Travels

I’ve been to Morocco before, but never Fez.  What do you all recommend?

When In India, Get a Haircut!

by on September 6, 2017 at 7:24 am in Economics, Travels | Permalink

Here is the first of our MRUniversity videos made in India! It was a lot of fun to make. The video introduces the Balassa-Samuelson effect (also called the Penn effect) and why we need purchasing power parity corrections. Eventually, we will update our entire Development Economics course to the same production quality. Enjoy!

Skopje notes

by on August 11, 2017 at 12:11 am in Food and Drink, History, The Arts, Travels | Permalink

Skopje, capital city of Macedonia, is a dream world for lovers of concrete communist architecture.

Link here, photos recommended.  It seems it is also the roast pepper capital of the world, and this:

The city center holds concrete masterpieces sitting alongside every possible era of architecture from the last two millennium. An ancient Castle fortress looks down from one side, and the world’s biggest cross sits atop an inner city mountain on the other. On one side of the Vardar river that cuts through the city center, is a ancient neighbourhood that could be straight out of Istanbul. On the other, the city square with an enormous “Man On a Horse” statue (just don’t say it’s Alexander the Great, believe me) is a pleasurable and walk-able area normally bustling with activity. Connecting the two areas, is the Stone Bridge, built about 700 years ago – on top of much older Roman foundations. The layers and the contrast is unique for any city of this size.

Imagine a city that is part Habsburg in style, part Ottoman, part communist brutalism, and part Las Vegas/Venetian kitsch except it isn’t kitschy, and with a dash of 300 thrown in for good measure, distributed across dozens or is it hundreds of large statues?

The earthquake of 1963 is mentioned fairly often; it destroyed about 80 percent of the city.

Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, and there is a museum in her honor.  A good day trip from Skopje is the St. Jovan Bigorski monastery, some of the finest woodcarving I have seen.  It is striking to view the church in conjunction with the Saudi-financed mosque across the valley, thereby inducing one to ponder the use of stones to capture space in the game of Go.

I am told there are Macedonian enclaves in Totowa, Clifton, and Garfield, New Jersey.

The food is phenomenal, in addition to the roast peppers there are breads, baked pies, meats stewed with vegetables, white beans, stuffed peppers, trout, and Balkan cheeses, all with that farm to table touch.  Further to the south I recommend the garlic spread.

There is sexual dimorphism in Skopje, and I am told that Donald Trump is more popular in this country than in any other.

The major Macedonian exports are chemical goods, machinery, clothing, iron, and steel.  The measured unemployment rate is about 23 percent, and there is a comparative advantage in producing “fake news.”  There are varying estimates for per capita income, but about 13k (PPP) seems in the ballpark.

Politics was discussed and maps were shown.  To put a twist on the famous quotation about religion in India, when it comes to history, every Macedonian is a millionaire.

English proficiency is high, as Macedonian has only slightly more than 2 million inhabitants and none of the immediate neighbors has a language that is very useful elsewhere.  The people are very friendly and helpful, and it is quite safe here for a tourist.

On the television I watched the first quarter of “NBA Team Africa vs. NBA Rest of the World,” Serge Ibaka vs. Dirk Nowitzki, etc., a real game with refs and a crowd, does the NBA even tell the American market about contests such as this?

If food, architecture, and history interest you, visit the fresh and vibrant Skopje.

1. Especially outside the immediate center of town, it feels as if something wacky is always happening.  Someone is screaming, backslapping, bumping fists, or screaming while backslapping and bumping fists.  Interactions appear to be random, highly intense, and short in duration.  The following interaction is more intense yet.  It reminds me of that old Humphrey Bogart movie “Beat the Devil.”

2. Every cabbie seems to know a random person standing on a street corner, who somehow mysteriously signals to that cab to be picked up, even if said cab already is delivering a Western passenger to some other location.  Shouting ensues, the random person is moved along in the cab only a short distance, always along the Westerner’s route, and then the person is let off again.  With a shout.  Rinse and repeat.

3. It is a better city for street food and stall food than is Chengdu.  The tastes are stronger and spicier, though I believe the peaks of Chengdu are higher and more subtle.

4. Don’t just stick to “the peninsula,” also travel to the alternate sides of the city’s two rivers, the Jialing and the Yangtze.

5. Haagen-Dazs is much more popular in China than in the United States, at least at the retail level.

6. “Sun Zhengcai, the former Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing, is under investigation by authorities, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday, citing people it didn’t identify.”  He had been considered a possible successor to Uncle Xi.

