Friday, January 29, 2010

Travel Blogging XVI

Dateline: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. We did the HCMC tour today, with three other couples. It was a long day as the drive from where we were moored to city center took 2 hours in each direction. However, we had good weather as the predicted showers and thunderstorms did not materialize. It was sunny, almost hot, and humid, of course.

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon if you prefer the old usage, is big and growing rapidly. The traffic rivals Cairo for insanity. I wisecracked that our van driver would have to replace the horn every couple of years as he would have worn it out. Very little attention is paid to lines on the pavement, where they even exist. Cutting in front of other vehicles is routine, as is passing on the right, and many busy intersections have no traffic lights. Drivers cope with this chaos and we saw no accidents today or a couple of days ago in Da Nang.

We saw the former presidential palace (when South Vietnam was a country) which is now called the Reunification Monument or some such. Since it is maintained to look as it did when it was a presidential palace that is what I prefer to call it. It is a beautiful piece of tropical architecture, with large, vertically louvered windows that pivot to let in maximum fresh air. It is set in a park with lots of green trees. This combination of greenery to cool the air and natural ventilation made the building quite comfortable without air conditioning on a warmish, humid day. It is quite the best example of tropical architecture I’ve seen.

I know I’ve commented on this before, but we were struck anew by the rampant capitalism and entrepreneurship everywhere on display in this supposedly socialist country. To be sure, you do see an occasional socialist realism propaganda billboard but they are rare. The jarring reminder is that the main roads are lined with blood-red banners each featuring a yellow star or hammer-and-sickle. The best I can figure out, in the minds of most Vietnamese, these symbols merely stand for a reunified Vietnam ruled by Vietnamese. Of course they mean something quite different to most westerners. I believe capitalism is an even greater part of the culture here than in China.

Social distance is different in Vietnam than in the west. Vietnamese, I believe, are much more likely to touch you than are Europeans or North Americans. I suspect it “communicated” unintended things to GIs during the Vietnam War.

Our guide had a university degree in tourism and is studying for a second degree in law. So I asked her about how the country was doing with developing a civil code which would enable the enforcement of contracts. I believe she had no idea what I was talking about. Criminal code she understood perfectly, civil code drew a blank. Communist countries tend not to have much in the way of civil codes and, in this respect, I believe Vietnam may still be Communist.

Vietnam has developed a specialized tourist police force whose uniforms are labeled “tourist security” in English. This reminds me of Egypt which has done the same thing. I suspect they are more needed in Egypt which has more tourists from more countries and more potential terrorists. They tend to be stationed in places where tourists are prevalent.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

Michael Barone, writing in the Washington Examiner, about recent events:
Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts' special Senate election was for Democratic leaders a moment that can be described in two words, of which I will only print the first here, which is "oh."
I don't think he means "oh, my." Read the whole article which is worth your time.

Travel Blogging XV

Dateline: DaNang, Vietnam. We did a tour to famous Da Nang today, driving south on Highway 1, the national highway, paralleling the one and only railroad in the country which runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). This is the second time we’ve driven along this RR and I’ve yet to see an engine, moving cars or even sitting still. Today we did see some freight cars sitting on a siding near the tunnel north of Da Nang. Our guide, Minh, said there were two passenger trains a day but added we should take a short trip before committing to a long trip as these trains are noisy and dirty. I’ve yet to see one but I guess he was accurate about their existence. He claims it was built by the French, and appears to be narrow-gauge.

I think I got an answer about the tall, narrow houses you see all over this part of ‘Nam. Minh says that everybody wants a house that fronts on the main street because they want to be able to operate a small business out of the ground floor and need street frontage to do so. Therefore main street frontage is what is expensive, more than acreage. So you get these narrow, deep, tall dwellings/shops. Not every homeowner wants to operate a shop but every owner wants to be able to do so, if only to increase the resale value or to have a shop to rent out.

