Commerce and ethnicity considerations on Holy Saturday

GASP!!! It’s love at first sight at the laundromat! And though it’s a private business, this little detail of Anton’s public art really ought to be touched up for the sake of Anton. Photo by Eric Jackson.

An Easter Weekend mission

by Eric Jackson

Holy Weekend and there are a few things to do. I must be in court in Penonome on Monday morning and will need something presentable to wear. I have enough rice, noodles, packaged flavoring, soy protein, frozen lonja, dried shrimp and canned fish to get us all by, but it’s THE HOLIDAYS. Better fare for me, the dogs and the cats is a goal in mind. And then, it has been some years since I have ventured out to do business of any sort on a holy weekend. Not that I am so religious, but I really don’t want to be stuck waiting for a bus on a day when everything is closed.

So, who works this Holy Saturday? Other than this weird old hippie who runs an informal business called The Panama News? I did bring along my camera to document this reconnaissance mission, along with some laundry to wash, a bit of detergent and the ATM card just in case.

I was just getting to the caseta when the San Juan de Dios – Anton bus pulled up. THAT guy was working.

An immediate tactical decision — do I get off at the entrada, by the truck stop on the Pan-American Highway? You can do laundry at the Va y Ven. You can even take a shower. There is an ATM there. These days they have an alliance with Sbarro’s New York pizza by the slice.

Doing laundry is cheaper at the truck stop, but often you must wait in line. Bring your laptop to while away such times. They sell things that dogs and cats will eat, but not dog food or cat food as such.

I figured that the truck stop would only be Plan B if what I needed in Anton was unavailable.

Proceeding into town instead of getting off at the corner, I scanned the informal vendor stands along the road. Some were closed, most were open and I didn’t see them doing any business at the moment.

The young man dressed in civies with a knapsack that probably had clothes in it got off the bus at the health clinic. An ER doctor? A lab technician? A nurse? Some sort of administrator? I took him to be a physician with his scrubs in the bag, maybe a car owner cutting his risks by not driving in holiday traffic. In any case, the public health care workers DO work on Holy Saturday.

The main grocery stores, near the main entrance into town, all have ethnic Chinese proprietors and were all working. The procedure went this way:

Get a newspaper or two, and something cold, wet and with little or no sugar to drink. Missing from the racks, and maybe on a sharp decline in more than one way, was the Metro Libre. Just not delivering in the Interior on a holiday weekend? Dunno.

Proceed to Lissy’s, this chafing table restaurant and bakery run by chino-panameños, with mostly non-Chinese Panamanians dealing with the customers. So, a cultural choice — but it was already made. I do hampao and hsiu mai dumplings for breakfast there often enough, but this time there was no hampao. So Plan B was a barbecued chicken breast and wing, with cheese and beef empanadas of the fried kind.

Then, although it was just a bit after seven in the morning, off to the laundromat I usually patronize when in the town of Anton, Lavamatico Jenny. They were open and I didn’t have to wait. Got my soap and clothes into the washer, put in the coins and went out. Most of the businesses were closed, but not the Chinese-run ones.

Do I want to make comparisons with many large US cities, where Jews and Muslims often go out for Chinese food on major Christian holidays, as in the days when those traditions were founded most Chinese-Americans were also non-Christians and thus opened their businesses on Christmas, Easter and so on? The thing is, most of Panama’s first big wave of Chinese immigrants were Christians of a sort.

In the early 1840s, a Hakka man, Hong Xiuquan, who had been through some emotional troubles and was influenced by Christian missionaries who visited to console and help him, had a vision that he was the brother of Jesus Christ. It caught on among China’s Hakka-speakers, and transformed into the Celestial Kingdom of the Taiping. The Manchu dynasty running China at the time was mostly oblivious, but late 1850 the authorities in the Forbidden City did take notice and a civil war erupted between the Manchus and the Hakkas, each with their allies within China. At its height the Celestial Kingdom ruled over some 30 million people and controlled most of southern China. The Taiping rebels failed in an attempt to take Beijing and suffered devastating counter-attacks. The last rebel forces were not defeated until 1871, but meanwhile there were terrible massacres of the Hakkas and many fled China, many through Hong Kong to other places in the British Empire.

As China became a more dangerous and poverty-stricken place to be, an American company was building a railroad across Panama that would conveniently come into operation in time for the California Gold Rush. Hakkas came here to work on the railroad, open business or survive as they will, and were the germ of a more mainstream sort of Chinese Christianity on the isthmus. Chinese Buddhism exists here, as does, in a cultural overlay among Chinese of all faiths and none, Confucianism. Over the years many a Chinese-Panamanian family has embraced Catholicism, or one of the Protestant denominations. But Confucian family values and work ethics have Chinese-Panamanians working on religious holidays when most other business owners here don’t.

Hakka is spoken in Panama, and especially for the recent immigrants who have been educated in China or Taiwan, also some Mandarin. However, the default dialect spoken among Chinese in Panama is Cantonese (Yue).

So I did my laundry, got a few bucks from the ATM, went to another Chinese-run grocery store to get animal and people food so that Easter would not be a scrimp day for the creatures of this household, and took the bus back to El Bajito.

I dunno – can I get sent to purgatory or something for purchasing things on Holy Saturday?


Contact us by email at

To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.

These links are interactive — click on the boxes


click to donate via PayPal










Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

I accept the Privacy Policy