Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Can a "Seasonal" Town Become More "Permanent"?

Karuizawa is best described a seasonal town.  The town, situated deep in the central mountain range spanning the length of Honshu, Japan's main island, is known primarily for its cool temperature and secluded nature.  In the winter, snow covers the mountains surrounding the town, making it a base for skiing among both the Japanese and foreigners.  Yet, given the frigid (at least by the standards of warmer Pacific coast of Honshu where Japan's main metropolitan areas are located) temperature, Karuizawa town itself seems half-deserted, with most of the shops closed until way past the new years, and few pedestrians walking about.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

On Quick Changes of Cultural Affinity

The main Koreatown of Shin-Okubo in Tokyo has, unsurprisingly, a neon-washed main street.  Shops advertising the latest hip new trends from the world of Kpop, combined with seemingly endless lineup of Korean street foods and restaurants, draw in customers from across the metropolis to experience "cool Korea."  Yet, just a few steps away from the neighborhood's brightly colored main drag lies a completely different side.  Dark little alleys, home to hundreds of mundane residences, extend away  from the main street, at the first sight no different from any other residential area in the Japanese capital city.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What is the Logic behind Donating Money to a Foundation that Gives Money to Essay Contests?

Japan is a rather small country with an efficient public transport service, so moving across half the country, and then back, in a few hours within the same day is quite doable.  And the author did exactly that today on a trip to Kyoto for an essay contest presentation.  However, just because it is fast and easy does not mean such a trip is cheap.  The four-hour round trip between  Tokyo and Kyoto easily cost up to 200 USD without seat reservation, which is equivalent to more than 10% of what a corporate newbie earns in a fairly decent company here in Japan.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When Mental Strength Rather than Skills and Techniques Become the Primary Determinant for Success

Today was the final exam for graduating medical school students at the University of Tokyo.  The final exam took the form of individual clinical simulations, where each student separately, in designated time periods, perform certain required medical checkup procedures in front of their professors.  Students from other departments were called up to perform as mock patients for the final exam, and the author was luckily selected as one of the privileged (?) few who had the opportunity to witness firsthand the final examination process.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

When a Niche Market is Put in a Rich, Massive Market, It is No Longer a Niche

It is hard to imagine something that is as uncommonly sought after among the stylish trendy 20-somethings walking around a (relatively) balmy winter afternoon in one of Tokyo's major shopping areas.  Yet, the Reptile Expo in the 4th floor of a shopping mall in Ikebukuro attracted enough traffic to warrant a 40-min wait for ticket purchase.  Inside the exhibition hall that took up a whole floor, a slew of booths peddled everything from hamsters in the range of ten USD to snakes that can cost more than 10,000 USD.  Gerbils, owls, chameleons, hedgehogs, turtles, among other unusual pet choices, fought for attention of attendees.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Sensitivities of Making an Invisible Community More Visible

At the first sight, the Won Won Shopping Complex looks like any other retail/office building in central parts of Taipei.  The concrete two-floor building is devoid of paint, excess decorations, and frankly, any character that would make it stand out among dozens of similar buildings with similar grey/brown hues on a rather nondescript street.  The sign for the complex is small and fading, hidden behind little booths selling cheap SIM cards and a seat for the tired, half-napping security guard.  For those in a hurry to their destinations, the Won Won Complex do not really deserve a second look, in the same way its neighbors also would not.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Encouraging Signs of a More International Socialization of Japanese Kids

When the author was attending elementary school in Japan as a child, the concept of catering for foreigners within both the school environment and community was practically unheard of.  While foreigners have already been not rare even in a provincial city like Kanazawa by the early 1990s, the general mainstream society basically pretended that if the foreigners are treated not any differently from the Japanese, they will assimilate into Japanese culture in no time.  As much as many foreign residents treated to go along with such idealistic wishes of the Japanese majority, to accept a new culture while abandoning an old is difficult.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are Some Exam Formats More "Juvenile" Than Others?

One of the favorite tools for teachers in American high schools is the Scantron.  These machine-readable little slips are the key to automating multiple choice tests.  Teachers enter the correct answers in the scanning machine before the multiple-choice test even happens.  And then students color in the bubbles that correspond to what they think are the right answers on the Scantron slip.  Immediately after the test, the teacher gathers all the slips and shove them into the scanning machine.  The machine automatically grades everyone's test, and the teacher is saved from having to manually check all the answers.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Isolationist Tendencies Will Hurt Academia's Financial Viability

A few months ago during a trip back to San Diego, the author heard about an initiative ran by PhD students and postdocs at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD).  The initiative involves a weekly trip by a few science researchers to the nearby drinking holes, where they will mark themselves as people doing scientific research and take questions from other, normal customers.  By taking the time to appeal to the laymen's curiosity about science, they are hoping to reduce the distance between scientists and normal people, and make more people understand the necessity of scientific research for their own daily lives.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

How Experience Can Create Confidence in a Social Setting

Given the frequency of how many social events for complete strangers are held in Tokyo, it is often interesting to see why many people choose not to participate in any of them.  Some are rather understandable, like the fact that many people (especially among foreign students) are unwilling to shell out money for socializing when they are in financially dire straits to begin with.  Others are just pathologically introverted, mentally unfit for for putting themselves in front of large groups of people for the sake of just getting to know people in fleeting ways.  The anxiety of such experiences, for them, is traumatizing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Relationship between Political Stability and Business Reputation

When a restaurant or a retail shop advertises itself topic to the general public, one of more common method used is to emphasize its long tradition of operations.  The term "Since (insert year of founding here)" is frequently placed right next to the company name and logo.  The logic goes that if customers recognize just how long the company has been in operation, with no change in business or name, they can have the assurance that the products being sold are of high quality.  After all, those same products have been satisfying generations of customers, and if there were not satisfied, there is no reason the company still exists.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

To Promote Real Cultural Exchange Requires Asking Tough Questions on Cultural Differences

When Japanese firms and government market the concept of "Cool Japan" abroad, a few formulas come in mind.  For them, to get foreigners to "like" Japan and its culture, it simply cannot beat a demonstration of what are traditional combined with the country's modern quirks.  The likes of martial arts, kimono, and tea ceremonies can expose foreigners to the historical depths, while singing idol groups, cartoon characters, and technological demonstrations can show how the country can combine its traditional values and mold it in a modern sense.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Are Environmental Friendliness and Good Service Mutually Exclusive in Japan?

In his recent world travels, the author has gotten used to the idea of having to ask for bags when he goes shopping.  In the US, for instance, plastic bags are no longer free, so shoppers are expected to either do without them, bring their own reusable ones, or pay a fairly expensive price for one.  In more politically aggressive places like Rwanda, the very idea of using plastic bags have become obsolete as plastic bags themselves are completely banned from the country.  To those not used to having to carry around their own bags, it is a bit of nuisance, to say the least.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In an Automated Society, What If the Algorithms Stop Working?

If there is anywhere that proves the world-leading level of automation Japan achieved, it would be the country's public restrooms.  To prevent the spread of bacteria, more often than not, the use of levers and buttons have completely been made obsolete.  To flush the toilets, to let water out of spigots, to turn on the machines that blow-dry hands after washing, and even sometimes for turning on lights, sensors do the job.  A swipe of the hands in the right places, without any physical touch, allow accesses of these services.  Clear signs show first-timers where to put their hands.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Popular Patronage of the Arts a Luxury of a Rich Populace?

Roppongi, one of metropolitan Tokyo's most cosmopolitan neighborhoods, host an all-night arts event every year.  Museums open through the night, performance artists strut their stuff, and temporary exhibitions pop up all over the plazas and the streets.  Thousands upon thousands crowd into the buildings and alleys, gathering for concerts, little musicals, and displays in otherwise inaccessible hours.  They bring their down jackets to the unusual chilliness of 4am, huddling to witness relatively unknown artists trying to get their five minutes of fame one after the other, battling their sleepiness and fatigue. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can the IT Idea of Fashion Take Over Asia?