The whole Da Nang area has great beaches and is ripe for development, it will be the next Phuket. We spent time today in Hoi An, a town near Da Nang that has been named a World Heritage Site, as an unspoiled old town. As a result there are a bunch of tourists there, not just off our ship. If you want to visit a town in Vietnam where your white skin and round eyes won’t make you an oddity, Hoi An is that town. In Hoi An we saw non-Vietnamese who included everything from backpacking teens to families to geriatric dodderers.

Vietnam is having the same problem other agricultural societies have had; farm kids want to go to the city and do something that doesn’t require wading knee deep in a mixture of mud and human waste in the broiling sun. We saw people doing that today in the rice paddies; it is picturesque but none of us volunteered to try it. This is a poor country which intentionally uses labor-intensive methods in lieu of capital-intensive ones. We saw six people manning three highway toll booths, what is the point of that?

Vietnam’s hawkers of tourist trinkets are as persistent as those in Egypt, although are less likely to mistaken for terrorists. This persistence can be ugly when you cannot get rid of them. We only hit that a couple of times today, mostly it wasn’t bad. One such time was at the top of a pass just north of Da Nang.

This pass, in the minds of Vietnamese, divides the country into northerners and southerners. It is where the weather often switches from colder, cloudier north to sunnier, warmer south. It is NOT where the old DMZ was, not the dividing point between the pre-1975 North Vietnam and South Vietnam. That was some 100 km north on the 17th parallel. The pass is defended with both ancient and modern fortifications, the most recent built by the U.S. pre-1973. All are merely curiosities in a unified Vietnam.

Interestingly, northerners and southerners in Vietnam have stereotypes of each other in the same way that they do in the U.S. One overall impression: Vietnam looks more "Asian" than do the major cities of China or Taiwan, or Thailand for that matter.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Travel Blogging XIV

Dateline: South China Sea. We sailed out of Hong Kong harbor, taking the ‘backdoor’ route less traveled. This took us around the less-commercial side of HK Island that is mostly high rise residential apartment towers. There have got to be hundreds of them. Hong Kong is pretty much a human anthill, 7+ million people jammed into a small space. A typical apartment is on the order of 4-500 square feet and a family of 4 or more will live there. Hong Kong is the fourth most densely populated entity on the planet, right after Macau, Monaco, and Singapore. It is no place for a claustrophobe to live.

Many of these apartment blocks have a hole right through the middle that cost the developer something like 12 apartments. The hole is there because a feng shui master said it should be there for ‘balance.’ We didn’t see this interest in feng shui in Shanghai. Our friend Alan the architect says feng shui is mostly a concern in the southern, Canton region of which Hong Kong is part. He didn’t find much interest in feng shui when building in Shanghai.

Star Ferries runs a Harbor Tour ship that loops around the harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The narration is well done and the views are great. We took this tour, it cost us maybe $20 U.S. This is one of the true bargains in an otherwise expensive city. We also spent some time in the onshore mall collecting email and surfing the web. We can do this on shipboard but it isn’t free; our crew is very knowledgeable about where the free wi fi can be found ashore. They are staying in touch with relatives back home in 40+ countries and internet isn’t free for them on the ship, although they do pay less than we passengers pay.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


If Scott Brown, a Republican, can win in Democrat Massachusetts, can any Democrat congressional seat truly be considered safe? I suspect not, although many Dems will be reelected.

This November could be a real GOP landslide, wouldn't that be fun? Fun if the Republicans we elect will act like Republicans and not spend all our money.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Travel Blogging XIII

Dateline: Hong Kong. Yep, we're back in Hong Kong, but tied up at a different dock with much less glorious view, alas. The day is overcast and could rain. It is cool but not cold, and this is "high winter" as we're north of the equator. The locals all have parkas on as they're acclimatized to tropical weather.

