Monday, October 31, 2011

Hong Freaking Kong

Hello all, sorry about the several days without posting anything, it was a rather taxing few days in LA and it's been a whirlwind getting settled back into the city I call my 2nd home, Hong Kong.

So LA was excellent, got to hang out with my old friend Mike from High School for a few days, and he showed me around the city. One observation--people drive ALL THE TIME in LA. That is, to get anywhere involves like a 30+ minute drive, and you're always going on the highways that surround the city. Needless to say, given my absolute hatred of driving cars, I don't think I could handle that on a consistent basis, but for those who can, more power to them. Definitely a very interesting city, with a lot of different neighborhoods full of people of countless ethnicities (apparently not a word. The plural of ethnicity was my intent. Whatever that is). Anyway, loads of Mexicans, Armenians, Asians from all over the place in Asia, etc., so really cool stuff. Some of the highlights of the trip included visiting Koreatown, UCLA's campus, and the Hollywood area, which involved a lot of surreal homeless people dressed as everything from Darth Vader to homeless people. Interestingly, when 2 guys passed us dressed as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, I immediately said to Mike "what legends those guys are!" His response--"yeah, there's a good chance they're homeless"

What a place, California. Another huge highlight of the trip to LA was seeing my wonderful friend from Hong Kong, Miss Catherine Bumble. She brought Mike and I to a German/Belgian brewhouse where we had some sausages and large liters of beer, then to a club with some electronic music. The night got to be fairly blurry fairly early on, but still had some great times with an old friend.

The morning after we hung out with Bumble was my flight to Hong Kong via Beijing. Incidentally, during this flight I became a United Airlines Premier Silver flier, indicating that I've flown over 25,000 miles with United this year, which was kind of cool. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, as planned, my good friend Douglon was waiting for me at the airport. With his driver.

From the airport I was whisked to Douglon's flat, which is located about a 5 minute walk from the University of Hong Kong. This brings back all sorts of nostalgia. My first few days in Hong Kong have been good. Met up with some friends from Shenzhen on Friday night, and sure enough, when we were out at LKF, at the first corner we stopped at I ran into some of the legends from my floor at Lee Hysan Hall while I was on exchange. Was great to catch up with them. First night out involved me staying completely sober while everyone I knew from Shenzhen got completely hammered drunk, which was a pretty hilarious thing to watch. I took them to the Flying Pan (a really awesome breakfast restaurant open 24 hrs in Central Hong Kong) about 4:00am for breakfast, and from there headed back to the flat.

Saturday night in Lan Kwai Fong was staggering. As it was Halloween weekend, there were literally like 15,000 people there (Note: I have NO IDEA how to estimate how many people were there. Could have only been like 5,000. Could have been 25,000. It was a lot. Here's a video with awkward music that some guy made) It was a pretty unbelievable night, and one which also ended very late, which ended up being quite a struggle due to my jet lag and having slept 2 hours the night before. But still grand.

Last night Douglon threw a party for his birthday, which involved a BBQ at Deepwater Bay, near the Southwest part of Hong Kong Island. It was a great time, with about 10-12 people coming out at various times of the evening. Today I applied for my China visa, so with any luck I'll be heading into Shenzhen by early next week for a couple of job interviews.

Anyway! That's about a summary of what I've been up to. My apologies for not being insightful or universal with any of this, but I intend on throwing some posts up here in the coming days that offer more thought-provoking stuff rather than just saying "yeah here's what's been happening. Enjoy". So hopefully that'll be good. Not sure if I want to commit to a blog-post-per-day, but expect them pretty regularly. Thanks for reading up to this point, and for bearing with the inconsistencies of my blog posting!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Short Hiatus...

So for the people reading my blog-per-day thing consistently, I apologize for the recent hiatus I've been taking. I've been sort of traveling through the LA area for a few days, and haven't had internet access but for on my iPod in public places, so there's just no way I'm going to write a blog post from that. Consequently, expect no posts until like Friday in the central US, as I'll be arriving in HK on Friday evening local time. That said, I've got some good material brewing for some good blog posts, so hopefully I can make up for my incompetence lately by just going to town once I reach HK. Interesting that I feel that being out in LA, I shouldn't be sitting inside on a computer blogging, but once I'm in HK, I feel like that's an acceptable thing to do. I guess that'll happen when you know the city like the back of your hand.

Anyway, apologies for any inconvenience, see you all on the other side of the Pacific.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Sin City, on to LA: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 14

So as it turns out, today is my last full day in Vegas. It was a pretty solid day.

Started off the morning by booking a bus ticket for a Greyhound for $42.00 to get me to LA tomorrow afternoon. Will be leaving about noonish from Vegas and arriving in LA about 5:30, so shouldn't be too bad, particularly compared to some of the bus rides I've done in Southeast Asia (a one Kellen Hill may remember a particular ride from Phnom Penh to Bangkok during which the bus broke down at 4:00am on the side of the Cambodian highway. Alternatively, he may also not remember that bus ride). Anyway, so booked a pretty cheap bus ticket, so pretty pleasing. It also leaves me with a few days in LA to visit with some friends, which is always good.

After booking the bus tickets, Dan, his dad, and I went out to the desert like 20 miles east of Vegas and shot off some rounds of his shotgun. I was pretty surprised at the amount of recoil that the gun had, although it was a pretty awesome experience overall, just going out into the desert and shooting at various things. For lunch we went to a fantastic Asian buffet, I had a lot of kimchi.

This afternoon while at the Aria, I got a phone call from my friend Mike, a jazz pianist living in LA. Mike had previously contacted me about my coming out there, and had offered to let me stay on his couch while I was there. We chatted for a bit, and it seems that he'll be picking me up tomorrow night in LA and showing me around for a few days. It managed to work out remarkably well, as Mike's schedule is very open on Mondays-Wednesdays, and quite busy Thursdays-Sundays, and I'll be in LA from Monday until my flight to HK on Thursday. Consequently, Mike has volunteered to be my tour guide around LA for a few days, which should be great. Will also hopefully see the lovely Miss Catherine Bumble and her legend of a boyfriend Maximus, who both live in LA. Given that I haven't been to California since I was like 2 years old, I have no idea what to expect really, but I'm sure it'll be a great couple of days.

The sports bets today went pretty iffily (apparently a word I just invented). I had a ridiculous parlay bet for $5.00 at 150:1 odds to predict 8 NFL games correctly on the lines, which, unsurprisingly, failed miserably, so I really didn't care much about that. However, the $50 bet I have on the Cards to win the World Series at -115 got significantly less promising when the Cardinals lost 4-0. That said, they're still tied 2-2 in the series, with 2/3 games at home left to be played, so I've still got to be a favorite on that one. Also got pretty destroyed when I took Indianapolis at +800 against the Saints (i.e. 8:1 odds on my bet). The Colts lost 62-7, though I still feel like they had to be better than an 11.11% to win that game (which would make it a decent bet). And even if they weren't, any NFL game that offers 8:1 is probably not THAT bad--particularly when the team that's an 8:1 dog was like 11-5 last season, and only lost their best player (in theory, their defense should still be respectable. Apparently not, however, as they surrendered a staggering 62 points this week).

Anyway, so not a great day of sports betting, but still a very successful trip on that front financially, so I'll definitely take it. Other than that, again, heading to LA tomorrow, should be pretty good. Hopefully I can come up with something more insightful to write about tomorrow, as it'd be pretty boring if I just wrote about my day, given that I'll be spending 6 hours of it on a bus, so we'll see. See you all tomorrow, have a good one folks.

Lots of Gambling, Mountain Climbing, and Asian Food: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 13

Alright so I've now been in Vegas for like 5 days, and it's been pretty fantastic. Today was a pretty excellent day as far as gambling is concerned, I put $50 on Clemson at -10.5 at -110, and they won by 21, which more than covered the spread. I'd also put $20 on St. Louis through 5 innings with a push if it's a tie at +165, which worked out very well, as STL was winning 8-6 after 5. Their win also made my $50, -115 bet on the World Series overall look a lot better.

