It's interesting to me that my last two trips that have been out of the country have been to China and Cuba, two communist\socialist countries. Being I'm a USA born, good ole boy from Oklahoma, we can just say that it was as eye opening as moving from Oklahoma to Seattle and getting "hit on" the first time by a gay guy, which isn't bad, just different!
A bit of my background...I grew up with almost nothing, worked hard and the wonderful U. S. of A provided and rewarded me based on that hard work. My mom worked hard and paid for everything from her job and the little child support dad gave us. From what I remember, food stamps kicked in at one time, so to say I never drank from the US Democratic faucet would be false. So, what does that have to do with anything? Cuba. What an eye opening experience, even more so than China as they seem to be some kind of mix of socialism and capitalism (unlike the pure socialism of Cuba). As you will see, its not practical for someone to be able to out grow your neighbors salary wise as the average salary in Cuba is right around $40, with developers making somewhere around $500/month. But the reality is they don't have to pay for their education, or their health care. Imagine that...you can take as many courses as you want, get as smart as you want...or be as lazy as you want. If only we could do that in the USA...
Getting to Cuba is very easy. You can buy a Visa online before you go, or at the point of departure (the actual flight to Cuba) you can buy it. You also need health insurance, although, being that health care is free, it was a bit odd at this was required. The price of your ticket currently includes $25 health insurance policy and your boarding pass serves as your insurance card. Be sure that you don't lose the second part of the Visa on your way back!
Most things in China are owned by the government, the hotel we stayed in for instance, the Hotel National, is owned by the government:
Although a nice hotel, it is old and run down. There are other hotels that offer much nicer rooms and amenities, but to have stayed in a hotel that some of the greats have stayed in...we will just say it was an experience you can't compare to anything else!
We walked down to the US Embassy which is only about half a mile from the hotel. Its on the water on the Malcon and its a very nice looking building:
Prices and Money:
There are two currencies in Cuba. The CUC and the CUP. The CUC is for tourists, the CUP is for the locals. You can pay with either if you have it, you just are likely to have CUCs. I never had an issue with someone paying change in CUP back, but you should be aware of it and this blog is very helpful. Net net is CUC are pictures of monuments, CUP are pics of individuals. The price to change out the US dollar was ok at the airport. The hotel was actually better by about .01. On the way out, I got back 99% of my USD from my CUC at the airport.
The prices in Cuba are soooo cheap! Most drinks (Mojito anyone?) are $5CUC at major hotels, if you venture out, you will find them for $2-3CUC and yes, they are super strong wherever you go!
The food in Cuba was amazing! There was not a single meal that I didn't like! The prices were soo cheap that I actually would buy 2 meals each time (yeah, I may look skinny, but I eat a lot!). By the way, a massive super yummy dinner for 9 of us at a sit down nice restaurant, was $130CUC. The one thing you need to realize about sites like TripAdvisor is that the reviews are made by tourists that come off of cruise ships and its a part of their excursion package. So if you try to go to one of these top 10 places, you will very likely be turned away as they book the entire venue for the excursion folks. Face control seems to work well, so we were lucky and actually got into some of the places by smiling and laughing a bit...once we the staff realized we weren't with the cruise ships, we got much better attention!
The people in Cuba were sooo nice! You can tell that not having to worry about getting an education, getting treated for a disease or sickness made them very carefree and easy going. As an aside, they created a vaccine for lung cancer, it makes sense as one of their major exports is tobacco! I was able to bring back some Cohiba Behikes (52/54/56). If you don't know what those are, you gotta look em up!
Just know that your hotel wifi will likely not be the same wifi as the public uses and the username/password you get for the RADIUS server won't work out on the open. I had 45 minutes left on the hotel wifi and could not log into the ETECSA wifi at the airport!
So...get this...my presentation was focused on "how to make money" in Cuba. You can find it here. Needless to say, making money in Cuba as a corporation is not something you will be able to do for quite some time. Locals are not allowed to start corporations, so as a programmer, you can't start a consulting company and hire people. The concept of a corporation doesn't really exist in Cuba. You have to get government approval for everything and as we painfully learned, you also need permits for tech gathering!
The people in Cuba do have a computer science based curriculum that teaches C#. They use Microsoft products. They don't have the best computers to run things on. Most computers are imported via family and friends. So most places aren't going to have some fancy server room where you can run the latest and greatest server OS and server based products. You also can't count on the network to support cloud services so don't even think about selling cloud services there. You have to have a local presence. Someone will need to build a co-lo facility to host all the major players. I'm sure it will be owned by the Cuban government. You'll just have to put your servers in it to get any decent bandwidth. Google is trying harder than all the others, but the progress is slow. There is a trial to doing broadband. I did see co-axel cables run all over, and there were lots of CAT5 cables run between houses...a lot of the cables were used for door bells though...LOL.
Kids are playing soccer everywhere! It was very hard for me to not actually get out and play (I have a torn ACL right now), but I did manage to get the courage to brave a fully tore ACL in front of a cool church (yeah those are my old Gucci soccer shoes):
McFly! McFly! Yeah, there are old cars everywhere and at times the smog was a bit unbearable, this guy seemed to make the best of it:
Cubans love their country! Some cools pics:
Get your drugs at a Harry Potter drug store! This place was deep inside Old Havana in what we would easily call a "run down" part:
Our trip home:
Getting home is easy, the airport is pretty fast, although I can see if there were a lot of people it might be a bit crowded at times. But we had no issues. The only issue we had was the flight path back home, evidentially we flew over a tornado:
Although the major business opportunities in Cuba are in the low teens, and "US\Capitalism" like careers non-existent, the environment is fun and the people are amazingly smart and carefree. They live with what they have and make the best of it. Something that a majority of Americans need to learn to appreciate. As I came home and walked through my front door, I felt that appreciation for what I have (and what I don't have and have had), and all the opprotunities I have been given by being "born in the USA".
But at the same time, I felt really sorry for myself in having the wool pulled over my eyes with the stigma and residual of capitalism and how things really shouldn't be based solely on money and success, but on what you can contribute to your community, country and family. It's what you don't know you don't know...
Go to Cuba before it changes too much!