Barone on Brown

Michael Barone, one of the nation's most sage political analysts, weighs in on the Scott Brown win in Massachusetts. His
column for Rasmussen Reports sets the stage by describing Mass. thus:
The state that in the last four presidential elections has voted on average 61 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican. That's a bigger margin than in any other state.
He says of Massachusetts voters in this most recent election:
Those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the Democrats' health care and "spreading the wealth around" either trended Republican or stayed home.
I particularly like Barone's conclusion:
Obama and "the educated class" think they know what is best for the little guy. The voters of Massachusetts (Massachusetts!) beg to differ. Is anyone in the White House listening?

Rasmussen: PAI Down to -19

Scott Rasmussen reports that the Presidential Approval Index has dropped to -19, because only 24% of likely voters say they Strongly Approve of President Obama while 43% Strongly Disapprove. As the Rasmussen Report notes:
Today’s update is the first based entirely upon interviews following Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts and the Approval Index has fallen eight points since Tuesday morning.
Dropped eight points? Wow. I wouldn't have guessed learning The Man had no coattails would cause that much dismay.

A bunch of Dems in Congress have got to be reassessing their chances in November.

Travel Blogging XII

Dateline: The South China Sea. We are enroute to Hong Kong, on a somewhat rocky sea. The Purser’s desk is giving away a lot of meclizine hydrochloride tablets. They go by the trade name Bonine, are nonprescription, and really do work. The DrsC take them whenever we are on the ocean.

A further thought about Shanghai, and Hong Kong too. New architecture in China has few or none of the architectural details we westerners associate with Chinese architecture. We asked our guide Alan, who BTW is trained as an architect, about this and his response was very interesting. Alan says people in today’s China do not want to see those classical Chinese elements on new buildings. They prefer architecture in the modern-to-post-modern range. The other DrC suggests this shows that the Red Guard/Cultural Revolution purge of the “four olds” was more successful than you might think. That is an intriguing idea.

Travel Blogging XI

Dateline: Keelung, Taiwan. This is a port in northern Taiwan, not far from Taipei. Our ship is tied up here on a rainy day, the view out the windows is strictly watercolor. Since we toured here about a week ago, we are staying aboard. Oddly, days when the passengers are ashore are very pleasant as the ship is not crowded and peaceful. It is also a good time to do laundry, if your ship has a Laundromat (this one does). We had thought to take a brief stroll into Keelung and use the free wifi at Burger King, but the rain nixed that.

I have been pondering the fall of Barack Obama over the past year. He started so strong and burned out so quickly. Is the speed of this rise and fall an artifact of the 24 hour news cycle, a reflection of Obama’s lame strategy and tactics, or perhaps a bit of both? Probably the latter.

Another factor is the gerrymandered polarization of congressional districts, meaning there are very few moderates in either party. When your constituents expect you to vote either hard right or left, legislative compromise can equal career suicide.

If I were Scott Brown right now I’d be wondering what the normally liberal voters of Massachusetts expect of me. Scott had better vote the way he campaigned and let the voters decide whether they’ve changed their minds long-term or were just sending a one-time message of extreme frustration to Obama-Reid-Pelosi. Again, it is probably the latter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

Thomas Jefferson, quoted in the Wall Street Journal editorial about the Scott Brown senatorial win in Massachusetts:
It is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

The WSJ editor adds: Two hundred and twenty-one years later, the sage of Monticello has been proven right again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown Wins in Mass.

Scott Brown, Republican, has won the Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy, Democrat. This is huge, not just big, it's huge. The pundits will go crazy with this stunning upset. It gives the GOP 41 votes in the Senate, a number large enough to block any legislation all of them will vote against. More about this later....

Travel Blogging X

Dateline: Shanghai, China. The first thing you must say about Shanghai is “wow” or perhaps “WOW” would be better. This place is enormous and growing like a weed: growing up, growing out, just growing. Shanghai’s zoomy buildings are zoomier than Hong Kong’s, their tall buildings are taller than Hong Kong’s, and that is saying something.

Shanghai has developed a middle class with education and money to spend. You can drive around Shanghai for hours and never get the sense that you are still in a developing country. In that sense Shanghai reminds me of Lima, Peru. Much of Lima feels “developed” but other parts of Peru (e.g., Iquitos, Ica) do not. I suspect that 100 miles outside Shanghai you’d see a very different China, one that is still clearly “developing,” our current PC synonym for poor.

