One often hears it said that the Chinese were excellent merchants.
Many friends and acquaintances from several countries have told me that where they live there are always Chinese businesses where the products these sell are relatively inexpensive.
This information was consistent with what I had learned in my history classes; the Chinese have traveled to many places around the world and have established their businesses there.
In many countries there exist “Chinatowns,” and Cuba is no different. What is called Chinatown in Havana is made up of several blocks where there are establishments that sell Chinese food (or poor imitations of it).
This district has somewhat of a Chinese character, reflected to some extent in the style of many of its buildings and in the names of several streets, such as “Dragons” and “Zanja.”
When I, who am from another province, first learned about this famous district, I couldn’t help but wonder where the Chinese were.
No matter how much I looked for them, they didn’t appear, despite my going by through that area almost weekly.
But the situation of not seeing any Chinese changed about three years ago. Non-Cuban Chinese began walking through the streets of Old Havana.
They have come to the island by the thousands to study Spanish, and now we find them everywhere.
At first sight, the Chinese students appeared to be better off economically than a large part of Havana’s population judging by the quality of their clothes and the fact that they make purchases in “dollar stores” using hard currency CUCs (1 CUC is equal to 25 Cuban pesos).
But that was only a first impression, because with the passing of time I’ve been able to note that not all of the Asian students live under the same conditions of comfort and well-being. There have appeared what I want to call Chinese merchant girls. They walk through the streets in groups of two or three with backpacks and plastic bags in which they carry their merchandise.
People already identify them as vendors and call them over to see what they have to offer. From their bags these young women begin to take out detergent, soap, cookies and even Chinese balms.
With their cheerful faces, they go in and out of workplaces in which they try to hawk their products.
After finding out about this situation, I immediately recalled our official newspaper, Granma. With 60 years of the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban press has highlighted the fact that it, as a socialist country, it has been able to advance economically.
In our newspapers, the role of the PCCh (the Communist Party of China) is recognized as having led them to achieving a better situation for the Asian giant.
Nonetheless, there’s something I’m not able to understand: If China is the fourth largest world economy, why is it that this nation is unable to guarantee conditions for its students in Cuba that prevent some of them from having to become street peddlers?
The differences between the students could be an indicator of the differences that exist between classes in their country.
However, I might be mistaken and the young women with the oriental features who sell in the streets don’t do so out of need but are only following that old tradition of Chinese of being simple merchants?