Last night, Dan's parents arrived for the weekend, which was pretty great. Given that his mom is Japanese, and his dad travels to Japan a lot, we ended up going to a pretty phenomenal Japanese restaurant in the Chinatown neighborhood of Vegas. I just had Dan's mom order for me (unsurprisingly, in Japanese), and the meal ended up being magnificent.

Today ended up being a pretty solid day. This morning, we met up with Dan's old math professor, Dr. Saad, and one of his students, as they were here for a math conference. We decided to take them on a hike up Sunrise Mountain, a mountain immediately behind Dan's house that offers incredible views of Vegas. Unfortunately, the only footwear I had other than a nice pair of Hush Puppies was my flip-flops, so I climbed a really rocky mountain wearing flip flops. I lost a considerable amount of blood. Overall though, it was a pretty awesome climb. Dr. Saad is Lebanese by ancestry, and was telling us that when he was younger living in Lebanon, they lived in a very mountainous desert area similar to Vegas. Consequently, despite being a 50 year-old man, he was by far the most adept climber, and pretty much put us all to shame. What an absolute legend, really.

After the climb, we played a poker tournament at the Aria Resort and Casino, which is literally the most ridiculous building I've ever seen (seriously, have a look at the link, just an unbelievable engineering feat). Dan's dad bankrolled all of us for 50% of our winnings, and both Dan and I were knocked out after several hours. Pretty disappointing overall, but still a pretty cool place. Following that, I went over to the Wynn to hang out in the sports book area and watch the World Series game while Dan played poker in the cardroom. A note on the alcohol served in Vegas casinos-- it's all free if you're playing cards, and it's all top shelf. For example, the other day I was asking a player next to me at the poker table if he supposed they'd be able to make me a vodka/tonic with Absolut vodka, and not charge me for it (as I was under the impression that Absolut was a pretty solid brand). He replied saying that he'd be absolutely shocked if this casino even carried any vodka that was worse than Absolut, and that it would be bottom shelf for them. And that yes, they would without issue give me free drinks with Absolute vodka in them. After awhile we got a call from Dan's dad saying he'd been eliminated from the tournament, so we went to dinner at an all-you-can-eat Korean barbeque, which had to be one of the top meals of my life. Really just unbelievable. Definitely a big, big fan of kimchi (incidentally, we were discussing earlier today what foods we would choose if we were to only have two different foods for the rest of our lives. My answer was kimchi and french fries, which I feel is a pretty awesome combination).

Anyway, so the plan for tomorrow is for Blaine Curcio to shoot a gun for the first time ever. We're going to head into the desert a few miles outside of Vegas with Dan's dad and shoot Dan's shotgun a bit, which should be interesting provided no one gets shot (and frankly, even if someone gets shot, that would certainly make things more interesting. Also more tragic). Again, I've never shot a gun in my life, so I assume I'll be pretty incompetent at it, but eh, definitely something that should be done at least once, and what better place than the desert near Vegas.

Interesting to note the staggering number of Asian tourists here. I'd have to wonder why they bother to come all the way to Vegas when Macau is so much closer to Asia, and also just out-of-its-mind in terms of gambling excellence. I suppose it's very possible that a lot of the Asian tourists are actually Asians from California, but I haven't really seen anything that would imply that. Either way, lots of Asians here.

Tomorrow, Dan and I have an absurd parlay bet which essentially involved picking the results of like 8 different NFL games, and if you get them all correct the payout is approximately 150:1. Dan put down $100, and given that I have no interest in betting very much money on a 150:1 shot, I put down $10. If nothing else, every single line that we bet on has either stayed the same or moved in our favor since placing the bet, so we'll have to see how that all works out. Needless to say, if that does win, I'll be pretty freaking pleased.

Plan is to leave for LA on like tomorrow night or Monday morning, hang around there until Thursday (still have no idea what time my flight to Beijing is--should probably check that), then fly to Beijing--->Hong Kong on Thursday sometime. Should be pretty great getting back to the greatest city in the world (speaking of which, today Dr. Saad and I were discussing our favorite places that we've been to--he's been to a number of countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas and said that his favorite cities are Rome, Istanbul, and Paris. Certainly respectable choices on the first two, I'd imagine Paris is also a pretty good choice, but having not been there I can't really make a call on that. However, Rome and Istanbul are both pretty unbelievable cities. When he asked me what my favorite cities were, the very obvious first choice was Hong Kong, and after thinking for awhile, I decided to go with Seoul and London as 2/3, which I feel are pretty respectable choices. Now watch as the 4 people that read this blog all go to these cities, and there is a consequential huge increase in tourism!)

So that's about it for now. Will hopefully think of something insightful to write about tomorrow, as the last couple of posts have been pretty straightforward and just summarizing what I've been doing out here. Thanks for reading, see you all tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Process of Buying a Gun in Las Vegas, and Other Assorted Musings: 30 Days of Blogging... Day 12-ish

So I've skipped a few days of blogging due to travel/being quite occupied in Vegas, so I'd like to offer my sincerest apologies for those who have been enjoying my 1-post-per-day shpeal.

Anyway--some interesting highlights from the first few days in Vegas. Most notably, my friend Dan, who recently moved out here, has decided to buy a gun, due to the fact that Vegas is a ridiculously dangerous city with a LOT of home break-ins. Given that Dan lives alone in a huge house not far from the Strip, he felt like a shotgun would be a wise investment. Now my opinion on guns is pretty indifferent, I don't really care about gun ownership one way or another, I think the chances of me ever owning a gun are pretty damned close to 0%, and I think that there should probably be a pretty high level of accountability when it comes to who can/can't buy guns. The process here in Vegas was just absurd, and I feel like many of my friends in Oz/UK are just going to be completely shell-shocked by this.

Basically, all he needed was an ID. We went to a place called "The Gun Store" (pretty hilarious/convenient name, must lead to an unbelievable amount of hits on Google), and Dan asked the guy behind a counter what type of shotgun he'd recommend. Within literally 45 minutes, we were walking out of this store with a shotgun and 30 shells.

The guy asked a few questions, i.e. where does Dan live, has he ever had a criminal conviction, and is his driver's license current. The answers "Vegas, no, and yes" were apparently sufficient, as he informed us that we could buy a gun and walk out of the store with it today. After going over the ins and outs of various shotguns, he had Dan fill out a pretty brief form, did a background check, and ohbytheway, at NO POINT DID HE ID ME AT ALL. Now granted, if Dan were buying the gun for me, or if I were a criminal or terrorist, I probably wouldn't walk into the store with Dan when he bought the gun. That said, you'd still think he'd at least make sure that I'm 18, or that I'm not a criminal/terrorist. But apparently not. A pretty absurd process if you ask me, but welcome to Las Vegas!

So apart from the gun-buying, it's been a fantastic 3 days of free alcohol and gambling. Currently have some good sports bets out, and was up considerably in poker before getting all-in last night with AT on a board of AT9 and having the guy call with T9 and catch a 9 on the turn for a boat. Got to love losing when you get all-in as a 90-something%, but at the same time what can you do. Have also been able to have some Raising Cane's chicken here, which is literally the best chicken in the world. Have yet to decide when I'm leaving for LA, probably Sunday or Monday, we'll see how things go I suppose. Flying to Hong Kong in 6 days, should be magnificent. Interesting to note that everywhere in Vegas has slot machines, including fast-food restaurants, the airport, and gas stations. Pretty hilarious. Also, there's an "Occupy Wall Street" protest going on at the strip here, a lot of people dressed like the guy from V for Vendetta. Definitely holding up traffic quite a bit. Today Dan is giving a speech at a math conference at UNLV, presumably I'll have a few stiff drinks and watch that this morning. Certainly I'll have no idea what he's talking about, given that I'm not at all familiar with high-level mathematics, but we'll see how it goes.

