Chungking Mansions was part of a weekly ritual for me when I lived in Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent Shenzhen, right across the border. Chungking Mansions was a world unto itself, filled with West African “member’s only” restaurants, Turkish and Indian restaurants, Pakistani and Bengali phone vendors, and octogenarian tenants, either in cramped apartments, or with family members running hostels.
O.K., but what the heck does any of this have to do with Paraguay?
According to Quartz, there was a time — basically, while I was living in the region 11-12 years ago — that Chungking Mansions sold no less than one-fifth of all mobile phones headed to Sub-Saharan Africa. It was a massive gray market, that is, one where legal goods are sold and resold by unauthorized dealers. Although Guangzhou, China had in many ways, supplanted Hong Kong’s might, Hong Kong was still the regional powerhouse in the parallel import/export market, much like Miami in the United States and, wait for it, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.
Ciudad del Este, close to Iguazu Falls and consequently, the borders with Brazil and Argentina, is an off-brand trader’s paradise. There’s no sales tax, income tax, or tariffs, and you can legally use the U.S. dollar, the Brazilian real, and the Argentinian peso, not to mention the local Paraguayan guaraní. Moreover, Ciudad del Este hosts businesspeople and travelers from all over the world; Iranians, Lebanese, Koreans, Chinese, and most noticeably, Taiwanese, in part because Paraguay is the only South American country to recognize their independence.
Now, I haven’t been to Paraguay, in part because I’ve tended to go to other regions for travel or work. Yet, I have just read news that Paraguay has temporarily suspended those $160 tourist visas for United States citizens, as of 12 October 2021 (wow, that long ago, and no one really reports on it).
NO VISAS REQUIRED!
Thus, I’m keen to check out Ciudad del Este, the country’s capital Asunción, and even Villa Hayes, named for the 19th President of the U.S. Rutherford Birchard Hayes.
Basically, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina fought Paraguay over its sovereignty in 1877; the war was called the Paraguayan War, or the Triple Alliance War. Even after cessation of fighting, Argentina tried to snatch more land called the Gran Chaco, but with Rutherford B. Hayes’ help in settling the dispute, Paraguay received ~60% of its current territory. So that country is much more fond of him than the U.S., where his election was prophetically controversial.
If you’re jonesing to visit, and you’re 12+ years or older, just take your vaccine card. Had COVID-19 between 10-90 days ago? Take proof. Otherwise, get a PCR test no less than 72 hours from departure to Paraguay.
Lastly, if you know Spanish, that would be useful. If you know Guaraní, even better.