Travel

Bleg for Dalian, China

by on June 17, 2017 at 8:32 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

After my trip to Shenyang, I’ll be in Dalian for the World Economic Forum.  Nonetheless I will get there a day early and have time to look around — what do you all recommend?

CHJ Automotive have not released official images yet of the car, but showed CNBC some of the initial designs of the ultra-compact vehicle. The car is 2.5 meters long and 1 meter wide. It runs on two batteries which are swappable, meaning that the car won’t need to stop for too long at a charging station to re-juice. Google’s in-car operating system called Android Auto is equipped in the vehicle

It will be priced at between 7,000 euros ($7,824) and 8,000 euros.

While it may seem like a small vehicle, Shen explained the target market the company is after in China.

“In China, there are 340 million people (who) daily commute with e-scooters, but there is a strong demand for them to upgrade to something,” Shen told CNBC in a TV interview on Friday.

“But we cannot imagine all of them driving cars, so we want to give them something else, which is an ultra-compact car.”

The product might be used for ride-sharing in Europe as well.  Here is the article, forgive the noisy music at the link, via Ray Kwong.

Here is the transcript and podcast (no video).  Jill and I discuss Mary Pickford, Dickens in America, why the early United States did not blossom culturally, Steve Bannon as a character from a 19th century painting, what the Tea Party got wrong and right, H.G. Wells, her working class background, Doctor Who and Gilligan’s Island, Elizabeth Bishop, what Americans don’t like about New England, Stuart Little, how she got her start as a secretary at HBS, and many other topics.  Highly intelligent throughout, though note it is not easy to excerpt.  Here is one good bit:

COWEN: You’ve argued at times that people overestimate the connectedness of the present with the American past. It’s not just that the past is a foreign country as Peter Laslett suggested, but it’s indeed stranger in some sense. If we could undo those mistaken intuitions about, “Oh this is like the 1960s” or “This is like Andrew Jackson,” whatever the analogy may be, what’s a concrete example of how that could improve our understanding of the current world?

LEPORE: I like to think about it in a different structural way. That completely understandable desire to find a historical analogy is just like to take an accordion and compress it.

COWEN: Yes.

LEPORE: They make then just like now. So, “Oh I know, Trump is just like Andrew Jackson. It’s the same move. He’s appealing to the people. He’s unwilling to enforce the rulings of the Supreme Court. He’s overriding Congress in order to get the mandate.” Whatever it is that you want to say about those two people. And that seems to me really quite kooky.

A different move that I find much more edifying and historically defensible is to pull open the accordion and stretch it open as far as you can, so you can see the distance between now and Andrew Jackson, the distance between Trump and Jackson, and try to understand what happened between those two characters and those two presidencies that helps us to see transformation. It’s a little bit like some of the controversy over how to interpret the Constitution. Because originalism, to me, is like squishing that accordion all the way together. “What would James Madison think?” is the question that originalists want to ask. Whereas I want to know what happened between when Madison thought that and here where we are now. And that’s a very different kind of constitutional interpretation.

In 1987, when it was the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, there was a lot of hoopla. It was right after the Robert Bork nomination, and then originalism was very much the priority of the Reagan justice department under Edwin Meese, and there’s a lot of conversation about the filial piety of a bicentennial. And this is an exciting thing to think about, that 200th anniversary of the Constitution.

Thurgood Marshall, as you know, the first African American Supreme Court justice who’d argued Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 — he was asked, “Are you going to participate in the hoopla, the bicentennial hoopla of the Constitution?” He gives this incredibly powerful speech in which he says, “No. You know what I’m willing to celebrate, not that document, which was flawed. Let’s just understand the ways in which it was flawed. I will celebrate the 200 years since, the 200 years of struggle to make good on the promises of that document.” And it’s that kind of thinking, that kind of historical thinking that contributes to our popular culture and to our discussions of the relationship between the past and the present, more than that desire to really collapse things and say, “Oh it’s 2008; this is just like 1932.” It’s not. It’s really not like 1932.

And:

LEPORE: I remained somewhat befuddled by how a lot of things happen in the world.

Recommended…

“The amount of high bridge construction in China is just insane,” said Eric Sakowski, an American bridge enthusiast who runs a website on the world’s highest bridges. “China’s opening, say, 50 high bridges a year, and the whole of the rest of the world combined might be opening 10.”