Generally speaking, things are going well, weather in Vegas is fantastic and again, getting ready to head off to Hong Kong. Will hopefully get back on track with the 1-blog-post-per-day goal, I suppose we'll just say the multi-day gambling/free alcohol binge which led to no blog posts was just a bit of a break from the writing. Apologies for anyone that was hoping for blog posts the last few days, see you all tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Longest Day Ever: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 12

I left the hotel this morning at 7:31am local time. It's now 10:39pm, and I've just returned from the trade show. It was a long day. There will be no legitimate blog post today.

Leaving for Vegas tomorrow. Also, huge thanks to the readers, we've now reached 2,000 hits on the blog, so big thanks to everyone who stops in on occasion. Also got a view from Romania today, pretty cool stuff.

And finally--United States' GDP grew by 1.3% during 3rd quarter 2011. China's grew by 9.1%. God bless the PRC.

I'm going to bed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Rundown of the Ace Hardware Fall Market: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 11

For those who haven't been keeping up with my 30 days of daily blogging, shame on you! If you've got a few spare minutes today and any interest in reading more of my ramblings, have a look through the last few posts, there's been some good ones and some admittedly sub-par ones, but overall I'm decently satisfied with this whole shpeal thus far.

It's been a handful of days since I wrote a blog post strictly about what's going on in my own life without trying to be insightful or thought-provoking, so I'm currently going to succumb to a bit of self-indulgence and simply give a brief rundown of the last few days in my life.

So I'm now finished with day 2 of 3 of my 2nd hardware show. Needless to say, this one has been quite a bit easier, as the amount of learning required on-the-spot was substantially less. There have been a few interesting stories, meals, evenings out, and sales executed during the 2 days here, and I'm sure that tomorrow will be another day of interesting events.

Some highlights have included:

Day 1: I was speaking with a customer at the Wagner Paint booth about an order. I was asked by the Wagner representative how my Spanish was, to which I replied "bit iffy". It was at this point that I realized there was a rather short Hispanic man in the booth looking a bit sheepish. Apparently he spoke very, very little English, so I had to break out my admittedly positively brilliant (i.e. very shaky) Spanish to attempt to take an order from this man. He ended up being a pretty hilarious guy from Guatemala, and I took the entire order in Spanish (an order which, for what it's worth, amounted to several thousand dollars). I was pretty proud of myself, and needless to say the two guys from Wagner were pretty flabbergasted, as up to that point they only knew that I spoke very good Italian and very bad Mandarin Chinese. Other highlights of day 1 included meeting an absolute mad-dog from Louisiana who was wearing a bright yellow LSU shirt, and spoke as though he'd come off the show Swamp People. But seriously, the guy was an absolute hero. Also got to meet a handful of very interesting people from all over the place. Really cool stuff.

Day 2: I had a customer today from Colombia, which was pretty cool. Needless to say, he was pretty freaking surprised when I told him that I'd been there, as in the US Colombia tends to enjoy a pretty horrendous reputation. I happily told him stories of the wonderful time I had traversing the hostal system of his beautiful country while eating nothing but tailandese food, to which he responded by placing a massive order. Apparently I do well with the Latin Americans. Also spoke to an absolute hero of a buyer who came to Denver all the way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was pretty pleased to hear how much I enjoyed his country, and was also quite surprised to hear a few of the places I'd gone therein. A legend of a man overall. Overall an excellent day, which was made even more excellent by dinner, which was at an awesome Thai place nearby the convention center. Got Thai Green Curry with "Thai Spiciness", which was, unsurprisingly, not nearly as spicy as it was in Thailand (which still wasn't THAT spicy). Anyway, fantastic meal washed down with the wonderful Chang Beer, the national beer of Thailand.

One of the evenings of the show was a positively shocking example of excess. My Dad and I had dinner with a rep from GE and a couple of Ace representatives at Elway's, a steakhouse in the Ritz-Carlton owned by none other than John Elway. The place was absurdly expensive, with steaks running ~$50 per steak for about a 10oz piece of meat. Little bit hilarious, really. Ended up being a fantastic meal (as one would expect for such a price), and probably the most expensive of my life up to this point (though there have possibly been a few at the Shangri-La in HK that beat it out... close call!) Anyway, so a phenomenal meal.

After dinner I decided to go for a walk, at which point I ran into one of the mad-dog reps that I'd been hanging around at the Philadelphia show a few weeks back, as well as during this show. He was trying to find a place that a friend of his was at, which was essentially a franchised version of the bar which inspired the film "Coyote Ugly". The place was an absolute madhouse, complete with very scantily clad women dancing on the bar, a handful of people from the hardware show, and...the movie "Signs" on TV. Now I'm no connoisseur of Coyote Ugly style bars, but I'd have to assume that I wasn't the only one who thought that "Signs" was about the most awkwardly random thing possible to have on the TVs there. But who knows, I guess maybe people really enjoy Mel Gibson alien films with their scantily-clad bartenders. No idea.

Anyway, that's about the gist of the show thus far. I'm currently watching TV in my hotel room, and would like to note that just now, at this very moment, the St Louis Cardinals have clinched the National League Pennant and will be advancing to the World Series. Which, as a Cubs fan, would be a huge bummer if I didn't absolutely HATE the Milwaukee Brewers. As in, despise more than anything else in sports. The only person I know who hates them more than me is David Jamal Chauncey Tumnus Guildford III. He sure does hate them.

More news to come as it develops, tomorrow could be a bit iffy on the blog front when you consider that I'll be at the hardware show at 8:00am, and won't be getting out until like 10:00pm at the earliest, but we'll see how that goes. If not, maybe I'll try to write 2 the next day to make up for it, but I can't really promise anything.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Rather Short, Random Thought Which Barely Qualifies as a Blog Post: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 10

So today was insanely busy, with me working at a trade show from 8:00am until 7:30pm, then going to dinner with a manufacturer for 2 hours. Consequently, I don't see me coming up with something insightful on my own during the last hour and a bit of today, so I've decided to use a story which I read today during down-time at the show. The story is the introduction to the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho (which, by the way, is one of the best books I've ever read. It's currently one of like 3 books that I've read twice), and it's a very simple and interesting example of seeing things in a different light. Anyway, without further ado, in the words of Coelho

The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus.

The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who daily knelt beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.

But this was not how the author of the book ended the story.

He said that when Narcissus died, the Goddesses of the Forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

"Why do you weep?" the Goddesses asked.

"I weep for Narcissus," the lake replied.

"Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus," they said, "for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand."

"But..... was Narcissus beautiful?" the lake asked.

"Who better than you to know that?" the Goddesses said in wonder, "After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!!"

The lake was silent for some time.

Finally it said:

"I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected."

"What a lovely story," the alchemist thought.

So anyway, a very interesting story. My sincerest apologies for not being insightful or original in any way today, I will do what I can to rectify for those misdeeds tomorrow, though it should also be quite a busy day, so we'll see how that goes...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Darned Different Denver: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 9

So I had a pretty interesting moment today here in Denver. I'll generally jaywalk in most major cities, and when I do so in a multilane road, I attempt to time it in such a way as to allow an approaching car to drive past before I cross its lane. It usually works well--I'll start crossing the street and get about halfway, the car will drive by as I'm crossing in the lane before it, and then I'll cross its lane after it passes. This way, I'm not really slowing them down.

This evening on a walk through the downtown area, I attempted to do this. For whatever reason, the car came to a complete stop when it had a green light and let me cross. It was a rather bizarre situation, as I've never seen, nor would really ever expect to see, a car completely give a pedestrian the right-of-way when the car has a green light and the pedestrian a "Don't Walk" sign. A bit later on, I followed a crowd of people across another, more major street, only to find the same thing--a car giving pedestrians right of way.