7. On my flight from Kunming to Chongqing, I witnessed my first “facial surveillance” arrest.  Just as they were about to let us off the plane, two policemen appeared at the entrance, with a copy of a facial surveillance photograph.  (Before you board any plane in China, they photograph your face plenty, and match it to various databases.)  They walked down the aisle, turning left and right, looking for the passenger who matched the photo.  They found him and escorted him off the plane, with the crowd watching nervously.  He showed neither surprise nor did he protest his innocence.

8. An excellent room in a five-star luxury Chongqing hotel, with view and upgrade to a larger suite, costs $70 a night.

9. Nearby is “the world’s longest cantilevered glass skywalk.

The city’s “mind-blowing overpass has five layers, 20 ramps and eight directions,” good photos at that link.

Here is Wikipedia on Chongqing, by one measure it is China’s most populous metropolitan area.  “Its population is already bigger than that of Peru or Iraq, with half a million more arriving every year in search of a better life,” and that was written eleven years ago.

India Fact of the Day

by on February 8, 2017 at 7:36 am in Economics, Law, Travels | Permalink

In India it is illegal for the police to arrest a woman after dark. The law apparently stems from a case decades ago when a woman was arrested at night and raped by the police. The law doesn’t seem like the second-best way to prevent police rapes let alone the best way. But what should an enlightened court do? Rape is already illegal. The courts create law but the law doesn’t rule. Thus, instead of obliging the police to control themselves the law gives women the grounds to refuse arrest. Imperfect but perhaps easier to monitor.  In India the state is so weak that third and fourth best solutions may be the only ones possible.

Mark is the most brilliant food mind I have met, here is the opening summary:

Mark Miller is often called the founder of modern southwestern cuisine, but his unique anthropological approach to food has led him to explore cuisines in over 100 countries around the world. He joins Tyler for a conversation on all that he’s learned along the way, including his pick for the most underrated chili pepper, palate coaching, the best food cities in Asia, Mexico, and Europe, the problems with sous-vide, why the Michelin guide is overrated, mezcal versus tequila, the decline of food brands, how to do fast food well, and why the next hipster food trend should be about corn.

Here is the text, audio, and video.  Mark is a blizzard of information density, and I don’t know anyone else who has his experience with the food world, most of all with Asia, Mexico, and the American Southwest.  (You may recall he was an interlocutor in my dialogue with Fuchsia Dunlop, and so we recorded this session with Mark afterwards.)

I thought the highlight was Mark’s six-minute riff on tasting chiles, it really shows Mark in his glory — this is one of those cases where I definitely recommend the video over the text:

Elsewhere in the conversation, see why he picks Seoul, Tokyo, and Bangkok as the three best world cities for food tours.  And:

COWEN: You don’t need brands, right?

MILLER: You don’t need brands anymore. The consumer used to have brands as guide and trust. Today there are other ways of developing that. We’re in consumer level 3. Consumers are defining brands, and how brands get used. I think that the idea of brand is probably — you’re an economist — dated. [laughs]

There is this:

MILLER: You go to a bus station in Monterrey: you can see a hundred of the best tacos in the world.

The questioner was Megan McArdle.  I enjoyed the entire exchange immensely, and hope you do too.

An MR reader sends me this request:

You land in a new city – an urban area – without other commitments.
What’s the first thing you do?
What’s your first day look like?

The first thing I do is make sure blog is ready for the day to come (though that is usually pre-arranged if I am traveling).

The second thing I do is decide whether the country is worth wasting a meal on breakfast.  I might just skip it.  If not, the next thing I will do is get breakfast.  I evaluate breakfast options by walking and by sight, not by using the internet, as I find that old-fashioned method better training for all that life brings us.

Then I try to walk through at least two neighborhoods, to get a general sense of the city.  More importantly, I can then later take some time over lunch without feeling I haven’t seen anything yet.  These neighborhoods should be connected to the main drag in some way but not the main drag itself.  The main drag is often boring, though essential, and it is more likely to get a fuller treatment on day two, with only a quick peek on day one.

The best art museum will come after lunch, and then be followed by more neighborhood walking, perhaps in a more distant part of the city.  A major food market will come on day two, a vista or city lookout will come on day three.  It means less if I go to either right away, because I have less information about what I should be noticing and looking for.

