2011/11 – Havana : Smoking with North-Koreans & Out-faked Chinese

28 Nov


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Snacks and cigars with North-Koreans
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The delegates march off with their faked boxes

Nov. 2011

One of the interesting features of my Hotel ( perhaps the only one ) was the mixed clientele it had.

From Aeroflot crews to Haitian refugees, from Eastern Europeans to Quebecois, from German language students to foreign businessmen.

So it was no big surprise to see a group of North-Koreans, sporting their faithful Kim Jong Il button, enjoying a day by the pool with their Cuban minders.

As I was having my “day off” – a lazy Sunday afternoon with no plans and my first Cuba libre of the day, I lit a Cañonazo and enjoyed the shade with them and while thinking about my times in South Korea I started a conversation with them through their interpreter and they were rather surprised I was there just for the cigars. Realizing they were eager to give cigars a try, I passed out cigars, cut them and explained about smoking them to their Cuban minders pride and delight. Everything about the ritual, from cutting to lighting to not inhaling them found the interest of my newfound friends and I guess they would have reciprocated with a ton of Kimchi and Bulgogi had they had some on them.

Fortunately they didn’t ……

Clearly their more affluent Chinese neighbours to the west were more interested in cigars, as I was to find out a few weeks later in a busy Havana Chinatown side-street.

As we were waiting for a table in an all-Chinese patronized restaurant off the touristy main drag we saw half a dozen hustlers with large bags full of Cohiba boxes, mostly Esplendido, and Siglo packs. They were quite open and obvious and most visible. And they were Chinese hustlers …

My Cuban friends ( one of them management staff at a cigar factory ) were not just amazed by it, but the blatant openness of it all had them flabbergasted. These hustlers were carrying close to a hundred boxes quite openly in their bags. Any Cuban Jinetero with just a few boxes would have been swiftly arrested – here the hustlers were like fish in the water and no-one cared.

But it would become even more bizarre as suddenly they were called in and disappeared upstairs into the restaurant.

A short while later a group of apparently very satisfied Chinese businessmen started walking out of the place, each of them clutching one or several boxes of Cohiba Esplendidos – all as fake as a 6 $ bill. Everything on them was fake, from the clasp to the, non-existent, stamps, the seals inside the boxes, it was horrible to watch and I don’t want to see their faces when they light them up. Or maybe I do ..

Asking them in Mandarin we found out that they were an official trade delegation …. Well, it seemed like poetic justice to have Chinese officials being out-faked by Chinese hustlers, despite of all my sympathy for the country.

And asking further we found out that they had paid almost triple the going street rate – no wonder the hustlers were so happy  they continued having their Christmas sale on one of the restaurants tables to unload their bags. It was like a feeding frenzy and continued until all the boxes had been sold.

Fortune cookie says : Beware of Cohiba hustlers in Havana streets that speak Chinese.


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Attracted by cigars
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Lost in Havana
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Smoking their first cigars
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Cohiba sale
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Making sure the fakes are in the box


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Proud owners
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Happy delegates
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Quality control
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Standing in line to buy Cohibas
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A table full of horrors


Copyright Nino


2 Responses to “2011/11 – Havana : Smoking with North-Koreans & Out-faked Chinese”

  1. Rudi de Groot 28/10/2013 at 22:35 #

    Thats, was a great little story! Keep ’em lit!