This was just one of several things I've encountered thus far in Denver which have simply been really different than anywhere else I've been. I think it's in large part due to the fact that Denver has some pretty unique demographics--overall the city seems pretty liberal, and there is a strong educated, well-to-do class of people here that, unlike most classes of this type in other cities, is pretty liberal. I think as a result, there is a stronger sense of acceptance here. Additionally, the city itself is quite a bit more laid back than most cities of its size. Other examples of the interestingly laid-back atmosphere of Denver include:

Today while riding a bus out to Boulder to visit my old friend from high school Nick, I noticed a couple of things. Firstly, a sign on the bus said something to the effect of "Please be Kind: Remember, Your Bus Driver is Working Very Hard to do Their Job". Interestingly, I noticed that every single passenger on the bus said "thank you" to the driver upon exiting. This is something I'd never expect to see in Chicago (or indeed in most other large cities), and was a pretty interesting phenomenon.

There are a lot of homeless people here. Nick was telling me that the city of Boulder recently built a $10 million homeless shelter. Consequently, you'll see a simply absurd number of vagrants, homeless people, and other general drains on society out here. Interestingly (and rather hilariously), Nick mentioned that the homeless population of Boulder "about doubled" when Phish came to town for a 3-day show awhile back. Additionally, due to the sheer number of homeless here, the competition for pity money is fierce, so homeless people are forced to get creative. Yesterday I saw two people asking for money dressed as wizards.

It's also interesting to note the incredibly liberal attitude about drugs. In addition to being dozens of marijuana "dispensaries" in both Denver and Boulder, there are advertisements everywhere for pot. Nick also mentioned that there are the occasional television commercials advertising pot shops. It definitely seems a bit more full-on than, for example, the attitude towards drugs in the Netherlands, where marijuana has been essentially legal for...ever. I think that in Colorado it's still something of a novel concept which needs to be given a bit of time to mature, and consequently it's in a bit of a honeymoon stage at this point.

I've also noticed something that you don't see much of in Chicagoland, but that are quite common in places like China, that is, high-tech parks. Nick and I went frolfing with his girlfriend at a course within one of these high-tech parks, and it was a pretty amazing place. Basically, it seems to be real-estate devoted to high-tech companies, most notably in this case Oracle, which had an enormous campus built there. In general, it seems that the economy out here is quite a bit more vibrant than in the midwest--I've noticed quite a few less vacant buildings, "for rent" signs, etc.

So anyway, those would be a lot of the major differences I've noticed between Denver and Chicago (or indeed, things that just make Denver unique). This evening should be excellent, we'll be having a rather excessive dinner with representatives from GE at Elway's restaurant, apparently one of the nicest restaurants in Denver. Should be interesting.

Also got a call this afternoon from Allstate, they'd like to speak with me about a Financial Analyst position, so we'll see how that goes. More news to come as it develops.

Somalian (Or alternatively Somalilandian) Pirates We: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 8

So I arrived in Denver yesterday. My Dad and I left the airport and hailed a cab, and interestingly enough, the cab driver ended up being Somalian. Or more correctly, Somalilandian (I was also pretty pleased with myself for having picked him off as Somalian the moment we got into the car. Not to gloat or anything).

In short, most people probably know about Somalia, a more or less completely lawless country/failed state/terrorist haven/Disneyland atmosphere in the Horn of Africa that has no government (or at least none outside the capital, Mogadishu), and is one of the least developed nations in the world. Most people have probably heard of Somalian pirates taking ships in the Gulf of Aden, and most people have also probably heard of/seen Blackhawk Down, a film about a failed US military mission into Somalia which highlights a lot of its tourist attractions, such as large robed men carrying AK-47's, bombed-out buildings, malnourished children, and general crippling depression.

However, few people know about Somaliland, a breakaway region of northern Somalia that is universally not recognized as a state, despite the fact that it is more developed, more lawful, and generally more pleasant than its neighbor to the south, Somalia. Somaliland (whose legitimacy is even questioned by spellcheck, as it is apparently not a word) is a fairly interesting case of a state that's completely unrecognized by anyone, despite being, at least in theory, better than what it's trying to break away from, which begs the question--why the hell does no one recognize it? I guess given the fact that I have no idea what the answer to that question is, it was more directed towards the reader, so have fun with that one. And if you find out the answer, email me.

Anyway, our cab driver Ali was from Somaliland, and he was an absolute mad-dog. In addition to speaking very good English (and also having a brilliant sense of sarcastic humor!), he seemed very well-educated and fairly worldly. He'd come to Colorado to go to University, but had to leave school for financial reasons, and is consequently now driving a cab whilst playing Arabic music that made the drive from Denver International Airport to the downtown area far more... Somalian. Interestingly, Ali had the following bits of advice about travel in Somalia/land--

Ali informed us that travel in Somaliland was very safe and convenient, as most people speak pretty good English. He gave us some advice as to what to see, where to go, etc., and really made the place sound very pleasant. On the topic of Somalia, however...

He basically said that travel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, is completely safe for foreigners. This would absolutely, 100% contradict ANY travel guide that you read. Certainly, the Wikitravel guide seems to disagree slightly with Ali, when, in the first sentence it informs you that "WARNING: Mogadishu is regarded as the most lawless and dangerous city on Earth. It is not safe for leisure or tourism."

Is THAT all?!

Mind you, I suppose the word "safe" is certainly used in a relative sense, but even so, to have such incredibly contradicting opinions on the same topic is a pretty interesting (and quite common) situation I've found when it comes to travel (and indeed, everything else in our daily lives). Now mind you, Ali did inform us that travel anywhere in Somalia other than Mogadishu is basically like playing Russian Roulette with a completely loaded revolver, but even so. Interesting stuff.

Which brings me to my point, I guess. In these blog posts I like to try to be a bit more insightful than "well this is what happened. enjoy", so I'll go with something to the effect of the incredibly oft-quoted "don't believe everything you hear". I've travelled to many places (most notably Colombia) that I've been told to avoid for fear of being killed. And generally (i.e. exclusively), I've found these places to be wonderful, amazing, interesting places (with the exception of Colombia's hostal system, which was (continues to be) thoroughly demoralizing).

It should probably be noted that I'm not encouraging any of the 4 readers of this post to travel to Somalia. As awesome as I'm sure parts of Somaliland, and maybe even Mogadishu are, I'm not taking responsibility for anyone who travels to the Horn of Africa because I said it was safe, then gets kidnapped by Somalian pirates who then take them to South Africa, before then having to use one's (insert nationality here) charme (clearly spell check is not working) to get out of this devastating situation. But if you DO end up considering going to a place that you hear is nothing but unsafe, unsafe, and more unsafe, at least consider asking around, because you never know what you'll find out.

For more information about Somalia/land, here's a fantastic and pretty current National Geographic Article from September 2009. If nothing else, for the illiterate people who have managed to read up to this point, there is a really interesting (read: depressing) photo gallery as well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Somewhere Between "C'est la vie" and "La vita è bella": 30 Days of Blogging, Day 7

So today I'm leaving Chicago for a trip out west including 6 days in Denver, 5 days Vegas, and 4 days in LA. From there, it's on across the Pacific to Hong Kong, and ultimately Shenzhen. At this point, there's a good deal of ambiguity in how long I'll be gone, I've more or less told my family that I'll be going to China and staying until I either run of out money (I currently have enough funds to pretty easily get me to like Feb '12) or find a proper job, in which case I'd be there for quite awhile, as the proper job would potentially lead to a career. Certainly an odd feeling leaving the city I've lived in on-and-off for 23 years and not having any idea when I'll return. Consequently, I've decided to devote this post to the things I'll miss most about life in Chicago, or even life in the United States (it should be noted that I'm excluding obvious things like family/friends. I'll miss you all, clearly. That's now established).

Few things are nearly as entertaining as baseball's playoffs. I've enjoyed them immensely over the past few weeks, and am very pleased that I'll be in the States until the World Series is nearly over. That said, I'll really miss my Chicago Cubs (presumably) losing next season, given that they've not won a title since 1908. I suppose should provide some good gamecasts, and it'll be easy enough to follow them, but it won't be the same (it certainly wasn't when I was trying to follow baseball during the 2010 season abroad).

