Ghosts of Our Ancestor’s Past

Havana, Cuba
June 18, 2002

My cozzin Luis tells us his father is buried in the Cimeterio Chino and offers to take us there today. I wonder how much is this gonna cost. He makes a big deal about bringing cash to bribe the gatekeeper who he calls “the witch”. But when we arrive, the gatekeeper opened the gate and willingly let us in without asking for any money. It makes me wonder about Luis. Is he pulling a fast one on us today?

The gatekeeper is a character right out of Indiana Jones. He walks around with one machete strapped behind his back while swirling another around as he talks along in his rapid fire colloquial Cuban Spanish. He’s spinning non-stop tales as he takes us through the cemetery maneuvering through bushes and trees cutting them out of his path at random.

I’m having difficulties wiping the fog off my lens, adjusting the changing light and keeping up with him in this scorching humidity. The time delay factor with Valeria’s translation adds another handicap to this real-time shooting. By the time I get the translation, he has already moved on to his next tale. I’m losing sync with him.


Part of his job is keeping track of the decaying process of the typically shallow Chinese graves, dig up the bones, then clean and transfer them into tin boxes for storage in their respective family crypts. I’m tracking him on this one sequence where he’s telling us this funny story about how this particular Chinese fella just won’t decompose because he’s so well preserve from all the Chinese herbs he took when he was alive. Due to the delay affect of the translation, I’m a jarred by him cracking open the said tin box to show me the bones before I got the full story translation.

He motions to Cheuk and I to enter the Kwan crypt as he opens the creaking trap door. Cheuk is going down and I follow. I’m feeling goose pimples all over. There’re no lights down under so I could only go so deep without maxing out my gain and crushing my DV signals.

Many of the tin boxes are not securely shut. You can see many with their bones still sticking out. The tin boxes are marked with birth dates and village names. Cheuk is surprised to find that there are many Kwan’s from his grandfather’s village of Gau Kwong… he is also having his date with destiny after all.

The air is musty. I smell death all around me. I pan across to catch Cheuk glancing into my lens with an inquisitive stare… asking me if he should go in deeper… I can tell Cheuk is scared… I’m getting creep out myself… so glad he decided to retreat before we started to see dead people.

Above ground nearby, Luis has found his Chinese grandfather Enrique Chung’s grave. He gets very emotional about his Chinese heritage as we interview him in front of the burial site. He even got teary eye about his duel identity. But it’s sad and unfortunate that I can no longer tell what’s true and what’s fake with my cozzin anymore. I like to believe in him… but it gets difficult… so we’ll never know.