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markhollin

Travel observations of other cities and countries

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Personally, I love Phoenix, but not as a city. Phoenix has the misfortune of having been laid-out for the car and booming during the heyday of car-to-suburb travel. Wide (and in many cases, divided) multi-lane streets and lots of beige, brown, and gold glass 1970s buildings. They have tried to build a 'real' downtown, and will eventually get there, but right now still dealing with the North and South downtown phenomenon.  I-10 bisects what would be a prime downtown development zone. To their credit, I-10 has been capped in some areas. Haven't seen the promised development around it. 

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That last picture I just threw in. I was on my way back and was landing at DFW of course that is Jerry’s World and the Ranger stadium. 

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16 hours ago, Hey_Hey said:

I was in Phoenix this week for business and was downtown.  Nashville compares very favorably to Phoenix. I would venture a guess that Nashville’s downtown/core is roughly 2-3x the size of Phoenix’s and much more lively to boot. 

Phoenix was an odd experience for me. It almost felt empty. But yes, the mountains are purple and orange at sunset.

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21 hours ago, Salbato said:

Great pictures! Thanks for sharing I would love to visit Spain.

You should try to go.  We got our flights for $560 round trip from Nashville & stayed in nice Airbnb's for ~$70-90/night.  I was told we were somewhat lucky with the weather Feb 22-March 3rd, as it is usually more rainy.  But I would have still loved it with a little rain.  Prob the cheapest country to visit in WESTERN Europe.  Easy going people.  Fantastic food.  Make sure to either do your research on how to get around (Busses, subways & trains) or bring someone who speaks Spanish. Not everyone speaks English so you can get lost if you don't have a plan.  I'd say start with Barcelona and Madrid, and go from there.  There's a lot of smaller places with rich history, Roman & Moorish ruins.  We plan to go back to hit the North (Basque) area and other smaller places like, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Granada, Malaga, Toledo, etc. etc. 

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15 hours ago, jmtunafish said:

I grew up in Hong Kong and get back there as often as I can...

Wow, cool.  HK was the first place I traveled to outside of North America, so I have fond memories of that place.  Questions for you, if you don't mind:

1) Are you ethnic Chinese, and if not, did you go to a school with other westerners or mix with the locals?

2) How good is your Cantonese and what do you think about the nascent Mandarinization of HK and severe Mandarinization of Guangzhou?

3) Do you think you will ever move back there, and what is your mental calculus surrounding your view on that question?

4) What is your impression of HK's fate looking into the future?  In my opinion HK has, in a lot of ways, been eclipsed by Singapore as the premier expat/FDI/foreign headquarter/business hub destination of Asia.  Granted, Singapore is smaller in scale, but it seems there is an economic dynamism there that reminds me of HK in the late 1980's or early 1990's.  SG is more multi-ethnic, more multi-cultural, more economically and politically independent, better located to benefit from the growth of India, Southeast Asia, maybe even Africa?

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22 minutes ago, Armacing said:

Wow, cool.  HK was the first place I traveled to outside of North America, so I have fond memories of that place.  Questions for you, if you don't mind:

1) Are you ethnic Chinese, and if not, did you go to a school with other westerners or mix with the locals?

2) How good is your Cantonese and what do you think about the nascent Mandarinization of HK and severe Mandarinization of Guangzhou?

3) Do you think you will ever move back there, and what is your mental calculus surrounding your view on that question?

4) What is your impression of HK's fate looking into the future?  In my opinion HK has, in a lot of ways, been eclipsed by Singapore as the premier expat/FDI/foreign headquarter/business hub destination of Asia.  Granted, Singapore is smaller in scale, but it seems there is an economic dynamism there that reminds me of HK in the late 1980's or early 1990's.  SG is more multi-ethnic, more multi-cultural, more economically and politically independent, better located to benefit from the growth of India, Southeast Asia, maybe even Africa?

Thank you.  HK isn't for everyone, but it's certainly for me.

1) I'm French-American.  In HK I went to a British school (middle and high school).  The French school was too far away.  Prior to living in HK we lived in the Philippines where I went to an American elementary school.  I went to college in France and Belgium.

