Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Interviewing Cebu's Countocram

Countocram is the online moniker of Marco, one of Cebu's best bloggers. Surprisingly, he is originally not from Cebu, but from another province, Pampanga. I had the opportunity to speak with him in IT Park, and we covered a wide range of topics. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did. 

How did you come up with the name Countocram?

Count is like European royalty, and it’s kinda cheesy, but you can always count on me, and “ocram” is Marco reversed. Regarding my personal domain, I was a developer, and I did graphic design. So I had the domain already, and I decided to do not just travel blogging, but anything and everything under the sun. 

I don’t know how you do it, but you have a full-time job in addition to blogging. How many hours do you work in your regular job?

9 hours a day, 5 days a week. I usually work on my blog on weekends or if I feel like writing, I do it after work. My food blog [Lami Kaayois the most popular. I usually just upload the content and that’s it. I don’t do SEO. I’m happy if people find me on their own.

You’re not from Cebu but you’re one of the foremost authorities on it. 

When I moved here from Pampanga, I didn’t know anybody. When I started working, I got to know my coworkers, one of whom had a blog. Everything started when he invited me to attend Cebu Blog Camp, an event that helps aspiring bloggers.

Tell me about your hometown and how you came to Cebu.

In Pampanga, there used to be Clark Air Force base, but it experienced a volcanic eruption nearby in 1991, and all the servicemembers left. When the city recovered, Clark was converted into a special economic zone called the Clark Freeport Zone.  
My hometown, Angeles City, is a highly urbanized city, but not as progressive as Cebu. 

I was working as a home-based web developer for a year and a half. The company decided to set up a company in Cebu, and I was asked to relocate. 
There’s a direct flight from Cebu to Clark, which made it easier to relocate

Also, there's a huge population of Mormons in Cebu, and the company I worked for is owned by Mormons. I think that's one of the reasons my boss chose Cebu. Anyway, when I moved here, I already had the job. 

I’ve been living here now for more than 7 years.  There were only 5 people in the company when it started, and now we have 200+ employees. The majority are web developers. The income generated from web developers is equivalent to 3 to 5 call center agents, so the business saves a lot of space and has more opportunities.

What advice do you have for people who want to come to Cebu?

I think Cebuanos are very friendly people.  The friendliest are from Palawan, though. Cebuanos are the second friendliest. You need to be friendly to fit in here. Cebu looks big but it’s a small city. If you know one person, you probably have someone in common. It’s easy to build a network.  You only need to meet the right people. 

How's the blogging community in Cebu?

There are many blogging groups here. I’m a member of Cebu Fashion Bloggers. Cebu Bloggers Society is the first group here, a pioneer of sorts. The newest group is called C3 or Cebu Content Creators. Their members are not limited to bloggers but also video creators and social media influencers and personalities. We see each other at different events

I didn’t expect to stay in Cebu this long. Because of blogging, I stayed. I made a lot of friends, and it opened a lot of opportunities for me. 

What are the financial benefits of blogging?

I haven’t gotten to the point where I actively monetize my blog.  I just enjoy doing it. I have Google Ads, but I haven’t earned much from it. I do receive social media campaigns from digital media companies. They usually ask for one blog post and at least one social media post. You’d get a minimum of 3000 pesos, but it depends on your stats. For the top bloggers, they can command 1,000 USD!

Sponsored posts are another way to make money.  I will receive content from different marketing agencies, and the minimum fee is 50 USD, and it can go as high as 150 USD.  They will customize the content based on your blog. They’re basically paying to rent space on your blog. 

In Manila, some bloggers who attend events get paid a minimum of 3000 pesos. Imagine, in Manila, there can be 2 to 3 events in one day. Here in Cebu, when we attend events, we only get freebies, not money, but I enjoy attending since I get to see my friends and experience different events. I also enjoy sharing the experience on my blog.

Are there problems you’ve encountered because of blogging?

Yes, a lot. In the blogging community, you meet a lot of people, and each of them has a different personality. Some bloggers blog because of freebies and to attend events, but for me, blogging is foremost an opportunity to share what you're passionate about. Getting invites to events and freebies should not be the primary reason for blogging.

Another problem is some bloggers fake their social media stats by buying followers and likes. This is very common on Instagram. Having good numbers on your social media account can open a lot of opportunities. I think this is the reason why some are faking their stats.

Some bloggers are too aggressive. One blogger once blocked the view of other media participants at a cooking event. Others are so competitive to the point where they bash other bloggers. 

