Every unplanned trip has its unforeseen circumstances, and sometimes those unforeseen circumstances can get quite costly. And there was certainly one of those on this particular trip through the Silk Road. On the way back from Yerevan, the Armenian capital to Tokyo, the cheapest way would have been to fly through to Russia and then to Japan. The next cheapest, involving non-Russian transitions, would have been costlier by a margin of close to 300 usd.
Monday, March 12, 2018
Sunday, March 11, 2018
at 6:49 PM
The movie Black Panther has been all the rage back in the US for quite some time now, particularly among the black community given its depiction of a wealthy, confident, powerful black country not suffering under the yoke of Western colonialism. While the concept of Afro-centrism or Afro-futurism as many have termed it, is worthy of note, a bigger theme that goes beyond race comes to mind when watching the movie. That is the question of whether and how a wealthy nation engages its poorer neighbors.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
at 3:55 PM
The immigration official at the Armenian land border with Georgia looked quite hostile. "What were you doing in Azerbaijan?" He asked rather angrily as he flipped through the passport to find the unexpected Azerbaijani entry and exit stamps. When he received the usual "tourism" answer, he was simply unconvinced, deciding to take a copy of the passport page with the Azerbaijani stamps before allowing the passport holder into the country.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
at 3:48 PM
Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, is in many ways the city of its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Having came up with the idea of creating a brand new city to replace Almaty, the economic hub of more than a million people, as capital of the country, he certainly did not hesitate to put his own imprints on the city itself. The city's new airport, university, several other institutions are unabashedly named after him, while the main museums all have sections exclusively dedicated to his life and politics.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
at 5:45 PM
When the Soviet Union found itself in power, it not only took over some vibrant cities in its territories, it also quickly worked to create brand new ones to suit needs of the planned economies and regional administration. Villages are expanded into cities based on a consistent set of designs that adhere to Soviet philosophies of how cities should look like and function. Based on the set of designs, many similar cities are created in the Soviet sphere of influence.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
at 8:04 AM
"Things are different here," the local driver nonchalantly quipped, "the rules that govern the rest of China simply does not work here in Xinjiang." As the driver took a drive in search of hotels in Urumqi, the metropolitan capital of Xinjiang, he began to remark on just how years of terrorist threat changed how locals in the city and the wider region live their daily lives. After a few hours in China's volatile western reaches, the restrictions can easily be felt.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
at 3:18 PM
In some ways, the very concept of time is a social construct. After all, it is by sheer convention of the centuries past that humans decided that, for instance, 7am means early morning and 7pm means dinner time. The number could have been entirely something else had those who were in charge of creating standard time notations chose otherwise. And because humans are so used to the idea of 7am and 7pm means the same thing everywhere, there came to be the idea of time zones.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
at 4:54 PM
There is a little village in front of the famed Crescent Lake in the middle of the desert near the city of Dunhuang in Western China. To take advantage of the convenient location to the famous tourist spot, the villagers have been busy setting up one home stay after another. By the time the author rolled around in February of 2018, practically every house in the village operates an inn, a restaurant, a tourist-oriented supermarket, or a small tour agency.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
at 8:43 AM
In front of the massive dormitory complex that the author lives in seaside Tokyo, there is a pedestrian crossing that leads to the park connecting the complex with one of the nearest metro stations. Given that relatively few people uses the pedestrian crossing, it is not automatically activated. Only by pressing the button on a pole next to the crossing would the streetlight turn green, allowing people to cross. Without pressing button, the light will remain red forever. The bright red button is quite visible, located conveniently right next to the curbside below the pedestrian light itself, with a bright yellow box with a human drawing.
Monday, January 29, 2018
at 5:09 AM
Even for someone who does not follow Chinese popular culture too closely, the author cannot escape the recent news of the government banning any display of hip-hop culture on television. After the CCP decided that the subculture of underground rap that is gaining some mainstream popularity in the past months can supposedly instigate crime, take youths away from proper, healthy values as citizens, often based on so-called vulgar lyrics of rap songs, international news outlets have ensured that lovers of hip-hop and rap music, especially in the US, deepen their already steep hatred for the Chinese government and society.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
at 11:41 AM
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.
Friday, August 25, 2017
at 2:19 PM
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.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
at 9:13 PM
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.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
at 9:56 PM
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.
Monday, August 7, 2017
at 9:36 PM
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.
at 4:00 AM
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.
Friday, August 4, 2017
at 4:14 AM
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
at 1:02 AM
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.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
at 1:11 AM
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.
Friday, July 21, 2017
at 7:26 PM
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.