In Cuba, a research biologist gets paid US$25 a month. To do a simple scientific expedition, marine researchers have to get permission from 15 government departments, including the military. And to visit the small communist country is to step back 50 years. Aside from in the modern resorts that kiss the island's fringes, there are few modern conveniences. The cars are old and rusting. Electricity is patchy. The only music that ever plays is by the Buena Vista Social Club.
OK, that last one might not be true. But you get the idea. Cuba, thanks to five decades of political and economic isolation, is stuck in time. While that might not sound like the best of deals for humans, for other occupants of Cuba's ecosystem, it's pretty sweet.
Other Caribbean islands have let floods of tourists sully their shores and poison their oceans whereas Cuba's distinct lack of development has allowed its wildlife to flourish. Endowed with rich coral reefs, lush jungle and squelchy swamps, the island serves as a haven for a gob-smacking array of critters, from the notoriously aggressive 'jumping' crocodile to marine birds, painted snails and sea turtles.
In Cuba: The Accidental Eden (above left; TVB Pearl, Tuesday at 9.30pm), documentary makers follow scientists as they explore the mysteries of evolution and the secrets of creatures that travel little more than 60 yards in a lifetime (and no, that's not the common American Couchus potatous).
The documentary comes at a time when Cuba's wildlife hangs in the balance. The end of the United States trade embargo might finally be coming, which could have unintended consequences for the nearly pristine ecosystem. The end of the embargo could double tourism and fuel economic development, which could have devastating consequences for our friends in the snail and turtle kingdoms.
With that in mind, The Accidental Eden provides a unique historical insight into something not often discussed in society, and especially in Hong Kong: the downsides of 'development'. Next up for Cuba: high-speed rail?
On a more cheerful note (though not, alas, for the animals), a new Asian food show starts tomorrow on TLC.
In The Food Surprise! (10.30pm), K.F. Seetoh, founder of Singapore's food-focused publisher Makansutra, takes to the streets of the Lion City and Malaysia to spring impromptu visits on hawker stalls, restaurants and food carts. Seetoh's journeys in this 13-episode series take him from Penang and Kuala Lumpur to Sekinchan and Johor Bahru, as well as to various locales in his hometown.
For the unsuspecting chefs and cooks, the surprise visits from camera crews and an excitable Seetoh mean confusion and chaos, sometimes to the host's detriment. We watch as he gets kicked out of restaurants, wakes a sleeping cafe manager and takes an earful from angry hawkers. But, of course, it's nothing a hot bowl of spicy noodles can't fix.
For those who can't get enough of reality shows, The Amazing Race season 20 (above) has its big finale tomorrow on AXN at 7.15pm. This season has taken competitors to 22 cities and five continents, including first-time trips to Paraguay and Azerbaijan. So, who's going to win: the Major League soccer player, the former Big Brother contestants, the federal agents, the border patrol agents, or the married clowns?
Yes, that is what our world has come to.