Of the world’s 100 highest bridges, 81 are in China, including some unfinished ones, according to Mr. Sakowski’s data. (The Chishi Bridge ranks 162nd.)

China also has the world’s longest bridge, the 102-mile Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, a high-speed rail viaduct running parallel to the Yangtze River, and is nearing completion of the world’s longest sea bridge, a 14-mile cable-stay bridge skimming across the Pearl River Delta, part of a 22-mile bridge and tunnel crossing that connects Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China.

The country’s expressway growth has been compared to that of the United States in the 1950s, when the Interstate System of highways got underway, but China is building at a remarkable clip. In 2016 alone, China added 26,100 bridges on roads, including 363 “extra large” ones with an average length of about a mile, government figures show.

Here is the Chris Buckley NYT piece, excellent visuals too.  Via Kevin Lewis.

Shenyang bleg

by on June 11, 2017 at 3:17 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Not too long from now, I’ll be in Shenyang, formerly known as Mukden, and largest city of Liaoning province.  It is also the largest city in China’s Northeast.  What should I do there, and what/where should I eat?  What else do I need to know?  I believe Lang Lang is from this city, and the famous nine-hour documentary Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks is set in Shenyang.  Note that “Due to the popularity enjoyed by many Shenyang-based comedians, the city is nationally recognized as a stronghold of Chinese comedy.”

I can hardly believe my good fortune at being able to visit Shenyang.

I thank you in advance for your assistance.

Manama: A Saudi judge and former Shura Council member has suggested hiring Saudi couples as flight attendants on Saudia, the flag carrier of the kingdom, as a first step to enabling Saudi women to become air stewardesses.

“The number of stewardesses with Saudia is around 1,000 and it is possible to recruit 1,000 Saudi couples to work together as flight attendants,” Dr Nasser Bin Zaid Bin Dawood said.

“Couples can start on domestic flights and then gradually move on to international flights. The idea of recruiting couples to work together is not new and we had a similar experience in the past when husbands were recruited as guards in the girls’ schools where their wives worked as principals, administrators, teachers or assistants,” Bin Dawood said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Thursday.

Here is the link, via Air Genius Gary Leff.  And here is Gary on the new air traffic control proposal.  Peter Orszag also approves.

Here are some of the results:

Here’s what they found: bike network connectedness seems to immediately pay off in the form of lower risk to people biking. The risk of a biking trip in Seville seems to have fallen dramatically in 2007 and stayed mostly flat afterward. No other single variable predicted bike safety as well as that single yes/no question: Has a network been built yet?

More accurate still was a formula that took into account both variables — the length of bikeways built and that yes/no question about whether or not the network had been connected.

In other words: Generally speaking, every additional mile of protected bike lane somewhere in the city improved safety. But network connections improved safety most.

Here is a summary, here is the study itself.  For the pointer I thank Roland Stephen.

An interesting test of what3Words, the location addressing system for the planet that I have blogged before. It’s not exactly an RCT to say the least but should motivate further testing.

what3words would be very useful in India where street addresses are less common and rigidly adhered to than in the US.

Hat tip: Samir Varma.

Travel sentences to ponder

by on May 31, 2017 at 11:00 am in Philosophy, Travel | Permalink

“My favorite is when the ship docks somewhere I’ve already visited,” she said. “One time, we were on a ship that docked in Rome. I’ve been there a million times. So everyone else gets out, and it’s just me and my husband on the ship. It’s the perfect antidote to New York life.”

The article is about couples who would rather live on cruise ships.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Switzerland has taken in a high portion of foreign-borns, yet without losing its identity or sense of order.  Over 24 percent of the population is foreign-born, noting that almost half come from France, Germany, Italy, or Portugal.  The country recently imposed restrictions on migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.

German as a second language in Switzerland is declining, as the migrant workers in the service sector do not command it with much fluency if at all.  In Lugano, for instance, English now seems to be of more value.

In so many parts of the country unemployment is below two percent, with a national average of 3.3 percent.  And the Swiss manage this with an “overvalued” exchange rate, at least by purchasing power parity standards.  It is worth pondering how this is possible.

Probably the Swiss have never seen a better time.  Their countryside is gorgeous and intact, and their major cities are creative and flourishing, yet many Swiss remain deeply unhappy about inward migration.