2) I can still count and say a few swear words in Cantonese.  :)  HK was still British when we lived there so there just wasn't much need to learn Cantonese, and even today there's very little need to learn Cantonese or Mandarin.  I'm not too wild about the Mandarinzation of HK, and neither are most Hongkongers.  Mandarin is certainly a more beautiful language, and of course now that HK is under Chinese rule it's understandable why some would want to learn Mandarin.  But I hate that HK and Guangzhou are losing some of their identity.  Even most Americans would be surprised that what they consider to be "Chinese" food is actually from the Cantonese part of China.

3) I would give my right ear to live in HK again.

4) The Chinese promised not to change HK for 50 years after getting it back from the UK in 1997.  Of course, they haven't completely kept their word.  I dislike Singapore with a passion.  Singapore is certainly very clean and prosperous, but it's like Disneyland if Disneyland were run by Hitler.  Singapore has definitely benefited from the Chinese takeover of HK.  Likewise, so has Shanghai which is really more of a rival to HK than is Singapore, just as it was prior to the Communist takeover of China.  Prior to the Chinese takeover of HK in 1997, something like 1/3 of all foreign capital entered China through Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a cash cow for China, and the Chinese would be amazingly stupid to mess with that.  Once those 50 years run out and HK is fully integrated back into the mainland, that entire region will probably be catapulted into the top megalopolis in the world.  There's probably 40 million or so living in the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Macau horseshoe, but because HK and Macau are treated as separate countries (their own currencies, own passports, border control, etc) it technically can't be considered a single megalopolis today.  Anyway, the Chinese are investing heavily in that region, I guess in preparation for the time when the borders will disappear for good.  For example, Shenzhen, a city on the China-HK border, was just a quiet little fishing village when I lived in Hong Kong.  Today Shenzhen has a population of over 12 million.

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33 minutes ago, jmtunafish said:

Thank you.  HK isn't for everyone, but it's certainly for me.

1) I'm French-American.  In HK I went to a British school (middle and high school).  The French school was too far away.  Prior to living in HK we lived in the Philippines where I went to an American elementary school.  I went to college in France and Belgium.

2) I can still count and say a few swear words in Cantonese.  :)  HK was still British when we lived there so there just wasn't much need to learn Cantonese, and even today there's very little need to learn Cantonese or Mandarin.  I'm not too wild about the Mandarinzation of HK, and neither are most Hongkongers.  Mandarin is certainly a more beautiful language, and of course now that HK is under Chinese rule it's understandable why some would want to learn Mandarin.  But I hate that HK and Guangzhou are losing some of their identity.  Even most Americans would be surprised that what they consider to be "Chinese" food is actually from the Cantonese part of China.

3) I would give my right ear to live in HK again.

4) The Chinese promised not to change HK for 50 years after getting it back from the UK in 1997.  Of course, they haven't completely kept their word.  I dislike Singapore with a passion.  Singapore is certainly very clean and prosperous, but it's like Disneyland if Disneyland were run by Hitler.  Singapore has definitely benefited from the Chinese takeover of HK.  Likewise, so has Shanghai which is really more of a rival to HK than is Singapore, just as it was prior to the Communist takeover of China.  Prior to the Chinese takeover of HK in 1997, something like 1/3 of all foreign capital entered China through Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a cash cow for China, and the Chinese would be amazingly stupid to mess with that.  Once those 50 years run out and HK is fully integrated back into the mainland, that entire region will probably be catapulted into the top megalopolis in the world.  There's probably 40 million or so living in the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Macau horseshoe, but because HK and Macau are treated as separate countries (their own currencies, own passports, border control, etc) it technically can't be considered a single megalopolis today.  Anyway, the Chinese are investing heavily in that region, I guess in preparation for the time when the borders will disappear for good.  For example, Shenzhen, a city on the China-HK border, was just a quiet little fishing village when I lived in Hong Kong.  Today Shenzhen has a population of over 12 million.

I don’t get it, Singapore is too clean and safe for you ?

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Just now, Dale said:

I don’t get it, Singapore is too clean and safe for you ? 

I think its the means they use to achieve that safety that he finds objectionable. Caning for example.