If there is anything that visually identifies a Japanese adult, and especially a female adult, it is the sense of fashion.  People in Japan's major cities are absolutely meticulous about how they dress in public, even in the most casual of situations.  Countless magazines advise both males and females on proper coordination of shirts, coats, and pants, while various TV programs show how to properly apply makeup and introduce shops that help those with subpar sense of fashion.  Even those who do not care too much about visual presentation inevitably have to conform to the fashion sense just to feel socially acceptable.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Danger of Gaps in Expectations during Social Events

Tokyo is a fine city for meeting new people.  Dozens of organizations ranging from students doing it on their free time to fully professional outfits run social events that bring together complete strangers from all walks of life to help them expand their often limited number of friends and acquaintances.  Generally, what makes these events so fun is that people go in with an open mind and very little expectations, making them extremely conducive to conversations with literally anyone.  In a Japanese society where social status and looks can be paramount, such situations, to say the least, can be quite rare to find.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Food Becomes the First Line of Institutional Globalization

In any university, often the cafeteria becomes a sort of the student body's microcosm.  The cheap and hearty fare of the speedy provided lunch menu is a godsend for poor students with tight class schedules.  Even for those with time to spare, cafeterias are perfect places to meet up with friends within the college, as they are usually centrally located, easily reached from offices and classrooms scattered around the school campus.  It is over the busy lunch hours when student life at its most basic social aspect becomes apparent.  Gossip, stories, and laughs fly across food halls unusually loud by Japanese standards.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Difficulty of Japanese People to Get outside Their Normal Social Circle

As mentioned in the previous post, Tokyo is full of social events that help foreigners meet Japanese people and simultaneously allow many Japanese people to learn about foreign cultures and meet foreigners. Many Japanese people take advantage of these events to get an idea of how English speakers speak and think, so that they can improve their language and international communications skills for the purpose of work and just personal interest.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How Confrontational People Become Social Pariahs in a Non-Confrontational Culture

When the author was traveling in the Middle East, one of the characteristics that stood out most for him was just how aggressive people communicate with one another to get anything done.  When there is any sort of conflict, often there is a shouting match between the opposing parties, with little care for the noisy ruckus they are creating in the immediate surroundings.  Interestingly, the passerby usually do not even bat an eye at the conflicts that are happening right next to them, happily ignoring the anger on the streets as they go about their daily business as if it is all peaceful and quiet.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Can the Rohingya Crisis Lead to Ideological Realignment in Asian Politics?

Political realists have little concerns for morality as it is manifested in politics.  However human suffering from mass killings of wars and massacres can be, for realists, they are only perceivable as concrete actions to advance certain political interests.  Even the very idea of appealing to outsiders' sympathies toward those suffering incredible pains can be productive if propaganda featuring those episodes of suffering can help generate a sense of unity and motivate people into action (or inaction).  Realists who think this way must be watching with great interest what is unfolding among Muslims living Myanmar.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Regrettable Left-Wing Tyranny of Opinions on American College Campuses

The author is often asked why he chose to study in Japan when there are so many more reputable schools in the US.  Surely, even though he was flatly rejected by several of the country's best, if applications to slightly lesser known schools are submitted, there would have been a fairly good chance he would receive admission and scholarship to study.  In response, he would often cite the cheaper tuition and shorter time needed to complete studies in Japan, along with familiarity, convenience, and even lower living expenses in Tokyo.  But in using such mundane reasons, he declines to state one of the biggest reasons for not studying in America.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"It's So Difficult to Make Friends in Japan!"

Thus goes perhaps one of the most common statements among foreigners met in Japan.  And curiously enough, statements of such kind are uttered during some of the most popular meetups where hundreds of Japanese and non-Japanese from all walks of life mingle, specially designed for finding friends among complete strangers.  While being in an environment where people aggressive meet people for the explicit purpose of befriending them, foreigners lament that it is hard to make friends.  Clearly, the reason is not because they have little opportunities to meet other people.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Frequent Suicides can Actually be Good for Social Stability

When working in Tokyo, taking the train to work (or anywhere, for that matter) is part of daily life.  And since people are so reliant on trains to go anywhere, it is especially irritating when they are delayed or canceled for unforeseen reasons.  Japanese train services are famously punctual by design, but even then, there are times where good service and design does not equate lack of issues.  The most frequent of these issues is 人身事故 (accidents involving bodily harm), an euphemism for people jumping into train tracks to commit suicide and delaying services in the process.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Does Wanting to Meet New People Make a Person Narcissistic?

In Tokyo's social meetups, attendees frequently ask each other about their respective personal hobbies.  Trying to come up with something that is not too cliched ("I like to travel around the world!") the author usually tell people that he enjoys going to such social events and speaking with complete strangers.  In fact, he would add, he enjoys speaking to strangers so much that he'd rather devote more time meeting new people out of the blue that go through the troubles of communicating and setting up meetups with his own long-time acquaintances.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Getting Reacquainted with Japan's Workplace Frustration

Being a poor student at age 29 should not inspired this much envy.  If anything, a 29-year-old student should be the epitome of someone who is too old to be clueless about what to do with his/her life, at a golden age where careers are made or broke.  For anyone who genuinely cares about moving up the corporate ladder, it is not a desirable position to be in.  Yet, when conversations turn to the idea of being a 29-year-old student here in Japan, the general reaction among people of similar age has been one of "why can't I be a student now too?" coupled with discussions on the unglamorous daily grind of paid work.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Excessive Praise of Anti-Poaching Heroes Masks Economic Desperation of Poachers

The articles are everywhere.  In local and foreign news outlets, the dedicated lives of anti-poaching patrols in some of the world's most wildlife-abundant areas wage constant wars against poachers, who commit murders for a quick buck.  By showing the aftermath of wildlife slaughters on widely circulated posters and visual reports, both public and private sources make the anti-poaching patrols out to be heroes saving the planet from shortsighted human actions, driven by unparalleled ignorance, uncontrolled want, and the massive profits to be made in the black market.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Does Living in the Middle of Nowhere for Years Makes a Person Less Socially Competent?

If there is anything that characterizes life in rural Africa, it is the small social circles that many expats (more often than not, choose to) confine themselves.  A small group of people have very specific conversations about work and life in a small town, dealing with issues that largely remain unchanged over the course of years.  The fact that people and topics of conversation change so little in such a long time means that expats living in rural Africa develop a very specific way of speaking to a very specific group of people, tailored for long-term relationships and not so much for meeting new ones out of the blue.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Does the Presence of More Singles Reduce the Potential for Economic Growth?

If there is any issue that defines Japan, it is its demographic one.  Among the youths, ever-fewer people choose to get married and have kids, while increasing longevity ensures that a bulging elderly population steadily increases the average age of the entire population.  The presence of "herbivore" men (and women), defined by their almost complete lack of interest in romantic relationships, aggravates the problem into something that is not easily corrected by simple incentives for bigger families.  The mentality of the population has dramatically shifted to one that questions the very virtue of family life.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Can Urban Design Combine the Practical and the Monumental?

Odaiba is a piece of reclaimed land in the middle of Tokyo Bay.  Given how new the land is, and the centralized nature of its original planning, despite being in the middle of the city, the neighborhood does not look like any other in Tokyo.  While the rest of the city is parsed up into millions of tiny plots occupied by houses, office buildings, and shops standing shoulder to shoulder, intersected with narrow two-lane roads, Odaiba is characterized by almost an excess of open space.  A massive concrete promenade runs through the neighborhood end to end, punctuated only by a few trees.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Does Immigration Make an Economy Less Productive?

It is probably global public knowledge by now that Japan is probably the least immigration-friendly developed country in the world.  The number of skilled workers, not to mention unskilled ones or refugees, is puny compared to those taken in by Europe and America in the past decades.  And part of the reason that anti-immigration policies persist in the country despite labor shortages is overwhelming support for anti-immigration policies among the general public.  And the popular support, unlike in the West, extend to the very top, among the wealthiest and most educated of Japanese citizens.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Retaining Social Progressivism as a Goal for Last Year of the 20s

There is one trend that has often been proven to be true in the field of political science.  That is the idea that older members of a particular society, when holding everything else constant, tends to be more conservative in ideology compared to more youthful counterparts.  In fact, even when looking at any particular neighborhoods, as the population grows older, political leanings move to the right.  On economic issues, older people tend to, as compared to youths, oppose in greater numbers high taxes and income redistribution, while on social issues, they oppose homosexuality, abortion, and marijuana legalization.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Japan as the Cheap Place to Live?!

