Saturday, December 24, 2016

Your First Foreign Culinary Experience and the Initiation of a Basic "Global Mind"

Having foreign foods for the very first time can be a scary thing.  With foreign ingredients and condiments cooked in completely unfamiliar ways, their strange visual presentations is more than just a matter of curiosity.  When put in the stomach that is just as unfamiliar with digesting them as the eyes that see them, it could seriously do some serious bodily harm in matter of hours.  And as far as foreign foods go, Indian foods can be especially hard for first time introduction.  Their heavy use of exotic spices rarely seen in other cuisines are bound to make some react rather negatively after they hit the stomach.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What Can a Developed World Urbanite Learn from a Rural Tanzanian Resident?

The other day, the author found himself at the street food market of the little highlands town that he calls home.  Severe downpours drowned out the streets while he was going for his brunch session on the streets.  Thankfully, the market is covered by thatched roof, leaving a whole group of locals stranded under it for a couple of hours.  There were some dismay, but little tension among the crowds.  All sat down in the foods markets' various stalls, picking up cups of tea, a few pastries, and some newspapers, whiling away the rainy hours with a few chats.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Revisiting the Issue of Trust in Rural Tanzania: The Prevalence of Its Fickle Fragility

When the author was still working in an ecommerce startup in Southeast Asia, he was surrounded by a highly optimistic environment for new online businesses there.  The logic goes that people who are going online for the very first time are much more open to new technologies that they have not seen before, becoming first adopters of concepts that conservative consumers in the developed world would shun because such technologies goes against their established norms.  Emerging markets, through open-mindedness toward new businesses, will make "technological leap" that puts them ahead of the developed world in no time.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Fidel Castro Illustrates the Continuing Inclusiveness of Democracy Despite Recent Troubles

It is rather perplexing that so many countries around the world is mourning the death of Fidel Castro.  Yes, it is indeed true that he looms large as a political personality, with an oversized role on the frontline of Cold War-era, pan-Latin American, and even global anti-Americanism disproportionate to the small size of the island country he governed.  But that oversized role cannot compensate for the dismal conditions of modern-day Cuba, a country mired in economic crises despite strong performance on the social welfare, healthcare, and educational fronts.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Why Would Anyone Think That Monopolies Based on Trust Can Breed Economic Optimum?

"You know, after you guys delivered the inputs out here to your shop.  Another big NGO came to the village officials asking if they can open a shop here to sell inputs like you guys," the local agricultural officer nonchalantly mentioned as he chatted away with the program staff on a rather not-so-busy afternoon, "apparently the village officials told them they already have your shop, so they can go somewhere else for their own shop-opening."  With that, the agricultural officer threw a sly smile at the program staff, not willing to explain further the process of the village officials' decision-making.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

“中華軟實力”之在非洲農村看抗日神劇

在著者爲組織運營的小店旁邊有一個販賣盜版DVD的商家。每天從清晨到傍晚,門前的一個巨型音響會將店内正在播放的任何DVD傳播到整個村裏。在這裏,這種DVD店非常常見。若干月前,著者也談到它們正成爲把韓劇帶入當地人民的視野。它們巨大的聲音給平靜的農村生活帶來一些色彩,也同時讓無電視、無網絡的農民間接的瞭解外面的世界。甚至可以説,當地農民的世界觀被這些店面銷售的DVD決定,而在他們無法走出農村的現實下,對外面世界的好奇心在某種意義上被滿足。

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Is a President Trump the Proof of a Fundamentally Biased and Elitist American Mainstream Media?

People surround themselves with other people who have similar views and opinions.  And people of certain views and opinions tend to refer to similar sources for information.  So when one looks for certain information, and go to their regular sources (whether it be friends' posts on SNS or news outlets), they see only one side of the story that they agree with.  Given the universally unanimous opinion expressed in their social cycles, they falsely believe that the views they agree with are shared by intelligent people and are definitely in the majority, while the radical fringe has some extremist perspectives.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Linguistic Inequality of Modern Technology

For many rural Tanzanians, coming face to face with pieces of modern technology for the very first time is more than simply learning about its various functionalities.  The personal computer, the Internet, and its various websites are more likely than not, written completely in English, or to a lesser extent, another foreign language, and the prevalence of foreign languages is all the more comprehensive when the subject becomes more technical (e.g. manuals for troubleshooting software problems, guidelines on network configuration, FAQs on how to use a online system).

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lack of Street Addresses as a Bottleneck for Urbanization

There are many things provided as public goods that people in other parts of the world take for granted.  Many of those public goods simply do not exist out here in Tanzania, and the importance of those public goods are not realized until they are found to be non-existent.  One of these public goods is street addresses.  Even in the largest and most developed cities of the country, most streets have no names, there is no such thing as house numbering even on the streets that do have names.  Partially given the woeful state of the postal system, no systematic effort is undertaken to change this reality.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Broken Timelines, Broken Trucks, Broken "Laws," Broken Roads, Broken Arms, Broken Wallets...

