地球另一端的大中國城——橋頭

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1988 / 7月

文‧盧惠芬 圖‧張良綱


他們作息依的是巴西時間,商店標價用的單位是美元,拿起身分證件每個人都有好幾個國家的永久居留證、護照,開起口來葡萄牙話比西班牙語流利。他們自稱「國際居民」,改不了的是飲食習慣——餐桌上總是中國菜。

在南美的巴拉圭,有這麼一個特殊的地方。那兒每卅個人中就有一個中國人、每五個人就有一個依靠中國人過活;一位僑領大聲地說:「你出去走五家店,如果沒有一家是中國人開的,回來找我。」


如果能貫穿地球,從台灣直直挖一條通過地心的隧道,出口是南美洲的巴拉圭。

在這地球上離台灣最遠的地方,竟有一個城市,可能是除了新加坡、美國加州蒙特利公園市以外,海外華人最密集的地方。它的正式名稱是史托納爾總統市;因為在友誼大橋的這一頭,中國人都叫它:橋頭。

半個鐘頭走三個國家

橋的另一頭,已是巴西境內,再開廿分鐘車,就到了阿根廷。「半個鐘頭可以走三個國家」,橋頭中華會館副理事長李肇洛說。

也就是這獨特的地理位置,促成了橋頭的發展,使她儼然成為巴拉圭的商業中心。

「可以說百分之九十九的客人,都來自巴西」,開設香港禮品行的余鳳麟解釋,巴西因為外債多,奢侈品如菸、酒、香水等,或她本國有生產的工業品,如電子零件,全限制或禁止進口,單幫客於是川流不息地過橋來「跑貨」。依巴西政府規定,每人入境可帶四瓶酒、兩條菸,及價值在一百五十美元以內的行李。

基於業務需要,橋頭雖然在巴拉圭境內,大部分人手錶上撥的卻是巴西時間(晚一小時);對巴拉圭通用的西班牙語,很多人只會幾句問候話,葡萄牙語(巴西講葡萄牙語)卻能和客戶討價還價。

隨著巴西景氣浮沉,橋頭市集逐漸形成。開城卅年,最近五年「財」氣最旺。據非正式的統計,去年橋頭共進口了一百八十五個四十呎貨櫃的貨,貿易額超過十五億美元。

地價如香港

橋頭的房地產於是水漲船高,在巴拉圭首都亞松森市中心三萬美元能買到的房子,在這兒大概只夠買同樣大小的地——而且不是在市集堙C購物中心內一、二坪大的專櫃攤位,每月租金達一萬五千美元。不過二條街,約二平方公里——還沒有西門町大的市集,「擠」了二千家商店,還有上千個攤販。「好像回到了香港」,一位自港來做生意的商人說。

中國人也在近五年內大量湧入。十八年前第一位到這媔}店的華人,也是現任中華會館理事長王華藻回憶他剛來時,「除了家堥煽X張面孔,看不到中國人」;九年前,李肇洛在家堳嵹|放映電影「汪洋中的一條船」,就足以招待全市華人;今天,橋頭十萬居民中約有三千個中國人,全市最高的十七層大樓是中國人蓋的,全橋頭、也是全巴拉圭最大的美洲百貨公司,是中國人開的。

各種中國人的生活用品、食物紛紛出現。從四川、浙江菜,到碗粿、刨冰、豬血湯等台灣小吃,應有盡有;在國內舉行環球小姐選美的第三天,橋頭的錄影帶出租店就已有了帶子。

「跟其他地方比起來,三千個華僑並不算最多,但我們可能最密集」,開CASASTELLA的蔣肖燁指出:「所以這堛澈臚l即使不會看中國字,講國語絕不會有問題。」一位華僑的兒子最近回台升學,國語的聽與說都難不倒他,就是識字有麻煩,只認得「東西南北中發萬」幾個字。

移民的跳板

巴拉圭是一個小國家,一九八六年的平均國民生產毛額只有一千三百廿美元,生活水準比國內低,就是在亞松森和橋頭,仍有許多街道還是石子路,國人要移民或投資,為什麼會選擇這堙H說穿了只是機緣湊巧,原本並不是衝著她來的。