Growing up in Japan, I have always had the impression that the island country is one of the most expesive places in the world.  Friends and family members always complained how for the same price as one would pay for something in Japan, one can get much bigger and more of the same thing.  Research data tend to confirm such anecdotal impressions.  The city of Tokyo has consistently ranked as one of the most expensive places in the world, and its high rank on the costliness has changed little in the past decade.  Both professional and personal evidence point to Japan being an expensive place compared to most other parts of the world.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How Private Specialist Clinics in Japan Allow for Medical Services Much More Efficient than Hospitals

One of the greatest advantages of living in Japan is its high-quality affordable medical services.  National insurance cover 70% of all medical costs incurred in any clinic or hospital, while the insurance itself costs a fraction of what the same would cost in the US.  Medical facilities often have the most advanced medical equipments anywhere in the world, while the skill levels of nurses and doctors are top-notch.  Medical accidents are few and far in between, while even the smallest illnesses are dealt with meticulously without any occurrence of careless dismissal.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jet Lag Becomes Worse as One Becomes Older

Intercontinental travel is something I do quite frequently.  Just in the past two years, I have flown multiple times between Asia and Africa, Africa and North America via Europe, and between the Americas.  For all of these aside from the inter-American flights, the time difference between the origin and the destination is big enough to separate night and day.  But with so many experiences under the belt, I generally is able to grind through the time difference, often by ensuring that no sleep is taken during the long flights across the continents, so that exhaustion means immediate sleep upon arrival at the accommodation at the destination.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How Overt Muslim Assimilation Policy Prevents China from Disrupting US Global Hegemony

In recent years, Chinese official policy toward Muslim citizens has firmly shifted to one of active assimilation.  In Xinjiang, Muslim public servants have been told to forego fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, headscarves and long beards have been banned, and Mandarin is gradually becoming the only language of instruction in schools populated by Muslim minorities.  Who gets to go on the Hajj, not to mention long-term studies and residence in the wider Muslim world, is being strictly controlled by selective granting of passports and other travel documents.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Can A Non-Academic Become Academic on a Short Notice?

Despite having done my degrees at Yale and LSE, I am rather hesitant to consider myself academically inclined.  A year in London was mostly spent traveling around Europe and drinking in pubs, with pitifully little time spent on actual reading and writing as stipulated by the courses.  Having graduated with low grades that is unenviable for anyone pursuing career academic jobs or further studies, I took off to the business world even before the final grades were finalized and the diplomas passed out.  For the next five years, apart from a short six-month stint in Taiwan doing political search, there has been nothing academic in my resume.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Why Greater Openness to Immigrants in the Rich World Will be Disastrous for the Developing World

A couple of weeks ago, the Economist published a headline article calling for greater openness to immigrants.  True to its name, the magazine argued that a person with desirable skills is dozens of times more productive in the (rich) immigrant destination country than s/he would ever be in the (poor) home country. The increase in productivity makes sense in a multitude of ways: the dramatic increase in living standards for the immigrant, overall economic productivity for the immigrant host country, and the corresponding increase in tax revenues that come from the economy having a higher productivity.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

It is Easier to Become Acquainted with a Foreign Culture in One's Home Country than in the Foreign Country Itself

For many people, one of the primary reasons to travel to foreign lands is the ability to see those lands for themselves, in the process becoming familiar with the local culture and people.  By being there and experiencing everything they possibly can, people think they will, over time, become familiar enough with local realities that they can assimilate into local life, whether or not that was the original intention.  However, in many cases, stepping directly into a foreign land with the sole purpose of understanding local life can be counterproductive, as practical obstacles hamper productive efforts to absorb local knowledge.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Incessant Desire of Waiters Cause Endless Increase in Tips Over Time

After eating in dozens of restaurants in countries where tipping is the norm, one figures out a pattern: Waiters, if one ever bothers to look at their expressions after receiving tips, are often never happy about the amount of tips received.  It does not matter if one tips 12%, 15%, 18%, or 20%, the expressions are often completely blank or laced with a slight frown, indicating that the amount could have been more.  They obviously cannot show negative attitudes outright, but the underlying unhappiness is all too clear.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lack of Rural Whites' Economic Self-Confidence as a Source of Ethnic Tensions

The continuing protests in Charlottesville, where two groups of opposing protesters slug it out over issues on race, should concern all minorities in America on exactly what their places are in America.  If sometimes violent protests by white supremacists become political norms backed by supposed freedoms of assembly and political expression, minorities in the country will face more and more legitimate political opposition from such fringe groups when fighting for equal rights.  There is no doubt that political rights of white extremist groups must be restricted in order to secure peace among minorities in the country.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Belonging as Identity and Interest as Belonging

We all have those moments.  Sometimes we show up in a social gathering with supposedly close friends to talk about major events in their lives, yet as the conversations go on, one just finds oneself drifting away, aloof, staring into the space.  It is not that the conversations are boring.  In fact, they might be humorous, full of exciting details, drawing interest of everyone else involved in the conversations.  But even as everyone else laughs and ask follow-up questions, one cannot do much beyond weakly laugh along without understanding the context, just to be polite.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Group Travel Can Weaken Social Relationships with Friends and Family

Many backpackers travel alone, not because they have no friends or inherent distaste of other people, but they find solo travel to be much more carefree than if the travel had conducted with others.  Traveling by oneself means there is no need to consult others when making decisions on where to go, what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.  The travel plan can be executed so much quicker, and changes in the itinerary can be made much more flexibly.  The freedom of traveling independently comes from the fact that there is no restriction of others having different opinions, who needs to be persuaded otherwise.

Friday, August 11, 2017

the "Final Solution" of Chinese Debt Problem: a Grand Sell-off of State-Owned Assets

In the recent years, business news outlets and analyses websites have been keen to present the rapidly increases Chinese debt pile as one of the biggest risks facing the global economy today.  The numbers are certainly scary.  The debt levels, less than 80% of the GDP less than a decade ago, recently surpassed 300% on official estimates.  The numbers would be much higher if grassroots level "shadow banking" of informal community loans are accounted for.  Given the size of the Chinese economy, the amount China owes as a collective is definitely not a small number.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ethnicity-Based Immigration System as the First Step toward Open Borders

In the previous post, this blog argued that nationalism, in the form of openly supporting people from a particular nation at the expense of often negatively stereotyped foreigners can be a huge obstacle for true globalization where people can freely move, work, and live across national borders.  Unfortunately, the fact remains that most people (never mind state governments), educated in a context of patriotism, cannot simply become open to the idea of rendering nationality as irrelevant in order to achieve freedom of movement.  The concept of nation, and the state-level polity, associated with it, remains far too strong today to alter.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Blind Nationalism as a Mortal Enemy of Globalization

One of the staples of Hollywood blockbusters is disaster movies.  In these high-expense, high-action,-high-computer graphics films, disasters strike our planet, in the form of natural disaster, alien invasion, or unstoppable epidemics, leading to global humanitarian crises of scales unimaginable to modern human society.  In most of these films, Hollywood unequivocally uses US assets, whether it be the military, political leadership, or individual heroism, to defend the planet from the disaster, ultimately achieving victory for the world (and for America) after great sacrifices and prudent actions.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Current Border Row Should be Downplayed for the Sake of Future Sino-Indian Relations

In previous posts, this blog has noted how mutual ignorance has continued to plague the relationship between China and India, the past and future superpowers of Asia (and the world), and how the ignorance ensure that bilateral relationships, especially at the grassroots level, remain highly underdeveloped and susceptible to mutual suspicions.  Unfortunately, the recent (re-)flaring up of the Doklam border issue has only further entrenched the mutual suspicions, threatening to take the relationship a step back and wipe out positive results from nascent efforts at cooperation through the BRICS framework.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why Democratic Legitimacy is a Double-Edged Sword for Political Stability

Whether democracy is universally applicable is perhaps the political, ethical, and philosophical question of the past decades.  From the confidence of democracy as the logical "end of human history" in the immediate aftermath of Soviet collapse, to the failure of newly installed democratic structures to bring prosperity and peace to post-dictatorship Iraq and Afghanistan, democracy has only divided opinions in its implementation despite the fact that no credible alternative has emerged in the recent years to challenge its moral authority in the eyes of liberal internationalists.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lack of Variety in Vocabulary as Lack of Language Proficiency

For those who know, I am a freelance translator who translates all sorts of different things in Japanese and Chinese into English.  However, I rarely translate in reverse, from English to the two Asian languages.  As someone educated almost entirely in English, I have much more confidence in writing in English than I am of Chinese or Japanese.  And in the past week, I again had to put that confidence up to the test, by first working on an assignment translating a research report in English into Chinese, followed by a school guide in Chinese into English.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Major Investments as a Company's Way of Ensuring Policy Stability

From his candidate days, Donald Trump promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US and save the Midwest Rust Belt.  For that Trump, the past few days finally brought a major victory that he can publicize.  Foxconn, the manufacturing contractor for Apple (and main other electronics brands) announced the biggest single investment by a foreign company ever in the US, launching a manufacturing facility in Wisconsin that will bring tens of thousands of jobs to the middle of that Rust Belt.  Major news outlets did not shy away from putting on their front pages pictures of smiling Trump next to Foxconn boss Terry Gou.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Does China's Latest Blocking of VPNs Spell Another Defeat for Internet Freedom?