For those who knows, the author works in a job where the main responsibility is providing agricultural inputs to farmers on loan.  The method by which it is done is through a series of retail outlets in the remotes villages where farmers can visit to purchase those inputs on loan.  So naturally, preparing to open the shops requires transport of the said inputs from a central warehouse to the locations of the shops.  As the coming agricultural season approaches, the team here is beginning those "truck runs."  Unfortunately bottlenecks are everywhere, and some of them experienced recently could be considered novel for the inexperienced.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A "Pet" as a First World Concept

The house that the author resides in here in Iringa is now also inhabited by a 4-month-old kitten, a sort of pet that his roommate has been looking to acquire for sometime.  So far one of the most interesting thing about the experience is to observe how the Tanzanian housekeeper (who comes thrice a week) interact with (or, more accurately, behaves toward) the kitten.  To put concisely, it is almost one of bipolarism, petting the animal and giving her attention one moment, but loudly (and rather harshly) shooing it away whenever the kitten gets jumpy and playful enough to interrupt her housework.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Has Capitalism Failed People Who "Have No Interest in Money"?

Working in rural Tanzania, the author has encountered these kinds of people.  They, and their family, tend not to have much money, but they do not work simply because they "do not like to work."  No, these are not people who are falsely called "lazy."  Real lazy people likes money, but simply do not want to put in the effort to earn it.  These people, however, simply have no interest in earning money to begin with.  Perhaps if they are more motivated to earn money, they would work very hard and persistently.  But one simply cannot tell because they show not enough desire to earn money in order to work hard.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Reconciling Religious and Traditional Pieties: Buganda Way of Taking in Christianity without Diluting and Losing Their Social Identity

“The great-grandfather of the current King is probably the most honored one of all the recent kings of Buganda,” the smiling young man kindly showing the author around the great halls of the Buganda Parliament proudly noted as they passed under a gigantic portrait of the young-looking king sitting on his throne at the turn of the 20th century.  “After all, he is the one who wrote a letter of Queen Elizabeth, asking her to specifically send Christian missionaries to the Buganda Kingdom so that the people can be taught of the great religion.”  He was quick to add as explanation.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Is Sensationalized Focus on Individuals in Poverty Crowding out Efforts to Build Sustainable Systems to Eradicate Poverty?

Anyone would have seen the tear-jerking photo: a malnourished African child, dressed in torn rags that can barely be defined as "clothing" and sitting on barren red dirt, tears and nasal mucus freely following down her earth-crested face.  It is a poster child for the likes of UNICEF, so well-utilized to help part the sympathetic rich folks of the First World with their cash.  Itis a strategy used prevalently even among the less fortunate in more well-off places: give a visual representation of misfortune, and the many people who feel sorry will mindlessly donate to "end the misfortune."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How Modern-Day Liberal Internationalism is Fundamentally Neocolonialist

In a world where political labelling is rife, it is not easy to precisely define a set of values that constitute a political ideology.  "Liberalism" is a particularly tough one at that.  People speak of certain values being universal, especially when it comes to the field of human rights.  For such people, those who dare to oppose such values are not only barbaric and uncivilized, but also on the right side of history, sure to be perceived in the negative light in the history books of the future.  To them, it is simply unfortunate that these barbarians do not see their own barbarism and make self-motivated efforts to correct themselves.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Why a Tax on Farm Produce, Contradictorily, Might be Good for African Farmers

In practice, farmers here in rural Tanzania do not pay taxes today.  The reason is rather obvious.  On one hand, it is just too logistically difficult to collect taxes on millions of farmers who live far apart from one another.  If attempted, the cost of collecting taxes (walking around villages asking for cash) probably would exceed the collected amount by many times.  Only systematic usage of mobile money can resolve this problem.  Without a scalable way to have farmers themselves hand over money for fear of credible threats of punishment, everyone will just evade tax.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Conceptualizing a Different Kind of Urban Space in Rural Africa

Iringa, in some ways, is a classic truck-stop kind of town.  Sitting on a top of a hill, it nonetheless serves as a transport hub where two of the country's major cross-country highways intersect.  A east-west highway connects the country's main port at Dar es Salaam with Zambia, providing ocean access for trucks coming from the landlocked interior of the continent.  And spurring off that east-west highway at Iringa is a highway leading north to the country's new showcase capital of Dodoma, where MPs and other political types from across the country congregate when the legislature is in session.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

チャリティーの感覚 VS ビジネスの感覚

以前このブログをご覧になっていらっしゃる方はご存知かもしれないが、筆者が今務める組織はタンザニアの農民に対してローン方式でメイズの種や肥料を販売している。販売相手となる農民の中で、このような世界どこかの工場で大量生産された種や肥料を見たこともなく、その効果を心から疑っている人は少なくない。彼らが持つその根本的な疑いを収めるため、農村でこれらの商品を紹介する際、常にこのような言葉を使う:「私たちはこれらの商品を通じてあなたたちを助けに参りました!」