What do you think about the future of Cebu?

I think it’s slowly becoming Manila. I’m excited to see all the developments.

It sounds like Cebu is your new home.


What are your favorite countries to visit? 

I like Japan. I’ve visited Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nagano, Yuzawa, and Kawaguchiko. When I go, I maximize my time by doing research beforehand. My favorite city is Nagoya. I love Nagoya—it’s like Tokyo but laid back and not as crowded.  I hope to travel more, but it’s hard for a Filipino. Our passport isn’t that powerful. It’s hard to get visas.

I love to travel. Most of my travels are funded by personal expenses. I rarely get sponsored travels. 

If you were Mayor Osmena, and you could do two things to help Cebu, what would you do?

Fix traffic. Do you know about the transit controversy we have here?

A little.  It seems very complicated.

LRT is mass rapid transit—basically, a train. I think the national government proposed an above-the-ground train for Cebu, which is costly compared to the BRT. Osmena doesn’t support the LRT; instead, he supports BRT, the bus rapid transit. It’s like three buses combined together. Osmena is battling committee members who think the MRT can worsen traffic. The argument is that smaller cars can barely navigate Cebu’s smaller roads, so why would a large bus make traffic better? [My note: Of course, the counterargument is that fewer smaller cars will be on the road if more people took the bus.]

The second would be solving corruption. It’s a problem in the entire country. I think all politicians in the Philippines are corrupt.

What does corruption mean to you?

Corruption to me is when the government uses the money of the people for their own benefit. I used to work for the government, and I saw how corruption works. The government can double or triple the value of a project above the actual cost. That way, they get more money even as they pay only the actual value of the project. Sometimes, the auditors are also in on it, so it’s hard to uncover the corruption, which is led by different agencies.

You work in outsourcing, right? In America, a lot of people are complaining you are taking our jobs.  What do you think about that?

In our company, we call it offshoring, not outsourcing. For us, the advantage is that we have jobs that pay well relative to our cost of living. With technology, it’s becoming more and more possible to outsource jobs. 
We are doing many of the jobs Americans dislike, so I’m not sure why they're complaining.

When it comes to web developers, the salary we get here is 1/5 of what Americans are being paid, so companies that outsource here save a lot of money. If you want to find online or consulting jobs, try Upwork.com. 

Do you have student loans?

No. My mother paid for my college degree.

But aren’t public universities free, a policy recently maintained by President Duterte?

I went to a private school, not a public school. The policy of free tuition only applies to state universities.

Why didn’t you attend a state university?

I applied. The number one state university in the Philippines is UP, the University of the Philippines. It is extremely difficult to get in. I eventually attended a private college in Pampanga. Tuition was 25,000 pesos a semester, or 50,000 pesos a year, which is about 1,000 USD annually.

Is it easy to get a credit card here?

It’s hard to get one here. I was working for 5 years, applied, and got rejected! They really want to make sure that you can pay. We don’t have a credit score [FICO] here. The interest rate on my credit card is 3.7%.

That’s it?


Wait, 3.7% a year? It’s at least 18% a year in the U.S.

No, 3.7% a month.

Whoa. That’s about 44% a year!

That’s high.

Getting back to blogging, your Facebook, IG, and other media platforms look professionally done. Are you paying for professional assistance?

No. Some of my pictures were taken by other bloggers. You’re seeing the effect of filters and my favorite photography app, VSCO. I’m also a FujiFilminfluencer. There are 15 of us here in Cebu. I really enjoy photography. 

Thank you for your time, Marco.

My pleasure.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Unilateral Action in a Multi-Polar World

Right before our eyes, the world has lost its goddamned mind. America's agencies are reducing resources to counter cyberattacks, which is problematic for our allies because we created the systems they're using, along with the backdoors and security deficiencies. To make matters worse, America is dissuading anyone flying on certain Middle Eastern airlines from bringing laptops, which basically shuts down all business class travel--the most profitable seats--on those airlines unilaterally deemed unsafe. Journalists everywhere discuss America's reduced role in the world, and all seems lost for non-isolationists.

Except it's all a brilliant ploy--if Machiavelli is your role model. Without "free" government cybersecurity help, foreign governments have to pay American security companies more money to help them, increasing American economic strength. Those airlines that aren't up to "code"? Well, they'll just have to hire American defense contractors to help them--for a major fee and multi-year servicing contract, of course. Oh, and if certain Middle Eastern countries don't want to play ball in the foreign policy department, we'll demand our more compliant allies bar their airplanes from flying the friendly skies, and just for good measure, institute an economic blockade (here's looking at you, Qatar). 