Shanghai will host an international exhibition this year, beginning in a couple of months. They are doing a lot of cleaning up to show their best face. Some of it is truly “Potemkin village” stuff, putting pretty faces on ugly buildings. Other is more substantive, building a new pedestrian mall along the riverfront by the Bund.

Ironically, Shanghai’s most famous landmark was built by Europeans: the Shanghai Bund. It is a group of colonial-era riverfront buildings, some of which are quite beautiful. We entered a building that is now the Pudong Development Bank and was once a British bank, spectacular interior space with high vaulted ceilings, marble columns, huge brass lions flanking the doors, and beautiful mosaics. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take pictures here.

Our guide was a friend from the States who does development here in Shanghai. It was a great one-day tour, thanks, Alan. He showed us the city and a project he was instrumental in making happen. Very impressive stuff. In his development we saw a hypermarket which is not unlike an indoor mall including supermarket and food court, except it is on several floors because land is expensive so you build up instead of out. It was drawing lots of customers, too. One day soon the other DrC will have Shanghai pix posted on her blog at and you will want to give it a look.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rasmussen Revisited

We hadn't touched base with our favorite pollster, Scott Rasmussen, recently. His Rasmussen Reports finds the following:
Overall, 49% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President's performance. Fifty-one percent (51%) disapprove.
I suppose the White House is taking solace from the leveling off of the freefall that characterized 2009. Still, leveling-off doesn't constitute a comeback.

Peters on Ft. Hood

The New York Post's Ralph Peters writes a column about the Army's report on the deadly violence perpetrated at Ft. Hood by a Muslim psychiatrist. He finds the report wanting in almost all respects. Mostly, it doesn't identify the perpetrator as an Islamic extremist.

I will admit that there is a tendency for people who become shrinks to have mental problems of their own. Nevertheless, the military seems scared to death of identifying Islamic extremism as a threat. Sad.

Travel Blogging IX

Dateline: Naha, Okinawa. It is a pleasant winter day in far southern Japan. Winter is often the most pleasant in sub-tropical climates. I'm sitting in a Starbucks with the other DrC drinking tea and using the free wifi. You can really see the influence that 60 years of U.S. troop basing here has had. Many signs in both English and Japanese, quite a few people with at least some English, and you see non-Asians driving cars and generally "around."

To be sure, the locals aren't entirely pleased with the U.S. bases but they have added a lot to the local economy. I suspect most towns outside military bases have very mixed feelings about the troops. Face it, young men drinking and hanging out in groups are a risky proposition anywhere and when they are of another race, as they are here...even worse. And some of the local young ladies are attractive, too. I suspect the reaction to garrisoned Roman legionnaires was the same in Britain and Gaul.

We are nearing the turn-around point of this trip - Shanghai. Then we run it back the way we came, in mostly the same fashion mirrored. For us the cruise ends when we get back to Bangkok, about 18 days from now. These two cruises back-to-back will constitute the longest cruise we have so far taken, some 32 days. By the end I will be ready to spend some time on land.

Steyn Riffs on Massachusetts

Go here to see what Mark Steyn has to say about the senatorial race in Massachusetts. As usual, he is fun to read and conveys some solid home truths at the same time. This is his recent column for the Orange County Register. He quotes Michael Gerson, writing for the Washington Post, as follows:
People once thought Obama could sound eloquent reading the phone book. Now, whatever the topic, it often sounds as though he is.
Whatever happened to Mr. Eloquent?