For anyone who spends significant time in China, getting a working VPN is almost part of the common routine.  With the authorities blocking many foreign websites that foreigners love and have came to rely on, VPN is a necessity for many to go about their daily business on the Chinese Internet.  For these people, the recent news that Apple China has decided to pull all VPNs from its China App Store, no doubt due to government pressures, should be a sign of worry.  Making VPNs less accessible to the general public should foretell a further tightening of Internet censorship in a country that is already known for it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If Language is Not an Obstacle to Universalizing a Song, Then What is?

In my nearly one month of travels across South America, there was one thing that was commonly done in every country and city that I set foot in.  That is, the bars and restaurants repeatedly played this summer's (or in South America, this winter's) smash hit, Despacito.  While the Spanish-language reggaeton dance number is just as popular in the US and many other countries around the world, in South America, the craze is at a whole new level, with the song played as part of the pop music hit list so frequently that it is impossible to not go anywhere that plays music without hearing it at least once (if not more).

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Risks and Possibilities of Rap Music Gaining More Recognition in Asia

In the past years, reality shows have become a staple of Chinese television.  In particular, owing to the popularity of karaoke and pop music, American Idol-style programs that seek to discover untapped musical talents in the general populace have become extremely popular and widespread.  Different TV stations and independent media websites have invested and competed to host the biggest, most professional, and most lavishly set "talent search," drawing some of the biggest popstars of Chinese musical industry today to help discover some of the best raw talent hidden in plain sight.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Need for More Accommodating American Policymaking in North Korean Nuclear Nonproliferation

Not a month goes by now without news about the latest progress in North Korean development of weaponry that can pose realistic threats on the US and other countries.  Whether it be missile testing, nuclear weapons testing, or a combination of both, Kim Jong-un has made sure that the world has not forgotten about him and his growing ability to strike the mortal American enemies with weapons of mass destruction.  All previous efforts to reverse the developments, whether they are economic sanctions or diplomatic talks, have largely come to nothing.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why Decoupling Asian and Asian-American Issues are Disadvantageous for Social Standing of Asian-Americans

There are plenty of groups in America that fights for rights and recognition of ethnic issues in this country.  They admirably devote great energy in ensuring that the general non-Asian public in America become more aware of the unjust treatments individual Asians and the Asian community as a whole receive in this country.  By publicizing issues such as United Airlines' ill-treatment of Dr David Dao, these groups have slowly and gradually changed the misconception among non-Asians (especially whites) in this country that Asians tend to face less racism problems than other peoples of color.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Patience is the Greatest Virtue a Traveler Can Learn on the Road

What is the longest downtime a traveler can have?  For many, the answer would be zero.  Being in a new place, new environment, and potentially new people, there would be little in terms of boredom.  Always something new to see and experience, the traveler should never be bored while being in new and exciting destinations that the traveler him/herself chose in the first place.  Unfortunately, such is but empty speculation from people who rarely travel.  The reality is that traveling, more often than not, involve much waiting and sitting around than the traveler would experience back home.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Pains and Risks of Looking for Public Wifi

Traveling across multiple countries, it often makes very little sense to purchase Sim cards in every destination.  Without it, one's smartphone would not be able to take advantage of mobile Internet networks available to local carriers, instead strictly relying on whatever wifi networks that can be obtained for free and for a fee in public and private institutions.  The constant search and usage of these wifi networks are a unique sight and experience in travel nowadays.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

South America in Summary: The Potential for Greater Regional Cooperation due to Shared Heritage

It is difficult to generalize a whole continent, and that is especially true for one as big as South America.  From the north tropics of Cartagena to the Antarctic extremities of Patagonia, the varying climates of the landmass is only superseded in variety by the existence of many biomes, from the frigid high altitudes of the Andes, to the palmy Caribbean coasts, to the humid Amazon, to the Mediterranean weathers of Chilean and Argentine wine producing regions. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Inflation Leading to Supply and Demand Problems in Argentina

There is a weird phenomenon at the hostel that I am currently staying in.  Many of the guests are long-term residents.  And by "long-term," I mean not weeks or months, but years after years.  Some of the residents are foreign students at local universities doing their proper college degrees.  And they tell me that for some reason, it is cheaper for them to stay in a hostel, even with their inflated daily rates, than it would be to find a shared apartment in a decent part of Buenos Aires.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The CCP's Handling of Liu Xiaobo as a Public Relations Disaster

A few days ago, Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo passed away in China, after lack of in-game treatment for cancer that developed unchecked during years of house arrest.  The fact that Liu was gravely ill was not unannounced by the CCP (and thus not known to the international community) until treatment would have been too late.  In supposedly compromising moves at the last minute, the CCP invited foreign doctors to go to China to help with treatment of Liu, an act that was seen as more symbolic than practical.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How Important is Punctuality to Business?

Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.  I have been spending the last two and a half hours waiting for the bus heading across the border to Argentina.  The customers waiting at the bus stand are getting rumpled by the minute, as buses bound for other destinations pass through one by one.  Finally, the right bus arrives, but the customers are not relieved.  The bus opens, and the long luxury bus is crammed full to the aisles with passengers that the bus probably spent way too much time collecting elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why Using Credit Cards in Foreign Lands are Dangerous

Before I embarked on this long trip through South America, I had the fortune to be approved for a traveler's credit card that charges no foreign transaction fee anywhere in the world.  Considering that foreign banks generally charge administrative fees for ATM usage, this traveler's credit card has now become by far the cheapest way for me to access money.  Hence, more than anytime I have in the past, I have been swiping credit card anywhere that the option is available.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How Public Displays of Affection Demonstrate Cultural Liberalism

If there is anything that surprised me about Chilean culture, it is the sheer openness with which locals show romantic affection to one another in public places.  In subway cars, shops, plazas, and especially bus/train stations, couples casually French kiss, with not a care in the world that there are hundreds of people around that are baring witnessed to their romantic displays.  They just pick a spot, hold hands, face each other, and start making out, loudly and at length.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Where is the Boundary between Graffiti and Art?

Valparaiso, Chile is known unofficially as the mural capital of Chile.  Pieces of art spray painted on walls grace every other building in the colorful hills hugging the Pacific Ocean.  Tourists trek through the hills looking for the most beautiful pieces, snapping pictures on literally every other street in the city's hilly neighborhoods.  Along with the architecture and the natural settings, the murals contributed to Valparaiso being granted UNESCO heritage status.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Why "Beg-Packing" is Completely Unethical Way of Traveling the World

A few months ago, the Singaporean newspaper Straits Times did a great piece on what is  called "beg-packing," a phenomenon whereby foreign tourists, often whites from developed countries, finance their backpacking trips across Southeast Asia by selling knickknacks like postcards or performance arts on the streets of their travel destinations.  Sitting on the street sides, these tourists get handouts from local people drawn by curiosity of foreigners practically begging on the streets.

