No longer the only Chinese in Colombia, Travel News & Top Stories


I don’t know about you, but I can’t see a weird URL like OneChinese and not click on it.

I spotted it while tumbling down an Internet rabbit hole researching “chocolate completo”, a Colombian hot-chocolate drink I had grown inordinately obsessed with.

It entails dropping an unseemly quantity of cheese – yes, cheese – into hot chocolate and waiting till it melts to slurp and/or soak it up with some sweet buttered or cheesy bread.

The oddly named blog stood out also because, unlike all the other travel guides, it steered visitors away from La Puerta Falsa – a venerable old family-run restaurant in Bogota’s old town – saying (accurately, it turns out), the hot chocolate there is too sickly sweet, and instead to go to a hole in the wall off the tourist track in the Macarena quarter.

This screed was written by one Ms Jessica Wong who, on the blog, documents her experiences moving there five years ago after falling in love with a Colombian man she met in her native Hong Kong.

Back then, there were few Asian travellers, much less expatriates, to be seen in Colombia – hence the title of her blog, a frank and funny travel, food and culture diary.

On a whim, I e-mail her to ask for travel tips and we end up meeting for cocktails at Apache, the buzzy rooftop bar of the trendy Click Clack Hotel, where you can soak in a 360-degree view of the Andes as the sun sets over Bogota.

When people think about Colombia, they think about drugs and violence, although now there are good things too – Shakira, football and some of the most beautiful women in the world.

COMMUNICATIONS COACH JESSICA WONG, who moved from Hong Kong to Colombia with her Colombian husband Mario Nigrinis Ospina.

Since moving here, the bubbly 33-year-old, a communications coach, has found herself becoming an unofficial ambassador for the country, which she has extensively explored and believes is one of the great undiscovered destinations in Latin America.

Colombia has been slow to catch on as a tourism destination for two reasons, she believes.

“First, there was the security issue. When people think about Colombia, they think about drugs and violence, although now there are good things too – Shakira, football and (as seen in beauty pageants) some of the most beautiful women in the world.

“Another thing we have to overcome is we don’t have blockbuster sights, so it’s not really helping the industry.

“But if you speak to individuals who have backpacked around Latin America and ask which was their favourite country, in my experience, they always say Colombia and they say it’s the people.”

But even while Colombia does not have headline-grabbing sights such as Machu Picchu in Peru or Iguazu Falls in Argentina, this, paradoxically, is why it is worth exploring, she says.

“Because we are not commercial yet, it’s still fun as it’s still off the beaten track. Whereas if you go to Machu Picchu, you see lots of tourists. So backpackers like it here because they see the real country.”

After years of blogging about Colombia and telling anyone who will listen how wonderful it is, Ms Wong decided this year to launch her own boutique travel agency, offering customised tours for niche markets such as baby boomers as well as travellers from Hong Kong.

And as the wife of a Colombian – 40-year-old coffee entrepreneur Mario Nigrinis Ospina – her goal is to offer more thoughtful, culturally sensitive tour packages for Asian tourists.

“In Hong Kong, there’s only one travel agency offering a Colombia tour. It offers Bogota and Medellin as destinations and, in Medellin, it takes you to see where (drug lord Pablo) Escobar was shot and killed in 1993.

“My dad, who helped me translate the itinerary from Chinese, asked me why I wasn’t offering that too. I said, ‘Dad, what are you going to see there? An old building, where they tell you the story about how he was killed, and that’s it?’

“Also, why are we glorifying Escobar with this pilgrimage? If you told Colombian people, they would be scandalised. ‘What, tourists going to see where Escobar died?'”

Ms Wong’s picks for sights outside of Bogota include the colonial-era port and beach city of Cartagena, which she says is magical at Christmas time; the otherworldly Corcora Valley, which has the world’s tallest (up to 60m) palm trees; the country’s paramos – rare, high-altitude tropical ecosystems teeming with unique plant species – which are one reason Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country after Brazil; and a tour of coffee farms, where you can learn to harvest beans.

But if she does succeed in enticing more Asian travellers to visit, though, they will no longer be the only Chinese – or South Koreans or Japanese – in Colombia.

“When I came here, I was the only one – I didn’t see any other Asians. Now I am one of many Chinese here because many have been coming for business over the last three years. (Chinese telecommunications) companies like Huawei have a big presence here, as does (South Korean carmaker) Hyundai.”

Because of the latter, many Bogotanos now equate East Asian features with South Korea.

“Everywhere I go, people call me ‘la coreana’ (the Korean). And the other day, a taxi driver told me he’s picking up so many Asian passengers. I think this is another sign that people realise it’s safer.”

Alison de Souza

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