Quote of the Day

Theodore Dalrymple, writing in City Journal, about the disaster that is Haiti:
The news from Haiti is always terrible; when there is no Haitian news, it does not so much suggest that the news is good as that the long, slow catastrophe that is Haitian history is merely continuing as usual.
Hands down, Haiti is the saddest place in the Western Hemisphere. Hat tip to for the link.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Travel Blogging VIII

Dateline: Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C. Depending on your point of view we spent today visiting the smallest province of China, one with a rebel government OR we spent today visiting the nation of Taiwan, which sometimes calls itself the Republic of China. What is incontrovertible is that Taiwan is overwhelmingly populated by people whose ethnicity is Chinese, and whose language is one of perhaps three or more Chinese dialects. Some of Taiwan’s residents believe it to be a Chinese province, others believe it should be independent. Just about all of China’s residents believe Taiwan to be a part of China.

Here at COTTonLINE we follow the duck analogy. If it waddles like a duck and quacks, it is a duck. Taiwan acts like a nation; it collects taxes, raises a military, has a foreign policy and makes treaties, operates courts, conducts relatively free elections, conducts schools and hospitals, etc. So we think of it as a nation. If the nation of Taiwan decides someday to be part of China, fine. If not, it should be free to go its own way. At the same time we understand the concerns China has about holding their nation together, and they clearly view Taiwan as part of their nation.

What did we see today? We visited the National Palace Museum which contains most of the world’s finest Asian art. It was crowded to the point where viewing the exhibits was difficult. It is crowded because many tourists come here from the PRC. I hope these visitors recognize that had these treasures been in China during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards would have destroyed most of them, at Mao’s urging. I fear the visitors don’t know this since history, particularly embarrassing history, isn’t much taught and even less learned.

We also visited the Martyr’s Shrine, where their war dead are honored. We saw the changing of the guard, a military ritual that we also saw back in 1986. The ritual hasn’t changed, but it is still impressive. Then we spent a half hour at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, a beautiful complex in Taipei that includes the memorial itself and two performance halls, one for music, another for opera. Many people climbed the 89 steps to view the statue; I found a comfortable seat and spent the time in contemplation of a beautiful space and some amazing architecture. We had great weather, which helped.

Taipei isn’t trying to become another Singapore, they don’t need to do so. Singapore needs westerners to make it work, Taipei doesn’t need them. Taipei has earned its own wealth, the GDP per capita of Taiwan is five times that of China. We heard the statistic that Taiwan builds 60% of the world’s laptop computers.

When we were here in 1986 and again in 1989, you often saw soldiers standing guard at various buildings in Taipei. We didn’t see that today. My sense is that Taiwan is feeling less threatened by the PRC. It is possible that they will eventually assume a status with respect to China not unlike that of Hong Kong or Macau, a sort of Special Administrative Region. On the other hand, as people from the PRC come to Taiwan and see the higher standard of living and greater political freedom, and take those memories home to China, who knows what the result might be?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Travel Blogging VII

Dateline: Hong Kong. We sailed out of Hong Kong harbor this afternoon about 5 p.m. with the sinking sun painting golden paths across the water, as it shone between the skyscrapers. If any city has a skyline like Hong Kong, I don’t know of one. Would I want to live here? Not even close. Do I like to visit here every few years? Definitely.

Hong Kong bills itself as “Asia’s world city.” The other DrC says whereas Singapore feels “engineered,” Hong Kong feels more “organic.” I don’t feel that difference but do see that Singapore is more cosmopolitan whereas Hong Kong is definitely Asian. Both cities’ populations are overwhelmingly Chinese in ethnicity, but Singapore exists in a non-Chinese “neighborhood” and that makes a difference.

Both cities were stalwart outposts of the globe-spanning British Empire, now Singapore has committed itself to be a place where westerners will be comfortable, Hong Kong isn’t “there” yet and may never go there. You’ve heard of design being “Danish modern?” Hong Kong is “Chinese modern.” Much of the “modern” has been added in the last 20 years, since we were here last.

