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Habana Continued

I spent another 4 days mostly walking my tail off after moving to Maribel's casa in Vedado, a newer section of Habana. This was much closer to Nanette's hotel and also near the Hotel Nacional. The latter is probably the classiest place in town, modeled after the Breakers in Palm Beach, and built in 1930's. It was also a favorite hangout of Lucky Luciano, Myer Lansky, and other mafioso who more or less controlled Havana during Batista's time. We had a drink and a sandwich in the outdoor bar, facing the Malecon and La Mer.


Malecon from the top of tourbus. Hotel Nacional is further down

Maribel's was fine, if a bit noisy, but no one could be friendlier than Alejandro. Her apartment was on the fourth floor of an old building on a main thoroughfare in Vedado, which generally is less interesting than Habana Vieja. After the first night the key broke, and for the remainder of my stay I would have to shout up to Maribel, and she was would lower the only remaining key in a basket. Apparently getting another key made was not that easy to do. Our friend Terry arrived from Nicaragua and she was also staying just a few blocks away. She kept me company while Nanette continued on with her art group.

Outside of main Havana cemetery

Street musicians

I made several attempts to see rumba, some of the original music of Cuba, at the Palacio de Rumba in Centro Habana. This is a very local place that Alejandro recommended. The first night, Nanette and Terry came with me, as well as our other friend, Natalie, also touring with the art group, though she is not an artist. Alas however, there was a terrific downpour and we were told the musicians did not show up for that reason. We did however manage a decent paella in a nearby palador, that I'm sure sees few tourists because of its location. The waiter, an x ray tech in his day job, was quite well educated, and confirmed that the only way to make real money in Cuba was in the tourist industry.


The following day, we wandered toward the far side of the Malecon, and due to a cold front, the waves were pounding and sloshing over the sea wall. There was little traffic, many decrepit buildings, some interesting, some not, and then a couple of very fancy hotels. Eventually we got to the river and came to an old house,1830, now a boutique hotel. We were told it once belonged to a Spanish bank president. In the lobby, was a picture of a very young looking Che and Fidel, strolling together in their army fatigues. Just outside, and the reason we stopped, was a fantastical looking series of man made grottos and bridges overlooking the sea and constructed of coral and shells. Attached to this was a Moorish looking domed tower. We learned that most of this had been constructed by some wealthy Japanese, who apparently bought the place after the bank president. Eventually, we took a taxi collectivo back to our casas, and finally got to ride in one of the ancient US cars. I think it was a Buick. These collectivos ply certain routes, and will pick up anyone along the avenida who pays a few cuban pesos to sit with the other passengers going their way.

Terry and Nanette both decided they needed a break, and I, in a determined attempt to hear rumba, made another visit to the Palacio. I got there at 4:15, after being told that the music started at that time. About 5:30, the music finally did begin. Cuban time I guess, but to my chagrin, it was anything but rumba. Actually it was more like karaoke, though it was professional singers, but still singing to canned music. They weren't bad, but certainly not what I was hoping for. I felt a little like I was in a senior citizen center, as most of the people were older, or at least looked older than me. Some of them sure could dance though. After a half hour or so, I gave up, and walked back to my casa. Unfortunately, as in Spain, most of the music venues here do not really get started until after 11 PM, my usual bedtime. I should have known that 4 or 5 PM was an unlikely time for rumba.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:45 Archived in Cuba Tagged skylines buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (1)

Book Five: Return to Southeast Asia and China



After the long flight, Hong Kong still felt vaguely familiar after a five year absence. Our hotel, the Panda, was comfortable enough, though kitchy in the Chinese way. When we had breakfast in a local place around the corner, ham and eggs and toast with the crust cut off in the British manner, we truely felt we had arrived. Shortly thereafter we made our way to the subway station, and managed to get lost several times, though we did make it to the mainland Chinese train station. It was not entirely uneventful, as I left my small day pack next to the information both in the subway. As we were purchasing tickets from a machine, the attendant came up to me and asked if I had left a bag. Initially I said no, only to realize a few minutes later that in fact I had done so. Luckily she still had it in the booth. A close call with a lot of imprtant papers.

In the main train station we found ourselves next to Peter from Montreal, who we chatted with about travel adventures and found we had been to many of the same places. In his late 40's, he had a business and a girlfriend which brought him to Guangzhou on a monthly basis. He kindly offered to let us call Sunny, our former English student, on his phone when we arrived, which turned out to be unnecessary. Sunny, who was only 15 when we last saw her was right there to meet us, and we recognized each other immediately. It was, after five long years, wonderful to see her again, as she was by far our favorite student in Xiamen.

Sunny in her apartment and next to revolutionary statue in sculpture garden

Guangzhou is a big,rather futuristic looking city with many new skyscapers, and a nice walkway along the Pearl River. On the day we arrived Sunny took us to the top of the Canton tower, some 600M high with a commanding view of the city. The tower was erected for the 2010 Asian games. Unfortunately the smog obscured much of the sunset. However, when the lights of the city came on after dark, the display of multicolored neon was incredible.

Taken through the glass at the top of the tower

The tower itself was alternately lit up like a rainbo, then red, purple, green etc. which was best seen once we descended.


As Sunny pointed out, the Chinese are very good at puttng on a show for others to see. Later in the evening we took a cruise on the Pearl River, and the lights on the bridges and tall buildings were like a well organized light show, also multicolored, as well as moving and pulsating. I snapped away wthout a tripod, eager to try out my new superlight camera.






For the first couple of days Sunny kept us incredible busy seeing all of the sights, and insisted on paying for many things. We ate up a storm, from local soups, to dongbei, hotpot, and dim sum.

Old monastery amidst the constant new construction

Finally we had to tell her that we didn't need to see EVERYTHING, and just wanted to spend time with her. This gave us time to just relax and enjoy each other's company. We spent one evening making jouza, dumplings, in her apartment, where we met her roommates, and an Italian man who Sunny had corresponded with, who was interested in studying Chinese in exchange for teaching her Italian. Another night we met her boss, David , a low key Brit who seems to appreciate her talents and is almost paternal with her. She works for him as an administrator, in a language institute which provides training to multinational corporations. Though much more mature than when we last saw her, Sunny is still the same free thinking, independent person she was five years ago. Despite the gaps in her formal education she has a very good and inquizative mind, and has blossomned into a responsible and attractive woman. Her English, complete with American accent, has improved to the point where it is possible to have a conversation with her about practically anything. We discussed many things including some heavy family issues, friendships, work, goals for the future etc. When and if she decides to create her own business, we can be the first, and as she put it, likely the only shareholders. I think we all realized that our connection to each other remains as strong as ever, despite the time and the distance. She has become, for all intents and purposes, like our third daughter, and we feel very protective of her.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:58 Archived in China Tagged skylines people photography buildings_postcards cities_postcards Comments (0)

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