The Russians vs. the Chinese in Cuba

May 16, 2012 | Print Print |

By Amrit

Many "La Reina" pressure cookers no longer work.

HAVANA TIMES — As the popular saying goes, “You only value what you’ve lost.” It’s a sad statement – right?

But since I’m trying to be fair, I always add that memories too are created and later recalled through the prism of nostalgia, with plenty of those memories becoming adulterated.

However a number of recent impressions threaten to again vindicate that inevitable expression…

Yes, I must admit that now that the tide of Chinese technology seems to be blessing, I’m beginning to miss the days when the waves of electronic consumer goods came from the Soviet Union, those products that in our ingratitude we sarcastically dubbed “bolos” (Russian)!

The first reason for this lies in a corner of my room: a Chinese electric pressure cooker known as a “Reina” and that cost 64 CUCs (about $70 USD). It worked fine just long enough for its warranty to expire.

Then it suddenly began to produce a noise that scared me (as well as my poor cats that would run from it in fright). It sounded like a rocket that was about to be launched into orbit.

I figured this was because of the gasket, which had softened and wasn’t holding the pressure well. Since I was unable to find another one that size, I decided to use it without pressure. But then I couldn’t even get it to start.

This time I turned to a repairperson, who explained that the cause was a fuse – apparently irreplaceable. He hooked the contraption directly to the current but warned me that it wouldn’t last like that very long.

“But it’s new!” I protested in bewilderment.

He then showed me the inside of the pressure cooker – a world of devices and cables about which I understood nothing. But I could see that all of the metal parts were rusted, corroded by the salt brought by the air from the sea and visible through the distance from my windows.

Like the balustrades on my balcony, the gate to the house and my son’s bicycle, this appliance had suffered the ravages of that white crystal. This made his argument seem reasonable. Noticing my double disappointment, this kind fellow tried to comfort me:

“All of them break down,” he said. “They’re the worst investment the state has ever made.”

How could I not then become overwhelmed when thinking, by extension, about the massive “replacement” of refrigerators? There are already people cursing between their teeth about those.

Since I didn’t have enough money to buy one from a shopping center, I too picked up a Chinese refrigerator, but an “under the table” one. Notwithstanding, it was absolutely new, white, immaculate.

However the gasket on the door is already coming off; and since it doesn’t shut tight, that means a daily accumulation of water at the bottom and a higher monthly electric bill.

But that’s not the worst part for me.

My daily conflict with the Chinese is the radio I bought less than six months ago. It’s great when there’s a hurricane because it has a rechargeable battery that can also be charged by cranking it by hand.

But until the next hurricane comes (and Lord help us that it’s not soon!), I try to make my precious little radio fulfill the role fully played by its Russian predecessors: allowing me to hear the program “Early Music” every morning, which I’ve listened to since the 1980’s.

But it’s a day of true luck if I pick up the signal well – no matter how much I adjust the dial, pull up the antenna, switch from FM to AM, or try placing the device in all the different corners of the house.

It’s then that I experience a devastating bout with nostalgia. I’ll think back to my Beff radio, or my Model B-215 Selena, which allowed me not only to clearly hear CMBF (the classical music station and my favorite), but also ones like WQAM 560 (a station of the “enemy”), which only broadcast country music but was a delight to me – back in the ‘80s.

So, I pray from the heart that they’ll raise the dead from their graves. What I would do to again see those “bolo” appliances: my discarded radios, those Orbita fans that stood up to bumps and drops, those Aurika washing machines that remain the salvation of many homemakers still today.

Likewise those Zenit cameras, thanks to which loves and pleasures were recorded that otherwise would have been ephemeral – as short-lived as those first conveniences of comfort, our crude and criticized Russian appliances, those “bolos,” which today (I’m sure) I’m not alone in missing.

 


What's your opinion?

  • Charles A. Bailey

    You paid $70.00 for an electric rice cooker?? Sounds like you need to purchase U.S.A. made products. I can buy a $25.00 a rice cooker in any store in the country.

  • Michael N. Landis

    Have to agree with Charles A. Bailey above, you’ve gotten a bad deal if you paid $70! (Alas! Do you have any real choice? Probably not–but neither do we!) At least up here, when we buy this crappy Chinese stuff at Wal-Mart, the prices are so low so that when they invariably expire after a few years (or a few months!), we just toss it out and buy another. Even more expensive stuff seems to die just after the warranty runs out! (Such was the case for a $200 micro-wave bought a couple of years ago–which was replaced by a $60 piece-of-crap bought at Wal-Mart!) Incidentally, Amrit, I’m a big fan of CMBF too, and am listening to it via the Net now (Weds.night @ 11:15 p.m.); they are playing some wonderful scat music from the 1930′s and 1940′s boogie-woogie too! Much better than our NPR, which has too much (s)news, (s)news, (s)news!

  • Feud

    Dear Landis, you can afford to lose $200 in a microwave (you seems to be a wealthy man, I can’t afford a $60 micro, mine cost $18.99 and I am very happy with it and use it every day since 2004) because your salary is according your expenses……. but $70 for a Cuban that maybe get only $10 a month of salary or maybe $20 if working in tourism!!!!!!……. come on Landis, it is 7 (or 3.5) month of work!!!!!!……. it is a shame to recognize a Cuban must to pay such a high price for a necessary good……… and don’t come now all Canadians, Hollanders, “Swedish” and ETs used to comment here with the litany of free health and education…….. in half of the world (including the evil USA) people get free health and education and don’t pay $70 for a piece of metal…….. I am sure there are 10.000 Cubans right now living in Cuba and capable to fabricate microwaves out of crap or importing cheap components from Panama or Brazil, micros that can be sold for $15.99 …… and I am sure those Cubans can saturate the market with micros beyond Cuban [population needs………. Just castro regime must lose it paralysis ( or better go out as any incompetent gov. should do)and our country will start to go.

  • john sparre

    are imports a state monopoly? if anyone could import, adam smith´s hidden hand of the market would soon decide which importers are successful and which importers are given the boot by the consumer. is U.S.A. that town in japan? and if cubans can make a good microwave or anything else from components at the right price they will be successful. so there´s a market for good replacement fridge seals. who will fill the need? made in japan, korea or india? granma doesn´t want baby birds waiting to be fed any more. is there a baby bird who knows where to source good fridge seals? a business magazine might point out things like that. the first step is to contact the major fridge manufacturers and ask for fridge seal samples.

    • freud

      Dear Sparre, why to complicate the things…….. Cubans are not beginners…… we built a rich and social developed country once….. we can do it again easily than you can imagine…….. we only need freedom….. we only need to get rid the paralyzed and anti progresses regime we have now blocking our productive forces……. don’t try to make us look as retarded, we are not….. that’s why USA always tried to delay or destroy our development, we represent a huge treat to the empire economic development in its south coast.