The Swiss are no “snowflakes;” they impose and enforce stiff penalties on those who don’t meet the insurance mandate, and they are on the verge of deporting an ethnically Spanish man who was born and raised in Switzerland, and who never has lived in Spain, for his repeated criminal offenses.  Furthermore “Voters in Bern on Sunday rejected a proposed 105 million franc funding boost to help asylum seekers in the canton, primarily unaccompanied minors.”

It is striking how much the theory of comparative advantage has operated on Switzerland over the last thirty years, as the country has moved to a true economic integration with the EU.

I see Swiss cuisine as declining in relative value, as quality ingredients have spread to many other countries, including the United States (and Ireland!), but Swiss cooking has grown only marginally more imaginative.  And food prices here can be 2x or more typical developed country levels.

Bern feels much freer and less provincial than it did thirty years ago, the last time I visited.  Living here now seems imaginable.  And in Bern you still can see a working public phone booth.  Nor, from casual observation, do people here seem as cell-phone obsessed as their American demographic contemporaries.

As for Lugano, nothing seems to happen there.

Switzerland, an extreme country, and an extremely successful country, is always worth pondering.  And visiting, even at 2x prices for the food.

..in the 10 years from 1999 to 2009, India’s workforce increased by 63m. “Of these, 44 million joined the unorganized sector, 22 million became informal workers in the organized sector, and the number of formal workers in the organized sector fell by 3 million.” This is a social catastrophe. It is due not only to labour-market distortions, but to a host of constraints on the creation, operation and, not least, closure of organised and large-scale businesses.

Uber seems to be moving to a system where some rides cost more than others, even in the absence of surge pricing:

An Uber spokesperson assured Axios that pricing has nothing to do with a rider’s perceived level of income, past rides, or any individual characteristics.

So far only for UberPool in limited locations, I also am interested in this as a test of whether social media can strike down price discrimination.  What will the prices be contingent upon?  Traveling to a starred Michelin restaurant?  Why then use UberPool?  Here is further (but still incomplete) information, and yet more here.  How long will it take people to figure out the implied rules for contingent prices?  Are we these days capable of accepting any such rules as fair?

The pointer is from Matthew Kahn.

raudat_tahera_01You won’t find the Raudat Tahera, a beautiful mausoleum for two holy leaders of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Ismaili Muslims, on any of the standard tourist guides to Mumbai. In part that is because the Raudat isn’t ancient (but like the Akshardham Temple people will be coming to this shrine for hundreds of years so why wait?) and in part because it isn’t a tourist site but an active and revered part of the Dawoodi Bohra community. Not many people seem to know about the Raudat Tahera and today it is literally hidden under a tarp to protect it from nearby construction (more about that later). Nevertheless, the Raudat Tahera is without question one of the best things to see in Mumbai and arguably in all of India.

The marble for the mausoleum was quarried from the same grounds as that used for the Taj Mahal. Most spectacularly, the entire Quran has been inscribed in golden letters on the inside walls with each of the ‘Bismillah’ inscribed using diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. The interior is austere and beautiful but hard to capture in photographs (which aren’t permitted except for official purposes). Although of low-resolution the image below actually gives the best feel.

raudat_tahera_02I visited with my wife and son. We came in the morning and we were told to return later that afternoon. When we returned we were treated very courteously and provided a guide, a student from Saudi Arabia. The local community is proud of the mausoleum and although they don’t encourage tourists I believe they were pleased that foreigners wanted to see it. Both men and women need to cover their head.

Aside from the architectural awe and religious interest my pilgrimage to the Raudat was motivated by economics. One of Mumbai’s great problems is that a lot of land is locked up in low-value uses. Rusted factories and ports generate little value on land worth billions, slums look out onto million dollar sea-views, land that could house thousands in sky rise apartments instead holds dozens in dangerously dilapidating structures. The complexity of ownership (who owns a second floor apartment that has been occupied by the same family for generations?), the chaotic land-titling system, the slow court system and the politicization of everything means that solving these problems requires little short of a miracle. Enter Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the holy leader of the Dawoodi Bohra.

Burhanuddin built the Raudat Tahera for his father, the previous Dawoodi leader, and they are now buried there together. Burhanuddin was not just a spiritual leader. He was an astute businessperson and before he died be presented his vision to rebuild the Bhendi Bazaar, the 150 year old warren of crowded and narrow streets and shops behind the Crawford bazaar (hence “b hend i” bazaar) where a majority of the residents are Dawoodi.