I'm very well-aware that the quality of Indian food in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong is better than anything I'll find here in the US, but I'll definitely miss going to the local Indian place and chatting with the owners about cricket, int'l politics, or whatever else we felt like talking about. Also didn't mind always having cricket on one TV, and Bollywood on the other. Really going to miss this place.

Metra Train Ride to Chicago
So I live like 30-35 minutes outside of Chicago by car, but I really hate driving, and really enjoy public transportation, so I take the Metra commuter train to Chicago, which takes about an hour. I've made this trip like 6-7 times since I've been home in August, and it's just remarkably good thinking time just sitting on the train watching the suburbs fly by as you're humming along towards the city.

My wonderful friend Rachael (who is, by the way, a professional tour guide now) told me the other day that the Sears Tower was designed to mimic a package of cigarettes which, when tipped over, would lead to a handful of cigarettes sticking out of the top at various heights. Suppose I could see it. Anyway, Sears Tower is not only the tallest building in Chicago (tallest in the world until 1998 when the Petronas Towers in KL took over), but my favorite on the fantastic Chicago skyline.
Having a Cheeky Fews (10) Bevvies at Lamps
Local bar. About enough said.

Anyway. These (among many, many others) are the little things that I'll be missing about life here in the US of A. That said, it's now time for arguably the greatest adventure of my young life. I've taken a line from the masterful JVN, and will have this post automatically post on this blog as my flight is (scheduled to be) taking off. See you on the other side.

Time to go west to return to the East.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Amusing Story About the Country of My Birth: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 6

Don't get me wrong, there are some good things about the United States. I'll even say there are some great things about this country. We're the largest economy in the world, have high life expectancy, good education system, etc. That said, geography has never, ever been the strong suit of people in the United States. Maybe it's because we've been the strongest nation in the world for a good little while now, and we feel like we don't need to know about geography. Maybe it's because, unlike Europe, most people in the US don't live anywhere near a foreign country, and even those who do likely live near only one--either Mexico or Canada. Consequently, we're just not really forced to learn much about the geography of other parts of the world.

Today was a perfect example of this. I was getting my haircut at a place near my house, and the woman cutting my hair was making small talk. She commented that I look like a college student, to which I explained that I'd just graduated from ISU. She asked if I was looking for a job, and I told her how I was intending on going to China and all that. The conversation from there went like so:

Hairdresser: "Oh, I have a niece who almost relocated to China for her husband's work!"
Me: "Oh really, any idea where they were going relocate?"
Hairdresser: "I forgot the name of the city in China... started with an "S" I think!"
Me: "Shanghai?"
H: "No, that doesn't sound right"
Me: "Shenzhen? Shenyang? Suzhou?"
H: "No, none of those sound familiar either"

At this point I realized that the hairdresser was a typical USA-ian (I hate using American to exclusively describe someone from the US. America is 2 continents. American could mean you're Brazilian, Ecuadoran, Canadian, or yes, from the US). Anyway, so upon realizing this:

Me: "Did they move to Seoul?"
H: "No, don't think it was Seoul"
Me: "Was it...Singapore?"
H: "Oh, yes! That's where it was they were going to move in China. Singapore!"

At this point, those of you who know me well will understand what I mean when I say I did the "Blaine Curcio smacking himself in the forehead then running his hand down his face in a semi-exasperated show of disgust".

I hate to alienate one of my 3 readers by insulting their intelligence, but if you don't understand what's just happened, you should probably get out of the house (or country) more. In short, Singapore is a SEPARATE COUNTRY FROM CHINA ENTIRELY. It is not only a completely separate country, but geographically, it's NOWHERE NEAR CHINA! Now granted, Singapore is far closer to China than, say, Chicago. But it's still like a 3.5 hour flight South from Hong Kong, which itself is in a very far Southern part of China. For reference, it's about as far from China as Colombia is from the United States. That's pretty far. As in, >1,000 miles. Granted, Singapore is full of ethnic Chinese, but come on now.

I ended up just playing along, and saying how great Singapore is (which it really is, one of the coolest cities I've been to), and didn't really have the heart to tell her how freaking incorrect she was.

Regarding the map on the left, the "Singapore" label is covering up the scale, but the entire map is approximately 10,000 miles west to east and 7,000 miles north to south. i.e. Singapore is really freaking far from China.

At any rate, my God, welcome to the United States of America. Land that needs more geography majors.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Pretty Interesting Realization: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 5

Interesting situation I found myself in today: I was driving to meet up with a friend at an Indian restaurant nearby my house, when it sort of occurred to me--I'm leaving for China on Wednesday (and yes, I realize that I won't actually be getting to China until 28 October, as I'm taking a bit of a west coast trip prior, but I'm leaving home Wednesday). Furthermore, I'm going to Shenzhen without a job, and with about enough money to last like 2-3 months. It was sort of a shocking realization, along the lines of "what the heck did I get myself in to?" thing.

This is not to say I was having second thoughts about going. I'm quite sure that China is where I want to be for the long-term, not to mention where there will be economic opportunities in greater abundance during my lifetime. It simply dawned on me that this would probably be a bit more complicated of a move than I'd previously thought. However, very shortly after realizing this, I got a pretty surprising phone call, from a +86 number. For those who aren't familiar, +86 is the country code for China. That is, at noon on a Monday in Chicago, Illinois, I was getting a call from someone in China, where it was 1:00am on Tuesday morning. Needless to say I was intrigued, and answered the phone so enthusiastically that I'd imagine the guy on the other line was more startled than a rural Chinese person seeing a 6'1" white guy. Or something like that.

Anyway. So this phone call turned out to be in regard to a position I applied for in Shenzhen about 2 weeks ago. The position came to my attention through a messageboard for the teaching program I was doing, and it was a job for a teaching position that involved "coaching" students who were going to be going to university in the United States. The Chinese guy on the other line and I spoke for a fair bit of time, and I've sent off a few letters of recommendation, writing samples, etc. If nothing else, a promising (and conveniently timed!) development in my job search.

After having had this phone conversation, I was completely reassured that it would indeed be quite manageable to find a decent job in Shenzhen upon arrival. Which is just a bit more evidence that following one's dreams, or at the least, doing something that you really want to do even though many people are telling you otherwise, is probably easier than the vast majority of people would have you believe. So for those of you who want to do something outrageous or seemingly impossible, my suggestion is to do it now! Otherwise, you may never be able to do so. And really, what's the worst that could happen?

Further job development--I've now got another interview set up with a German company upon arrival in Shenzhen. It was pretty encouraging when they instructed me to meet at the Shangri-La near Luo Hu, which is just one of the nicest properties in Shenzhen to my knowledge. It would be a real job (i.e. something that could be a career), so that'll be fun.

Apart from that, just trying to pack as lightly as possible as I get ready to head off to the great American West on a journey to return to the Far East. And this 30 posts in 30 days thing is already getting difficult, it's tough to be insightful in a universal way every day, but we'll see how it goes!

More news to come as I feel like posting it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chinatown, Chicago. Another Instance of Right Place, Right Time: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 4

I have a convenient tendency to be in the right place at the right time for really interesting cultural phenomena. Examples of this in years past have included living in the Netherlands during the 2010 World Cup, when the Dutch national team made their first final since 1978, allowing me to be with 250,000 or so Dutch fans during the final in Museumplein. A truly amazing cultural experience. I also happened to be in Montreal during arguably the most monumental elections in Canada's history (Bloc Quebecois got completely shattered, and the NDP staged a staggering rise in seats, and the Conservatives got a majority for the first time ever), which was a fascinating thing to witness. I was also fortunate enough to have been in London during May 2009, when the 30-year Sri Lankan civil war came to a contentious end, leading to Tamil protesters filling the streets around Parliament. I've had a fair number of other such situations, and came across a similar (albeit relatively less important/noteworthy) one yesterday.

