June 2, 2010
Elevation: Sea Level
Cuba, the land of giant pineapples and other socialist miracles. I am nearly there. I walk up to the immigration officer and hand over my Republic of China passport. The officer greets me with a rather well pronounced “Ni How.” (Hello in Mandarine Chinese). I am taken by surprise and can only smile. He looks over my passport and papers and asks me if I speak English. I completely fumble the answers as now my first instance is to respond in Chinese. I finally manage a “Yes” and am embraced by how difficult it was. He stamps my papers and press a buzzer that let me into the land of Fidel.
There is an x-ray machines on the other side and I am expected to allow my carry on bag to be x-rayed before I can claim the rest of my belonging. I take out the 3 giant zip lock bags of film and hands them over to the woman alines with my notebook that has a Spanish explanation of how I am a photographer / artist, the film is sensitive and please inspect them without the x-ray machine. I am asked to wait. A guy comes over and starts to talk to me in English. What is all the film for? I am an artist and I am here to meet with a Cuban friend of mine who is also an artist and we are going to make some art. Follow me.
He lays the 3 bags of film on the ground along with my backpack. Now comes the guys with the drug sniffing dogs. First dog sniffs through my zip lock bags and shows no interest in them. However, he sniffs my backpack extra hard as there is a croissant in the front pocket. He nuzzles it several times. I think, Oh, please don’t chew through my bag for that stale croissant. Then comes dog number 2. Same behavior. No interest in the bags full of melted horse hoofs coated in silver but the croissant in the front pocket deserves an extra sniff or two.
The officer hands everything but my passport back to me. He walks me down to another guy and then disappears. The new officer asks, What are you doing here in? I am here to make some art with my Cuban friend. Is there a problem NO this is just routine. Were you on the flight from Nassau? Yes. You know that your bags are on the other side? Oh, I didn’t know. I was told to follow the other officer. Wait here. He then disappears into a small room with my passport. He comes back and I am told to follow again. As we make our way across to the other side, he asks, Where is your US passport? In my bad. He hands me back my ROC passport and wishes me a good day.
What the fuck just happened here? I often wish that I am a spy and jokes about it with friends here and there. Funny enough, I do have quiet a few alias, legal and other wise. I chose to enter the country on my ROC passport under a name that I don’t use often in attempt to avoid any problem with the US gov’t (a friend told me that the Cuban gov’t sales the names of US citizens back to the US as her travel companion all got fined even though their passports were never stamped). Was it just a lucky guess from the officer that I would have a US passport? Was I just too dammed honest? Or was answering the question honestly the thing that got me out of there? I sure hope I don’t have a fine waiting for me when I return.
I realized that traveling with film in this day and age can make my life more difficult. However, I am still a sucker for film so I willing endure the hassle and put on a few extra smiles, bat my eye lashes extra hard for the officers so that my 1600 ISO film goes not get zapped. Yet I wonder how good / bad of a disguise is it to travel as a photographer if I am truly a spy?!