We hear via CNN and BBC that Haiti has experienced a severe earthquake. CNN in particular was enjoying their role as disaster reporters extraordinaire far too much. It was all the CNN talking heads could do to keep from grinning and doing on-air high fives, knowing their ratings would go up for the duration of the tragedy. Their relish of a ‘good disaster’ is very nearly indecent.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Travel Blogging VI

Dateline: Hong Kong. We arrived here this morning, to somewhat cold weather. Two days cruising from Da Nang to here moved us from sweltering to chilly. The info on HK says it is hot and wet three seasons a year and cool and dry in winter.

Hong Kong is a knockout, just like it was 20 years ago under the British only more so. The other DrC says HK is cleaner than it was 20 years ago, I suspect she is correct. Do you suppose HK took a leaf from Singapore’s book? It wouldn’t surprise me.

The People's Republic of China has “owned” HK for 12+ years now and it still feels like the place the Brits left. Much credit must go to the PRC for keeping the “one nation, two systems” agreement made with the British in 1997. The people here wonder what will happen in 2047 when the 50 year guarantee runs out. Everybody here, and probably everybody in Beijing, hopes that “the mainland” will have caught up with Hong Kong by then in terms of economic development and civil rights. That being the case, there will be no adjustment issues.

We did the typical touristy things this morning: took the funicular to Victoria Peak, had a boat ride around Aberdeen Harbor, visited the Stanley market for trinkets, etc. We did this since we haven’t been here for 20 years and we wanted to see the many changes. This evening we watched the laser light show that fills the air above the channel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The boat traffic in that channel is fascinating, a constant stream of ferries, work boats, pleasure craft, etc. The Star Ferries still run every couple of minutes between Kowloon and HK Island, and there are three tunnels as well. Tomorrow we do more serious shopping, the thing for which HK is most famous.

The architecture here is spectacular; the influence of feng shui on design being apparent once a knowledgeable local points it out. This can lead to interesting holes being built into otherwise slab-like tall buildings. My favorite HK view is the one looking across the channel from Kowloon toward Hong Kong Island at night with the lights on the tall buildings, most of which buildings are relatively new. It is magical.

Travel Blogging V

Dateline: Da Nang, Vietnam. Day before yesterday we tied up at the port serving Da Nang and drove instead to the imperial city of Hue. There we saw The Citadel, visited a pagoda, saw an emperor’s tomb, and saw somebody make incense. This was a long, tiring day, very hot and humid.

The Citadel is, on the outside, a classical early 19th century fortification: moat, wall with projections to provide intersecting fields of fire, etc. On the inside the Citadel is a series of palaces, each of which features separate quarters for the military mandarins (generals) and civil mandarins (other government leaders). Apparently the only contact they had was to argue their (often conflicting) viewpoints before the emperor. I’m not sure things are much different in today’s Washington.

Vietnam is poor, much poorer than Ko Sumai, Vietnam. Many houses are hovels, others are smartly constructed narrow, vertical, stucco homes set amongst shacks. Why people build vertical homes isn’t clear, our guide said it was the high cost of land but I saw narrow homes where the people clearly had enough land to build wider. I wonder if it has to do with property taxes being based on ground-floor area? That would cause people to build upward to keep the ground-floor ‘footprint’ small. These vertical houses didn’t have a classically Asian feel about them. A fellow passenger called them French, a reflection of the colonial era. I don’t see it.

Public transport seems limited, I saw few buses devoted to anything except tourism. Road traffic consists of many motorcycles, mostly light-weight, some bicycles, a few buses, a very few autos, and many trucks, mostly large. I am not surprised that people prefer private motorcycles over public transport; where they can afford autos, people prefer them over public transport too. We did see one large piece of furniture, like an armoire, being delivered on a three-wheel bicycle. Oddly, we didn’t see tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorcycles with a covered seat for two in back) like Thailand has used, possibly because the entrepreneurship needed to buy tuk-tuks and operate them as taxis isn’t permitted in a communist state.

