It has been 3 years since I last visited Panama City, Panama, and even in such a short period of time the changes are very noticeable.
My perception of Panama in 2005 was that it was a small to mid-sized city that was fairly quiet and a bit shady.
Now it seems much more like a big global city. It feels a lot more like Dubai than San Jose, Costa Rica, on this time around.
There are dozens and dozens of new skyscrapers, real estate projects, huge discotheques and the crowd is very diverse. There are, unfortunately, lots of Camericansâ€¦ but there are also a wide variety of latinos from across Latin America as well as plenty of Europeans and Asians.
To give a comedic example of just how diverse the place has become, I was playing poker at a table that had 3 men that were very obviously from Mainland China. They spoke loud, constant Mandarin and even had special ordered in Mandarin food full with chopsticks and slurping of the rice. This wasnâ€™t the funny part. The funny part was when they wanted to get my attention on something. I didnâ€™t notice at firstâ€¦ they whistled a bit, and wavedâ€¦ finally they said, â€œheyâ€¦ hey gringo.â€? LOL, you know Panama is becoming quite diverse when mainland Chinese guys here are calling me gringo!
There are a few cities in the world, right now, that I call the new â€˜global citiesâ€™. These comprise of Bangkok, Dubai and Panama City (past global cities used to include places such as Rome, Shanghai, London and NYC but they have all faded due to their ongoing restrictions of freedom and opportunity). Mainly due to their economic (Thailand less so unfortunately)and social freedom (Dubai less so unfortunately), something lost long ago in the Anglosphere, people from around the world have been piling into these oasisâ€™ in what has otherwise become a global police state.
Interestingly, they all are almost equidistant from each other and each of them represents an entire region. Bangkok, for Asiaâ€¦ Dubai, for the middle east and Europe and Panama City for the Americas.
Panama seems to be leading the pack in terms of both economic and social freedom and thus appears to be attracting people in droves.
Interestingly, Panama was bombed in 1989, exactly because of the freedom here. Any guesses on who bombed and invaded them? Itâ€™s easyâ€¦ the same fascist government that has bombed, invaded or occupies practically every country on the planet, the neo-nazis.. sorry, I always get them confused. The neocon American government!
They attacked Panama because Panama had a free banking system. This irked the US because drug money could be laundered through Panama easily. Plants (marijuana, coco leaf etc), like most things, are illegal in the US and therefore they attacked another country because they hated them for their freedom. Sound familiar.
Anywayâ€¦ I have bounded off into the usual territory hereâ€¦ let me get back to talking about Panama.
One thing that is very interesting about Central America, and South America too for that matter, is the unique ethnic variations in various regions. For example, in a place such as Nicaragua it is fairly rare to see many dark skinned people. In fact, the great majority of residents there are direct European descendants.
In Panama however the mix is dramatically different. Some believe that Ethiopian pirates began washing up on the shores here in the 16th century. And soon after, African slaves were brought here by the boatload. This, combined with the ubiquitous U.S. military presence here, which is comprised of a lot of lower-income African Americans (the modern day slaves of America), has a decidedly darker-skinned mix here in Panama than in any other country in the entire region.
The growth and influx of foreigners here has created many disparities. They are everywhere. As example, on driving in from the airport, you still pass by numerous shanty towns, but now many of the multi-million-dollar-mega-Donald Trumpesque-skyscrapers are all starting to crowd around these shanty towns making for an unusual site.
As well, many of the truly local people, especially the African Panamians really seem to have that laid-back, Caribbean style and attitude. They are in no rushâ€¦ this, juxtapositioned against many of the country’s new inhabitants who live a more fast-paced capitalistic lifestyle. As example of just how laid back some of the people here are, I took a taxi from the airport. The taxi driver was really nice and mostly just wanted to lazily chit chat. We were on the highway into town, of which the marked speed limit is 90 km/h. He averaged, at best, 70km/h. To make things worse, he didnâ€™t seem to know the normal convention of the left lane being the fast lane, and he drove the ENTIRE way in the left lane, doing nearly half the speed limit! Cars were honking, high beaming us constantly. He was completely oblivious to it.
At one point I figured there must be a problem with his car or something, to be going so slow. So I asked, â€œYour car doesnâ€™t go any faster?â€?. Again, oblivious to the reason for my question, he responded, â€œAhh, yes it can. But I always sayâ€¦. Why rush,â€? and he continued on unchanged!!
I played poker for two nights at the Veneto Casino which has a poker room comprising of about 10 tables which gets pretty busy after 9pm every night. The skill-level was quite good with many of the players there being rounders who play there every night. The people at the poker table mirrored the new Panama. To my left was a guy from Israel who now lived in Panama. To his left was a guy from Calgary, Canada, who now lived in Panama and was a realtor. An older lady, originally from the middle east was nextâ€¦ beside her was a beautiful Indian girl from Mumbai who had recently moved there with her new husbandâ€¦ and the remaining players were local, light skinned, European-Panamanians.
As for my final thoughts on Panamaâ€¦ again, this city has left me unsure. I enjoyed it much more this time around. It is much more of my kind of place now. Bigger, more diverse, more activity. But would I want to live in Panama? I still leave that question open. I think I much prefer the more latino-centric styles of Mexico and Nicaraguaâ€¦ I love how they are much more in tune with lifeâ€¦ but, definitely, if you want to be in one of the places where things are really happening, go to one of the 3 big, new global cities. Iâ€™d rate Panama over Dubai, mainly because of Dubaiâ€™s bizarre, hypocritical social views (based on Islam)â€¦ and while I wish Thailandâ€™s latest governments werenâ€™t so stupid economically and in terms of things such as tourist visas and property ownership, I still rate Bangkok above Panamaâ€¦ but that is no slight on Panama City. I rate Bangkok higher than everywhere!
In the meantime, I have recently taken the short 40 minute flight from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia. I will have updates from the Caribbean coast of Colombia soon.