ET: To an outsider, [Bhendi Bazaar] holds an old-world charm…But the neigbourhood is so congested and some streets so narrow that cars cannot enter. Virtually every open or unoccupied space has turned into a garbage dump. And almost all the 280 buildings in Bhendi Bazaar look shaky and dilapidated (80% have been declared unsafe).

Burhanuddin’s visionary redevelopment plan requires thousands of people to sell their homes and businesses to the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust. Trust, being the operative word. Then they will move out of their crumbling structures into temporary quarters while some 250 buildings spread across 16.5 acres will be torn down and redeveloped. After completion, the old owners will move back in to (part) of the now much larger and better planned area. It’s a big-push plan and, remarkably, it seems to be working.

So far, the Trust has bought 87% of the buildings in the area and construction is active (hence the Raudat Tahera being under a tarp). Holdouts can be a problem but every Dawoodi child who comes of age has to swear loyalty to the Dawoodi leader (now Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, son of Burhannudin and the 53rd in the line) and disobedience brings pressure and social boycott.

It’s no accident that the Raudat Tahera is the focal point of the planned new development. Towers of apartments and offices will rise from the Raudat in order of ascending height, framing the Raudat forever and giving everyone a visual reminder of where true power lies.

raudat_tahera_03

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that all of India is looking to the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment project and praying that it will succeed. Although the billion dollar plan is being funded and run by the private Trust, the Maharashtra state government and Prime Minister Modi have thrown their support behind the plan. The plan, of course, cannot be easily replicated. The Dawoodi are a small, close-knit, geographically concentrated, spiritual group devoted to a holy, charismatic and visionary leader and all of that has been key to solving the holdout problem and creating the trust necessary for large-scale cooperation. Many of the Dawoodi are also successful and well-connected business people. Adil Zainulbhai, former head of McKinsey India and consultant to the Modi government, for example, is counted among their members and sits on the board of the Trust. Nevertheless, even if the Bhendi Bazaar redevelopment plan cannot be easily replicated, if it succeeds the demonstration value of the wealth that can be unlocked with cooperation will be tremendous.  And if the plan fails…well that is why people are praying.

Hat tip: David Moo.

They are usually reserved for impatient drivers in built-up, urban areas.

But a picturesque beauty spot in eastern China has nicked a trick from road safety campaigners worldwide – by installing speed bumps for pedestrians.

Local officials in the town of Taierzhuang have installed 50 so-called ‘calming devices’ to slow human traffic at one particular point.

…It’s believed the speed bumps, which are located at the historic site’s pedestrian entrance, are designed to encourage greater appreciation of its beauty and heritage.

Previously, there were concerns that increased footfall was becoming too frenetic – and thus compromising the experience.

Here is the story, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Can Uber make it in India?

by on April 17, 2017 at 1:50 pm in Economics, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

From Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times:

India’s cellular networks can be spotty and slow, and banking, credit cards and other financial mainstays cannot be taken for granted. More than that, vast differences in education and wealth create a social dynamic between riders and drivers that cannot be smoothed over by improving an app interface.

Not only are many of Uber’s drivers here unfamiliar with smartphones, some are illiterate. Often, drivers and riders don’t speak the same language. Many drivers need financial help to purchase or lease cars, and then require continuing help to manage their finances and other details of their small businesses.

On top of all this is competition. Uber faces an aggressive and well-funded Indian rival, Ola Cabs, which operates in 100 cities and offers a wider range of services than Uber does.

…The companies must also spend time educating drivers on the social dynamics of working for themselves. Many drivers arrive after working as private drivers for middle- and upper-class Indians; those jobs can be grueling — drivers work long hours, are expected to be constantly on call, and often aren’t accorded much respect for their work. When they come to Uber and Ola, the same drivers have to adjust to a job in which they finally have some agency, and the change can be terrifying.

Those are all good points, but I don’t think they get at the two main reasons why Uber will continue to have a hard time making money in India.  First, in major cities you never will know when your ride actually is coming.  The vehicle could be around the bloc, but still take thirty minutes to arrive.  In the meantime, should you just wait?  Second, if it is immediacy you value, there is almost always an auto-rickshaw nearby.

By the way, it turns out that about 80 percent of Uber transactions in India are cash-based.