A Foray Into a Chinese Community in Panama

Last week I decided to stroll through the neighborhood of El Dorado, which is noted for its numerous Chinese population.  I captured several pictures depicting their daily activities.

According to the Wiki Encyclopedia; as of 2003, there were estimated to be between 135,000 and 200,000 Chinese in Panama, making them the largest Chinese community in Central America.  In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989, many mainland Chinese fled to Panama by way of Hong Kong on temporary visas and short-term residency permits; estimates of the size of the influx ranged from 9,000 to 35,000.

A welcome sign at a mall in the neighborhood of El Dorado, with Chinese characters. This a sweet spot for Chinese citizens for social meetings and purchasing their groceries in Panama City. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

10 thoughts on “A Foray Into a Chinese Community in Panama”

  1. Nice! I’m curious…do the Chinese population speak Spanish or their own language? We have a large number of people from Mexico that do not speak English. I would think to live in another country that you assimilate the language along with your native tongue.

    1. Both. They speak Spanish when they go out and intermingle with Spanish-speaking Panamanians and Chinese inside their homes or other Chinese-speaking people. I think they speak Cantonese or Mandarin.

      I have a friend from Panama who lives in Maine and only speaks Spanish. She refuses to learn English and is having a hard time adjusting to her new environment. I’ve told her several times, that learning the language is a must if she intends to live there permanently. No joy, she sticks to her native language.

      Even though I don’t have to use English on a daily basis because I live in Panama, I enjoy using it because it is such a challenging language. It might not be the best English, but at least people understand what I’m trying to communicate.



      1. I think your English is excellent, Omar. You are right that to truly be happy in another culture, you need to learn the language. Glad to hear the Chinese population there is doing so. Have a great day!

      2. You know I lived much of my life in southeast Florida with its huge Spanish-speaking population. Not just Cubans, but many Argentinians, Hondurans, Salvadorans, etc. Many of them never learn to speak English, and while there are so many in the States that get really upset with that, it doesn’t bother me at all. Especially in places like Miami and Hialeah they can get along easily and for their entire lives speaking Spanish exclusively.

        The only thing I ever insisted on was, DON’T come up to me and say, “¿Habla, Español?”

        My answer was always, “Sí, pero no aquí. Hablamos Inglés, aquí. Cuando estoy en Panamá o México hablo Español pero no en mi país.”

        And I feel the same way here in Panama. I NEVER have gone into a store or office and asked anyone, “Do you speak English?” Panamanians are unfailingly polite, but the correct response should be “No!”

        I do HORRIBLE things to your language, Omar. I brutalize it on a daily basis, but so what? People understand me (mostly). I can joke with the girls at the supermarket check out line and make them laugh, and it’s not just because of my accent or mangling the verb conjugations, but because I’ve connected with them in their own language.

        I know this is getting real long, but one last thing. There’s a Panamanian who is often on the bus with me and often we sit together and talk to each other in English. His English, like yours is excellent, but we converse in English because HE WANTS TO, not because it’s easier for me. Sometimes it’s the only time I speak English in a week or two.

      3. Hello Richard:

        Nice to hear from you again. In my humble opinion, the only way to learn a language is by using it as much as you can. Of course you will make misakes, but at the end of the day, the language will gradually sink in.

        On the other hand, there are people who are adamant in learning a new language. I have a friend who lives in Maine. Been there for more than five years, and her English is almost non-existent. The reason is that she resists to speak the language. She intermingles mainly with Latinos, and most if not all her English correspondence, is translated into Spanish by some of her friends who have taken the time to learn the language. She listens or views only Spanish-speaking radio or TV and reads only Spanish magazines or books. She can stay in Main for the next twenty years and her English will continue to be same or even worse.

        You have take the time to absorb the culture and lifestyle of Panamanians, and of course, they reciprocate your effort. That’s why they are so friendly with you.

        As you know, I love the English language, even though I hardly speak it. I don’t have American friends living in Panama City to speak English, so in order to keep it from rusting, I write in English on a daily basis. All my books are in English. I read English articles on the Web and view films spoken in English with Spanish sub-titles.

        Sometimes I get angry when I find sentences or phrases that have no meaning to me at all, but that’s okay; I can alway Google the phrase and learn something new. Usually I study English about four or five hours a day. For example, at this moment I’m reading “The Quiet American” written by Graham Greene about the Vietnam War. Why do I do it? Because I love the language.

        Thank you for your thought provoking comments about English and Spanish in the United States and Panama.



  2. You’ve documented that little area well Omar. Cars double parked and people everywhere no matter what time of day it is.

    1. Hi Indacampo:

      This commercial area, is like a small Chinatown, permanently buzzing with activity. Parking is a nightmare. These shots were taken during an early Sunday morning. Best time of the day to take pictures. Traffic at this time is almost non-existent.

      Best Regards,


      1. Yes, one of my good friends lives in Bethania and I usually stay with her when I travel like the Country Mouse to the city. Her favourite day to do errands is Sunday, and it’s also the least terrifying day for me to be her passenger. You’ve captured all the lovely nuances of the area. 🙂

  3. Yes I have. For example Lung Fung, and Don Lee to name just a few. I don’t do the shopping for food in our house, however my wife prefers to buy our food at El Machetazo Supermarket—a few blocks away from home.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s