The statue of Confucius in Havana’s Chinatown didn’t start the Year of the Dragon off on the right foot. This Saturday morning, a beggar, a woman trying to connect her cell phone to “the front” despite the barriers of Etecsa WiFi, and a drunk who, perhaps out of a sense of respect, landed on the benches of the park dedicated to the wise man. He did not urinate on the philosopher’s pedestal but on a random wall.
Little Chinese remains in what is one of the most important Asian enclaves in the region, a source of legends and mysteries that once had the reputation of being one of the best places to eat in Havana. Today, no one can escape the collapses, the discolored facades, and the decay that over the years have characterized not only the neighborhood but the entire city.
Today, the restaurants remain empty. Employees, with hesitation and little success, try to “pull” potential customers, but the general rule is an empty establishment with a few flies and little offer.
Chinatown has had some attention from the Historian’s Office, which has never been able to restore it to its former glory. Signs remain from the projects—always made—and the restorations, such as the symbol of ying and the peeling of a wall or the traditional red lanterns hanging on some eaves.
Amidst the omnipresent reggaeton and bad smells, a salesman’s voice rang out: “We need to change ourselves!” The salespeople from Chinatown agree: instead of spring rolls and lacquered duck, there are dried vegetables, bird seed, and a place without what it advertises with an incandescent sign: “Delicious chicken!”
Without life or celebration, the Cuban celebration of the Year of the Dragon must be sought elsewhere. The Cuban tobacco monopoly, Habanos SA, announced this week the launch in Hong Kong of the very expensive Montecristo Brillantes, in a celebration led by the diplomats of the island nation in Asia. With a luxurious red case designed to tempt Chinese millionaires, the cigar is currently not allowed to be smoked in Havana’s lower Chinatown.