America is going to rule the world again while shifting costs to our allies. Take that, China. (Don't worry, Mexico, we haven't forgotten about the wall we want you to pay for.) 

Except it's all a terrible idea. At a time when we desperately need more, not less global cooperation, America has chosen to increase hostility. Does anyone know the rules of engagement for cyber warfare? One expert writes that as long as the costs of cyber warfare, including from North Korea and China, don't exceed 2% of GDP, America will not escalate to the physical realm. I imagine the day will come when a politician moves the bar to 3% because we can't predict the outcome if we actually act on our threat to directly attack countries that violate the stated threshold. What's the point of NATO and all the long-term defense contracts being bought if no one can figure out how to create a basic framework for cyberdefense with every ally and customer on the same page? 

What happened to the idea that corporations can think short-term because of rapidly changing competitive issues, but governments exist to act as a counterbalance, to impose order and institutional long-term knowledge? Without being able to formulate the "rules of the game," even in areas that are dead center in the American government's bailiwick, what is the use of government anyway? 

Also, does anyone in the current administration realize unilateral action no longer works in a multi-polar world? America's current Middle Eastern ploy is to encourage China to buy American LNG rather than Qatari LNG by making China's status quo contingent on interfering with a Saudi-led economic blockade against Qatar. (Say that five times fast.) 

If America and its allies try to isolate Qatar, NK, and Iran in 2017, they can still go to Russia or even Turkey, and that's where global politics becomes really interesting. Once major countries get involved in other major countries' political maneuvers in unexpected ways, there's no set playbook. China has wisely decided to use economic statecraft rather than military force to increase its influence, and it appears America will try to make China's economic alliances more complex. What's the endgame here? 

I don't know if any major country has good answers to the current chaotic situation, but chaos, even at a slow burn, should not be the status quo. Perhaps less assurances of stability will spur other countries to beef up their own cybersecurity and military prowess or to pay American corporations more money to do it for them. Maybe it will reduce the need for America's involvement as the world's police patrol, though with most commercial goods still needing transport across various oceans, I doubt the U.S. Navy will be less necessary. 

The problem with chaos as politics is one never knows the end result with any reasonable certainty. Greater disorder may act as a virus compelling white blood cells to multiply--resulting in better protection against the same or similar issues--or it may overwhelm the entire system, creating more and more splinters (Syria, anyone?). It seems current American officials are betting chaos will promote independently prophylactic behavior, or at least an admission that following America's military--and paying for the privilege--is better than going at it alone. Let's hope they are smarter than we are. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

All of Elizabeth Warren's Questions, Summarized

Elizabeth Warren thinks she's taking on big banks but has chosen to focus on non-core issues--employment incentives and surface conflicts of interest--than systemic issues like shadow banking and derivatives. Part of this phenomenon is because shadow banking is a difficult area to understand from a regulatory standpoint, but also because her political donors, including unions, own stock in Wells Fargo. (Government pension plans assuming 7% interest rates need Wall Street more than they'd like to admit.) 

Without further ado, below is a summary of Elizabeth Warren's questions from all of her finance-related hearings and cross-examinations: 

1. "Why haven't you read everything on this issue?" 

2. "Why aren't you taking positions on third party reports you haven't read?" 

3. "Why aren't you making generalizations about complex issues?" 

4. "Why aren't you making generalizations about proposed rules that aren't yet public?" 

5. "Why aren't you making general statements about all banks and instead taking a more measured case-by-case approach?"

You're welcome. 

Bonus: Here's what I would have asked Mr. Randal Quarles: 

Mr. Quarles, you have vast experience in the financial industry. As we both know, derivatives and shadow banking continue to be serious problems. I've noticed legislators do not focus on these two issues and instead choose to raise relevant but non-systemic risks. Please tell us what you believe are the top two systemic risks in the U.S. financial system today, and what can we do to minimize those risks. If shadow banking and derivatives are not part of your top two systemic risks, please address those risks as well. 

I've wondered why so many legislators do not focus on systemic risks. Part of it must be that such risks involve trillions of dollars and are so large--one might say, "too big to fail"--regulation is difficult. If true, such reasoning would seem to mandate greater focus on systemic risks, not less. Also, is regulation difficult because so many of these risky transactions take place abroad and require multi-party legislation? For example, if LIBOR and reinsurance are involved, wouldn't some cooperation be required between D.C., the U.K., and the EU to accomplish any effective regulation? If so, should legislators work more closely with international counterparts directly rather than rely on international bodies such as the Basel Committee and the IMF? 