The real question is what to postpone, not what to do.  Don’t attempt the most fully integrative experiences right off the bat, because you are squandering some of their potency.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The reports of Boko Haram and terror killings are well known, and they reflect the interlocking and sometimes deadly combinations of regional, religious, sectarian and ethnic identities in the country, not to mention extreme inequalities of income and opportunity. Yet Nigeria has about 180 million people and is larger than Texas. The violence is the most frequently reported story in the West, but the underlying reality is far more complex and shows positive features.

For instance, the city of Lagos is in many regards a marvel of religious tolerance. Nigeria is about 50 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian, and the area surrounding Lagos is also highly mixed in terms of religion. That may sound like a recipe for trouble, but in matters of religion Lagos is almost entirely peaceful. Religious intermarriage is common and usually not problematic, as is the case in many (not all) other parts of Nigeria as well. Many top Nigerian politicians have married outside their religion, kept two separate religions in the family and enjoyed continued political success.

Consider the scale and speed of this achievement. Lagos, with a population of about 20 million, is larger than many countries. It is the most commercially oriented part of Nigeria, and it grew so large only in the last few decades, as it attracted entrepreneurially minded people from many parts of Nigeria and other African countries. By one estimate, 85 new residents arrive every hour. That may sound chaotic, but in essence Nigeria has in a few decades created an almost entirely new, country-sized city built on the ideals and practice of religious tolerance. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is a Muslim who was supported in his election by many Christian leaders, on the grounds that he would fight corruption more effectively. His running mate served as a Pentecostal pastor.

There are several other points, including an assessment of on the ground safety (better than you might think), do read the whole thing.

Lagos, Nigeria bleg

by on December 14, 2016 at 3:09 am in Food and Drink, Travel, Travels | Permalink

I’ll be there soon!  What should I do and see and eat?  I thank you in advance for your suggestions.

I am a big believer in going places to learn things and for me this is the next step.  I am looking forward to the trip.

The Decline of Car Culture

by on September 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm in Data Source, Travels | Permalink

UMTRI: About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but more than 30 years later, that percentage had dropped to 69 percent. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 60 percent in 2014, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 45 percent, and 16-year-olds plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent.

Cars used to represent freedom. Today WiFi does. The decline of young drivers is likely another reason the roads are getting safer.

Hat tip: @counternotions.

Addendum: Steven Kopits argues (youtube) that this has more to do with lack of employment of young people than with a change in culture.

I recommend two Indian places, neither super cheap but each worth it:

Amaya, and

Gymkhana

Both are good for vegetarians, the former especially.  Trishna is another good Indian place in London, though I won’t get to visit this time around.

Jinan is the second largest city in Shandong province, and a good place to see “normal China”; it is much more in the “concrete and motorbikes” mode than is Qingdao.

Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius, and a longstanding home of the Chinese nobility and Chinese scholars, with monument-building visits by various emperors.  Reputedly the town is full of fine-featured individuals with very exact patterns of speech.  In any case downtown is pleasant to walk and shop in, and has relatively few environmental problems.

confucius

The tomb of Confucius was my favorite site.  There is a continuity of civilization (if not regime) for over 2500 years, and visiting the tomb drives this point home.  Even the Cultural Revolution did not much damage this area of homage, in part because of loyalty to Confucius, itself a form of Confucian behavior.

Many of the flowers on the tomb were left by the national television station, perhaps as advertising and also signaling loyalty to Confucian ideals.

But that is not China’s oldest heritage, far from it:

This research reveals a 5,000-y-old beer recipe in which broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers were fermented together. To our knowledge, our data provide the earliest direct evidence of in situ beer production in China, showing that an advanced beer-brewing technique was established around 5,000 y ago.

One local functionary said to me: “We think Trump will win.  You always surprise us — he is the next surprise.”

What is the deal these days?  How well are VPNs working, and which do you recommend?  Can Apple iPhones and iPads still access the “real web” directly through 4G, as was the case as recently as last year?  I thank you in advance for your assistance, it is much appreciated.

People often bunch their activities at common points in time. Most people work from 9 am to 5 pm rather than from 10 pm to 6 am. One reason is that these are daylight hours, but another reason is because everyone else is working during this time. If you and your coworker are in the office at the same time, it is easier to collaborate. Furthermore, it makes working more fun to be there with other people.