拿觀光護照進巴拉圭,花八百到一千美元,三個月就可以拿到永久居留權;再花三千美元,可以歸化成公民,一切有行有市。成了「巴拉圭人」,免簽證就可以進出巴西、阿根廷。想得到這兩個國家的居留權,「找個人結婚,再不然,到那兒生個孩子就行了;要移民美國、加拿大、因為她們與巴拉圭都有邦交,在這兒申請也方便;」一位華僑稱巴拉圭為「移民最好的跳板」。

有人到了橋頭,看到有生意可做,就留了下來;也有人過了橋又回來。原在軍中擔任飛行員的張志梅,在阿根廷開了幾年農場,談到他為何轉來橋頭說:「阿幣貶值得厲害,辛苦了半天,換成美金愈來愈少。」巴西也有同樣情形,今年年初還是一百塊比一美元;六月中已是二百五十比一。

就這樣,有原來是軍人、警察、教師、船員、上班族……,先後到了橋頭;在這兒,他們全走入同樣的行業——做生意。

擺路邊攤起家

橋頭的中國人天地是擺攤子擺出來的。

開始時是一個人帶個○○七手提箱,打開就揹在胸前,堶惟顐ルx灣製的口紅、髮夾、女性內衣等;後來箱子愈提愈大,逐漸變成大皮箱,貨色也擴及各種化妝品、電子錶、收錄音機、成衣……,「打開來像個小型百貨公司」,橋頭中華會館另一位副理事長蔡三義形容。

「不要小看路邊攤,很多僑領都是擺攤子出身的」,一位十年前到橋頭,因引進電子錶筆而致富的華人說,那時賣一支錶筆在當地就可以生活一個星期,每支都是十倍、廿倍地賺。每個人都有機會,只要押對寶、進口的東西暢銷,很快發跡致富。

皮箱之後,就變成一大箱,一大箱地寄貨;現在則是一貨櫃、一貨櫃地進口;中國人也紛紛轉為開店,攤販由巴拉圭人起而代之。據說前幾年生意好的時候,錢都是用麻袋裝的;每天早上七點半開門,到半夜一、二點要「推」客人出門;每週營業七天,「忙得連吃飯、上洗手間的時間都沒有」,蔣肖燁說。

人潮總是跟著錢潮走,橋頭的盛況輾轉傳到國內,加上香港「九七大限」的陰影,不少香港人急欲移民,近五年來,橋頭的中國人店從一百多家增加到四百餘家。與巴拉圭人、阿拉伯人、猶太人共分天下;據估計,中國店的營業額佔橋頭總貿易額的百分之四十到五十。

喜訊頻傳,親戚處處

華人多了,生活上當然也便利了些。為了教下一代識中文字,中華會館也開了班上課。「由於這堨是第一代華僑,子女年紀都不大」,李肇洛統計當地人口,發現七歲以下的小孩約有五百個;適婚年齡的男女則有將近一千人。

「每星期都有一、二對結婚」,李肇洛笑稱,照這樣發展下去,十年後橋頭會成為一個「親戚城」,所有中國人都是親戚。

但有些問題也隨著人潮而產生。「十年前當地人一提到『支那』就伸起大拇指」,一位僑領痛心地說,因為巴拉圭入境容易,票據法刑罰還沒取消前,不少票據犯來此「避難」;躲「一清專案」的「大哥」也有些潛到巴拉圭,他們在當地生事,使中國人形象大受影響。

帶著錢想到橋頭做生意、分一杯羹的,來的時候又往往一句西班牙話都不會,海關一詢問、警察一攔,就趕快掏出錢來,以求脫身;弄到現在,大家都知道向中國人「可以收錢」。

專做進出口雜貨的黃殿儀就表示,五年來他開車被警察攔了十次,其中五次是真的超速,另五次則是「無緣無故」,他也「花錢消災」。橋頭華人也都知道,從台北回橋頭時,要記得把行李上所有的中國字都撕掉。