Thursday, September 22, 2016

腐敗與公共財產濫用的關聯性

在著者工作的辦公室有一個非常有趣的現象。儘管使用厠所的人數并不多(通常每天在辦公室里的工作人員不超過30人左右),厠所垃圾桶總會堆起滿滿幾桶的衛生紙。這些衛生紙雖被用過,通常都僅沾了些水而已且并不會有任何其他異物。而這些沒有怎麽被用過但已被丟棄的衛生紙每一條都大概有手指尖到胳膊的長度。以著者的簡單目測,僅是這些丟在垃圾桶里的衛生紙應該就等同于每天足足四捲的使用量。著者在家裏即便每天大便,大概一個月都不會消費怎麽多的衛生紙。

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When Corporate Economics Works against Smallholder Farmers

Often, working in the middle of nowhere in rural Africa for a clientele of mostly subsistence farmers feel like the work is largely removed from the realities of global economics.  Many farmers plant their local seeds and sell their produce to local markets.  Many foreign food imports see little local demand due to local populations' lack of sufficient income and exposure (and thus palate) for foreign cuisines, and more often than not, insufficient infrastructure prevent large amount of local produce to be shipped globally, even when the qualities and pricing of the products are competitive.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Bright Rural African Moon and Asia's Light Polution Problem

When one lives in a big Asian city, one tends to forget about what is up in the sky.  The context simply does not allow for casual relaxed upward observations.  On the streets, there are always people clamoring behind to ensure people move faster on sidewalks and pedestrian areas; high-rise buildings of all sorts densely sprouting out everywhere block out any chances of clear sky views at the ground level, and worst of all, flashy neon signs of commercial districts, along with thousands upon thousands of electrical illuminations make it impossible to see the sky clearly at night.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Art of Attention-Seeking and How to Keep the Crowds Interested

What does a nuclear weapons test in North Korea and the an iPhone release have in common?  At first sight, probably not much.  The political fanaticism of a dirt-poor autarky and a global business giant's latest attempt to wow the market have neither correspondent target results nor similar methodologies.  One is bound to end with worldwide criticisms, and one, even in the most pessimistic of outcomes, will get enthusiastic response from long-time fans as well as scores of reviews and analyses by tech geeks and market specialists.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Populism at Home Can Detract from International Image: a Case of Duterte's Philippines

It is no understatement to say that the Philippines is going through some interesting times with the inauguration of a new president.  Sticking to his words on the campaign trial, President Duterte immediately set out to wage a low-intensity war against distributors and users of illegal drugs.  While the exact casualty figures from the campaign is up for debate, there is definitive evidence that police forces tasked with the "cleanup" have indeed shot and killed quite a few people in the process.  The president, in rather dubious legal grounds, have promised protection for officers who have resorted to "shoot first, ask later" methodologies.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

At What Point Does One Become Too Old for Birthday Celebrations?

The optimist will righteously cry out "never!" but the reality is, birthday celebration for a grown adult just do not have the magic feel that a 5-year-old would feel for his or hers.  The kid, looking forward to the imaginary greatness of adulthood, cannot wait for celebration of being one year closer to that goal.  But during past years of rather low-key birthday celebrations, the author never failed to wonder whether that purportedly "goal" was achieved, and by extension, whether it was worth getting excited about in the first place in his earlier years.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Aid as the Catalyst for Reduced Trust in Governmental Institutions

A recent article on the Economist magazine makes a very direct (if rather obvious, on the second thought) argument that try to pinpoint why underdeveloped states do not attract resources for development.  The article states "lack of trust," particularly on societal institutions, as the root cause of economic failures.  Specifically, in underdeveloped states, there is complete lack of popular confidence that bureaucracies will function as they are created for, laws will be enforced as written, and any written agreement will be honored as stipulated in their terms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The French Burqa Ban and Death of Multicultural Europe

Popular backlash in Europe against Islam is nothing new.  Since anti-Muslim satire led to vengeful violence at the Charlie Hebdo office in France a year and a half ago, confrontation between Muslim minorities and non-Muslim majority populations in Europe have only seen continued upward trajectory.  Cultural difference, manifested in apparent ways and interpreted in rather exaggerated and threatening fashion, trigger new rounds of popular discontent with increased Muslim presence, just as civil war in Syria continue to push more Muslims into the continent.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Does Foreigners' Fixation with Efficiency Weaken Legal Institutions in Developing Countries?