Friday, July 14, 2017

To Tip or Not to Tip: That is the Question

Going on tours, I always have a dilemma. Does the tour guide expect a tip, or is the tip included in the service?  Does the guide earn a living from tips, or is it culturally taboo to give tip (yes, in many Asian countries, tipping can be considered an insult).  For a person new to a foreign country, the answer is not a simple one, often requiring careful observation to see how others behave so that one can follow suit accordingly.  But when everyone is looking at others for guidance on the topic, the dilemma becomes a collective one.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Tourism Helps Increase Urbanization

Uyuni, Bolivia is really in the middle of nowhere.  Surrounding the town is endless expense of deserts, themselves hemmed to one side by towering mountains that separates the area from the mountainous bulk of the country.  From the window of the bus that comes down from the mountains, the town looks like a mirage, a clump of civilization surrounded by inhabitable nature.  Indeed, the town abruptly ends at deserts, overlooking into complete nothingness.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is The Exotic Presented by the Chinese a Form of Soft Power or Just Blind Curiosity?

Walking down the streets of major cities in Bolivia, one would come across an interesting phenomenon, almost all of the minibuses that serve as the main form of public transport for the local populace is decorated in the front and the sides with a series of Chinese characters, printed on in order but making completely no sense.  These characters add a sense of the exotic to otherwise bland one-color exterior of the busses.  Occasionally, the same is observed for trucks that carry products within the towns or across the country.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The One-upmanship of Tourist-Catered Enterprises

Look at any major tourist site in the world today, there is bound to be an adjacent area with hundreds of shops serving the needs of hundreds of thousands of travelers coming through every year. They do a roaring business.  People need to eat, sleep, be entertained, and have their laundry done. And away from home and unfamiliar with the local prices, the tourists are willing to pay much higher prices than the local residents for services and products, some of them so basic as to not cost that much to provide.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Can the Conquered Provide an Identity for the Conquerors?

Looking various tourist sites around the Incan capital city of Cuzco, it is rather obvious that the local inhabitants take their Incan heritage very seriously.  From the grand citadel at Machu Picchu to the various museums lining the capital city's main streets, the locals have tirelessly presented an image of solidarity with the Incan tradition.  The rainbow color flag of the Inca still fly the streets along with the Peruvian national flag, and major streets still retain their names in Quechua, the language of the Inca.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spanish as a Foreign Language that Foreigners are Expected to Understand

If there is one thing that world travelers tend to get used to quite quickly, it is the idea of not understanding anything in the destinations that they end up in.  No matter how many languages one learn over the course of one's lifetime, the number of unique languages spoken in different parts of the world is simply too many for one person to speak even the very basics of, not mention really master.  There always need to be some way to communicate with locals that does not involve actually learning the local language.

Friday, July 7, 2017

How Idling Street Prostitutes Show the Economic Risks of Reliance on International Tourism

The main square of the Cartagena old Town is beautifully lit up at night.  Against the background of illuminated clock towers, colonial buildings, and the defensive walls, restaurants, bars, and night clubs throng with revelers from around the world, taking in the beauty of the 16th century architecture over a cold beer or two.  Some walk around the neighborhood, seemingly traveling to the past when the city was the thriving main port of the mighty Spanish Empire in the America's.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How Airlines Can Coax More Small International Traders into Their Customer Base

With increase in global connectivity and the importance of international trade, a new kind of trade pattern is emerging.  Small traders, towing no more than a couple of suitcases each, cross international borders in search of merchandise they can potentially sell back home.  They purchase the merchandise in (rather small) bulk in foreign markets, throw them into their suitcases.  Once back at home, they throw open their suitcases and sell the contents at a margin.  The profits on the foreign merchandise finance their next trips, which hopefully would involve more scale and more valuable products over time.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Is Retiring Early Really a Good Life Goal?

Now as it had ever been, there are many advertisements of get-rich-quick schemes, on TV, on shady websites, and as inline ads for social media.  Along with the texts claiming Mr. xxx had made $yyy in the course of just few years, many of these unbelievable figures also add in that the new wealth allowed Mr. xxx to retire in his 30s or 40s.  Without saying so explicitly, the ads assume that logically, what someone who earned a massive quantity would do is to immediately retire, so that s/he does not have to slave for some heartless employer or work hard for him/herself anymore.

Monday, July 3, 2017

What Efforts Can External Parties Take to Prevent the Proliferation of Nuclear Materials?

As North Korea steps up nuclear testing in the recent years, the fears of nuclear materials proliferating beyond the control of state-level actors have reemerged.  Not since the mid-2000s, when al-Qaeda sought to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan (primarily via its nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan) has the worry of nuclear proliferation been so realistic, probable, and risky.  The situation in North Korea calls for redoubled efforts to ensure that all the incentives align to prevent spread of nuclear materials. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Can Mitigation Rather Prevention be a Feasible Long-Term Solution for Air Pollution?

Recently, there has been talks of a new way of dealing with growing problems of air pollution caused by emissions of carbon-based pollutants into the atmosphere.  The idea is to install large numbers of large air purifying devices that filter large quantity of air in the surrounding area, removing the carbons in the air that the devices then proceed to pump back into the atmosphere.  Optimists speak of such devices benefiting not only as a scalable mechanisms to rid air of toxic elements, but also as a way to manufacture man-made diamonds with the captured carbons.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Conflicts of Family and Friendship Ties vs Self-Interest in Social Confinement

In the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison follows the life experience of several freed slaves before and after the Civil War, as they struggle with the harshness of present economic realities and continued discrimination against blacks, while they seek out family and friends from the days as slaves.  The novel transcends different time periods and voices of different characters, creating a highly diverse portrait of how individual African-Americans and the black society as a whole cope with constant and permanent coming and going of people due to slave sales and botched/successful attempts at escapes from southern plantations.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Is Overly Investing in Grand Projects a Worthwhile Endeavor?

In a recent podcast for the Odd Podcast, Vanderbilt University anthropologist Prof. Arthur Demarest discussed the signs of a civilization on the verge collapse.  Prof. Demarest postulates a unique point of view, arguing that a civilization is at its very vulnerable at its supposed zenith, when its political, economic, and cultural achievements are at their highest, and the territorial extent at the greatest.  Instead of the civilization showing gradual decline with reduced wealth and territory over centuries, civilizations are much more likely to collapse decades after achieving the zenith.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Role of the UN Revisited: The Necessary Characters for It to be Taken Seriously

The UN can become prominent only when it is willing to step above national interests.  To do so, it must aggressively push for compromises that align with interests of all sides in any particular conflict.  Only with such initiative-taking can the UN not succumb to one-sidedness when conveying international legitimacy.  In other words, its task is not to offer moral high ground to any particular side, but to establish objective forums to discuss how conflicts can be halted in a positive-sum fashion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How a More Relevant UN Secretary General Can Reduce Global Conflicts

The recent years have seen renewed prospects of regional violence.  Just in Africa, internal repression of Eritrea, disorder in Burundi, and tense standoff between Muslim and Christians in Central African Republic, to name a few, continue to disrupt the normal livelihoods of millions.  One point of commonality among these conflicts has been an acute lack of international intervention to prevent escalation.  The lack of international interest has been most visible in these conflicts’ lack of appearance in global headlines, where international conflicts of choice have largely been those in the Middle East. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Feeling Human Fragility Revisited: How Breakdown of Authority Leads to Breakdown of Ethics

In the novel Blindness, Portuguese author Jose Saramago describes a world where a sudden epidemic of unexplainable blindness that struck an entire population led to sudden collapse of human civilization.  Amidst the disorder of a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is reduced to blind savages only concerned about procuring enough food for survival, the lone woman who can still see witnesses how quickly human morals can fall apart, just as quickly as physical infrastructures and institutions.  Yet, the stories of camaraderie among strangers in distress also speak to the power of human bonds in collectively overcoming difficulties.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Does "Ethnic Convenience" Make Cultural Integration More Difficult?