Guess Who?

I ran across this page in a poetry book recently. You probably won't guess who it is, unless you're very familiar with his or her work. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Political Cowards: Alameda's Malia Vella

The internet should have ushered in a new era where everyone could more easily access their politicians. Direct democracy could flourish, and voters would become better-informed, freed from the shackles of BigCorp media.

Of course that's not what happened. Instead, most American politicians, beneficiaries of gerrymandering, avoid online debate whenever possible, reasoning there's no upside to engaging with voters who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Why not limit your exposure to puppies and t-shirts printed with #Resist instead? In fact, that's partly the approach union-supported politician Malia Vella has taken when called out on her divisive rhetoric. Her Twitter account proclaims herself "Alameda City Councilmember, Wellesley Woman, Teamster, Lawyer, Educator, CulĂ©, Art Lover, & Pragmatic Optimist." (Note: Wellesley is Hillary Clinton's alma mater.) Below is one of Malia's Facebook accounts. 

When I called out her prior mocking use of the hashtag #unionthugs on her personal FB page--which often replicates her official political page--she blocked me rather than engage. When I posted on her Alameda City Council page, she ignored it. Sadly, most American politicians today are mealy-mouthed risk-takers who would make the meekest accountant proud. Such behavior explains why so many Americans outside of California adore Trump. When your alternative is no discourse, any discourse is preferable.

Below are a few snapshots from the discussion--you'll see no admission that her prior conduct was wrong, or an acknowledgment that some voters' concerns about union coercion are legitimate

And that's when it got interesting. You see, Malia and are former law school classmates. We're trained to debate and use logic. Sometimes even in public. My point is you cannot complain about Trump's language online while engaging in similar propaganda tactics yourself.  

So let's analyze Malia's logic. She's correct that not everyone associated with a particular incident is required to comment about the topic, but she still doesn't get it. A politician who has mocked people--including Trump, who's challenged labor unions' corruption--can't wash her hands clean when someone presents evidence that you know, maybe you shouldn't mock legitimate issues, especially when they concern the special interests who helped get you elected?

By not engaging publicly and by relying on carefully tailored images rather than practical issues to engage voters, politicians have created their own safe spaces. Meanwhile, in other countries, Cebu City's Tommy Osmena takes on all comers on Facebook and demonstrates no fear.

It is stunning that other countries have taken America's ideals of free speech and rigorous debate and utilized them better on American-owned social media than most American politicians. California in particular seems to attract a large share of political cowards because it's a one-party state. It wasn't always this way. 

When a questioner called out JFK's Catholic religion as potentially problematic, his supporters in the crowd jeered at the woman who questioned his loyalty. It was JFK himself who calmed the crowd, insisted on answering her question, and then delivered an inspiring response. Today, liberal American politicians claim to appreciate and even to idolize JFK while taking no risks whatsoever in political discourse. Meanwhile, voters worldwide have spoken. Except for the UK's Theresa May, they have demanded authenticity, even at the expense of civility and pragmatism. Admittedly, their choices seem atrocious when compared to the genteel politicians of yesterday. And yet, given the choices they've had, especially in California's political echo chamber, their approach makes sense: bravery over cowardice, and bluntness over political correctness. Maybe there's hope for the future after all. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Margarito B. Teves: an Incredible Man

It's no secret I despise most politicians. The modern political era seems to have followed a path from the genteel general (Eisenhower) to blunt brutes (Nixon, LBJ) to charismatic rakes (JFK, Gary Hart) and now to bombastic idiots (too many to list).

Once in a while, though, the universe throws my misanthrope self a lifeline. I've just been gobsmacked by a former finance secretary I randomly ran into. I was going to Cebu's local casino--a great joint by the name of Waterfront Casino--when I happened to see a seminar of some sort. I saw the words, "economics" and "federalism," and after asking permission, walked in just in time to catch the final 10 minutes of Margarito Teves' speech.

I couldn't believe my ears. Every single word was practical and made sense. I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn't somehow experiencing the reincarnation of Lee Kwan Yew, but there he continued, making sense. As far as I know, no hashtags, selfies, or filters were mentioned during his speech. When questions were asked, he answered every single one of them directly. Who was this man, and how did he make it in politics?