The author's friend sent him a package across the world that happened to arrive at the Iringa post office today.  The post office staff was kind enough to send the author a text message to notify him of the arrival.  But when the author showed up to the post office this morning to pick up the parcel, he was shown the box (which appears to have arrived in one piece and without much external visual damage) but was told that he cannot take the box home just yet.  "Please come back maybe sometime between next Monday and Friday.  We need to send the package over to the Revenue Authority for examination first," the postal staff said.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

An Olympics of Greater Equality?

On the previous post, the author already mentioned that the Olympics is fundamentally a game for richer countries.  Smaller countries with little resources to provide right training facilities cannot expect to win at the international level no matter how much raw talents are found in their citizenry.  On this note, this year's Rio Olympics so far does not look too different from others, with the usual major sporting powers (US, China, Japan, Australia, Russia) gobbling up a significant portion of medals on offer so far.  The individual athletes of individual events remain dominant due to availability of systematic training to succeed.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

What Does the Olympics Mean for Rural Africa?

On his brief tour of Isimila Stone Age Site outside Iringa town, the author got in a brief conversation with his mandatory tour guide on the Olympics.  "So, have you watched the Olympics, it just started today," the author casually quipped.  The nonchalant question quickly brought excitement to the otherwise professional guide who, before this, had kept the conversation strictly focused on the history of the area, reputedly one of the earliest residences of modern man's direct ancestor, homo erectus.  "Yes, yes, I am going to watch the opening ceremony after work today!"  The guide cannot hide his enthusiasm.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What Sets a Non-Western Expat's Relationship with Africans Apart from That of the Western Expat?

The reaction of the customers sitting around sipping their beers could not have been any different.  Just moments before, when the author entered the little roadside cafe on his way back from the local museum visit, the six half-drunken old men could not contain their excitement upon seeing a Chinese guy walking into their usual hangout spot.  But now, after asking where the author is from and receiving "America" as the answer, the crowd quickly grew tame and quiet.  The enthusiasm to strike up further conversation dissipated, and they left the author mostly to wait for his meal in silence.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Is a Museum Meaningful if All It Contains is Political Correctness?

"This is a place of stories...tales of how the town came about through different influences..." the introduction to the newly opened Regional Museum at Iringa cheerfully outlines what the visitor should expect from its collections.  Housed in the Boma, a distinctive architecture of Swahili and European influence constructed during the German colonial era, the museum certainly provides a promising cultural venue, something that had been distinctly lacking in a town that is more marked by cultural isolation than anything else.  Unfortunately though, the rather small collection brought more boredom than fulfillment of that promise.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When the Border between Physical and Virtual Ceases to Exist

The author, despite continued ridicule from friends and suffering ofttimes hardships in the most inconvenient times, have for the past years resisted purchasing a smartphone despite the device being more and more commonplace across even the poorer parts of the world.  The desire to remain disconnected from barrage of messages that always seem to require immediate response may be the most compelling reason he can put up to what is increasingly perceived an irrational, eccentric behavior.  But perhaps, in the recent days, there is one more powerful reason to resist smartphone adoption.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Are "Our" Problems Caused by "Them"?

The Livingstone Museum, in downtown Livingstone, Zambia, has an interesting way of chronologically displaying the area's history.  It starts with the natural exhibits of the land, so famously shaped by Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River, move on to the local ethnography, and finally to the more recent history of the town itself.  In this chronology, there is an interesting section that display a model of the pre-modern African village, with its semi-naked residents and thatched huts, immediately followed by the town of Livingstone at the turn of the century, with cars, shops, and a multiracial population.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

ANC and Racial Relations: a Story of Political Hijacking for an Increasing Incompetent Party

On the touristy Vilakazi street of Soweto, right across the street from Nelson Mandela's old house, was a distinctively colored car.  With large black, yellow, and green stripes visibly painted to the back and the side, the car's origin is only too obvious to anyone who knows anything about South African politics: it is a car belonging to the African National Congress (ANC), the formerly undergrad political organization started in opposition to apartheid government's unequal treatment of blacks and their political disenfranchisement and have led the national government ever since multiracial elections were introduced in 1994.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Homey Feel of an Inner City American Ghetto

For those who do not know, the author first landed in the US at age 12, in a neighborhood called Roxbury in Boston, MA.  Any Bostonian would timidly tell you that this is one of the city's roughest neighborhoods, a classic inner city African-American area with high crime rate, poverty, and plenty of dilapidation in a formerly industrial neighborhood.  Despite being almost directly south of the city's downtown areas, the 'hood that is Roxbury sees little sign of gentrification that has made restored the historical glory of the downtown, only helping to accentuate its continued obviously rundown nature through contrast.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Can Some Residents of a Modern Society Stay Permanently outside of Modernity?

