What to do? What to see and where to eat? Our stay there will be brief, but thanks in advance for your assistance…
What to do? What to see and where to eat? Our stay there will be brief, but thanks in advance for your assistance…
There is no great stagnation:
The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes.
“If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says.
The visitor punches a button on the desk, and types in information on a touch panel screen.
And so starts your stay. All or most of the other functions are automated in some manner or another. This bit is clever:
Another feature of the hotel is the use of facial-recognition technology, instead of the standard electronic keys, by registering the digital image of the guest’s face during check-in.
The reason? Robots are not good at finding keys, if people happen to lose them.
The establishment is called Weird Hotel. Snacks are delivered by drones, but the robots still cannot make the beds.
For the pointer I thank the excellent Mark Thorson.
In the summer, up to half of a multi-course meal may consist of mushrooms, the best I have had. Fried goat cheese is served, and the ham exceeds that of Spain in quality. I had not thought that buckwheat flour pizza, dipped in fresh honey, would be a staple in Chinese food. There is also flower soup of numerous kinds, corn dishes, pumpkin, and donkey.
Even the largest city in Yunnan — Kunming — has fresh air, a rarity in China. The weather is perfect year round, and the faces have Burmese, Tibetan, Thai, and Mongolian features. About one third of the population is explicitly classified as “ethnic minority,” and most of the others look like a blend with Han Chinese.
Dali, the second largest city, is nestled into a lake and mountains as a Swiss city might be. You could explore the neighboring villages around the lake for months. I recommend Xizhou, stay at Linden Centre.
The population is pro-American, not always the case in China, and the Flying Tigers, who flew bomber missions against Japan from Yunnan, are cited frequently, including in dinner toasts to visiting scholars.
Yunnan University has a significant program in cultural economics, and as my hosts I thank them for the invitation and for their extreme hospitality.
Yunnan is arguably the nicest province in China to visit, and one of the best trips in the world right now. The quality of infrastructure and accommodations is good, but exoticism and surprise remain high, the perfect combination. Go before it’s too late.
The chief problem with our airports is not (pace Larry Summers) that they’re not as sleek and modern as the vast white elephants you’ll find in East Asia. Rather, it is that they are congested, and the reason they are congested is that the federal government doesn’t provide for market-rate pricing for take-off and landing slots. This straightforward reform would greatly increase the productivity, not to mention the pleasantness, of our aviation system. Yet it doesn’t involve spending billions of dollars and cutting ribbons, so politicians are by and large not interested.
That is from Reihan Salam.
Gaudi was so self-assured and committed to executing his designs without intervention from clients or bureaucrats that he ignored not only criticism but building codes. The municipal architect Rovira i Trias refused to approve the plans for the Palau Guell; Casa Calvert was higher than regulations allowed; work on Casa Batillo was halted as it had begun without authorization; the dimensions of Casa Mila exceeded permitted limits, and a column at street level blocked pedestrian traffic. Unfazed by these issues, the architect responded in each case by confronting the authorities. It must be said that government officials ultimately celebrated his excesses and made exceptions to accomodate Gaudi’s designs.
From Gaudi of Barcelona.
Why should you seek out French food in Singapore? Yet I did. I would describe my meal as at the San Sebastian level for quality and presentation, and one of the best I’ve had in the last five years. I also enjoyed the best view of any meal of comparable quality, looking out onto Marina Bay Sands and the Straits.
In fact, Singapore rarely disappoints. There is an all-vegetarian menu as well.
It is more picturesque than I had expected, and the zoning is very tasteful. Interesting food is hard to find, and a simple fish and chips can run over thirty dollars; try to eat in Lido if you can. Some of the men downtown wear shorts and dark socks, with jacket and tie. I find the accent interesting. Parts of Hamilton, the largest city, remind me of Wellington, New Zealand.
I’ll have less than a free day there, but I will put your advice to good use, thanks in advance. What to see and what to eat?
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, but when you turn the corner you never know what is coming: a Baroque or even Romanesque church, wondrous blue tiles, a rotted out building, a coffee and pastry shop, port warehouses and embankments, or a steeply plunging street. If a store displays the sign “Novidades,” that is an indication they don’t have any. Porto is (not) the only European city with six bridges. My conference was held in a very fine Rem Koolhaas venue.
This politically incorrect shop sign would have been taken down a while ago elsewhere in Europe; it is a reflection of the city’s remnant status. The modern parts of town, along the ocean, remind me of California. But the English language section of a used book store will have the titles which were British bestsellers in the 1920s. A 1970s tribute store is called “Spock,” and its sign outlines the Starship Enterprise.
Eat the tripe and white beans at Flor de Congregados, or for fancy try DOP restaurant, worthy of a Michelin star or two but not priced to boot. Peer into the apartments which open out onto the streets of the old town, due to the lack of air conditioning, and check out their crumbling wallpaper and tightly packed collections of icons. Here are ten things to like about Porto.
If you took the brain of Maria Popova, and turned it into a Mediterraneo-Atlantic city, loaded with debt, you would have Porto. Definitely recommended.
A student has changed his name by deed poll because it was cheaper than paying a “ridiculous” Ryanair charge for a booking error.
Adam Armstrong, 19, was presented with a £220 administration fee after his girlfriend’s stepfather mistakenly reserved a seat to Ibiza for him with the budget airline under the surname of West.