It turns out he's the former Secretary of Finance of the Philippines. (You might think a man of his stature would automatically be honorable or interesting, but I've listened to Ben Bernanke at MIT and struggled not to fall asleep. The students must have agreed, because a beach ball started getting passed around in the middle of his speech.)

Upon doing more research, it turns out Mr. Teves might have actually saved the Philippines from financial disaster in 2008-2009. His background seems tailor-made for the perfect storm that occurred then: banker, economist, and lawmaker. Somehow, despite reading about economics voraciously since the age of 17, I've never heard of him. Isn't that interesting? The world prefers bombast, but the steady dignity and wisdom of men like Mr. Teves are what make the world go 'round.

During the speech, I went to the mic to ask a question. I obviously looked out of place being the only non-Filipino there. While Teves continued answered the previous question, an emcee named Dan stopped me from asking a question and told me he'd call security if I insisted on asking one. I explained I was a lawyer from California and I wanted to make a comment to Teves about his speech. The topic, after all, was "federalism," not just economics. He again threatened to call security. At this point, I had no idea who Teves was--only that I was amazed to be in the presence of such a practical, well-spoken man. (The only other person who's had such an impact on me was America's Julian Bond.)

I called Dan's bluff and stood at the podium and waited until Teves sat down. I shook Teves' hand, telling him, "I didn't hear your whole speech, but I wanted to thank you for your practicality. I wasn't able to make a public comment, but I'll just tell you we have no one like you in America now. We are falling apart because we lack men like you, who follow the successful Singaporean model of practicality before ideology."

Being a gracious diplomat, Teves told me he had no control over who could ask questions and invited me to talk to him after the event ended. I thanked him again and not wanting to bother anyone at his table, I went over to the emcee who'd prevented me from asking a question, shook his hand, and whispered in his ear, "You're a disgrace to Filipinos." (Filipinos are generally the most gracious and open people on the planet.) The emcee started squeezing my hand as hard as he could, but being half my size and lacking any athleticism, he wasn't able to accomplish whatever purpose he intended, couldn't muster any sort of witty response, and so I slipped away and left.

The world today is filled with too many jackasses like emcee Dan and not enough gentlemen like Teves. It is of course Dan, of all the people at the event, most of whom were kind and open, who was chosen to work the microphone, proving again that until introverts rise up and master public speaking, the world will continue to burn under the weight of bombast and irrational fear. Unless we figure out how to attract and keep more men like Teves, Western politics will continue to devolve, and Asia will continue to rise--as long as it keeps men like Dan away from important matters. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

10 Reasons to Avoid Cuba (Part 3)

Part 1 is HERE.  

Part 2 is HERE

7. Castro's Revolution Has a Dark Side

We've all seen Fidel Castro in military garb, and he has a legitimate claim to fending off CIA-backed fighters post-revolution. The problem is what he did after the revolution. As Orwell warned in Animal Farm, revolutionaries have a habit of becoming like previous overseers once in power. 

An excellent graphic novel, Cuba: My Revolution, shows post-revolutionary changes most people never see. 

"Leaving Cuba is not easy. The regime makes you quit working as soon as you apply for a visa even if it takes years to get it. An inspector inventories all your belongings. When you leave, all bills must be paid, your house left fully furnished, and your car turned in to the police station." 

"Fidel has abolished Easter, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and [the Feast of the] Epiphany." [Note: Fidel did not want holidays to interfere with the all-important sugar harvest. Cuba eventually allowed Christmas celebrations in 1998.] 

"I'm losing the pharmaceutical company. He's [Fidel] nationalizing everything. No one can have more than $800 in savings and all private practice will be abolished eventually." 

"UMAPs are camps established to eliminate counterrevolutionaries. Homosexuals. Jehovah's Witnesses and others are sent to remote areas, and sentenced to forced labor."
Bonus, from Wikipedia: "The UMAP camps served as a form of alternative civilian service for Cubans who could not serve in the military due to being, conscientious objectors, homosexuals, or political enemies of the revolution. The majority of UMAP servicemen were conscientious objectors... about 8% to 9% of the immates were homosexual men, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, intellectuals, farmers who resisted collectivization, as well as anyone else considered 'anti-social' or 'counter-revolutionary.' Former Intelligence Directorate agent Norberto Fuentes estimated that of approximately 35,000 internees, 507 ended up in psychiatric wards, 72 died from torture, and 180 committed suicide." 

Some revolution, huh? 