It is odd to drive along immersed in Asian culture and then occasionally see a yellow hammer and sickle on a blood-red background. Communism feels “grafted-on” to Vietnamese society. My guess: someday it will disappear quickly here as it did in Russia.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Travel Blogging IV

Dateline: Phu My, Vietnam. We spent the day in port at Phu My, which is the port for Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. We were docked alongside a large but largely unused container port. We saw acre after acre of paved, marked off storage area for containers, with hardly any containers in it. Lots of big cranes for moving containers, but the only boats being loaded were a couple of riverboats being loaded for the trip upriver on the Mekong. Either the Vietnamese have built far in advance of their needs or the recession has hit this poor country pretty darned hard. I suspect the latter.

The river traffic is interesting, as it always is on big rivers. You see how the so-called “swift boats” were needed during the Vietnam conflict to control which side had access to the river for transport. Anyway, it gave the Navy a shot at getting involved beyond launching carrier planes and occasionally shelling coastal targets.

Looking at the river traffic reminded me of the river scenes in the iconic film Apocalypse Now. The film’s main character is sent upriver on a swift boat to find and kill a U.S. ‘adviser’ gone native, played by Marlon Brando. I kept wondering if we passed the place the film’s macho aircav general wanted to surf as we came into port. He is the fellow who loved the smell of napalm in the morning.

We are north of the equator so it is nominally “winter.” Not that you’d ever imagine it to be winter as the heat is oppressive, energy-sapping. For those of our passengers who came here from true winter, this muggy heat has to be a major adjustment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: Singapore. Mr. Lee’s Magical City, the truck stop of the seas, is still an amazing place. The harbor contains more cargo ships than you believed existed in the world. The seaway alongside Singapore is the busiest in the world. And if you can believe it, this is a clean city in the tropics! Even the local Chinatown is clean, perhaps a record.

The gentleman responsible for this anomalous place is Lee Kwan Yew, the world’s best-ever urban planner and social engineer. He was Prime Minister here for 31 years and I am prepared to believe he could have done that without the limitations on civil rights that he imposed. Still, with one of the world’s highest population densities, a high degree of control is necessary to keep people from pestering each other.

The location is almost on the equator and the elevation is essentially sea level so the climate is hot and wet in the dry season, and hotter and wetter in the wet season. The city-state has no natural resources except its location on the most heavily traveled sea lane in the world. So Mr. Lee took a poor city and made it wealthy in 30 years; today it has a greater per capita Gross Domestic Product than the U.S. No wonder it is Singapore, not the U.S., that much of the non-western world hopes to emulate.

Peru a Winner

See this Christian Science Monitor article lauding the economic performance of Peru. This constitutes good news for the anti-Chavez forces in Latin America.

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: Ko Semui, Thailand. Third world beach resort communities all look a lot alike – an interesting mix of poverty and luxury, lush vegetation and decaying buildings. The same backpackers hanging around and zipping along on rented motorbikes. The locals here are nice, not in-your-face at all.

We did a couple of things here we’ve not done before. We rode an elephant, it is not particularly comfortable but interesting as blazes. You can see why the colonial Brits used them for tiger hunting, you sit up high and can see some distance. I’m guessing elephants are not afraid of tigers and that would help too. We also rode an ox cart w/o springs and could see right away why the smart pioneers headed west in the U.S. used ox teams instead of horses. They are slow but powerful and can live off the land.

We saw trained monkeys harvest coconuts. They only train the male monkeys as if they try to train males and females together they fool around too much. I didn’t learn why the cannot train the female monkeys separately, maybe a strength issue. It does suggest that perhaps human junior high and high schools should be sex-segregated. All trained monkeys are male and all trained elephants are female. Go figure.

Tomorrow we do our first lecture of this trip, I look forward to it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rasmussen Rapped

I've been wondering when this was going to happen, the moonbat left starting to attack the work of Scott Rasmussen. We had a post on this issue on December 2, 2009. Here the folks at Politico take on the issue, see what you think.

It is certainly true that his results skew a few points to the right of most pollsters. It is also true that his results parallel those of other pollsters, just a few notches to the right. I tend to think of Rasmussen Reports data as slightly leading indicators of where other polls will be in a few days. In the past year, this has been the case.

