ground. The neighborhood is home to chic cafés and fashionable boutiques. Unlike Palermo, which still retains a bohemian air about the neighborhood, Belgrano denizens look like the country club type. Barrio Chino sits deep inside Belgrano.
“Actually, many Barrio Chino restaurants are Taiwanese-owned,” Señora Hu expressed with a certain level of pride. While English is my primary language, as a Chinese speaker, I definitely detected many Barrio Chino business owners speaking Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent. I even overheard a Chinese supermarket owner speaking to his friends in the Taiwanese dialect, which is as different to Mandarin as Portuguese is to Spanish.
More than two decades ago, my parents worked up the courage to move the family to the United States. But my folks had the advantage of being solidly middle class and university-educated. These Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants came to Argentina and other parts of South America not knowing what to expect, mostly without capital and spoke no Spanish.
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I feel like I am spending a lot of time documenting my initial days here in Argentina. Perhaps I’m spending too much time blogging. But I feel like I should take every opportunity to record my experience here.