Category: Travel

The airline culture that is China

This undated photo shows two Xiamen Airlines stewardesses kneel in prayer at a shrine dedicated to being “on time”.


Here is more.  By the way, this is part of the problem:

The latest statistics shows that the flow of air traffic accounts for as high as 40 percent of the total number of flight delays during the first half of this year. And whether the flight could take off in time or not, it depends on the fellowship with the air traffic controller.

Captain Wang Hai said that as long as one crew member on a flight personally knows the air traffic controller, the flight would be given priority to take off in time.

But some air traffic controllers explain that queue-jumping contributes to flights unpunctuality.

“International flights and those carrying important passengers, such as government officials, business tycoons and senior officials in civil aviation, do not have to wait in long queues to take off”, an air traffic controller in south China’s Guangzhou said.

Here is related coverage from The Economist, excerpt:

The first and oldest problem is that China’s armed forces control most of the nation’s airspace—perhaps 70-80% of it. This is especially the case above and around cities, leaving very narrow corridors for aeroplanes to take off, land and navigate nasty weather.

I will once again recommend to you the James Fallows book on aviation in China.

For the pointer I thank D.

Chicago food bleg

From a loyal MR reader and diner, who has excellent taste in food by the way:

Might you be willing to post another bleg, this one about Chicago? The results from the Toronto one were fabulous (and it also seemed to generate a good conversation among your readers). We’re headed there Saturday, and I’m disappointed so far in my research efforts

I don’t have a trip scheduled just yet, but I am sure I will benefit from your answers as well.  We both thank you in advance.

The High Costs of Travel Visas

U.S. citizens are fortunate in that most European and South American countries no longer require a visa for US travelers. It’s surprising, however, how many countries continue to make it difficult to visit. Some countries don’t want visitors, of course, but even a country like India, a democracy that relies a lot on tourism, still requires costly and time-consuming visas. A new paper from Robert Lawson and Saurav Roychoudhury estimates that the cost of these restrictions can be quite large.

Using a travel visa data set developed by Lawson and Lemke (2012) and travel flow data from the World Bank and the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), we investigate the deterrent effect of travel visa requirements on travel flows. At the aggregate level, a one standard deviation more severe travel visa regime, as measured, is associated with a 30 percent decrease in inbound travel. At the bilateral level, having a travel visa requirement on a particular country is associated with a 70% reduction in inbound travel from that country. The gains associated with eliminating travel visas appear to be very large.

Oh for the days prior to 1914 when Keynes wrote that a person could travel “without passport or other formality” throughout much of the world.

Eating in Bangalore

Many of you useful MR reader recommendations here.  I’ll recommend the Muslim food stalls along Cock Burn avenue, especially during Ramadan.  First-rate for haleem is Hotel Fanoos (the attached restaurant) in Richmondtown, near the Hosur Water Tank.  The Chinese restaurant in the Oberoi is not to be missed.  For South Indian food, try Athityam in Jayanagar 5th block, make sure you order some specials and go beyond the dosas, which are excellent but not the best item here.  My favorite was the Pesarattu.

Gephyrophobia Maryland markets in everything

For $25, a driver hops behind the wheel of your car to take you across the Bay Bridge.

You will note this is a kind of privatization:

The Maryland Transportation Authority used to drive people across the Bay Bridge who were afraid to drive themselves but it no longer provides that service.

The Bay Bridge, sometimes called the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, is very long — 6.9 km — and it is considered one of the scariest bridges in the world, for many at least.  For me it was fun.

The article is here, and for the pointer I thank Fred Smalkin.

Addendum (also from Fred): Sometimes there is a very strong case for using the markets which have been placed before you.

Where should Edward Snowden go?

Assuming he can get there, of course.  Currently it’s down to Venezuela, Bolivia, or Nicaragua.  Dylan Matthews argues for Venezuela, on the grounds that the other two countries are much poorer and have lower life expectancies.  He says Snowden should put up with the much higher crime rate (by the way “0.2 percent of Caracas residents [are] killed each year.”)