Armstrong, who is studying for a foundation degree in digital marketing at Leeds City College, changed his name to West for free and drove to Liverpool to rush through a new passport for £103.
A resident of Mountain View writes about their interactions with self-driving cars (from the Emerging Technologies Blog):
I see no less than 5 self-driving cars every day. 99% of the time they’re the Google Lexuses, but I’ve also seen a few other unidentified ones (and one that said BOSCH on the side). I have never seen one of the new “Google-bugs” on the road, although I’ve heard they’re coming soon. I also don’t have a good way to tell if the cars were under human control or autonomous control during the stories I’m going to relate.
Anyway, here we go: Other drivers don’t even blink when they see one. Neither do pedestrians – there’s no “fear” from the general public about crashing or getting run over, at least not as far as I can tell.
Google cars drive like your grandma – they’re never the first off the line at a stop light, they don’t accelerate quickly, they don’t speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
…Google cars are very polite to pedestrians. They leave plenty of space. A Google car would never do that rude thing where a driver inches impatiently into a crosswalk while people are crossing because he/she wants to make a right turn. However, this can also lead to some annoyance to drivers behind, as the Google car seems to wait for the pedestrian to be completely clear. On one occasion, I saw a pedestrian cross into a row of human-thickness trees and this seemed to throw the car for a loop for a few seconds. The person was a good 10 feet out of the crosswalk before the car made the turn.…Once, I [on motorcycle, AT] got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too… The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don’t think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are “easy targets” in traffic.
Overall, I would say that I’m impressed with how these things operate. I actually do feel safer around a self-driving car than most other California drivers.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman.
Ants — most are teeny creatures with brains smaller than pinheads — engineer traffic better than humans do. Ants never run into stop-and-go-traffic or gridlock on the trail. In fact, the more ants of one species there are on the road, the faster they go, according to new research.
Researchers from two German institutions — the University of Potsdam and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg — found a nest of black meadow ants (Formica pratensis) in the woods of Saxony. The nest had four trunk trails leading to foraging areas, some of them 60 feet long. The researchers set up a camera that took time-lapse photography, and recorded the ants’ comings and goings.
…Oddly, the heavier the traffic, the faster the ants marched. Unlike humans driving cars, their velocity increased as their numbers did, and the trail widened as the ants spread out.
In essence ants vary the number of open lanes, but they have another trick as well:
“Ant vision is not that great, so I suspect that most of the information comes from tactile senses (antennas, legs). This means they are actually aware of not only the ant in front, but the ant behind as well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That reduces the instability found in automobile highways, where drivers only know about the car in front.”
Driverless vehicles can of course in this regard be more like ants than humans.
I suggest two plans, each of which I have been able to implement in a partial way only:
1. Take the train around to random first, second, and third tier Chinese cities. Many of them will have their own cuisines, or they will represent a nearby regional cuisine. It’s like discovering the food of a new country. Imagine if Shandong province were a separate country! How compelled you would feel to visit it for the food, often considered China’s foundational cuisine, plus it uses the finest vinegars. And yet, because it is part of “China” (Gavagai!), you feel you already know something about Chinese food and thus the need to sample it is not so pressing. Redo your framing, and rush to some of the lesser visited parts of China.
By the way, you can stay in the second or third best hotel in most Chinese cities for only slightly more than $100 a night, and yet receive five star treatment and quality.
2. How many provinces does China actually have? I don’t wish to litigate that dispute, but most of them have restaurants devoted to their regional dishes in Beijing. These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent. Furthermore they are scattered around town, so if you visit them all you will see many parts of Beijing.
A month in Beijing should allow you to visit them all, plus the air pollution really is better these days.
I should add that western China has by far the best raisins I have sampled in my life, most of all the big red raisins. Until my trip to Xi’an, I had never actually tried a real raisin with the real raisin flavor. Forget the Terra Cotta Warriors, discover what a raisin is!
R. asks me:
I’ve been reading your blog for years and it remains my favorite. I am an attorney planning to travel for 1-2 months in Eastern/Northern Asia and Europe this fall before starting work at a law firm. Since you are so widely traveled, I would love to read a post listing the most memorable places you’ve traveled or travel experiences you’ve had.
An answer to that could fill many books, but here is a simple rule to start: follow the per capita gdp. Perhaps my favorite travel experience of all time is Tokyo, but more generally I say master the area lying between London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid, give or take. There are so many high quality sights and experiences to be had there you can chunk it many different ways.
If you wish to visit the United States, specialize in the eastern seaboard, Chicago, but most of all southern Utah down to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, much better than the southern rim but book in advance. That latter part of the country has perhaps the world’s most compelling natural beauty, plus a good look at real American culture along the way. For all its fame, it remains oddly under-visited (thank goodness). Toss in San Francisco for good measure, and then drive through some godforsaken parts for a few days, the worse the better.
For the emerging economies, I say Beijing and Mumbai are good places to start, how can you not wish to be introduced to a country of a billion people or more? Mexico City is extremely underrated, especially if you live nearby in North America, just don’t expect English to be spoken. By the way, it is safer than you might think. Then spend some serious time in the countryside, almost any safe (or unsafe) emerging economy can serve this function.