From looks the main urban areas of Cape Town is no different from anywhere in the developed world.  Coming from Tanzania, where paved roads and street lights are luxury even in the main city of Dar es Salaam, the immaculately maintained main streets of the city, flanked by vibrant shops, hotels, and malls,, is, by no exaggeration, the envy of sub-Saharan Africa.  The suburbs immediately surrounding the city center and hugging the Atlantic coastlines are home to first-class expressways and homes with modernistic architectural designs that are not out of place in the most moneyed American residential areas.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and Immigration: a Non-European View

For the non-European student in a UK school, visa has always been somewhat of a bureaucratic hurdle.  Getting the student visa to start is already an issue, but what is worse is that by the time the student is ready to graduate with a prestigious degree from a elite British school, getting a work visa to stay and work is next to impossible.  By the time the author finished his Master's degree at the LSE in 2012, foreign students are no longer even entitled to the one-year post-graduate visa, instead facing the prospect of getting kicked out of the country immediately after getting the diploma.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Specter of Socialist Bureaucracy

More than a year ago, when the author was still a high-flying businessman for one of Southeast Asia's most hyped-up e-commerce startups, he made frequent business trips to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from his homebase in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  At the immigration check area in the Ho Chi Minh City airport, there was always a familiar sight.  In an area with a couple of dozen booths for passport stamping, only two or three are staffed with grim-faced immigration officers in uniform, doing their inspections at a leisurely pace while the line for entry in front of the booths get longer and longer as more passengers arrive.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

African Residency at One-Year Mark: a Summary

Today, it is precisely one year since the author first stepped off the plane in the little town of Iringa, Tanzania for his interview at the organization where he currently works.  The sentiment at that time has been one of surprise, not simply for a land that he has never stepped into as a full-time resident, but also one of superficial conviction that the land is plagued by some sort of social disease, one that has and continue to retard real economic developments that can pull people out of endless poverty.  The thought at that time was one of genuine excitement, a realization that something can be done to change people's lives.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

以端午節憶亞洲之節日情節

在東非,今天不過是有一個普通的星期四,大家照常工作,照常生活。可惜著者的臉書可是從早到晚充滿了來自亞洲各地的“節日快報“。哪裏有龍舟賽啦,哪裏的粽子比較好啦,哪裏的連假塞車啦,哪裏成爲旅游熱點啦...實在是無法讓人安心工作。雖説著者也算是剛剛度假完畢回來上班,但是看到世界另一端新聞上、朋友圈裏的歡樂,難免感覺異常的孤獨寂寞冷。在此情況下,回憶一下亞洲各地特殊的節日情節,在祝各位讀者端午節快樂的同時,也希望對自己有一定的”劃梅止渴”作用。

Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 4, Racism, and a Chinese Allusion to State Violence in Africa

This blog has been quite persistent in posts remembering the June 4 pro-democracy protests in China every year, and this year is no different.  It is only unfortunate that with each passing year, the memories of the events fade, with a younger generation, both in China and abroad, too preoccupied with contemporary issues to be mindful of the sacrifices made by idealists of 20-odd years ago (as they continue to do so, quietly, today).  It is not surprising that this is the case considering China of today is a much more different place, with a twisted civic society that imbue new, darker issues.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Looking Forward to the "Someday"

As a crazy traveler himself, the author is quite fond of trading travel stories with fellow travelers met anywhere, for short-term or long-term.  Talking about travel stories is especially exciting when the person or people being spoken to has been to the same destinations as the author.  But asking them about their impressions of the same places, the author can gain whole new perspectives that he did not acquire firsthand during his own travels to those places, while giving himself another, second opportunities to savor the beauty and greatness of those destinations, days, months, and even years after the actual travels happened.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Hassle of Money Changing in the Middle East as a Reflection of the Regional Fractures

The author is quite used to having the ease of currency exchange as an expected convenience. In particular, he is quite used to the situation in Asia, where currency exchanges in all countries nearly always operate with no less than 15 currencies, taking in the standard set of hard currencies (USD, Euro, British pounds, Swiss francs) while making available practically all currencies of East and Southeast Asia, barring only those with small/closed economies (Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, to name a few).

Friday, May 20, 2016

How Much Role Can the UN Play in the Reconciliation of Conflicting Parties?

In supposedly war-torn Cyprus, the United Nations headquarters is aptly located in a bombed out hotel.  During the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Ledra Palace Hotel, one of the best in Cypriot capital of Nicosia, at the time, was on the receiving end of the constant barrages.  With the hotel situated directly on the UN-mandated "Green Line" that separated the city's northern Turkish districts from the southern Greek zones, the 1974 war saw it become the very frontlines of devastating military conflict that left millions internally displaced in its aftermath.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Assessing the Risks of Flying Egyptair on the Last Leg of a Journey Home

Another day, another plane crash.  This time with Egyptair over the Mediterranean.  Like the times of old, global media wasted no time in jumping with their various versions of speculations and conspiracy theories.  Now everyone flying the general region is all tensed up as TV coverage repeat the videos of crying family members and terse official statements from the Egyptian government.  Like the fiasco faced by Malaysian Airlines after two crashes, the company's image and revenues are both bound to suffer, a true misfortune to the first commercial airlines of the Middle East.