But Snowden is not playing a Rawlsian game here, he is going to these countries as Edward Snowden.  I say seek out Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is much richer than Bolivia as a whole and safer than Venezuela at least.  Sloths hang from the trees.  Also keep in mind that much of Snowden’s income may be coming from abroad, whether it be from Wikileaks or book royalties or civil libertarian well-wishers or sources unknown.  That militates in favor of the cheaper, lower wage country and Bolivia fits the bill.  Nicaragua is quite nice, and attracts some notable expats (pdf), but if you can’t travel abroad choose a larger country.

Finally, Venezuela has had some pro-American tendencies in its history and those could return.  Bolivia seems to have a more or less stable indigenous (semi) democratic majority, plus the hijacking of Morales’s plane may give the Snowden issue a resonance in Bolivia for some time to come.

If he loves the beach, however, Leon, Nicaragua is a charming town.

Alex and I visit the Google Sci Foo convention

It was excellent, and for me the two highlights were hearing some of the world’s top cosmologists debate inflation theory (theirs, not ours), and Larry Page discussing  his vision for Google looking forward and why internet access by balloon makes sense.

I saw a display of Google Glass but I still don’t get it.  It struck me as excellent for people who want to send photos to their Facebook page in real time, or record their children, but that’s not me.  What I like about the iPad is that it pulls you out of the world, whereas Glass seems to integrate “the flow of information world” with “the real world.”  Why spoil two such wonderful things?  But I’ll be the first to admit that a) the defect in my understanding of Glass is my fault alone, and b) I will buy one immediately once it is available.

The best new question I heard was this: if you could change the physical laws of the universe so as to create more life in it, what would you do?  Make gravity stronger or weaker?  Change which constants?  Have stars distributed more densely throughout the universe?  More or less carbon?  And so on.  The ultimate point of the question is to get you thinking about whether our universe is fine-tuned for life after all.

The cafeteria food was not nearly as good as what I have had in the New York Google and it struck me as overrated and most likely in decline.  The vegetarian dishes were best.  What you should do is eat in the Telugu restaurant Pessaratu, Andhra mess-style food, in Sunnyvale, get the lentils and make sure you eat them with your fingers, South Indian-style, for the maximum taste experience.

Airport Security Signals

Lars Christensen has a theory of airport security:

…my theory is that if you meet an unfriendly bureaucrat at the security check in the airport then it is also very likely it will be hard to start a business in that country. Therefore, I tend to think of airport security as an indicator of the level of government regulation of the country’s economy. This is something that makes me terribly bearish on the US’ long-term growth perspectives every time I encounter a TSA official in an US airport – and makes me terribly depressed about the prospects for Ukraine and it gives me an understanding of why the Scandinavian countries ‘works’ well despite excessively large public sectors.

It was therefore a pleasure today to meet friendly and efficient people at the security check in Chopin airport (Poland). And if my theory has any value this is an indication that Poland has “matured” and the level of regulation is luckily getting lighter. That is good news. So now I am thinking of raising my long-run growth forecasts for Poland…

I recently asked my young son whether he thought he could travel by himself to visit his grandmother in Victoria, Canada. He said that he could navigate the airports fine and getting into Canada was no problem but he was afraid of the security people coming back into the United States. Bear in mind that my son is American.

How to eat well in Genoa [Genova]

Genoa is one of the best food venues in Italy, as is Liguria more generally.  It is also one of the best places in Europe for vegetarian dining.  Maximize the number of tarts and vegetable tarts you eat, skip hotel breakfast and look for small places with morning snacks, preferably baked goods, and treat them as the equal of cooked dishes.  Forget about meat altogether.

1. Antica Sciamadda, 14-16 Via San Giorgio, arrive at the 11:30 opening and keep on buying the tarts and farinata as they are freshly baked and put out on the counter.  There is a vaguely Arabic feel to the dishes, and there is an excellent video of the place here.  There are many excellent “sciamadda” in Genoa and they lie somewhere between a food stall and a very small restaurant, so do not count on them being open for dinner.

2. Trattoria alle Due Torri, Salita del Prione 53, near the Columbus house.  Order pasta and focaccia, this is some of the best spaghetti I’ve had, and the pansotti (ravioli in walnut sauce) is notable.