8. Nothing Works Consistently in Cuba So Let's Dance Everybody

The prevailing image I'll have of Cuba is the owner of a small bakery with his head in his hands. 
After a second day of heavy rains, the power went out--again. His bakery sells perishable items, including ice cream. The portable generator didn't work, and he propped the door open to prevent heat from destroying inventory. I wanted to take a picture of the owner but it felt inappropriate. Here he was, doing the best he could, selling excellent products, and it didn't matter--Havana's infrastructure was so poor, no matter how much he prepared, he could suffer losses quickly and unexpectedly. A handwritten sign on the wall asked, in English, "Looking for an investor." 

When small businesses start, they must find the cheapest rents--or the most comfy garages.  They do not get to start up in nicer locations, and if they do, their choice of increased costs might be one reason so many small businesses fail in the first four years (though such statistics are skewed by high-earning professionals creating a "fun" side business to a take a loss against income, then closing it after a few years). It takes time to build a book of business and loyal customers, and most business owners expect to lose money the first two years. 

In my case, when opening a solo law firm, I bought all my furniture from Goodwill and a consignment center and found a cheap annual lease in one of the oldest buildings in the city. (Tip: research the minimum lease period your state and city require for 60 or 90 days' notice to evict without cause, or you might have to move after just 30 days if you have a fickle landlord.) Despite no upgrades in many decades, things still worked. I knew the elevator would work almost all the time, the power would always be on unless the entire city went dark, and so on. It took a long time to get my business telephone and fax lines connected--and far too much money--but they got connected after about two weeks. (I disliked AT&T for many years after getting my costly business lines and eagerly hoped Vonage would gain momentum, but the quality of calls on Vonage was never very good--at least then. Today, I wonder how much the excessive cost of the business lines was due to a tax or fee imposed by the city rather than AT&T.) 

In any case, because of decent infrastructure, I could focus on my work. Most importantly, I could open a business without needing to take out loans (I already had student loans), choose a fairly dismal location, and still compete with the rich, established folks in nicer areas. I had to charge lower prices, but that's the flywheel of business: you start out charging little and focus on learning as much as you can, and you can become an expert without needing to be profitable right away because you can pay lower set-up costs somewhere, and things still work. Even in one of Havana's most affluent neighborhoods, things did not work. The flywheel of small business creation, backed by enthusiastic elbow grease, couldn't get moving. 

In such an environment, where you cannot improve even if you work hard, why bother? Why not just dance and sing? 

9. Cuba Does Have Magic

It's not all bad. One humid day, I wanted an ice cream sandwich and asked a neighbor where I could find them. (Without WiFi regularly available, everyone relies on each other for information.)  He thought a store two streets down might have one, but they only had one flavor of ice cream pints, not the famous ice cream sandwiches (aka bocaditos de helado). 
Mmmm, crunchy coating

Before leaving the apartment complex, we had asked around about ice cream sandwiches, and another neighbor suggested the store we visited. On the way back, my neighbor called to a few people on their terraces in Spanish, asking them where we could find ice cream. When we got to the apartment complex, he took me to his apartment, and lo and behold, his little brother was on a small stool in the kitchen, happily scooping ice cream out of a generic tub. Somehow, in 15 minutes, the neighborhood had heard my Cuban neighbor's request and gotten his family ice cream. Show me any other country where that happens. 

My first day in Cuba, when I mentioned I wanted to try Cuba's famous ice cream sandwiches, my landlord called out in Spanish through a window and then took me to the narrow hallway between my apartment and the one next to it. An outstretched hand awaited us with a bocadito de helado. The neighbor's side hustle was selling ice cream sandwiches. I exchanged money for ice cream without seeing her face because the alley was too narrow to have a proper introduction. 

I eventually found a place selling ice cream sandwiches with multiple flavors about a mile away, but the sandwiches didn't taste as good as my neighbor's. It's hard to compete with the first impression of an unexpected hand outside a window, offering ice cream. 

10.  Competition and Choices

The Dominican Republic, which also has beautiful beaches, is near Cuba.  Why visit Cuba when you can visit Caribbean beaches in a more comfy environment? 
Dominican Republic. Not Cuba. 


So I suppose I lied. These are not ten reasons to avoid Cuba. They're only nine. I visited Cuba when I was 39, the same age as Che Guevara when he was executed. Had Che lived longer, he would have learned that revolutionary ideals need sound economics and sustainable trade agreements to flourish. To be fair, America and other debt-ridden capitalist countries aren't exactly shining economic models, either. Maybe in the end, whatever label you give any system, it all decays because you're just following someone else's idealized version of society rather than your own moral conscience.