So yesterday my friend Rachael, who was also on exchange in Hong Kong, and who also lives in the suburbs of Chicago decided to take a trip down memory lane and head to Chinatown, Chicago. After taking the train to the city, we arrived in Chinatown to find police blocks set up and a huge stage constructed in the middle of the intersection of Cermak and Wentworth. Now at this point, let's establish a few things--both Rachael and I did a 5-month exchange to Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is not the same thing as China at all, one would think that we're still both pretty well-versed in Chinese history, as we'd both spent a fair bit of time there. Additionally, we've both traveled a decent amount through Mainland China, which, again, might imply that we're aware of major historical developments in their history.

Apparently not. Upon further examination of the police blockades, large stage, etc, we found that this was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, something that neither of us had heard of. As it turned out, this was arguably the single most important event in Chinese history. Is THAT all?! In short, the Xinhai Revolution ended 2,000 years of Imperial rule in China and laid the foundation for the People's Republic of China. Needless to say, our ignorance was pretty disgraceful. But anyway! The 100th anniversary celebration of this immensely important event in Chinese history proved to be a fantastic backdrop for our trip to Chinatown. In addition to having a big parade with floats representing all sorts of random organizations (Chicago-Guangzhou Association, Association of Engineers and Professors, etc.), there were a number of high school marching bands from various schools in the Chicagoland area. It was particularly interesting to note the ethnic diversity of the people attending the parade--while ~90% of the crowd was Chinese, there were a sizeable number of African-Americans, and a handful of other gweilos as well. It should also be noted that there was a good deal of music blasting, and unsurprisingly it was all western techno/club/pop music. Given that we were surrounded by Chinese, I would have been shocked had it been anything less.

Prior to watching the parade, we also stopped in a phenomenal Chinese bakery. We both got an egg tart, and while Rachael opted for a pineapple bun, I went with a coconut one. And of course, it was washed down with juice-box style tea. A wonderful reminder of the greatest city in the world, Hong Kong. Shortly after that, we ended up meeting the Consul General of the PRC to Chicago, which was pretty awesome.

Overall, definitely a very solid day. Again, it was wonderful timing to have shown up in Chinatown during a parade celebrating one of the most important days in Chinese history. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese put on a great show, and it proved to be a pretty great cultural experience/flashback to good times in Asia. Fortunately, I'll be back there in just a few weeks, otherwise the nostalgia may have just killed me. Seriously.

Anyway, so that was a day in Chinatown that happened to happily coincide with a fairly significant cultural event. It's now Sunday, and on Wednesday I'll be leaving for Denver, then onto Vegas, LA, Hong Kong, and ultimately, Shenzhen.

Anyone around Chicagoland that wants to get together before I leave, feel free to text/message me in the next couple of days.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It Ain't Easy Being Bangladeshi: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 3

My writing about such a random topic is due to a number of factors. I was having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about Bangladesh the other day, which got me inspired. Also, a good friend of mine is currently travelling in Bangladesh, so I figured I'd put this up as a sign of how immensely jealous I am that she's able to be traveling through dirt poor 3rd world Asia (really, though). Anyway, without further ado--

It's tough to be a Bangladeshi. As though crippling poverty (per capita GDP of $638 in 2010), yearly monsoons, massive overcrowding, and the fact that your country is sinking isn't enough, they're also the (relatively) completely insignificant member of a subcontinent that includes the world's largest democracy in India, and a country that steals headlines in the US and Europe for their alleged ties to terrorism in Pakistan. And OhByTheWay, they're also in the same neighborhood as such countries as China.

In yesterday's blog post, I spoke very briefly about the fact that climate change in this century will cause an acceleration in the migration of people from one place to another. One of the most dramatic examples of this will be the country of Bangladesh, a place that most people from the US have probably at least heard of, and one which some (read: very, very few) people in the US even know a little bit about. I would imagine that the most mainstream exposure that people in the West have had to Bangladesh would have been George Harrison and Ravi Shankar's "Concert for Bangladesh" in 1971, one which was meant to raise money for a country ravaged by a civil war/war of liberation.

Realistically, there's absolutely nothing wrong with 99% of people in the West knowing nothing about Bangladesh. Yes, a lot of our clothes and other textiles are made there. And yes, it is the 8th most populous country in the world (more people than Italy, the UK, Netherlands, and Belgium. Combined). But speaking completely honestly, it is a dirt-poor and undeveloped 3rd world country in every sense of the phrase, with about as much political clout and relevance in the West as, let's say, the Mexican province of Chiapas. However, I guess one could say I woke up this morning hoping to educate some people (i.e. the 5 readers of this blog) about Bangladesh. It's a pretty fascinating (and fast-disappearing) place.

So a bit of recent history: Bangladesh was overtaken by the British East India Company in 1757, and remained in some capacity or another essentially a British Colony until 1947, at which time things got kind of weird. In 1947, British India (which included Bangladesh) was granted independence from the UK. For whatever reason, the decision was made to divide the region of Bengal into two sections, basically a Muslim and a Hindu section. The Hindu section became the Indian state of West Bengal, which includes the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). The Muslim section
became, for whatever unbelievable reason, a part of newly formed Pakistan, known as the province of East Pakistan.

Those familiar with their South Asian geography may point out--isn't that area separated from the country of Pakistan by, well, India? Yes, that is correct. I recall reading at some point that during this rather awkward time of geopolitics, flights going from East Pakistan to Pakistan (quite common, given they were domestic flights) had to fly around India, as India would not allow them in their airspace. Given that the Himalayas are to the north, the flights had to fly around the southern tip of India. Inconvenient.

Anyway, this ended in 1971, when Bangladesh, with the help of India, won an extremely bloody war of independence against Pakistan. This was inarguably one of the most devastating wars of the latter half of the 20th century, and the atrocities committed still resonate with many people today.

Since independence, Bangladesh has struggled to develop economically, and has been forced to deal with their problems of staggering overpopulation. Some of the numbers are literally unbelievable. Such as:

Bangladesh has about 56,000 square miles of land. This is approximately 1.5% the size of the United States. Their population of some 158 million, is just over half that of the US. For those keeping track at home--that means that Bangladesh has a population 28 times denser than that of the United States.

Put another way, in a place slightly larger than Greece, there are 16 million more people than there are in... Russia.

All of which contributes to a population density of 2,496 people per square mile. Which is good for the 12th highest population density of any sovereign state in the world. Now one might say, "well there are 11 places that are more dense! It's not so bad!"

Not quite. Among the 11 places above Bangladesh are the Vatican City, Gibraltar, Macau, and Monaco. In fact, the most populous state in the top 11 is Hong Kong, with a paltry 7 million people. No where else in the world is there the insane combination of such dense population over such a (relatively) vast area.

Which would all be inconvenient enough, even if the country wasn't sinking. Which, by the way, it is. About 75% of the land in Bangladesh is less than 10 meters above sea level. And given the yearly flooding that takes place there, a lot of this land ends up underwater at some point throughout the year. How much, you ask? Try something like, 75% of the country flooded in 1998. In 1988, a 20-day flood covered 60% of the country's land area, and in 2004, 2/3 of the country was underwater. Annually, on average about 18% of the country is flooded.

Furthermore, their farmable land is disappearing at a rate of 220 hectares (what the hell is a hectare) per day. I don't really know how much that is, but it sounds like a lot (fact check: a hectare is 100mX100m, or about the size of Trafalgar Square in London, or substantially larger than an American Football field). And finally, climatologists predict that in the coming decades, there will be
20 million "environmental refugees" in Bangladesh.

Overall, certainly the situation doesn't seem real promising. However, that's not to say there's nothing good about Bangladesh. Hardly! Bangladesh is home to BRAC, the largest nonprofit organization in the developing world, with revenues of nearly half a billion US$ in 2009. Additionally, among the 160 million or so Bangladeshis is a Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus.

A recent National Geographic article on Bangladesh hailed its people as remarkably resilient, and commented that their massive population could be a whole lot worse--their birth rate has fallen from 6.6 children per woman in 1977 to 2.4 today, "a historic record for a country with so much poverty and illiteracy". Additionally, their infant mortality rate has dropped from 100 per 1,000 births in 1990 to 43 per 1,000 births today. Some really remarkable improvements for such a populous and disadvantaged country.