3. La Rina, superb seafood restaurant, don’t focus on the main courses.

There are relatively few tourists in town, although the most common group — by far — is Russians.  From Bologna, here is a post about flunking out of Gelato University.

Thailand book bleg

From Chris Acree:

I’m planning a trip which will take me through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I recently began selecting a few books about each country to read to cover the history, culture, or other interesting aspects of the area. In particular, my favorite books in this vein are Country Driving and China Airborne, both about China.

However, in searching, I’ve found Cambodia has plenty of literature (Cambodia’s Curse by Pulitzer winner Joel Brinkley seems a good starting point), and Vietnam has at least a couple good books (I picked up Vietnam: Rising Dragon at your recommendation), whereas Thailand seems bereft of strong English-language histories or non-guide travel books. Amazon searches return almost exclusively books targeted towards sex tourists, and the Economist article here is mostly over 10 years old. Kindle availability is also unavailable for most of their selections, which, while not a necessity for me, hints at books that aren’t aging well or being actively updated.

Has no reputable author written a great Thai travel book in the last 10 years? If not, why not? What books would you recommend on Thailand?

How about this biography of Bhumibol AdulyadejFalcon of Siam is historical fiction of note.  Thailand — Culture Smart! is good for browsing.  You can read a variety of books on Jim Thompson, and speaking of Thompson this cookbook by David Thompson is a must.  Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is one of the best movies ever made; watch these too, noting that Syndromes and a Century offers insight into the Thai health care system.  I am not recommending use of such services, but perhaps the best of the books for sex tourists are interesting too?  Siamese Soul is a good retro collection of Thai popular music from the 1960s through 1980s, hard on some ears but I like it.

Here is where Amazon sends you.  Here is where Lonely Planet sends you.  While you’re at it, why not read about Skyping with elephants in Thailand, in the service of science of course.

People, what else do you recommend?

*A History of England in 100 Places*

This 2011 book by John Julius Norwich is both an excellent travel book and one of the very best ways of learning more about the history of England.  It is remarkably wide-ranging and properly treats economic and technological (and artistic) history on a par with political history.  Here is one short excerpt:

Of all the villages of Suffolk, Lavenham — pronounced with a short ‘a’ as in have — is the most enchanting.  It is a monument to the huge boom in the wool industry that occurred between about 1380 and 1550, and seems to have changed amazingly little since.  Here you will find not just individual timber-framed houses but whole streets of them, their overhanging jetties leaning and lurching like drunken platoons.  The Guildhall in the Market Place was built in the 1520s by one of the three guilds founded to regulate the wool trade.  Another, now known simply as the Wool Hall, dates from 1464; it stands on the corner of Lady Street and now forms part of the Swan Hotel.

…These churches [TC: they are sometimes called “Wool Churches”] demonstrate, better than anything else could, the fabulous wealth of their benefactors, the late medieval wool merchants, some of whom, by the end of the fourteenth century, had become rich enough to replace the Florentine financiers who underwrote the royal debts.

Definitely recommended, you can buy the book here.

The evolution of Russian holiday mobility

Recently Ms Loftus has seen more requests like the last one – clients with, as she puts it, “jurisdictional issues”. For a small but growing number of elite Russians, travel opportunities are increasingly limited. The trend was epitomised by the US Magnitsky act, which late last year imposed a US visa blacklist and asset freezes on roughly 60 Russians suspected of human rights violations. Its open-ended wording leaves open the possibility that the list of names will lengthen. The EU looks set to eventually pass similar legislation.

Meanwhile, the uncertain fate of Cyprus, once the favourite playground of Russia’s wealthy for its unbeatable combination of sea, sand and flexible approach to financial services regulation, may yet strike another holiday destination off the list.

In Soviet times, only the elite could travel. Today, it is the reverse: almost anyone in Russia can afford a week or two in Turkey or Egypt, but in some cases the foreign holiday dreams of the rich and powerful have been clipped, leaving them with few options.


Then, there was the mysterious caller who asked for “a holiday in a non-Interpol country” on behalf of his boss, who he would not name.

I wonder how good a trip that could be?  (I very much enjoyed Taiwan, but have never visited Kiribati.)  The full FT story is here.