There are certain areas of San Diego one can go to feel completely Asian.  Beside the palm tree-lined boulevards, Asian supermarkets, restaurants, and living goods stores completely fill malls and shopping centers, with only the ubiquitous American fast-food chains (which are also ubiquitous in major Asian cities these days) the only non-Asian physical presence.  Signs in Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean predominate, with English signs in much smaller fonts as translations for the Asian language signs.  Asian cars carrying Asian families stream in and out of the parking lots.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Pros and Cons of “Primitive” Primary Care in Rural Africa

If there is anything positive about living in rural Tanzania, it is the low price and availability of medicine.  Even in the most remote village, there tends to be one pharmacy that sells everything from Band-Aids to tablets that treats malaria.  With many generics that cost no more than a few USD for something that would cost many times more elsewhere, it makes sense for price-conscious foreigners to purchase medicines in rural Africa rather than in their home countries.  What if one falls ill?  In market towns across the country, district- and regional-level hospitals exist to provide basic treatments. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

English Use in Foreign Setting Revisited: Is Forceful Use of a Foreign Language Leading to Cultural Conflict?

One of the most difficult things about working in a foreign setting is the need to communicate with locals in the local language.  Many people are not talented in the art of learning new languages, and many locals have not had experience having to slow down their usual ways of talking to accommodate nonnative speakers of their local language.  The result is frustration on both sides.  For the learner, it is a daunting experience of facing an unknown tongue spoken with plenty of ridiculous speed and incomprehensive slangs. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Case against Donations: Short-Term Gratification for Long-Term Damage

As noted in a previous blog post, one of the most admirable feature of American society is its charitability.  Not only is there ingrained culture of charitable giving among a significant portion of the local populace, there are physical institutions, ranging from tax reductions on donations to multiple large nationwide organizations that take in donations, that allow people to act upon their charitability in highly convenient fashion.  The result is a highly efficient and productive charity sector.  On global rankings for charitability as measured by percent income donated, America consistently rank at the top of the table.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Comparative History of Human Development Can Provide New Clues for Explorations of Extraterrestrial Life

In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Prof. Jared Diamond argues that the different levels of development among modern human societies, in terms of institutions, wealth, and technology, are ultimately due to different environmental conditions faced by their historical predecessors.  The availability of wild plants/animals for domestication and fertile climates/soil for food production enabled some societies, more than others, to adopt agriculture, explode in overall population, and create non-food producing specialists that enable innovations and complex society-building.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parents as a Source of Reassurance as My Little World Crumbled

The year 2000 started well.  I was an ecstatic little boy graduating from elementary school in provincial Japan.   Finally, I was joining the “big boys” at the middle school across the street, donning the cool uniforms that I observed in pure envy for the past six years.  Change was afoot, and I was so ready to embrace it.  Instead, the change was much more radical than I had ever imagined.  Instead of moving across the street, father came home one day and notified that our whole family is moving to the USA, thousands of miles away. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Is Inequality a Prerequisite for Economic Development?

In the previous blog post, I discussed the potential correlation between economic development and presence of nationalism at a state (rather than tribal) level.  But of course, to incentivize economic development requires a whole host of different factors, the presence of many at the same time in equal importance, rather than any particular dominant one, allow for an economy to take off.  I have no illusion that nationalism is the most important factor, and for many poor countries where nationalism is a fact of life, its presence is not even the obstacle holding back development.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tribe-Level Nationalism as a Disincentive for Economic Development

Some months ago, this blog argued that a distinct lack of optimism among Africans is a root cause for governments not putting in the effort to develop their respective countries.  However, in the process, that post never clearly defined exactly what is the root cause of that lack of optimism, aside from making vague statements about historical circumstances that both the African peoples and leaders not emotionally tied to their particular countries, thereby precluding any conscious efforts for development in the long-term.  This post seeks to make clear what that "historical circumstance" really is.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Experiencing Suffering of the Poorest Firsthand is needed for Even the Richest

I write after two years in the depth of rural Tanzania, where I have worked for an NGO.  Our clients, a group of farmers scattered across a series of remote villages, struggles to make ends meet as changing rain patterns and dearth of high-quality fertilizers keep their farms unproductive.  It was a tough two years working to reverse these struggles.  Idealism turned into cynicism, hope into disillusionment.  For failures, I found myself becoming too quick to blame others, whether it be government absence, unmotivated staff, or refusal for organizations, including ours, to prioritize projects that are realistically feasible rather than glamorous for publicity. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is Book Buying Also a Sign of Materialism?

What is the most visual sign of an intellectual?  For many people, the answer may be an obvious one.  The person must be well-read.  And what better proof is there of a person being well-read than having a study full of bookshelves, completely filled up with good books?  It is unsurprising than, whenever the average media outlet go conduct a face-to-face interview with scholars, professors, and experts, they are often conducted in their offices, flanked by bookshelves full of books related to the topics at hand and the person's field of expertise.  Having many books has become equated with knowledge.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Can Reducing Focus on Finding Good Food Lead to More Productivity?

There is no doubt that that rural Africa is not a desirable destination for food-lovers.  This blog has reiterated that fact repeatedly in previous blog posts.  So, logically speaking, someone who loves food but have not had the chance to enjoy many different kinds of it should make every effort to enjoy that great variety after leaving rural Africa.  Without going to excess, the person should be finding the most delicious spots around town, so that s/he can make up lost times of eating rice and beans everyday in rural Africa.  And the person would absolutely enjoy that exercise.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why an International Tech Firm Should be Taxed and Tariffed Like Any Other Multinational

Surfing the Internet around the world is often an exercise in homogeneity.  With the exception of China and a few other countries restricting Internet access to certain sites, every country in the world popularizes the same website and Internet services.  Facebook is used by people around the world in dozens of different languages to connect with friends, while Google and Wikipedia are nearly unanimous as the first sources of knowledge.  On the mobile phone, the likes of Uber and Tinder have provided people in all countries with similar services, despite different on-the-ground conditions.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

What Reforms Are Urgently Needed By Modern Education

Today’s students ought to be anxious.  As technology develops, many cushy jobs are in the process of disappearing and being replaced by robots and computer algorithms.  Government policies, from increased tariffs to fickle visa regimes, make employment in an increasingly interconnected world volatile and unpredictable.  To counter these constant changes in the overall economic environment, Educational institutions need to restructure their curriculums and mindset to help students develop a diverse set of knowledge base.  Only with varied set of skills will students, upon graduation, be able to weather changing employment patterns as well as rise and fall of particular industries. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Person's Past Should Not be Simply Dismissed as Static History

It has been some six ears since I was last at my parents' house in San Diego.  And it has been more than ten since I properly lived in it as a high school student. Returning the place where I studied, slept, and waited for news of being able to finally leave for school somewhere else, I noticed, before everything else, just how little the place has changed over the last decade.  The same books I read then, the same furniture that I sat on, and the same decorations that I stared at still grace the house, with all of them in exactly the same places that I would have found them a decade ago.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How Technology Assists the Blocking of Alternative Political Views

For first time in perhaps months, I sat down to read a newspaper.  For all its conservative leanings, the local paper in San Diego tries its best to look well-balanced, providing views from across the political spectrum on its op-ed pages.  Big bold titles with completely diverging opinions line side by side on the same page, giving the audience scanning through the content an ability to look at every view possible at one-go.  Even if a certain reader does not have any particular affinity toward a particular piece, s/he is bound to look at it somewhat simply because it sits next to another piece that s/he would agree with.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Is the Inability to Easily Fire Workers a Reason for Rural Africa's Lack of Formal Jobs?

"The guy was not doing so well, so we had to let him go..." casually quips the converser when speaking about the recent going-ons at work.  Back here in California, firing incompetent people is an everyday phenomenon that one simply lives, so much so that no one assumes that s/he would not be targeted by managers when periods of low performance and intra-office conflicts persist.  Even when one performs well, structural changes or financial problems at one's workplace is enough of a reason to fire people, and people, while angry or anxious, simply get on with their lives afterwards.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Visual Effect of Asian Increase in a Californian Airport

It is the author's first time in San Francisco airport (SFO) in perhaps 8 or 9 years.  The airport seems have gotten much cleaner, brighter, and bigger than before.  But amid the positive first impressions of the place, one other visual cue that stood out, maybe a bit too much, was just how many Asian people can be found in the airport.  The majority of people at the airport was Asian, from guys assisting passengers at the luggage scanning machines, the people guiding people around airports, to, of course, passengers themselves.  Even immigration staff, generally pretty multiracial, tends to be heavily Asian at SFO.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Why is There So Little Serious Discussions of Africa's Economic Falling Behind among Expats on the Ground?