Overall, surely Bangladesh is a country with its share of problems. It suffers from too many people with too little money, and the unfortunate consequence of being located at such an elevation as to suffer mightily from a climate change that, realistically, they're doing very, very little to cause. I'm certainly not trying to say that Bangladesh is the only country with these problems (look no further than Maldives if you want to see the effects of rising sea levels), nor am I trying to drum up popular support for sending aid to Bangladesh. Simply put, I woke up this morning feeling like educating some people about a country that tends to not get much publicity. So there.

For those who read this incredibly random tangent, I hope you enjoyed it, and that you now know a little bit more than before about Bangladesh. Make sure to come back tomorrow, if for no other reason than to see what ridiculous topic I pull out of thin air for that post.

For further reading, I really do highly recommend checking out this NatGeo Article from May 2011. It's pretty short, has a really great photo gallery, and provides some good insight into the current situation in Bangladesh.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Picking Up Good Migrations: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 2

I enjoy multiculturalism. Having people of different nationalities and cultures surrounding me makes me more comfortable, interested, and quite frankly, happier. I love the fact that immigration to the United States allows me to enjoy a nice plate of chicken vindaloo right here in Chicagoland, prepared by an Indian. In fact, I'm such a fan of chicken vindaloo (particularly its name, as one Divyan Panchal can attest), that I could happily eat it just about every day, regardless of where I am in the world and what sort of people are around me. And I discovered this heavenly dish all thanks to multiculturalism brought on by the migration of people from other parts of the world (in this case, India) into the US.

I'm currently reading a pretty interesting book entitled Reflections On the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. The author presents some very interesting information, and makes a number of good insights, but overall he's definitely far, far too conservative for my liking, in that he seems to be of the all-too-common and all-too-idiotic school of thought that Islam is a violent and sinister religion, and one which intends on colonizing or outright overthrowing Europe as we know it by sending millions of immigrants into its cities.

As incorrect as I believe that view to be, there are some very interesting nuggets of wisdom within the pages of this book. Most shocking to me was the following:

"In Belgium, the relatively well-established Moroccan-Belgian community has a birthrate two and a half times higher than the native Belgian one. In Brussels, where a quarter of the residents are foreign citizens, the seven most common given boy's names were Mohamed, Adam, Rayan, Ayoub, Mehdi, Amine, and Hamza"

What? The most common boy's name given in Brussels, BELGIUM, is... Mohamed?!? So what exactly can we take from this? First off, as the author alluded to, this information is a little bit misleading. The fact that immigrants in Brussels are having far, far more children than native Belgians obviously allows them to name more children, and thus we have a somewhat misleading view on the population breakdown at this point and time. That is, immigrants (i.e. Muslims) are having more children on average than native Belgians, and therefore have a disproportionately large influence on statistics compiled regarding baby names, at least compared to their total population.

However, this does not change the fact that, in the coming decades, the many many more children of immigrants being born now will eventually be adults. Consequently, Brussels (and, indeed, Europe in general) will see an increase in the number of foreigners in two ways--increased migration, and higher population growth/birth rates by those already in Europe.

This leads us to beg the question--is this influx of foreigners into Europe (it should also be noted that similar things are happening with Hispanics in the United States, Chinese and other groups in Australia, etc.) a good thing, or a bad thing? Or to take the question even one step further in terms of generalization, is cultural diversity a good thing or a bad thing?

For anyone that knows me at all, my answer to this should be obvious--of course it is a good thing. For someone such as myself who is simply fascinated by every type of person from every culture, this is a pretty great phenomenon. I've noticed recently that the population of Asians (both Chinese and Indians) in my neighborhood has been increasing pretty rapidly. It's the coolest freaking thing ever. I love being able to get decent Indian, Korean, Chinese, or Ethiopian food within a half hour of my house. I love the fact that I can turn on the TV on a weekend afternoon and have the Rugby World Cup on one channel, Tottenham v. Arsenal on another, and baseball on another (an event which actually took place last weekend). And for the love of God, I love seeing semi-trucks traveling US highways with Chinese writing on their sides. But ignoring my preexisting sympathy towards multiculturalism, let's look at this from an objective standpoint. Certainly in a Western context, immigration and the inevitable side effect of multiculturalism has its drawbacks, such as the liability of having a large part of your population speak a foreign language, having children of immigrants act as something of a drain on state funds in some cases, and in Europe's case, having immigrants largely be of another, completely different religion.

However, immigration (particularly in Europe) also addresses a significant issue--the declining birthrates of Europeans. Europe is already aging at a very fast pace, and without immigration, this would lead to an immense strain on the labor markets of various countries. Without sufficient people to do jobs, there would be an enormous host of problems, particularly in the "Welfare States of Europe", not the least of which being the fact that millions of Europeans have worked their entire lives while contributing to pension plans (Social Security in the US would be quite similar). When the population as a whole ages, there is a lot more money being taken out of the pension system (by increasing retirees) than is being put in (which is being exacerbated by less births, i.e. less young laborers entering the job market and paying taxes into the system). Therefore, the entire system would pretty much break down.

Obviously, I've greatly oversimplified the issue of migrations in terms of pros/cons and their effect on Europe, but in the interest of time (and the fact that I don't really know what I'm talking about), that's about all the political/argumentative shpeal I feel like writing. Now let's talk about what this means to you, me, and Thomas Friedman's Aunt Bev (anyone who got that reference, I owe you a beer! Email me the genesis of that reference, and I will absolutely buy you one the next time I see you).

Immigration, and the resulting multiculturalism, is absolutely not a passing trend. As I mentioned in my last post, information travels really, really fast today. The world is therefore obviously much "smaller", and people are finding it easier and more convenient to relocate now than ever before. Take myself as an example--I'm moving to Shenzhen, China, in less than a month. I was looking at online job boards the other day, and there were literally dozens of jobs located in/near Shenzhen that I was qualified for. Had I wanted to do this 100 years ago (screw it, even 25 years ago!), I would have been going into Shenzhen blind, without being able to arrange anything beforehand (on that note, had I wanted to move to Shenzhen 100 years ago, or even 25 years ago, it wouldn't have really been there, as its population in 1980 was like 300,000. Today it's 12 million. Go figure). I have no evidence to support this idea, but I assume that the ease of information acquisition observed today will increase (substantially) the amount of migration we witness. Furthermore, I believe that economies will rise and fall far more quickly, and there will be much more economic volatility, as a result of this increased availability of information. This idea is somewhat supported by the fact that in recent years, I've observed far more violent swings in the Dow than I did in say, the late 1990's-mid 2000's (or at least that's what I've perceived. I could be completely wrong, but I really didn't feel like doing an analysis of like the standard deviation of returns on the Dow dating from the 1990's until yesterday). One could argue that this is due to the recession we're currently in, but I think it's also somewhat an indication of the nature of the new economy--inefficiencies will be discovered and exploited at a far, far faster rate today than they would have been in years' past, and consequently volatility should increase due to intensified competition. Or something like that. Anyway, this will likely lead to larger migrations as economic opportunities appear and disappear at a faster rate than they have before.

Furthermore, migrations are certainly going to continue, if not accelerate, due to climate change. More on this in a later post (possibly tomorrow), but think about the number of people living within a handful of miles of the coast. Many of them may very well be displaced in the coming decades. Arguably many of these people will be in-country migrants (i.e. not contributing to multiculturalism), but I'd imagine a fair percentage may just relocate abroad.

ANYWAY--so clearly, immigration/migration and the consequential multiculturalism are not going away. Rather, they're increasing. So how does this affect you? Well, if you're like me, you'll probably think this is like the coolest thing ever. More interesting and unique people surrounding you? Wider choices in food and entertainment? An increasingly global perspective on things? Sign me up! For the everyday person, if you have an open mind and a good sense of humor (valuable when trying to communicate with someone that speaks not a word of English), I'd imagine you enjoy multiculturalism nearly as much as I do! In the coming decades, I assume that a greater degree of cultural awareness will be necessary as our societies become more diverse, but for people growing up in the information age, where we have so many ideas presented to us at such young ages, I assume this will be pretty easy to manage. Granted, there will be people (and lots of them) that try to resist the cultural changes that will be occurring around them. These people are at a huge disadvantage. Their close-mindedness and resistance to change will ultimately make life more difficult and uncomfortable for them.