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6 minutes ago, Rockatansky said:

I think its the means they use to achieve that safety that he finds objectionable. Caning for example.

In addition to more cowbell, we could do with more caning. 

Tip: to avoid caning, don’t vandalize luxury cars.

Edited by Dale
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I am about 24 hours from being back from New York City and I am still wrapping my brain around city life there.  I could write a book just about the three days I spent there.  If I was young, in consulting/financial, and wanted an adventure... NYC would be THE PLACE for me.  But right now, as I type this, I am sitting on my back porch hearing the birds chirp, listening to a neighbor cut their grass and taking in the rolling hills and greenery.  I couldn’t give that up.  Not at 43 with a 14 yr and 12 yr who both play travel soccer.  My life is already cemented into this mold and changing it now would be nearly impossible.  Anyways...

- Culture.  WOW.  They don’t blink an eye at all the various people, religions, races, etc.  Just going to Bryant park and grabbing a coffee Saturday morning I was exposed to so many different languages.  I know there are a lot of visitors from all over the world but NYC is truly a melting pot.  I remember meeting a local soccer dad from Slovakia a few years ago in Franklin and losing my mind.  LOL.  But that’s what it’s like around here.  “Oh that accent!  Where are you from??”

- Parks.  I get it now.  I barely scratched the surface at Central Park and visited Bryant.  But as I play around on Apple Maps (3D) I am blown away at how many parks there are and how beautiful they are.  Truly the closest true “city park” I am aware of in Nashville is Centennial Park:  big structure, pond, various other statues...   But when you have 8 mil jammed in a city (with no back yards) I get and appreciate all the parks.  Every park I saw in NY was a true gem and would love if Nashville added more of these.  Ok I know Nashville has a BUNCH more (city parks) and I will spend some time checking those out.

- Schools... where the heck are they?  LOL.   We walked around Battery Park and noticed what appeared to be fenced in playgrounds and tiny sports fields.  My assumption is that the schools are just built in to the landscape and part of the sea of buildings/mid-rises and high-rises?  I read an article about someone who moved from NYC to Nashville and one of the things they talked about was the 1.5 transport to high school.  (Apparently you apply for high school there and you’re not necessarily “zoned” to the closest one)

- Mass Transit.  I am a rookie and it showed.  But after a few tries I got it.  With a city SO MASSIVE I get the need for all the different rails and needs.  Ferries, trains, buses, cabs, subways... 8 million people going in and out from the five burrows... makes sense.  I talked to a bartender at a bar around the World Trade Center... she commutes from Brooklyn and takes abut 45 minutes via rail.  I saw a young couple on the subway.  He got up and kissed his girl friend and hopped off.  She continued on.  I guess on dates, there’s no “dropping her off before curfew”?   Ha ha.  While I support mass transit for Nashville, we are certainly no where at the place where we need it like NYC has it.  (Obviously).  But, as jobs increase at the core, having these options coming in.  What’s weird and different is that when I popped up from these subway stops I was always in a canyon of high-rises.  Nashville doesn’t have that.  In NYC, each stop seemed to be completely surround by VERY HIGH DENSITY.  While Nashville, not so much.  Anyways, I know we need it.  But I don’t ever see it being like NYC.  

- Cost of living... fuggeaboutit.  OMG I got curious and played on Zillow.  $640k for 845 sq ft around Central Park.  (Only the best, right?)  Plenty of $20+ million condos that are smaller than my current dwelling.  I know there are exceptions... I know there are certain neighborhoods that may be more affordable.  I could barely afford a flat above a comic book store and Qdoba.  

Got a few slices from Joes and had the best Italian sauce EVER at Vincents at Little Italy.  Spent a lot of time at an Irish pub off Times Square that made the best Irish Mules.  This was a quick trip so the point was to just scratch the surface and see the highlights.  I plan on going back in a few years.  I truly could go on and on and on but I won’t.  I will just enjoy my back porch and the solitude of the birds and the dog running around the backyard.  

Cheers

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58 minutes ago, Rockatansky said:

I think its the means they use to achieve that safety that he finds objectionable. Caning for example.

 

57 minutes ago, Dale said:

In addition to more cowbell, we could do with more caning. 