橋頭最冷的冬天

人潮帶來的更大影響,是生意上的競爭。由於各店所賣的貨百分之八十以上雷同——手錶、化妝品、收錄音機、菸酒、電子零件、球鞋、雜貨是大宗,而且大部分也都一樣來自台灣、香港或韓國,「拼」起來的時候,只有降價一條路。

前年、去年巴西景氣不錯,橋頭也盛況空前,攤販擺到路中間,兩線道的路連同走廊,密密麻麻地排了八列攤販,人走過都得用胳臂開路,各商店更是車水馬龍。

「生意好的時候,每天二、三十萬美元進出,不算什麼稀奇的事」,張志梅說,問題是業務成長的速度還沒有商店增加得快,看來做得轟轟烈烈,但利潤薄了,「以前賣五萬美元,可以賺二萬,現在只剩四千。」電子錶筆也從最初的一支賣十美元,降到八毛錢。

去年聖誕節以後,橋頭的生意就走下坡;今年上半年因為巴西景氣不佳,更是沉到谷底。現在商店大多晚上六、七點就關了。沉寂的街道,在南半球冬天的寒風下,更顯淒清。

「來了七年,今年上半年生意最差」,張志梅說。蔡三義也說,「現在十家中,大概只有三家賺,四家打平,其餘的『沒生意,開門打蒼蠅』。」黃殿儀則希望國人不要再「一窩蜂」地來了,就像股票市場,早進場的人已賺到了錢,也有實力撐下去,晚來的只有墊底的份。

輸贏還不知道

「來這堛熙ㄛO賭徒,巴拉圭政府才是莊家,只有她穩贏——政府增加了稅收、人民增加了就業機會;至於我們」,一位余姓華僑說:「輸贏還不知道。」

可是,既然上了檯子,卻也不是說下來就能下來。貨櫃從台灣到巴拉圭要二、三個月,往年七月開始是橋頭的旺季,因為南美洲寒假,單幫客幫手多,會多「跑」些貨,而且年底還有個聖誕節;雖然今年下半年景氣會不會轉好沒有人敢說,但大家訂的貨都已在海上。

生意清淡,受語言限制打不進當地人社會,生活枯燥——除了工作,大概就只有看看錄影帶、搓搓麻將,加上原本巴拉圭就只是移民的「跳板」,有些人不免萌生去意。

「今年就我所知道,已經有好幾十戶遷到加拿大了」,黃殿儀說。原本一鋪難求的橋頭,也已出現空的店面。

但也有人仍看好未來發展。中國人開的第一家「錢莊」今年五月剛開張;一家規模頗大的購物中心也在最近開始營業,還計畫一系列引進新東陽、味全、愛之味、青葉等品牌的食物。

全橋頭第四家開張的中國店——香港禮品行老闆余鳳麟信心十足地說:「以巴西現在外債高築的情形,絕不會開放奢侈品進口;她的工業也不是一朝一夕能脫胎換骨,所以有些產品即使自己能生產,也比從台、港或韓國來的貨貴。橋頭有地理上的特殊地位,至少還有十年好光景。」

又擔心,又樂觀

「大家又是擔心,又是樂觀」,張志梅一語道破。

今年下半年橋頭會不會恢復繁榮,謎底很快就要揭曉。這也是中國人在橋頭會繼續增加或逐漸消失的關鍵。

〔圖片說明〕

P.6

過了這條「友誼大橋」,就從巴拉圭「出國」到巴西。

P.6

俯瞰橋頭市集,商店密集,攤販林立。

P.8

橋頭中華會館理事長王華藻和他經營的中國百貨公司。這是當地第一家中國人開的店。

P.9

化妝品、雜貨都是橋頭商店貨品大宗。

P.11

中國人在橋頭開的店絕大多數就像圖中商店;店堛熙f品看來都有點眼熟,因為一半以上來自台灣。

P.10

(左)橋頭的「來來購物中心」,與台北百貨公司是否有些神似?