Reuters Wimps Out

See this Reuters story about "youths" burning cars in poor French suburbs. The U.S. equivalent of "poor French suburbs" is public housing. Notice they don't mention that the "youths" in question are Muslims from former French colonies. They burn cars because, in part, they cannot afford cars and in part because French society has shown them no way to become actually French. Most of these "youths" are also long-term unemployed.

Reuters apparently hopes that if they don't mention the racial and religious characteristics of the rioting "youths," those characteristics can be safely ignored. It is like Obama not wanting to admit the existence of The Long War.

Odd Variability

We fly a lot on United Airlines, mostly because they serve the CA town we worked in all those years and where our winter vacation home still is located. I've even got Premier Executive status with United, which means I've spent way too much time in their planes over the last year.

This post is about UAL's Red Carpet Lounges, where their business class (and sometimes first class) passengers can go to wait and be comfortable while awaiting their flight. The lounge in San Francisco is decent, the one in Tokyo/Narita is spectacular, and the one in Denver, one of UAL's major hubs, is the pits. Last time we were in Denver the only good thing we could say about the RCL was that the toilets were clean.

You would think that UAL would have someone who is responsible for all RCLs. Someone who would travel around making sure they are all up to standards. Apparently not; I wonder why RCL quality control is so slipshod?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Stories the MSM Missed

See this Fox News piece about nine stories the mainstream media (MSM) didn't cover in 2009. It is a short article that is worth your time to read.

All nine of the stories are fair except perhaps the last one. They report that Democratic congressional districts got more of the stimulus money, as though that was blatant favoritism. In many cases being poor is the reason the district is Democratic, and poor places are where the stimulus will do the most good. If a district votes Republican, it sort of says "we don't need stimulus, we're doing okay."

There are affluent districts that vote Democratic, like Teton County in Wyoming - essentially the only reliably Democratic county in the state. If these also got a disproportionate share of stimulus money, then I'd say "favoritism" is proven.

Travel Blogging I

Dateline: Bangkok. Wow, we pulled off a neat trick yesterday (I think it was yesterday, when you fly for 16+ hours and cross the dateline going west, who can tell?). The neat trick was checking baggage through to Bangkok, then leaving the security area in Narita (Tokyo's airport) to visit with some Japan-resident friends of Eileen's for over an hour, getting on our next flight, and finishing up at exactly the time we should have. With all the crazyness about increased airport security, no one could tell us if it would be possible - it was. I remained dubious until my backside was in the seat of the second plane and we were taxiing.

The last time I accomplished this sort of hat trick I was flying from DC to the left coast with a couple of hour layover in Chicago. I left O'Hare in a cab, raced over to an airport hotel where a conference was happening, gave a paper, caught another cab back to the airport, and flew on to CA w/o missing a beat or having an open-jaw ticket.

Bangkok is not the same place it was last time we were here, some 20 years ago. The traffic on the Chao Phraya River looks much the same, the heat and humidity hasn't changed, the green weed floating toward the sea is the same, but the skyline is entirely different - this is a big city now. From the airport to the hotel we were driven on motorways that had up to 6 lanes in each direction, and yes, the Thais do drive on the left as do the Brits and Japanese.

The Thai in the street are worried about the health of their king, who is elderly and hospitalized, perhaps with pneumonia. He has provided the stability in their nation since WW II.

Tomorrow we board the Ocean Princess and begin sailing and lecturing for 32 days. It is actually two 16 day cruises back-to-back: Bangkok to Shanghai and Shanghai to Bangkok. In these latitudes it will be hot and muggy, in Shanghai it is somewhat cold at this time of year. We had to pack for both conditionss, and get it all into one large suitcase and one carry-on each - not easy when we are carrying computers and cameras too.

What makes it possible is that most of the Princess ships, including this one, have laundramats on board. We bring just over a week's clothes and wear them repeatedly, we'll spend 3-4 afternoons laundering and folding clothes. That is no different than what we'd be doing at home - the weekly laundry.