Tip: to avoid caning, don’t vandalize luxury cars.

Oh it's more than just the caning.  I actually was on Singapore's side in that one when that snotty American punk teenager got caught vandalizing someone else's car.   But Singapore has some ridiculous laws and crazy penalties:

  • Chewing gum is illegal.  The only exceptions are prescription gums.  If you're caught selling gum, it's 2 years in jail and a $100,000 fine.
  • Feeding pigeons has a $500 fine.
  • Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
  • Saying anything vulgar in public can result in up to 3 months in prison.
  • Spitting in public has a $1,000 fine.
  • Forgetting to flush a public toilet has a $150 fine.
  • Jaywalking can result in 3 months in jail.
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4 minutes ago, jmtunafish said:

 

Oh it's more than just the caning.  I actually was on Singapore's side in that one when that snotty American punk teenager got caught vandalizing someone else's car.   But Singapore has some ridiculous laws and crazy penalties:

  • Chewing gum is illegal.  The only exceptions are prescription gums.  If you're caught selling gum, it's 2 years in jail and a $100,000 fine.
  • Feeding pigeons has a $500 fine.
  • Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
  • Saying anything vulgar in public can result in up to 3 months in prison.
  • Spitting in public has a $1,000 fine.
  • Forgetting to flush a public toilet has a $150 fine.
  • Jaywalking can result in 3 months in jail.

Like they say, Singapore is a “fine” city. But let’s get real. Hong Kong and Singapore both are rated “Partly Free” by Freedom House. In fact, Hong Kong rates only 2 out of 7 on Civil Rights. 

On the other hand, the same source consider’s UK one of the freest in the world. But just a few weeks ago, a British mum was arrested for “deadnaming” a man who thinks he’s a woman.  And MP’s are now pressing to require that GPS locaters be attached to ... wait for it - knives.

I might prefer to take my chances in Singapore!

 

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1 hour ago, jmtunafish said:

2) ….. HK was still British when we lived there so there just wasn't much need to learn Cantonese, and even today there's very little need to learn Cantonese or Mandarin....

I'm not too sure about that.  I believe English proficiency has actually ben slightly declining in HK.  It's one of the few places around the world where that is the case.  From my perspective, it's hard to overstate the degree to which HK has pivoted from being a global economic hub to being a highly china-centric economic satellite.  Not that it's negative though.  It's actually quite natural when you think about it because it's role as a gateway to China has essentially been eliminated because multiple cities can serve as gateways to china, even Guangzhou and Shenzhen and especially Shanghai and Beijing.  The thing that causes worry for the future, in my mind, is an over-reliance on china in terms of HK's investment portfolio.  My prediction is that China will suffer worse economic stagnation than Japan is now during the next 2 decades.

1 hour ago, jmtunafish said:

Singapore has definitely benefited from the Chinese takeover of HK...Once those 50 years run out and HK is fully integrated back into the mainland, that entire region will probably be catapulted into the top megalopolis in the world. 

I would say the PRD (Pearl River Delta, for those not familiar with that term) is already the premier megalopolis of the world, but again, I don't think it will be the top dog by 2035.  Look at Japan.  In my opinion, China is doomed to a worse fate than Japan in terms of demographic collapse.  Tokyo population growth has stalled, for the most part.  Neither country is really that open or receptive to massive immigration, nor do they have positive growth due to natural births.  I think we have just about seen the peak of PRD population growth.

My bet for the next 30 to 50 years?  Southeast Asia, India, and Africa.  By 2050 I think the Dhaka-Khulna-Kolkata economic corridor will be the top megalopolis in the world, followed closely by New Delhi and Mumbai.  The Lagos-Ibadan metroplex might give them a run for their money.  It is in that context that I think Sinapore's more independent/international credentials will give it the advantage over any Chinese city.  However, I've never been to Singapore, so maybe I would change my mind if I visited there.

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14 minutes ago, Dale said:

Like they say, Singapore is a “fine” city. But let’s get real. Hong Kong and Singapore both are rated “Partly Free” by Freedom House. In fact, Hong Kong rates only 2 out of 7 on Civil Rights. 