This blog has not been kind to rural Tanzania or Africa in general.  From criticizing the people's flippant attitude toward money to oddities of everyday life, it has made no effort to conceal that fact that it has portrayed the locations where the author has resided and traveled to in an overwhelmingly negative light.  In the process, much doubt is cast on the future of the continent, much in contrary to the more and more common thesis of "Africa Rising" narrative that is growing prominent in some quarters of popular media and academic world.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Taiwan's Social Progressivism and Impact on New Southward Policy

In one day, there was two polar opposite news coming out of Asia on the issue of gay marriage.  One is the de facto legalization of same-sex marriages in Taiwan's highest court, making the island the first place in Asia to expliciting state that homosexual marriages are as legal as the heterosexual kind.  The other is the public caning of a man caught for gay sex in conservative Aceh province in Indonesia.  The young man is humiliated in front of thousands of spectators, and Western media outlets and general public wasted no time criticizing the act as immoral and barbaric, much to the chagrin of the Islamic local population.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is Cryptocurrency a Threat to National Sovereignty?

For those interested in the world of investing, the growth in value of BitCoin in the past months and years have truly been exciting.  The virtual currency is not only become well-known through its meteoric growth, but is gradually becoming accepted as a form of payment across multiple businesses in multiple countries.  With increase in confidence that virtual currencies are now being treated much more than just an investment vehicle (like gold,silver, and other rare precious commodities) but a real currency with real transactional value in everyday life, the number of people holding cryptocurrency like BitCoin is bound to increase.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Psychology of Owing and Being Owed

A few months ago at the G20 Summit held in Hangzhou, China, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, gave an interview to China Central Television on the Summit's sidelines.  One of the key topic of the interview was the recent economic troubles faced by South Africa, especially pertaining to the financial downgrading associated with the recent sacking of the reputable finance minister Pravin Gordhan.  The interviewer questioned Zuma on how the lack of confidence international markets and rating agencies toward South Africa will impact the South African economy in the coming months.

Friday, May 12, 2017

How the Free Market Improves the Service Industry

China, today as it has nearly always been, is a land of food.  People are willing and will spend excessive ants of money on good food, and tend to seek out the next best restaurant that is coming up.  Tens of thousands of restaurateurs battle it out in a city of millions, where good food is rewarded with constant line of patrons willing to wait for hours and days for a taste, while mediocre ones close down in matter of months as they can no longer afford to pay high rents in a expensive real estate market like Shanghai.  The sheer competitiveness of the market means that only the most delicious will survive.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Economic Doubts behind the “One Belt One Road” Initiative

Turn to any non-entertainment TV programs in China these days, and most inevitably touch on a common theme: that of the “One Belt One Road” initiative.  Endless interviews with experts and common people across countries that will benefit from the initiative, coupled with news stories and detailed analyses of the latest projects coming online, give a strong indication that the government, and the government-owned media sources, wants the initiative to be the defining economic and political movement of the country and the wider region in the next decades.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Benefits of Not Being the Family's Embrace

This author grew up around the world.  From taking his first trip outside the country when he was age five, he has rarely stayed in any place for more than a few years before moving to the next location with his family.  Courtesy of such experiences, he never had the opportunity to meet many of his distant relatives, many of whom are still in China, nor had he the chance to step into his ancestral hometown.  One reason among many that pushed him to attend the wedding of his cousin (who he has also not met more than once every half a decade or so) is so that he can at least say hi to these relatives he has only heard about but never met.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lessons from Watching Japanese Porn for Money

Life is about experience, and that experience can come in many different ways, in work, in recreation, and in entertainment.  Sometimes, the boundaries of those three things blur, giving new realizations of how one perceives work, of entertainment, and of what is the difference between "work" and "life."  A paid translation project that the author completed in the last few days is a perfect illustration of this blurring.  Required to submit English subtitles for Japanese adult videos, he was quite surprised, in a brand-new way, of just how porn, work psychology, and a bit more subtly, how human desire and work ethic works.

Below are some of the main lessons learned from this little paid exercise:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why a Village is “Culturally Purer” than a City

As even the least developed corner of the globe undergoes continual shift of populations off farms and rural villages into the embrace of concrete jungles of urban society, the influence of cities on the overall outlook of the society and its future trajectory is becoming more and more significant.  However, to say that major cities are the primary indicator of a society’s characteristic would exaggerate the role that such cities may play in the overall economic and cultural development of the society in question.  Instead, the primary focus should be on small towns and rural villages, where the poorest of the poor continue to reside.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is Competition or Cooperation Better for Leadership Development?

In the capitalist societies of today, often winners in the race to the top, of wealth, prestige, and power, is determined by constant competition for limited resources among all capable actors.  Many have been taken aback by the ruthlessness of such constant competition, arguing that the hostility of the competitions bring out the worst in our leaders, prioritizing success over ethics and goods human relations.  However, examples can demonstrate that for the youth to become good leaders, competition is still necessary for honing their necessary skills, including the very ability to seek cooperation in order to achieve certain goals.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Hey, Looks Like the Rain is Coming on the Other Side!"

This blog discusses rains quite a lot, and perhaps that is unsurprising given how central rain patterns are to the agriculture-centered local economy.  Indeed, when in villages, one of the most common topics of conversations is whether or not rains have come, when did it come, how long it was, and how strong was the downpour.  In a place where motorcycles are the chief mode of transport, the coming and going of rains is not just important to gauge the success of crops, but when and how long trips to the next village or market town can be.

Monday, April 17, 2017

How a Geopolitical Alliance of China and Russia is Exploiting the US's "Imperial Overreach"

A hundred days into Donald Trump's presidency, it is almost comical to see how his foreign policy has deviated from what people thought it would be when he was first elected.  People thought was going to make amends with Putin, only to see him profess that Russo-American relations has "reached an all-time low."  They thought he would pressure hard on China for unfair trade practices, only to see him profess his "good friendship" with Xi while refusing to label the country a currency manipulator.  They thought he would take America out of foreign entanglements, only to see military presence increased in Syria and Korea.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Media's Sensationalization of Voicing Asian Injustice as a Threat of a "Fifth Column"

The incident involving police brutality against Dr David Dao, an Vietnamese-American passenger in the United Airlines flight in Chicago has sparked widespread outrage among the general public in the US.  The Asian-American community has especially been up in arms about the fact that the passenger in question may have been selected and roughed off because he is of Asian descent. Media outlets both in the US and across the world has been quick to cover the story, with several videos emerging out of the incident to evidence the level of what is perceived as unnecessary force by the police throughout the incident.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What is the Perverse Incentive behind “Close Enough is Good Enough”?

A few months ago, there was a good article written on the prevalence of chabuduo (roughly translated as “close enough”) mentality in China.  A mentality widespread among the nation’s craftsman, it is responsible for countless examples of shoddy manufactures that together plague the reputation for “Made in China” both at home and abroad.  The article argues that the persistence of the chabuduo mentality, so ingrained in modern-day Chinese economy but largely absent historically in its ancient civilization, presents itself as a massive obstacle for the country to move up the value chain.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Key to Ending Ivory Trade is not Bans, but Increase in Supply of Ivory in the Market

In economics, there is a type of product called "Veblen good" that does not contradicts the normal supply-and-demand relationships.  For a normal good, a decrease in supply corresponds to an increase in price, leading to a corresponding drop in demand as consumers reduce consumption and/or seek out cheaper substitutes for the now more expensive product.  But for a Veblen good, while decrease in supply also leads to a price increase, demand actually surges, with consumers assigning higher value to the good due to the higher price of the good.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What is "Proper" Customer Service for an "Outsider"?

The author has been living in the town of Iringa for so long that, not entirely deliberately, he has become a frequent customer in many of the town's local eateries.  Given that it is rather unusual to see Chinese people hanging out in local eateries to begin with, he has become a largely recognizable face among the staff of these eateries.  And as a recognizable face, he is often treated with smiles, handshakes, and quite a bit of eagerness with it comes to being informed of what are on the menu and recommended for the day.  For the longest time, the author simply thought such behaviors are just the norms of how staff in food places talk.

Friday, March 17, 2017



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Can Honesty be a Trait not Developed but Enforced?