The Still-Unending Stream of Jewish Immigration to Israel

"Oh, I am from (Country A or B or C), but I am Jewish and just got to Israel as a new immigrant."  This was one of the oft-repeated lines from self-introductions when the author spent his Wednesday night in Tel Aviv mingling with the local expat working crowd in one of the city's high-end beach bars.  "I still need to settle down, take those Hebrew lessons, and find a job, but so far it is great," the new immigrants would mention, quite hopeful of their situations in a completely new country for many of them despite their Jewish heritage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Effortful Friendliness of a Militarized Country in Perpetual Danger

This blog previously described Singapore as a country perpetually insecure but achieved prosperity nonetheless.  To say that Israel is the Middle Eastern equivalent of Singapore in this aspect may easily draw agreements from the local populace.  Despite peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, the country still face attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas, and face threats from likes of Iran and ISIS further afield.  "To defend the country," here, is not just an empty patriotic statement taught to students in school, it is a very real duty required of every citizen.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Does the Lack of Public Transport Benefit the Tourism Industry?

For a country that is relatively economically developed compared to some of its neighbors, Jordan does pretty terribly in one area: the provision of comprehensive and timely public transport.  Some of the country's population centers are served by minibuses, but they are often available during daylight hours and leave only when full.  For tourist destinations not near any towns of significant size, there may or may not be a couple of buses a day at odd hours.  For the traveler with limited funds and time, Jordan might as well be the least convenient location to travel in the general region.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Egypt: the Sick Man of the Arab World?

As he came in from Amman's North Bus Station to his hotel for the night, the author got into a quick conversation with the taxi driver getting him to his destination.

"Where are you coming in from," the driver, in his fifties, asked in perfectly proficient English.

"Oh, just came in from Egypt," the author replied, continuing the conversation with a rather light-hearted remark: "it is quite different from here."

A Country Unapologetic about Its Perpetual State of Cash Shortage

On his way out of Egypt, the author goes to the foreign exchange counter at Cairo Airport to get his Egyptian Pounds changed into Jordanian Dinar for the next leg of the journey.  It is a transaction that cannot be any more mundane for banks at the international terminal of a country’s main international gateway.  As the author goes up to the bank counter in the departure, he gets a blank stare and from the guy behind the counter.  Before the author opens his mouth, the guy harshly says, “No."  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Ill-Paid Should Not be Guardians of Antiquities

On paper, the rules for tourists at Luxor's famed Valley of Kings seem pretty strict.  No photos inside or outside the tombs, no speaking or even fast walking inside, and definitely no touching of any walls.  The reason is plain and simple: after 3000 years sealed underground, the world is lucky to just see the colorful wall painting of the royal tombs at all; the paintings are so fragile that anything that can possibly damage it must be avoided.  The strict rules, at least in theory, are the main ways to keep the paintings alive for posterity while keeping the tourists coming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Should Being “Polite” and “Nice” be Part of Efficient, Professional Customer Service?

The Lebanese, especially the men, are not a people conducive to smiling.  Many seem to be keen on maintaining a sense of personal gravitas through almost a poker face, staring down others in serious expressions that may easily frighten the clueless.  Any smile that come out of such situation probably borders more on the sneer to the point of ridicule, rather than anything that can remotely be taken as courtesy or congeniality.  If anything, smiling between strangers should be avoided in certain cases, for fear that it is taken as a personal offence in disguise.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Young Female Beirutis' Sexy Fashion Sense: A Resilient Sign of Liberalism in a Region of Religious Fundamentalism

Being in Beirut, it is just too easy for one to forget for a moment that the sources of some of the Middle East's most violent religious conflicts are but a few hundred kilometers away.  While ISIS, Hamas, and to a lesser extent, Hezbollah, impose their versions of religious orthodoxy on a hapless local population, Beirutis are still out in force, displaying their socially liberal tendencies that is increasingly one the wane in the region.  One of the most visible, and beautiful, ways for Beirutis to express that freedom, is through how they dress.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Deliberate Invisibility of an Ignored Minority

On his way to Beirut to begin his two-week journey across the Middle East, the author notices an interesting phenomenon at the now-too-familiar waiting areas of Addis airport.  Standing between the author and the boarding gate for the flight to Beirut are 40-some young Ethiopian women, getting their work permits confirmed by the airport officials before preparing themselves for what seems to all, their first-ever flights.  All seemed nervous, clueless as to what is happening around them, and surely uncertain of what awaits them in the completely foreign country they will head to.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Unmissable Significance of Visual Praise

