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.
Supposedly they were built to guard the tomb of an emperor:
So what’s up?
1. The emperor had a state-dependent utility function (e.g., money is worth less when you are dead), and this was the ancient equivalent of cryonics. If there was a chance you might be called back to life, spend a lot of resources protecting your corpse and its burial site.
2. The emperor was signaling (sorry Noah!) his ability to assemble such an impressive row of life-size figures, and of course the original had many more than what has been restored to date.
3. This was a form of fiscal policy, to stimulate the economy in slow times, by employing craftsmen.
4. The guild of said craftsmen was an influential interest group.
5. It was intended as a gift to a distant future; what else could they have done that would be of more value to us today?
6. Because the emperor could.
Where to eat? Probably you can forget the rest, unless you ought to rationally think I do not already know of it.
Anywhere near downtown virtually all of the good places are quite expensive. The good news is that there are many of them and they are quite fine indeed. Two I can recommend are Mott 32 and Ye Shanghai, near Central and Admiralty respectively.
My favorite meal of the trip was out at Sha Tin 18, in the New Territories Hyatt.
Tung Po Seafood, above one of the wet markets, is one of the remaining good and relatively cheap places on Hong Kong Island.
On the even cheaper side, I can recommend the general row of eateries on Hau Fook Street, Kowloon, especially the larger Sichuan place on the corner, no English sign but they advertise being a WiFi HotSpot, I believe you will find it if you try.
Cheaper yet, the protestors served some pretty good fried rice, which I believe was donated by a local restaurant.
In general, the way to go these days is to either ante up on Hong Kong Island or make your way out to New Territories, or maybe try Kowloon City.
Many parts of the city are indistinguishable from Hong Kong, and even China pessimists should find it easy to imagine Shenzhen gliding into fully developed status. At times Shenzhen looks better than Hong Kong, but that is due to what I call the myth of infrastructure. Shenzhen being poorer than Hong Kong, and having developed later, are coincident reasons with the peak parts of the city having newer-looking infrastructure.
The OCT Design Center was impressive. China probably will never dominate world music, but my bet is China will be the most important country for the visual arts within the next ten to fifteen years.
It didn’t strike me as a great city for food, if only because the place barely existed thirty years ago. I passed by a bunch of places, but none were especially tempting and some parts of the city don’t seem to have many non-corporate restaurants at all. Finally, I had a tasty meal at the Muslim Hotel Restaurant, food (and servers and diners) from the western part of China. I believe that Cantonese food is due for a steep relative decline, given how much it relies on low labor costs and super-fresh ingredients. It’s already the case that people thinking of taking you out to eat in downtown Hong Kong fixate on other options. It is the New Territories part of town which will carry Cantonese traditions forward.
By the way, visiting Shenzhen will make you think that wages in Hong Kong and Taiwan are due for decline.
I’m sitting in my room, in a hotel surrounded by a moat (literally) up in the New Territories. It is traffic blockades I fear, not tear gas, I guess that is how you become living in the suburbs. Last I saw, the game shifted to the protestors playing “dribs and drabs concessions” in response to a line-in-the-sand, “empty out by Monday” demand from the authorities. Such games can go on for a while, especially since the protestors don’t quite have the coherent leadership and management capabilities to enforce an immediate concession, and so the powers that be will tolerate a good deal of sloth. In between are the Hong Kong police, many of whom (most of whom?) sympathize with the protestors. The businessmen seem more skeptical. If you type “PLA” into the Twitter search function, and not much interesting comes up, probably things are OK. Those three little letters stand for “People’s Liberation Army,” they look like this. There exists an equilibrium where this event accelerates a) the pace of reform in China, b) a further crackdown in China, or c) both.
It is very charming here, but no one can tell me exactly what they export. Grain is a thing of the past. There are many universities in town. Trees, birds, and flowers are all first-rate.
