Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 November, 2008, 12:00am

Tucked away on Brazil's glorious Costa Verde, Paraty is a scenic town about four hours drive south from Rio de Janeiro. Next to the bus stand, a small pastelaria (snack bar) sells cold drinks and light snacks to waiting passengers. Nothing unusual there - every bus stand in Brazil has at least one. But Pastelaria Wu - the name comes from the Putonghua word for butterfly - is run by an enterprising couple from Guangdong province.

Ng Mei-ling hails from Shiu Hing (Zhaoqing), a scenic mountain-resort town a few hours west of Guangzhou, and her partner, Tang Wei-tak, comes from Toi Shan.

'Most of us Toi Shan yan [Toi Shan people] went to San Francisco in the old days. But that place is history now,' he laughs. 'Brazil is the new Kum Shan [Golden Mountain] for us.

'How did we get to Brazil? Well, the easiest way is to fly direct from Guangzhou to Paris, and then continue on to Sao Paulo from there. Why go through Paris?'

Ng smiles hesitantly and looks away. 'Well, you know how it is ... And the French don't worry us too much about paperwork, as long as you're just passing through.'

'Chinese are all over Brazil these days,' Tang says. 'The Brazilians think we're all the same - but of course we're not. Taiwanese open the lojas chinesas [shops stocking Chinese-manufactured household and decorative items] - you must have seen those in the larger towns on your travels. Then there's the Fujian people; they have shops or stalls selling tennis [running] shoes, sports T shirts and such things - you know how crazy the Brazilians are about football. Then there's us Cantonese; we're generally in the food business. Most of us run small snack bars like this one, but there are also a few restaurants in the larger towns. Sao Paulo has lots of Chinese restaurants - good ones too - but Rio de Janeiro hasn't got so many.

'How can you tell whether the food's all right?' Tang laughs again. 'If the sign is only in Portuguese then my advice is to keep away - definitely the food will be lousy.'

'Paraty is a quiet, nice place to live,' Ng says. 'If you're in business in Sao Paulo there are quite a few 'big brothers' to keep happy - it's just like home in that respect. But here in Paraty there's only us, so we just do our own thing and no one really bothers us. The Brazilians are rather friendly when you get to know them.'

Even so, the couple do not see themselves growing old in Brazil. 'You live over there in Hong Kong,' says Ng, 'you must know what we Chinese are like by now. 'The fallen leaf goes back to the root', as the saying goes.'