Back in those undergrad years, a common refrain among the author's classmates were the sheer pointlessness of paying such high prices for education.  In that process, the college diploma, or as everyone called it, "a piece of paper bought with four years of life and tens of thousands of dollars," was consistently butt of jokes.  Even to this day, the author's diploma sits inside a folder in his cabinet, occasionally brought out to serve as paperwork for visa, grad school, or job applications, but never framed or hung on the wall, like it was intended to be upon its creation and reception.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Constant Rains and Missing Umbrellas

It is a common sight among all tropical countries with distinct rain seasons.  When the monsoon is in town, a moment of completely unhindered sunshine is followed by draining downpour, with consistent, rapidly falling water drops better than anything created with the finest of man-made shower heads.  Streets turn into rivers after minutes, and visibility becomes no more than a curtain of watery white.  People quickly run under the nearest roofs, into their houses, deserting the busy streets of the central market, that, moments ago, was bustling with street-side vendors and pedestrians.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Humans Visiting Animals vs Animals Visiting Humans

When the author was growing up as a high school student in San Diego, one of his favorite family vacation spots was the city's fame Wild Animal Park.  It is a place of massive enclosures, simulating the wild African savanna in a highly accessible way.  Around bushes where lions and tigers chase (introduced) antelopes and deer are human spectators being carried in neat little trains, equipped with loudspeakers that constantly inform passengers of the animals and sights of a faraway land with little human habitation.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Alibaba's Investment in Lazada: an Ex-Employee's Perspective

The biggest news out of the tech world this morning was Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba's one-billion USD investment in Lazada, from which the author made his exit about ten months ago.  The deal saw both Rocket Internet, Lazada's original incubator, as well as Tesco, the British supermarket chain, cashing out half of their shares, in the process giving Alibaba almost complete control over the overall operations and future directions of what meant be termed Southeast Asia's largest ecommerce platform at the moment.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Prevalence and Danger of Vigilante Justice in Rural Africa

In all non-urban areas in the world, police enforcement tends to be sparse.  Farming communities, separated by acres of fields, evidently cannot be conducive to constant patrolling presence of uniformed officers.  In fact, police presence can be so distant that when crimes and disputes occur, reporting to the police may not even bring officers to the scenes of conflict in time for fruitful resolution.  In the case of crimes by stealth, it is highly likely that by the time the police can assess the situation, neither the victim nor the victimizer will be there for questioning.

Friday, April 1, 2016

When Sound Financial Planning Becomes a Cultural Taboo

Out in the village of rural Tanzania, "let me find some money to do X" is one of the most common phrases heard when conducting business transactions.  Widely used among people who obviously do not have any money with them or at disposal in personal possession, it simultaneously denotes a desire to spend money to get what is wanted and a determination to find the means of getting the needed money through completely flexible yet currently unknown ways.  As unsatisfactory as the phrases sounds, most of the time, sooner or later, the money is actually somehow "found."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Advent of Korean Wave in Africa: Cultural Connection or Fascination about Material Modernity?

Out here in rural Africa, cinemas are non-existent and TV access require expensive satellite dishes that few people can afford.  To entertain themselves during their free time, locals tend to buy cheap pirated DVDs for computer gaming, or more commonly, drama series and movies.  Carts and shops selling these DVDs exist not just in market towns but even some bigger villages, allowing common people to access some of the latest visual entertainment from the outside world at quite affordable prices (if not the best of quality).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Enigma of "Kichina"

In Tanzania, the locals have a habit of referring to any poor-quality product as "kichina," which roughly translates to "a thing of China."  Whenever something they use break or gets damaged when they think the product should not be, they just shrug and casually blurt out, "well, it's kichina."  It is not particularly targeted toward Chinese products though; in fact, the saying is used for all products, whether or not the product is from China.  The connotation, however, is pretty clear: it goes without saying that Chinese products, as they have elsewhere, acquired a negative reputation in Tanzania.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

歴史はいつまで記憶に残るのか

昨日であの当時日本在住だったの皆さんの人生を変えた事件から五年になる。マスコミの報道を見ると、福島の復活や被害者の「第二人生」を描く楽観的なストーリーがあれば、被害地の人口が6%減るとか、現地の経済が完全に国の支援だけでまわされているなど、悲観的な指摘も少なくはない。だが、これらの報道に一つ残念なことがあるとしたら、たぶん「量」である。前年度に比べると、この記念すべき一日は人々の注目を浴びなくなっている。各報道局はこの傾向を認知しているのに違いない。

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Developmental "Double Standards" and Africa's Cultural Image Problem

As the NGO industry expands, the broad all-inclusive term "development" has become more and more vague over time.  Anything that remotely suggest provision of additional resources for betterment of people's lives have now fallen under the category of "development."  The methodologies f implementation and assessments have only become more and more varied as a wider and wider spectrum of ideas and personnel have involved themselves in the industry.  Thankfully, the central goal of an NGO is still clear: the job is to ultimately make people's living standards higher.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