I feel like I had never tasted a green pepper before. For silpancho, go to Palacio del Silpancho. The only item on the menu is…silpancho. I also recommend the street tamales with corn and cheese and the street food more generally, most of all at the comedores at the market 25 de Mayo. The “nice” restaurants are good and cheap, but not materially better than the Bolivian food you get in Falls Church, Virginia. Viva Vinto, about forty minutes out of town, served the best meal of my trip, the taxi will wait for very little money. Cochabamba provides one of the world’s best culinary micro-tours, although it requires a working knowledge of Spanish.
You can buy a quality Andean sweater for $12. The potatoes are the best I have eaten, ever, both purple and otherwise.
Quechua hats are not like Aymara hats.
People smile much more in Santa Cruz. The hotel electrical sockets use a different form here, and it would not be hard to convince somebody they were two different countries.
I am enjoying the “new David Brooks” and his last column prompted me to consider what I actually look for in a hotel. It is pretty quirky and it involves:
1. Very flat pillows so the head can lie almost flat.
2. No fawning from service people.
3. Numerous ready to access electrical outlets, including a laptop outlet right next to the bed so I can lean up against the pillow while blogging.
4. A non-ventilated bathroom which allows you to steam clothes into submission, and clothes hangars which support the same.
6. NBA-relevant channels on the TV and an easy to operate remote control system which does not trap said user in irrelevant menus.
7. Good breakfast choices which do not have an excess of carbohydrates.
I am putting aside location and obvious matters such as “they don’t torture me with unscheduled wake-up calls at 4 a.m.” In any case, it is easy for an expensive hotel — boutique or not — to fail on most of those grounds.
I very much enjoyed my visit to their excellent Saarinen-designed building, up in Westchester County somewhere. No office has a window but every path you might take from one part of the building to another gives you beautiful full-window views of the surrounding countryside.
I wish to thank all the people who took the time to show me and explain to me what they are up to. Their program suggested that more dairy (milk, not coconut milk) can be blended into Thai recipes with greater gain than you otherwise might think.
I had as a personal guide the man who is the voice of Watson and I told him to go see In a World…
Their cafeteria is excellent and the people in charge understand which recipes transfer well to institutional settings and which do not. Their vegetarian food is delicious and looks delicious, rendering the “nudge” unnecessary. From the rest of the menu, the turkey chili is of special commendation. Google take note, you are falling behind in the culinary department…
The National Museum is a scatter shot but revelatory assemblage of Javanese gold, gamelan sets, jeweled swords, Papuan wooden sculpture, puppets, Sumatran textiles, and much, much more. It could be the world’s best museum you’ve never heard of. The museums here have yet to figure out price discrimination, namely that they can charge tourists more than fifty cents for admission.
There is an excellent modernist mosque (more photos here). The shopping malls are surprisingly attractive and advanced, images here. There is one under construction called “St. Moritz,” without irony or need of irony.
No plan can be executed in a timely manner without running into the detour of street food, unless of course you are stuck in one of the shopping malls. In those malls there are extensive food courts but Japanese food is more popular than Indonesian dishes.
Taxi drivers don’t seem to know how to get anywhere. It is possible that Indonesians drive on the left because the Dutch once did.
A fork and spoon is more useful than a fork and knife for (almost) anything worth eating.
Although Jakarta is hardly a backwater, on plenty of streets outside the center I found people staring at me and once they even asked if they could take my photo. Few people speak English.
Overall this is an underrated tourist destination. It is the world’s most populous Muslim country, a Muslim democracy, and Southeast Asia’s largest city. There are many reasons to go, and few reasons not to go, distance aside.
If you go to cross the street, cars actually will stop for you.
It’s a lovely country to visit. It is exotic, quite safe (these days), and it’s much cleaner than I had been expecting. Both of my guidebooks claim the food is mediocre, but you can find excellent Sri Lankan dishes by going to small restaurants and paying less than a dollar (the actual restaurant scene does seem underdeveloped, though the places in the Cinnamon Grand are quite good). Just look for places where everyone is eating with their hands.
