Monday, March 12, 2018

The Obstacles of Making "off the Beaten Path" Get on the "Beaten Path"

Every unplanned trip has its unforeseen circumstances, and sometimes those unforeseen circumstances can get quite costly.  And there was certainly one of those on this particular trip through the Silk Road.  On the way back from Yerevan, the Armenian capital to Tokyo, the cheapest way would have been to fly through to Russia and then to Japan.  The next cheapest, involving non-Russian transitions, would have been costlier by a margin of close to 300 usd.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What is the Best Way for a Wealthy State to Engage the World?

The movie Black Panther has been all the rage back in the US for quite some time now, particularly among the black community given its depiction of a wealthy, confident, powerful black country not suffering under the yoke of Western colonialism.  While the concept of Afro-centrism or Afro-futurism as many have termed it, is worthy of note, a bigger theme that goes beyond race comes to mind when watching the movie.  That is the question of whether and how a wealthy nation engages its poorer neighbors.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Dangers of a Social Fabric Based on Drinking

It is unsurprising that in many places of the former Soviet Union, people (and middle aged men in particular) love their alcohol.  The winters are cold and long, so shots of vodka are great for keeping warm and whirling away the long nights.  The wide availability and cheap cost of making and buying the stuff make them friendly on the wallet just as it is on the senses.  The public's indulgence has created a very strong distilling culture, in which high quality alcohol is even made at home with different fruits.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

When the Traveler Unwittingly Steps across Geopolitical Fault Lines

The immigration official at the Armenian land border with Georgia looked quite hostile.  "What were you doing in Azerbaijan?" He asked rather angrily as he flipped through the passport to find the unexpected Azerbaijani entry and exit stamps.  When he received the usual "tourism" answer, he was simply unconvinced, deciding to take a copy of the passport page with the Azerbaijani stamps before allowing the passport holder into the country.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Does Infamy Justify Remembrance?

The little town of Gori an hour outside the Georgian capital of Tbilisi is mostly known for one thing today.  It is the birthplace of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.  To most outsiders today, Stalin is known mostly for his unpredictable political purges and disastrous collectivization efforts, leaving hundreds of senior Soviet leaders and millions of its citizens dead.  But in his hometown, Stalin is still celebrated, not least for his contribution to defeating Nazism and turning the USSR into an industrial power within a generation.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Does More Exposure to Mass Tourism Makes a People Less Friendly?

Just a few days ago, the author found himself discussing how to increase number of tourists in Azerbaijan with a few locals in an underground bar in Baku.  The economy was in dire straits as the GDP dropped along with oil prices.  The government's supposed diversification to non-oil sectors involved little beyond investing in infrastructure to increase exports of natural gas.  Tourism, for a city as beautiful as Baku, deserves to be one of the main sources of income in a diversified economy.