論貧困與尊嚴

著者記得從小頻頻聽到父母如此般的教導:“人窮但不能窮志氣”。當時以他那乳臭未乾的小孩身份,對這類教導的具體理解不外于“不能嫉妒同學課後買的零食”這類非常幼稚的想法。坦白講,當時的自己總會覺得“不窮志氣”不過就是爲吝嗇的父母爭面子的某種心態。但是人總會改變。著者走入了勞動者社會,變爲一名被好奇心和刺激感所驅動的國際打工仔。在這個過程中,漸漸的,原來對吝嗇的怨恨被“自我控制”的需求所代替。有限的薪水能滿足一些自我需求,但絕不會是全部。如何選擇突然變成了“志氣”的一個代號。

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Experience and Culture Make Africans Take Epidemics Seriously

It is not everyday that a government official goes around the village with a loudspeaker to make announcements.  And it is even rarer when the announcement called for all eateries in the area to shut down until further notice.  But the government officials went around this time to sound the alarm for a massive cholera outbreak, people obliged quickly.  When they heard that 80-some victims of the outbreak are already lying in the hospital, having a proper sit-down lunch, no matter how simple, becomes much less important.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Questioning Asian Physical Vanity in the Context of an African Hair Cut

It is a bit unfortunate, but it suffices to say that the average African's hair is not particularly suitable for styling.  Genetically created to be hard and not so malleable, attempts at being creative with what is on top of one's head often involves donning a stylized wig.  Of course, for most local males, who neither see the need nor have the financial resources to keep up with such superficial pursuits, the average hair cut becomes not much beyond shaving off extra hair with a simple electric shaver.  With foreign clientele so few and far in between, foreign males pretty much get the same treatment.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Are Non-Black Africans Incentivized to Assimilate?

This blog has noted in the past about just how separate the expat community is from the local one.  Expats come to have their own restaurants, shops, and hobbies that are often not only financially unreachable but also cultural unpalatable for Tanzanians.  The sad reality is that the phenomenon is not limited to expats.  A holdover from the continent's colonial era, still active populations of white and Indian Africans dot even the remote landscapes of rural townships, sometimes making their presence felt in ethnically familiar expat communities or creating their own separate ones.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Opportunities and Challenges of Mobile Payment Platforms in Rural Africa

In the past couple of years, there is a growing focus in the tech world on the topic of mobile payment platforms.  The idea is to use smartphone apps loaded with money as replacement of cash in everyday business transactions.  Paying for groceries, restaurant bills, and transport will no longer involve searching for petty cash, not only reducing time and hassle for digging through small change, but also dramatically decreasing possibilities of errors, frauds, and thefts while making it all the easier for tracking spending, checking available balances, and splitting bills across multiple people.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Would a Rural African Try Foreign Foods if They Are Cheap and Filling?

So the author was thinking as he was having his usual lunch combination of rice, boiled beans, boil vegetables, and beef chunks with tomato sauce.  In this little local street-side eatery in the rural village where he goes to work most of the days, this combo plate is the only thing on the menu.  The young owner of the shop makes the exact same thing for lunch and dinner everyday, day in and day out.  Interestingly enough, her eatery is sustained by the same customers who work in the area, who come to eat the exact same thing, day in and day out.  The author has now become one of them.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Identity Politics vs Economic Dependence on the Eve of Taiwanese Elections

It is interesting to see that a day before Taiwanese head to ballot boxes to participate in what many calls the "most pivotal" presidential election in its still-short democratic history, a 16-year-old Kpop band member has taken over the headlines across all local media outlets.  Chou Tzu-yu, a Taiwanese member of Kpop band TWICE, posted a video apologizing for waving the Taiwanese flag in the band's recent publicity video that quickly draw fire from politicized netizens on the Chines mainland.  In the apology video, the girl showed feigned sorrow as she read mechanically from written script.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Should Government Bureaucrats be Trained in Special Schools?

Many countries have one of these.  Promising, self-confident young men and women are thrown into almost endless lectures of political orthodoxy, of the need to serve their country, and of uploading its law, without questioning its underlying morality and validity.  Years later, the indoctrinated youth become government officials, dictating the policies that affect the very future and fortune of the country.  Unfortunately, being isolated in an entirely different academic and living environment makes youth educated under "bureaucrat schools" lose connection with society at large.  As such, government bureaucrats should not be trained in special schools.

Friday, January 1, 2016

"There is the High, the Low, but Not Much in the Middle"

That was the key phrase of the night as the author found himself at a posh poolside bar on the rooftop of an otherwise ordinary-looking hotel inside a walled compound of an obscure side street.  It was the last few minutes of 2015, and this neighborhood, like any other in Nairobi after nightfall, remained dark, quiet, and devoid of pedestrians.  But as soon as the heavy metal gates of the high-security walled compounds are flung open, a whole new world opens up.  Smartly dressed young locals and expats (but vast majority being locals) headed up to where the DJ was keeping the music thumping.