On the other hand, the same source consider’s UK one of the freest in the world. But just a few weeks ago, a British mum was arrested for “deadnaming” a man who thinks he’s a woman.  And MP’s are now pressing to require that GPS locaters be attached to ... wait for it - knives.

I might prefer to take my chances in Singapore!

 

Freedom in all regards seems to be on the decline worldwide, which is a shame.  Aside from the dramatic reduction in free speech rights in western countries (the USA being the only exception to this trend), developing countries that once showed so much promise have been regressing to more oppressive postures against freedom. 

I once held out China as the best example of how a post-communist country could embrace freedom and prosper from it, but that trend came to an end during the past decade and freedom has receded horribly there.  Thailand is under a military dictatorship now.  Indonesia seems to be trending towards a more oppressive application of Islamic laws.  Turkey has thousands locked up for political crimes.  Egypt is under a military dictatorship.  South Africa is on the verge of a race war, depending on what the parliament does with land rights.

Some countries seem to have made minor improvements such as Burma (I don't call it Myanmar) and Zimbabwe, but they almost had to improve because they were some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.

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22 minutes ago, Armacing said:

Freedom in all regards seems to be on the decline worldwide, which is a shame.  Aside from the dramatic reduction in free speech rights in western countries (the USA being the only exception to this trend), developing countries that once showed so much promise have been regressing to more oppressive postures against freedom. 

I once held out China as the best example of how a post-communist country could embrace freedom and prosper from it, but that trend came to an end during the past decade and freedom has receded horribly there.  Thailand is under a military dictatorship now.  Indonesia seems to be trending towards a more oppressive application of Islamic laws.  Turkey has thousands locked up for political crimes.  Egypt is under a military dictatorship.  South Africa is on the verge of a race war, depending on what the parliament does with land rights.

Some countries seem to have made minor improvements such as Burma (I don't call it Myanmar) and Zimbabwe, but they almost had to improve because they were some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.

The Party in China does appear to have gotten increasingly surly and suspicious. Christian friends of mine have applauded China’s recent stance on Islam, that it is a “mental disease.” I ask them, “Are you crazy ? What makes you think they won’t come for us next ?”

They are. 

Regarding America as Beacon of Free Speech, even that is currently under assault. Don’t think that present-day Germany can’t happen here.

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And now, I will return to the original format of this post (city/country reports & perspectives):

VENEZUELA

I visited Valencia Venezuela in 2010 during the peak of the swine flue epidemic (remember that?).  They had special screening for Americans arriving where they asked about what symptoms you were experiencing and gave you a number on a business card to call if you started to feel sick.  Needless to say, there was no way in hell we were going to call that number.

I was there for business, so I stayed in a high security hotel for foreigners and had armed guards as drivers.  I remember gasoline was 12 cents a gallon, and traffic was horrendous.  It took 2 hours to travel the 6-mile route on the highway between the hotel and the factory.  A colleague of mine witnessed a huge road-rage induced brawl, but luckily I missed that scene since I was in a different car.  Conveniently, you could purchase empanadas, bootleg DVD's, and flowers from vendors who walked between the cars on the highway as they crept along at 0.05 miles per hour.  At the time they were constructing (or maybe just finished) a new metro system to alleviate the traffic situation.

The scene at the factory wasn't much better.  Half of the workers were on "light duty" because they sustained some minor (or imagined?) injury.  It was illegal to fire workers, so they simply spent all day milling around the factory compound, smoking and sitting under gazebos, showing up for their free lunch, and discussing politics.  Those who did work went about the business of constructing a multitude of elaborate schemes to defraud the company of what little profit it could have made.  Corruption was rampant from the CEO down to the janitor, and everyone knew about it.

On the weekend we took a trip to the Caribbean island of Cayo Sombrero in Morrocoy national park.  Venezuela has amazing beaches and natural scenery, which was on full display within the relatively small bit of the country that I saw during that trip.  If politics and economics were different, I'm confident it could be one of the top tourist destinations in the western hemisphere.

Wrapping things up here:  The food was forgettable, the locals were incredibly friendly and curious about how things were going in the USA, the weather was hot, and I'm glad I got to see the country at that time in its history. 

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