Order any vegetarian dish with cashews or a cashew sauce.
The place feels like an odd mix of Thailand and, of all places, Curacao. The old capital, Kandy, is vaguely reminiscent of Nara, Japan in its overall presentation and its feel of Buddhist classicism.
Interior design seems to be their area of greatest accomplishment. The relevant sites are numerous but spread out.
The literacy rate is about 92%. A visit to Sri Lanka will increase your opinion of “water transport” theories of high social indicators.
Here is an update on where ethnic tensions stand.
The Chinese are trying to buy them off with infrastructure, most of all port facilities.
The coconuts are orange.
I thank Yana for useful conversations related to this post.
The restaurant scene is much improved, compared to nineteen years ago, though don’t expect much in the way of vegetables. Reykjavik seems to have an excessive capital stock relative to current income. Natasha finds it hard to get decaffeinated coffee. The tap water is superb and, on weekends, only two people work in what is the world’s second largest geothermal plant. Icelandic horses and ponies look quite genetically distinct. Puffins fly faster than you might expect. It is back to being an expensive country.
Overall I see a society on the verge of a massive and permanent transformation. The Icelanders face two questions rather immediately. First, will they allow mass tourism, with its cultural and environmental implications? (Most likely they will, if only because they don’t know how to stop it.) Second, will they allow continuing or perhaps even accelerating immigration?, noting that the current population (not all native Icelanders) is only about 320,000. A relatively small amount of immigration, or tourism for that matter, would make for a big cultural change, most likely with no way of turning back, for better or worse. High-skilled immigration alone could do it. It is already the case that the biggest association of Icelandic horses worldwide is in Germany, namely the Islandpferde-Reiter- und Züchterverband.
Wikipedia claims that Icelandic has no unique word for “pony.”
I long had imagined a perfect English seaside town and it turns out Aldeburgh is it. Attending a German-Nigerian wedding here makes it all the more so (photos of town are here).
It is more like New Zealand than any other part of England I have visited.
Other than those here for the wedding, there seem to be few non-English people walking around town. The working class people are fond of discussing the best fish and chips in the area, while one of the (apparently) visiting English women standing next to us in line started lecturing us about “Maggie the Milk Snatcher.” Even the minister performing the wedding ceremony got in a dig at Thatcher (NB: this is not not not the Vicar of Aldeburgh, who sometimes comments on national affairs, but rather a visiting minister).
In 1908 the town elected the first female mayor in England. The ships of Sir Francis Drake were built here. The Benjamin Britten homage scallop-like sculpture structure has been vandalized thirteen times and there is a petition to have it removed. A long time ago the “North Sea” was called the “German Sea.”
Once you get past London, Oxford, and the like, England is more exotic than most of the places I visit.
The local chocolate caramels go under the brand name of “Seagull Droppings,” with comparable packaging. (No need to leave this link in the comments.) You can find them in the Royal Navy store next to the water and the fishmongers.
They refer to themselves as Calgarians, which makes them sound more closely related to science fiction than in fact they are. On Saturday I walked around in a sweater only. In the span of little more than an hour, I was told numerous times that Calgary and southern Alberta have more U.S. citizens living there than any other region in the world.
Canada just had a very good job creation month. About a third of the Albertan provincial budget comes from resource revenue, and bitumen prices have been falling, leading to some tough fiscal choices.
The city has elected a Muslim mayor.
On Snowquester virtually all flights out of DC were cancelled, even though Reagan National Airport had literally no snow. Only Air Canada was flying a normal schedule and thus I arrived.
There are some excellent food choices in Calgary, although it is a city for ordering main courses, not appetizers.
There is no good reason to turn down a trip to Calgary, even in the winter.
I will have one free day there, so your advice is most welcome…I thank you in advance for the suggestions. I already have noticed that Frommer’s is not exactly rich with suggestions about what is surely an interesting locale.