P.12、P.13

橋頭最高的十七層大樓,是中國人蓋的,且住戶全是台灣去的中國人,中華會館也在此地。下圖為中華會館副理事長李肇洛。

P.14

巴拉圭少年在橋頭市集堸簞漞溜球。

P.15

今年上半年橋頭景氣不佳,街道上冷冷清清。下半年會不會轉好?這位小販和所有橋頭人都在期待。

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EN

Bridgehead Visited

Chrissie Lu /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Phil Newell

They live on Brazilian time; their shop prices are posted in U.S. dollars; each person has passports or permanent resident certificates from several countries; and when they open their mouths to speak out comes fluent Portuguese or Spanish. They call themselves "citizens of the world." The only thing that doesn't change is their eating habits--Chinese food fills the dinner table.

This special place is to be found in Paraguay, in South America. There one of every thirty people is a Chinese; one out of five depends on a Chinese for their employment. One overseas Chinese figure loudly said: "You go out and walk past five shops; if one is not owned by a Chinese you come back and find me."


If you dig a hole straight through the earth from Taiwan, you would come out in Paraguay.

There you will find a city which, after Singapore and Monterey Park, California, has the highest concentration of overseas Chinese in the world. Though its official name is "President Stroessner City," Chinese call it "Bridgehead."

The other end of the bridge is in Brazil. And only twenty minutes away by car is Argentina. "You can go through three countries in thirty minutes" says Lee Chao-luo, Vice Director of the Bridgehead Chinese Association. This unique location has made Bridgehead the commercial center of Paraguay.

Almost all the customers come from Brazil, notes Yu Feng-lin, who runs a shop selling Hong Kong products. Because of Brazil's large foreign debt, imports of luxury goods (like cigarettes or perfume) or products made in Brazil (electronics) are restricted or prohibited. So Brazilians come to Bridgehead to shop.

For business reasons, most people in Bridgehead set their watches on Brazilian time (an hour later than Paraguay). And many can only engage in small talk in Paraguay's language--Spanish--but talk prices in the Brazilian Portuguese tongue.

Amidst the ups and downs of the Brazilian economy, Bridgehead has slowly taken shape over the last thirty years. The last five have been especially prosperous. According to unofficial statistics, last year Bridgehead imported over US$1.5 billion in products.

With success, land prices in Bridgehead have also risen. The house that US$300 could buy in the center of Asuncion, the capital city, could only buy the same sized piece of land in Bridgehead, and then not even in the market area. A seventy square foot stall in the market center costs US$15,000 per month to rent. In this market area of less than two square kilometers are 2,000 shops and 1,000 vendors. "Its just like going back to Hong Kong," says one former Hong Kong resident now doing business in Bridgehead.

Chinese have poured in over the last five years. The first, the current Director of the Chinese Association Wang Hua-chao, came eighteen years ago. He recalls: "Aside from my family, there weren't any Chinese to be seen." Nine years ago Lee Chao-luo entertained the entire city's Chinese community at a movie showing in his back yard. Today there are about 3,000 overseas Chinese in Bridgehead.

All kinds of Chinese products are popping up there. Szechuanese food, Chekiangese food, or pig's blood soup from Taiwan--you want it, you got it. Within three days of the holding of the Miss Universe pageant in Taipei, the videotape was on the shelves.

"Compared with other places, 3,000 overseas Chinese is not very many, but we're very concentrated. So even if the children don't see Chinese characters, speaking standard Chinese is absolutely no problem," says Chiang Hsiao-hui, the owner of Casa Stella. Recently one son of an overseas Chinese went back to Taiwan to study; speaking and listening were no problem, but he could only recognize a few machong characters.

Paraguay is a small country, with a per capita GNP of US$1,320. Its standard of living is lower than that of Taiwan. How did so many Chinese come to live there? Briefly said, it was simply coincidental. Many were on their way somewhere else, but went to Paraguay first because it was relatively easier to gain residency. From there one can go to Brazil or Argentine without a visa; and since Paraguay has diplomatic relations with the U.S., getting to the States or Canada is more convenient.

Some see that they can do business in Bridgehead, and decide to stay; some cross over the bridge, but come back. Chang Chih-mei, a former pilot, started a large farm in Argentina but moved to Bridgehead when devaluation of the Argentine currency hurt his business. (Brazil has a similar problem. At the beginning of the year the Brazilian currency was 100 to the U.S. dollar; by the middle of June it was 250:1.)

