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.”
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.
Here is a letter I wrote to the principal of my son’s high school:
Dear Principal _____,
Thank you for requesting feedback about the installation of interior cameras at the high school. I am against the use of cameras. I visited the school recently to pick up my son and it was like visiting a prison. A police car often sits outside the school and upon entry a security guard directs visitors to the main office where the visitor’s drivers license is scanned and information including date of birth is collected (is this information checked against other records and kept in a database for future reference? It’s unclear). The visitor is then photographed and issued a photo pass. I found the experience oppressive. Adding cameras will only add to the prison-like atmosphere. The response, of course, will be that these measures are necessary for “safety.” As with security measures at the airports I doubt that these measures increase actual safety, instead they are security theater, a play that we put on that looks like security but really is not.
Moreover, the truth is that American children have never been safer than they are today. Overall youth mortality (ages 5-14) has fallen from 60 per 100,000 in 1950 to 13.1 per 100,000 today (CDC, Vital Statistics). Yet we hide in gated communities, homes and schools as never before.
When we surround our students with security we are implicitly telling them that the world is dangerous; we are whispering in their ear, ‘be afraid, do not venture out, take no risks.’ When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds? When my child leaves school how will the atmosphere of fear that he has grown up in affect his view of the world and the choices he will make as a citizen in our democracy? School teaches more than words in books.
Miles, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:
I’ve spent a fair amount of time today at my desk in California looking at this, and it got me thinking about an interesting interplay between the tourism industry and the “digital revolution”:
(use the +/- buttons to zoom and drag to shift the view)
After finding people and understanding the scale of those mountains, I am in awe of Everest and the Himalayas, but feel absolutely no need to travel there. A digital representation has given me an amazing experience of a place on the other side of the world, and at least for this particular occasion, has convinced me never to go there (try to find the people climbing the upper portion of the glacier and you’ll understand why). So maybe some amazing (non deadly) location would convince me that I need to visit in person, but at some point, the digital experience gets so good that it’s a better, cheaper alternative to travelling. If in a few hundred years we can create digital experiences far more immersive than physical visits to locations, what experiences/amenities/etc will induce people to travel? Where will tourism die off (Himalayas), where will it increase (Paris)? As you say, solve for the equilibrium.
Thought it might make for an interesting discussion.
I predict that bustling, interactive locations — such as Guatemala — will do fine, and it is the static nature settings which will face a bit more competition. That said, while I have never visited the Himalayas, I suspect the trip there involves a lot of bustling interaction with local cultures and that the final destination is in part an excuse for the process. Keep also in mind that most of us do not in fact enjoy travel but enjoy only the memories of travel, with our minds playing a fairly active role as editor. I doubt if the memory of visiting the digital image will ever compare, even if the image itself is more beautiful and more convenient than the reality of an actual physical site. Finally, there is marketing to consider. The digital image may market the original, just as the rather vivid LOTR movies have boosted tourism to New Zealand rather than replacing it. So overall I still see tourism as a continuing growth industry.
On the plane to Chennai, the stewardess said to the man next to me: “Sir, are you the one who ordered the non-vegetarian meal?”
The food is quite good, as is the gelato. Don’t forget the Libyan, Ethiopian, and Yemeni offerings.
Poverty is more evident than I had expected, and one wonders whether extreme Israeli income inequality is a harbinger of a broader global future. A simple, small bottle of mouthwash costs about $10. It is surprising, for this American, to see beggars wearing yarmulkes.
How much of the high cost of living here is from inefficient retail and consolidation? How much from “the Island effect”? Since the locals feel the high costs too, we cannot rely on the productivity of the tradeables sector as an explanation. As for the rent, when it comes to construction permits, Israel ranks #137 (!, pdf) on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Yet the quality of the construction is often somewhat ramshackle, although I expect the Wall and the Iron Dome to last for some while.
Cost of living aside, I imagine living in Tel Aviv as quite pleasant, and I prefer it to most of the other Mediterranean cities I have visited. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem displays its collection wonderfully.
I am basing this following comment on a limited sample, but so far I have found this country to have a disproportionately large share of taxi drivers who are Jewish, at least compared to anywhere else I have visited.
Sometimes the security question consists simply of “Do you have a weapon?” I do not.
Against my expectation, Jerusalem is a more populous city than Tel Aviv.
Natasha cannot pass for an American here.
Busan is the best success story I know for the Avent-Yglesias approach to urban density. Imagine taking a city that looks like San Francisco, or more concretely Nagasaki, and letting millions of Koreans in to live there.