As for me, I'll be pretty darned pleased the day that I can sit with some close friends and watch cricket on one channel, soccer on another, baseball on a third, and perhaps something like Bollywood or Hong Kong cinema on another, all the while sitting in a beach bar in Southern Thailand relishing in our ability to pick up and move there as foreigners.

And of course, I'll be the one bringing the chicken vindaloo from the Indian restaurant down the street in Thailand, run by proper Indian immigrants brought there in part by the economic opportunities of today.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Death of Steve Jobs, in the Context of the Information Age: 30 Days of Blogging, Day 1

So for those who didn't read my last post, I'll be trying to write one blog post per day for the next 30 days. Given the monumental event that occurred yesterday in the death of Steve Jobs, I felt it would be appropriate to write a bit of a reflection/analysis of the event as my first day's blog. For a lot of you, the information presented here may be met with a "well, duh", but I hope it's at least food for thought for some.

There is no arguing that yesterday, the world lost a great innovator, entrepreneur, thinker, and overall human being in Steve Jobs. Stories of his creative genius, philanthropy, and micromanagement of every detail of Apple are well-known, and he is undeniably one of the most important people of my lifetime. As sad and unexpected as Jobs' death was, my experience in finding out about it was a truly amazing example of the age we live in, so if I may speak about this event in a completely calculating and stoic way, here's the timeline:

Yesterday at 6:39PM central US time, I heard first word of Steve Jobs' death through the Facebook status of a friend from High School, which simply read "steve jobs died :(" I was pretty shocked by this, so I decided to try to find a more legitimate source to confirm it (after all, in August 2008 Jobs was mistakenly reported as dead, leading to his iconic "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" quote) The first place I went for information was a source often bashed by academics, high school teachers, and elitists everywhere, the wonderful Wikipedia. I'm a very firm believer in the Wikipedia project and everything it represents, and have learned an astronomical amount from the free, current, and (generally) neutral content on its millions of pages.

Anyway, I found nothing on Wikipedia regarding Jobs' death, and so I started going through the major sites that I usually get my news from:,, and None of these sites had anything either. At this point it was about 6:43PM, and I went back to Wiki to find that there was now a "-October 5th, 2011" following Jobs' birth date. Additionally, at the end of the section titled "Health" was a simple "Jobs has died as of October 5th, 2011". Not the most informative summary, for sure, but the fact is, Wikipedia got the news out quickly. And I had a pretty high degree of faith in their article, given that A) Jobs' article on Wikipedia is "semi-protected", and B) I've rarely found Wikipedia to be inaccurate with very current events. It took an additional 8 minutes for any such headlines to appear on BBC, CNN, or Reuters. Amazing. From this we can learn a few things:

1) As I mentioned, I put a lot of faith in Wikipedia. I believe that anything which can be edited by anyone will inherently become, for the most part, unbiased. This is certainly counter intuitive, and perhaps even wrong, but in my experience Wikipedia is unmatched in its ability to provide accurate and timely information. For free. (For an excellent article about the democratization of information by Wikipedia written by an old teacher/friend of mine, and one of my writing inspirations, click here)

2) It's pretty insane how quickly information travels nowadays. Think about this: how many "RIP Steve Jobs" statuses on Facebook or Tweets on Twitter did you see in the hour following Steve Jobs' death? 25? 50? Truly amazing. Incidentally, last night I was reading a biography of Mao Zedong. In the early part of the book, the author is discussing Mao's birthplace, and talking about the relative remoteness of the town in which he was born. The author goes on to say that
"these hills, with neither roads nor navigable rivers, detached the village from the world at large. Even as late as the early twentieth century an event as momentous as the death of the emperor in 1908 did not percolate this far, and Mao found out only two years afterwards when he left Shaoshan."
TWO YEARS! It took TWO FREAKING YEARS for Mao Zedong to find out that THE EMPEROR OF CHINA, the most important person in his country at that time, had died. And this was only after he had left his hometown of Shaoshan. Who knows how long it would have taken for the information to get to him had he stayed there.

Now granted, this was a pretty remote part of China, and I assume today it still lags pretty far behind such places as Shanghai and Beijing (fact check: it does. Hunan province ranks 19th out of 31 Chinese provinces for HDI, at 0.781. This compared to Shanghai at 0.908, and Beijing at 0.891), but even so, think about this for a minute. Compare the death of Steve Jobs, certainly a very important and influential person, but far from the most important person in the United States, to that of the Guangxu Emperor in 1908, the most important person in China at that time. Jobs' death was worldwide news probably no more than a couple of hours after the event itself. It took 2 years for Mao to learn of the death of an emperor who had been reigning for 33 years. I.e., this was not a fleeting reign. Presumably, nowadays one could find some form of internet in Shaoshan, which is a city of ~100,000. Therefore, in theory, as a resident of Shaoshan today, one could have found out about the death of Steve Jobs, an event which occurred half the world away, and likely had virtually no effect on the people of this town, instantaneously. Or nearly. Compared to 100 years ago, the advancement is literally unbelievable. Think about how much the world changed from the dawn of humanity until like 1850. Or 1900. Even 1950. Heck, even 1980! And think about how much it has changed since those years. Unbelievable? Yes.

3) This event also echoes the staggering AMOUNT of information available to us every day. Consider had this event occurred even 20 years ago. In the United States in 1991, I'd wager that maybe 10% of households had personal computers. Very likely, the case would be that most people would find news of Jobs' death in the newspapers the following morning--about 12 hours after the event occurred. 12 hours? In this day and age, 12 hours is an eternity! I was watching a commercial yesterday for some Verizon 4G something or other, in which there were a handful of people tailgating at a football game with iPads. People kept coming up to them asking if they'd heard about this football injury or if they knew you could upload videos now onto Facebook from your iPad, to which the people were replying "oh, that's so 12 seconds ago", and other such comments. The crazy thing is that this is not THAT far off. We not get our information instantly. The quantity, variety, and speed of the information we receive every second of every day is absolutely overwhelming--and thus companies like Google, which essentially act as a filter for the absurd amount of information available to all of us, are so successful.

So at the end of the day, I think it's a safe statement to say that the death of Steve Jobs was the first death of an icon in the decade of social media. I believe that the 1990's can be characterized as a decade in which the computer began to be mainstream. I recall in about 1997, my elementary school finally got a handful of computers (Macs, appropriately enough). The 2000's can be considered the decade where the internet really took off, in my experience, which AOL among others popularizing the internet in the earlier part of the decade, and high-speed connections completely changing the way we're able to share things online. The 2010's, in my experience, will be the decade in which we begin (or rather, continue) to put abstract things online. By this, I refer to the fact that nowadays, it is entirely possible (even common) to have people post photos of things as they are occurring. That is, photos of yourself and a handful of friends out at a club being posted while you're still in the club. Amazing stuff, the likes of which could not have even been fathomed during the internet's early years. Jobs' death exemplified the speed at which information can travel today. My assumption is that Jobs' death was first reported on Apple's website (I saw shortly after my discovery of his death via Wikipedia that Apple's main page was simply a photo of Jobs with "Steve Jobs: 1956-2011"). However, the fact that Wikipedia, this sort of little-engine-that-could project that should, in theory, be completely impossible (or at least impractical), was able to report this before any of the news organizations with enormous budgets, writing staffs, and revenues shows the amazing power of the internet, the personal computer, and the ingenuity and efforts of everyday people.

What do you know? A project managed by people banding together and using computers to their fullest potential in trying to share human knowledge, symbolizing the age of shared information, beating out the big news agencies that symbolize the age of information being filtered, slow, and not readily available.

I'd have to imagine Steve Jobs would have wanted nothing different.