…Most generally, many economic activities bunch or cluster in time because it pays to coordinate your economic actions with those of others. That just means that we want to be investing, producing, and selling at the same time that others are investing, producing, or selling. In short, economic activity tends to cluster together in time just as it clusters together in space. (What do we call a cluster of economic activity in space? A city.)

The desire to coordinate work-time amplifies shocks and so can contribute to business cycles (hence, time bunching is one of the transmission and amplification mechanisms discussed in our principles textbook from which the quote is drawn).

People “also like to party at the same time and to see movies and concerts with other people” so there is a desire to coordinate leisure-time as well as work-time. The coordination of leisure-time is the subject of an excellent paper by Young and Lim, Time as a Network Good: Evidence from Unemployment and the Standard Workweek, in Sociological Science.

WeekendEffectFrom the abstract:

Drawing on two independent data sets, with more than half a million respondents, we show that both workers and the unemployed experience remarkably similar increases in emotional well-being on weekends and have similar declines in well-being when the workweek begins. The unemployed look forward to weekends much the same as workers. This is in large part because social time increases sharply on weekends for both workers and the unemployed. Weekend well-being is not due to time off work per se but rather is a collectively produced social good stemming from widely shared free time on weekends. The unemployed gain comparatively little benefit from their time off during the week, when others go to work.

Figure 2, from their paper, shows the basic story. Workers report more positive emotions (top panel) and fewer negative emotions (bottom panel) than the unemployed but both workers and the unemployed are happier and less stressed on weekends.

Thus, coordinated leisure is more valuable than free time per se.

The benefits of coordination also occur at longer time scales. It’s March Break at GMU this week so both my wife and I have some free time. Unfortunately, GMU’s March Break is not coordinated with that of Fairfax County schools so we can’t plan any family travel time! In two weeks, the situation will be reversed. Ugh.

George Mason University could raise the value of its March Break to many of its employees by coordinating with Fairfax County Schools–a free way to raise faculty and staff salaries! If only some Angel could make this possible.

The benefits of coordinated leisure also suggest that a national holiday is of more value than everyone having a day off but potentially a different day, so-called flex-time. I wouldn’t go as far as the French, who shut down in August, but it’s odd that the United States has lots of winter holidays but only one summer holiday. Let’s coordinate to create a national summer holiday. A 3-day summer-weekend will increase everyone’s happiness.

Two different people have asked me this question this week, so I thought I would write out my answer. My approach is slightly unorthodox, but here goes:

1. Go to the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel and get a view of the skyline, the harbor, and the Straits.  Watch the ships queuing.  This is one of my favorite views in the whole world.  Most of all I am struck by the contrast between what Singapore has achieved so quickly and also its continuing ultimate vulnerability; the view captures both of those.  If you can afford it, stay in the hotel and swim in the Infinity Pool.  That alone justifies dragging your body all the way to Singapore.

2. Organize the rest of your trip around food.  For Malay food, visit the hawker centre at Geylang Serai Night Market.  For Indian food, go to the hawker centre at the entrance to Little India, and walk around the adjacent shopping bazaar as well.  For Singaporean food, there are many good choices, depending on your location.  The optimal time to arrive is by 10:30, before most of the queues start.  Ask cabbies for the best chili and pepper crab.

3. Eat at David Thompson’s Thai restaurant, in the mall next to Marina Bay Sands.

4. Once it is dark, and edging toward 9 p.m., walk around the Merlion area and the bridge, where the city comes to life.

5. Spend the rest of your time seeking out “retro Singapore” as much as possible.  Haw Par Villa is one place to start, but there are multiple substitutes, including the hawker centres away from downtown and their special dishes.

6. The Asian Civilizations Museum is by far the best museum in town.  The zoo and the bird park are first-rate.

7. Much as Singapore calls itself a “city-state” I think of it as a “suburb-state,” unlike Hong Kong which is a true city.  I consider this high praise, but Singaporeans often are slightly insulted when I put it this way.  Your mileage may vary, but I say enjoy it as you would a suburb.

8. Talk to as many Singaporean civil servants as you can.

9. Take a day trip by cab or bus into Johor Bahru, in neighboring Malaysia, a thirty minute trip if there are no delays.  The food there is even better and you will learn some political science.  Read this book for background on both countries.  Read Lee Kuan Yew.

Here is my earlier post “Why Singapore is special.”   In a nutshell, it’s one of the world’s greatest trips, safe and easy to deal with too.