They served me the live, still-wriggling and squirming sea worm entree, which you are supposed to dip into sauce and push down your throat; it was neither the best nor the worst course of the meal.
White sashimi, dipped into hot bean paste, is the preferred manner of eating raw fish here; tuna, salmon, and eel are not popular.
On the beach, on a clear day, you can see Japan across the water.
In a nearby rural area, the populace would appear to go to Sunday church, dressed up in their finery, and then hang out at the museum and welcome center for the local nuclear power plant.
A day tour of Hyundai City, the special economic zone, the chemical-industrial complex (reminds me of New Jersey), and the new port is better than a day tour of Korean temples. They are all targets for North Korean missiles.
The people I have asked predict reunification within ten to fifteen years. They are ashamed to have such a brother in the family.
If you visit Korea you should come to Busan.
Tyler is in North Korea, Alex is in South Korea.
Alex is in North Korea, Tyler is in South Korea.
If we look a little tense it was because it was tense, perhaps even more than usual since just days before a North Korean soldier had killed two of his commanding officers while defecting to the South. North Korea also appears to be undergoing greater food shortages than in many years which no doubt adds to the tension. I had not realized, by the way, that you can see North Korea from a major highway in South Korea and the land is clearly stripped bare of trees which have been cut down for firewood and what little nutrition the bark offers.
Here are the North Koreans watching and photographing us to put into their permanent records.
It is remarkable how well everything works here, even relative to expectations. The economic ascendancy of South Korea has been more rapid than that of Japan, and for a larger group of people than Hong Kong or Singapore. The initial level of education was much lower than in Japan. The Korean social miracle is no less impressive than the Korean economic miracle.
By the way, can you explain the South and North in a single unified theory of culture and regimes?
French-Korean bakeries are extremely common here.
The Samsung Museum is of higher quality than the National Museum, including for patrimony pieces not just Warhol and Koons.
My hotel toilet is complicated and I am afraid to press the one button which simply says “Enema.”
I saw the two main Korean presidential candidates “debate,” both of them using communitarian redistributionist rhetoric with a rather flat delivery, preceded by and followed by a bow. Toward the end one of them endorsed the work of Malcolm Gladwell, in front of Gladwell.
I am pleased to have spent one minute inside North Korea, with Alex, guarded by five South Korean martial arts experts and one U.S. soldier.
The question I hear most often is what I think of Gangnam style and the video. The second is whether I am a Christian.
There are so many coffee shops here. But why?
South Koreans have now dominated the game of Go for about fifteen years.
There is always a pumpkin, smoked duck, or clam and noodles dish you haven’t seen before. The way to eat well here is to seek out the small restaurants, on the edge of residential districts, with no English language signs, which appear to not rely very heavily on the division of labor and which serve not too many dishes. Bibim bap (shaken vigorously inside a lunch box, I might add) is like a fine risotto and the quality of cabbage alone makes Seoul a world-class city.
Particular restaurant recommendations are pointless, and in any case hard to track down. Just follow basic principles. The street food, by the way, is only so-so.
At one restaurant, as a kind of joke, I asked “What is best?”, not even expecting my English to be understood. The waiter became very excited and opened the menu to a page entitled “Best food,” which listed five dishes. I ordered two of them.
I see no reason to explore upscale dining here. For surprise and uniqueness, I am not sure the world currently offers a better dining city than Seoul. My most expensive meals are still falling below $20, averaging $10-$12, and they are occasionally below $5.
It is a gargantuan, imperial city, and while there is always a walking path the point of walking is not always clear. “The Middle Kingdom does Dubai.” There is no need to tell me about all the parts of the city which do not look like Dubai, I have seen many of them, and furthermore Dubai has such parts as well.
An iPad, plus Baidu access to Chinese characters, makes it easy to ask questions of strangers. Hardly anyone speaks even minimal English. It is less harried than I had expected. The sky rarely appears, at least in late July. The contemporary art district, 798, is worth more than one visit. I am not interested in seeing the Great Wall. My hotel, rather than having a “Medical Devices” conference, has a meeting on “Australian Property Holdings.”
The main problems here are the air pollution, and that no one, including taxi drivers, seems to know how to get anywhere. The rate of change is high and many people are from the provinces, so there is a real information gap.
The main upsides stem from what scale enables. Even if you have been to many places, Beijing will manage to astonish you.
Most of all, I am struck by how Taiwan is more Chinese than is China.