Regardless of their backgrounds--soldier, cop, priest, salaryman--when they get to Bridgehead they all do the same thing: business.

The experience of the Chinese in Bridgehead can be seen through the vendor's sales case. At the beginning it was just a briefcase, with some lipstick, hair barrettes, and ladies lingerie. Later the suitcases became bigger and bigger, eventually becoming trunks, while the products broadened to include all kinds of makeup, watches, tape players, and clothing. . . . "It's like a little department store," as another Vice Director of the Chinese Association, Tsai San-yi, describes it.

"Don't look down on vendors; a lot of leading overseas Chinese got their start as vendors," says one who did exactly that. One could live for a week on the sale of one watch. Each brought a price ten or twenty times its cost. Imported things sold briskly, and could lead to quick fortunes.

From trunks they moved to importing, first by the crate, then by the container. As Chinese became shop owners, Paraguayans took over as vendors. When business is good, people open up at 7:30 a.m. and have to throw the customers out at one or two the next morning. The shops are so busy "we even forget to eat," says Chiang Hsiao-hui.

With news of Bridgeheads's prosperity, added to the problem of 1997 hanging over Hong Kong, Chinese have flooded into the area. The number of Chinese shops has gone from 100 to 400 in the last five years. It is estimated that Chinese account for forty to fifty percent of Bridgehead's trade.

As the number of Chinese increases, life gets a little easier. A Chinese school has been opened. And there are lots of marriages, with over 1,000 men and women of marriageable age.

There is a bad side effect to the flow of immigrants: competition. Since most of the shops sell similar products, and from the same places (Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea), the only way to compete is through pricing. When the Brazilian economy did well the last couple of years, the vendors clogged the roads and sidewalks. "When business is good, its not unusual to have a turnover of two or three hundred thousand U.S. dollars every day," says Chang Chih-mei. The problem is profit. "Before one could turn a profit of 20,000 on sales of 50,000; now one only has 4,000 left." Watches, for example, have dropped from ten U.S. dollars to eighty cents.

This year the Brazilian economy is not so strong. Shops close at seven. "This is the worst it's been in the seven years I've been here," says Chang. Tsai says that of every ten stores only three are showing a profit, four are breaking even, and the others are losing money. Huang Dian-yi hopes that other Chinese will think twice before crowding into Bridgehead.

Now that they're "in," it's not so easy for those in Bridgehead to "take the money and run." Orders placed at the height of the boom may still be at sea and now have to be sold. Nevertheless, bad business and the lack of interesting things to do in Bridgehead have led many to plan to leave. Some already have.

But some are optimistic about the future. Yu Feng-lin, owner of the Hong Kong Gift Shop, argues confidently that, given Brazil's debt problems, it is unlikely to liberalize imports of luxury items, and that its industrial products cannot always compete with those from East Asia, concluding "Bridgehead has a unique geographic location, and it still has at least ten years of good business left."

Chang Chih-mei suggests that "Everyone is concerned, but also optimistic." Whether business improves in the latter half of this year will be decisive in determining whether the Bridgehead Chinese community will continue to grow, or slowly disappear.

[Picture Caption]

Just cross this bridge of friendship, and you go from Paraguay to Brazil.

A bird's eye view of the market.

Wang Hua-tsao, Director of the Bridgehead Chinese Association, and his China Department Store. This was the first establishment opened by a Chinese.

Makeup and sundries are the staples of Bridgehead shops.

Most Chinese shops in Bridgehead look like that in the photo; if the goods look familiar it's because over half come from Taiwan.

(Left) Doesn't the "Lai Lai Sales Center" in Bridgehead seem similar in spirit to a Taipei department store?

This seventeen-story building, the tallest in Bridgehead, was built by a Chinese. Moreover, all the residents are from Taiwan. At the bottom of the picture is a Vice-Director of the Chinese Association, Lee Chao-luo.

A young Paraguayan selling yo-yos in the market.

Business was not so good in Bridgehead the first half of the year; the streets were quiet. Will the next six months be a turn for the better? Everyone hopes so.

 

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