A few years back, the author was traveling through the city of Hamburg in northern Germany during his vacation days as a Master's student.  Perhaps one of the most shocking (at least to the author) was how the subway trains crisscrossing the city did not have actual entrance gates in most stations.  Instead of a series of gates where commuters had to stick their train tickets into before emerging on the other side so that they can proceed to the train platforms, the Hamburg metro simply had ticket machines inside the trains to validate tickets, while the stations themselves simply connected to the outside without restraint on entry or exit.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How Does an Unusual Practice Become a Norm?

About a year ago, the author wrote about how few people here in Iringa carry umbrellas and do not mind being in the rain.  It was just another when the author was taking a motorcycle taxi across town when the rains started to fall heavily.  The author did have an umbrella in his hand, but the motorcycle was going way too fast for it to be opened.  Even as the drizzles turned into downpours, the author did not even attempt to get the motorcycle driver to slow down or stop. As his clothes grew wetter from the rains, he realized that he stopped minding being in the a way more Tanzanian, maybe.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Nationality as a Practical Tool: Is the Future of Citizenship not Tied to Patriotism?

What does being "American" mean?  When hearing the word, one can usually conjure the pictures of loud being with distinctive accents proudly talking about the wealth and power of their home country, the global ubiquitous pop culture, and voicing their worries at the current political directions.  Inevitably (and often quite obviously), these same people will have citizenship of the USA.  Without the need to elaborate, the fact that they have the citizenship of the USA makes them America, and entitle them to speak of the country's culture, politics, and wealth in a matter-of-fact, this-is-my-business manner.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Journey Outside the USA Continues....

Many readers of this blog may or may not realize that the author of this blog is actually an American citizen.  Yet during more than six years of this blog's run, the vast majority of posts are written in locations about topics that are distinctively unrelated to the author's country of citizenship.  Even when written, America only exists as an elusive point of reference for other countries, a passive player looming large in the background that features much in the collective psyche of the local populace, but not nearly as much in the workings of their daily lives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is "Enough" Really Enough?

When the author was traveling around Eastern Europe a few years ago, a Chinese man met on the bus told him of a Chinese friend who used to work on a potato farm in Russia.  The man said his friend was busy gathering potatoes during the season when all the sudden, the boss of the farm told him to stop.

“Hey, we got enough potatoes for the season, so you can stop now,” the boss said in a rather matter-of-fact way.

“Wait, so what do we do with the rest of the potatoes?  We still have many hectares that we haven’t harvested,” the friend was positively confused by the boss’ order.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Why Speculation Makes for the Best Political Propaganda

To anyone outside the highest echelons of North Korean political hierarchy, the Hermit Kingdom's state-directed intentions remain completely opaque.  Any provocative moves emerging from the country almost often come as unpredicted and surprising, giving major media outlets all that much more to work with when they think about breaking news headlines.  In the past years, that usually meant the next missile or nuke testing that raise the blood pressures of the Japanese and South Koreans.  But apparently the North Koreans have other initiatives up the sleeve that change up the pattern a bit.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Can A President Trump Spark a Massive Increase in South-South Migration?

An immigrant leaves his/her homeland for a reason.  For some, different political and religious beliefs opposed by the ruling establishment force them to seek more tolerant host societies.  For others, familial ties and international romance must be maintained through physical relocation.  But for the vast majority, migration is about economic opportunities, a chance to escape relative poverty by heading toward destinations that offer better-paying jobs and a safer, more orderly, and more entrepreneurial environment to realize unfulfilled dreams of individual prosperity.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How Lack of Financial Discipline Fuels an Explosive Growth of African Government Debt

In his work Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki attempts to dissect the mentality of the poor, the middle class, and the rich.  Among all the differences he notes of the three, one is constantly repeated and stands out as pivotal in the difference.  The rich, he argues, invests in assets and not liabilities.  And when the rich makes these investments, they do so through incomes earned through assets, and not by taking on more liabilities in the form of loans to be repaid.  By wisely investing in income-generating assets within their means and then reinvesting resulting incomes in more assets, a small initial capital can quickly turn into a large sum.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is Lack of Optimism a Bottleneck for Development in Africa?

There is an interesting fact that few foreigners know about Japan.  That is, the biggest ethnic population of Japanese people outside Japan live in Brazil, numbering more than 1.6 million for a diaspora that just 2.6 million strong worldwide.  From a modern-day perspective, the oversized presence of the Japanese in an economically struggling and geographically distant country like Brazil seem rather strange, especially when Japanese migrant populations everywhere, including in US, Europe, and Asia, are shrinking as fewer Japanese seek to go and live abroad.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017



Saturday, January 28, 2017

When the Atmosphere Determines a Holiday

Chinese New Year, come to think of it, can be a very elusive holiday.  Since it follows the lunar calendar that shifts back and forth relative to the Gregorian calendar in use today, the exact date for it fluctuates every year.  There simply is not a clear reminder that "ah, it is Dec 25 today, so it is Christmas" or "ah, it is Jan 1 today, so it is New Year's Day."  Instead, to remember Chinese New Year's, one often just go with the flow as everyone else celebrates.  The local malls and streets, and at home the dinner table and the decorations certainly would not have one forget the important day.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Enviable Professional Freedom of an Academic

Many people see one's academic and professional lives are two separate,distinct phases.  Schooling is something done in young age, a process of learning that culminates in certifications that signify one's ability to think critically and apply certain skill sets.  Those skill sets are prerequisites to a second phase, professional work that apply and further enhance academic knowledge that can be directed and sharpened to achieve certain goals that are worthy of financial compensation.  For most, one leads to the other (sometimes in reverse), and the two rarely, if ever, crosses paths.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"So, What is the Real Africa Like?"

As predicted in the previous post, the author's time in Japan cannot possibly pass without having to answer some questions about Africa.  The questions are really as general as the title of this post suggests, and the inquiry usually comes with unusual solemnity incompatible with the rowdiness of restaurants filled with drunken salarymen.  A deep breath needs to be taken before an answer is given.  The inquirer is expecting some serious details, and with so much seen in Africa, it is difficult to select for which details that will most interest the inquirers within their short attention spans.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Art (and Lack Thereof) of English Language Meetups in Japan

Despite the continued doubt about exactly how useful English language really is in Japan, there is no denying that there is in fact an active, if small, segment of avid English learners in Japan.  To call them "avid" does not imply half-heartedness.  Instead, the avidity comes from the fact that there really is no urgent need for them to learn the language at all.  They do not use English in their jobs, they have no need to travel abroad for either work or pleasure, and indeed, they have no need whatsoever to interact with foreign persons or cultures if so they wish.

Monday, January 9, 2017

What Does a Korean Hostel in the Middle of Tokyo Says about Internationalization of Japan

The author is a big user of hostels.  Being cheap locations with many people to meet and relative safety of numbers, they generally fit the author's intention to travel on the shoestring and bump into random people in random places.  Interestingly enough, the author had never before stayed in hostels in Tokyo, despite having lived in the country for over seven years.  The current trip gave him that particular opportunity, as he specifically sought out perhaps the cheapest place to sleep in central Tokyo, with the price tag of about 180 USD for a whole week and a half of stay.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

How Does Old Age of Its People Transform An Economy

Japan is a country of old people, the stats are very clear on this point.  With one of the world's lowest birthrate and the highest median age, the country is set to become more and more elderly in the coming years and decades.  But those numbers do not really sink in until one hits the streets and sees the country at work.  Especially on menial public services jobs (such as street cleaners, trash pickup, train station maintenance staff), the average worker is definitely no less than 40, and more realistically (averaging) somewhere in the 50-60-years-old range.  It is sad to see such old folks bending over to carry large bags or wipe low places.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ringing in the New Year's in Rural Tanzania

Looking at international news on New Year's Day, they are filled with the revelations of big ities around the globe.  The massive firework displays, the pulsing light shows emerging from skyscrapers, and the thronging crowds counting down in joy, the big city celebrations certainly deserve the coverages they get for their sheer scales, efforts, and mass participations.  Here in the little frontier Tanzanian town, the same, of course, cannot be expected.  But in its own, much more toned-down way, the people did go out to usher in the New Year, with drinks, food, and more reasonably scaled gatherings.