Recent Travels

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ptdebate
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Recent Travels

Postby ptdebate » July 31st, 2018, 8:03 pm

My girlfriend and I went to the Philippines again (this time for a wedding), but we also took side trips to Singapore, Japan, and China. Singapore and Japan both matched my expectations exactly. Both fantastic cities, very well-maintained and plenty of stuff to do. China is the country that really surprised me.

My hot take from visiting Shanghai and Hangzhou is that China is miles ahead of us (meaning the US) in just about every way. The infrastructure and technology enjoyed by the general public will probably take 20 or more years to proliferate here, if it ever does. One of the most awe-inspiring experiences was taking the bullet train to Hangzhou, 175 kilometer trip cut down to only 42 minutes on high-speed rail. The rail stations present in every major city are the size of small airports, complete with myriad dining and shopping outlets for people to enjoy while waiting for their train. Credit cards have been all but replaced by NFC payments - simply wave your phone in front of a vending machine to pay for your green tea. Paper menus in restaurants have been replaced by interactive menus that pop up on your phone when you scan a QR code printed on the table. This is also how you pay your bill. Public transportation includes the local metro system, buses, rentable bikes, and scooters - all interconnected with smartphones. Solar and wind power are blossoming in cities that increasingly value environmental sustainability. Recycling bins are equal to rubbish bins in presence on the street. All in all, I was very impressed with how China is developing its cities and how thorough it has been in installing high speed rails all across the country. Has anyone else been to China recently? If so what were your thoughts?

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scotland
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Re: Recent Travels

Postby scotland » August 1st, 2018, 6:32 am

Welcome back

Travel does open the mind, as it shows that many things can be different - for better or for worse.

Time has a lot to do with things. I was traveling in a country where the roads were tiny because they went back so far in time in predated cars. America's infrastructure is based around cars and trucks. China seems like its based on mass transit or transit, where America is based on individual freedom to go where you want in your own driveable castle. They were starting from a different place with different goals and different values.

Its also about individual vs the collective. In America, a single company has to buy all the land to build rail roads. Thats an almost impossible task. Even Amtrak runs on tracks laid down decades ago and owned by freight lines. Maybe in China, the gov't does it. Maybe those tracks were built over peoples objections. Where I live, every community fights tooth and nail to preserve itself, often stopping new roads or building projects. Same thing for preserving the environment. In America, we're having a debate on plastic straws, and lots of people are expressing an opinion - on straws - the tiniest battlefield I can think of.

The 1950s saw a lot of infrastructure improvement in America, and gave us the term wrecking ball of progress. The sixties started questioning that wrecking ball. Pennsylvania Station in NYC was demolished in 1963 in the name of progress, and became the touchstone leading to preservation against progress.

Also, change does come - sometimes swiftly. Uber/Lyft ride sharing took off, and now rentable bikes and scooters that don't even need racks. Some stores have seen cash sales shrink low enough to make the decision to no longer accept cash for transactions. Recycling is still limited to the ability to actually recycle, so just having a recycle bin does not equal actually having the product reused.

I don't know, and not getting too political, but you have to think about the differences in how things happen from place to place in making comparisons. Most gains do come with a loss, and most progress comes at someone's expense. Also, there there is more to life than speeding it up or homogenizing it.

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ptdebate
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Re: Recent Travels

Postby ptdebate » August 1st, 2018, 10:49 am

I do agree that there are consequences to unrestrained progress, and that perhaps culturally and politically China is more predisposed to lunging in headfirst against those consequences in the name of the greater good.

Thank you for your insight regarding rural communities in the US and how they may differ from those in China. I do think the US and China are similar in the sense that they are both very large countries that face the logistical challenges of tying together that growth with a strong infrastructure - not just for quality of life reasons, but also economic and environmental ones. Currently, China is doing it better.

I can see how the divergences root themselves in political factors. A command economy and no private land ownership could certainly make it easier for railways to get laid, not that I would necessarily glorify either of those things. But that doesn't explain why the ruthlessly capitalistic South Korea also has a well-developed metro system. Or why Japan and many European countries do. The reasons why the US does not are also rooted in our history, but that doesn't make it a good thing that we come up wanting.

The problem with over reliance on automobiles is that it is accelerating the anthropogenic forces of climate change. They are also slower, limiting the pace of certain types of commerce and tourism. They are dangerous, topping the list of causes of death year after year. Ride share programs are disastrously affecting urban congestion. Dock-less rental bikes are a disorganized eyesore in my home town of Dallas. They are something, but they are not the best answer in my opinion.

But I guess the whole point of my post was that having actually visited China and experienced and felt the difference, I have to call it like it is. We should try to learn from the best of the best so that we can beat them - that's what America is all about. It really doesn't have anything to do with homogenization or personal freedom. All of those platitudes we've learned and repeated about the East kind of fall apart when you actually go there - people are just as self-driven and deterministic in that part of the world as they are here. Good infrastructure is just something that enables people to go to more places in less time, and safer.

But you are definitely right that with any progress, we should ask questions about how the change may negatively affect someone in a way we weren't thinking about. All I'm saying is that asking those kinds of questions, our current domestic solutions don't look very good compared to competent railways.

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Retro STrife
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Re: Recent Travels

Postby Retro STrife » August 1st, 2018, 6:06 pm

Good to have you back, ptdebate! I was worried that you got kidnapped or something, but good to see that you were just out of the country for awhile.

I've never traveled to those areas, but I do have interest in traveling there someday, particularly Japan. How easy/hard is it to visit those areas if you only speak English? From a visitor perspective (rather than living there), which country did you like most during your trip?

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ptdebate
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Re: Recent Travels

Postby ptdebate » August 1st, 2018, 6:41 pm

Retro STrife wrote:Good to have you back, ptdebate! I was worried that you got kidnapped or something, but good to see that you were just out of the country for awhile.

I've never traveled to those areas, but I do have interest in traveling there someday, particularly Japan. How easy/hard is it to visit those areas if you only speak English? From a visitor perspective (rather than living there), which country did you like most during your trip?


Thanks Retro! Sorry for being away so long.

So, if you haven't been to Japan I would absolutely go there first. Tokyo is just a gold mine of awesome things to do, see, and eat. Take plenty of cash because it's not cheap - but it is totally worth it.

In Japan, expect to never encounter English-speaking natives at all (although you will see plenty of other foreign tourists). It might happen, but it likely won't. That doesn't mean you have to know a lick of Japanese to travel there though. The Japanese are some of the most accommodating, helpful people you'll ever come across. We found that a combination of body language and gesturing towards the thing we are talking about was more than enough to get the point across when we wanted to order something, needed assistance with directions, and so on.

It is very effortless to get around in Japan because of the great metro system. Avoid cabs and Ubers because they are ungodly expensive. 90% of the signs you will see are bilingual and the stations are all named and color coded - very easy to keep track of. There's plenty of free WiFi everywhere if you are relying on that for navigation data. Just so you're 100% covered I would recommend either having an international roaming plan or simply download the Google Maps offline data for the region you are visiting so you always have map data to help you get around. Only opt for the roaming data if it's cheap or free (like with my carrier it's just part of the basic plan).

The train stations will seem a bit hectic at first and may stress you out. They are very crowded and people move quickly. Just take a moment, relax, and pay attention to what other people are doing. It will take you probably about 15 minutes of fiddling around before you are a pro. In fact, it's so easy to use the public transit that people are able send their small children alone to school.

Singapore is a beautiful, almost utopian city but it is small compared to the other countries you can visit in Asia so there's not quite as much to do. Definitely a nice place to visit for the street food (Chili Crab is the famous dish) and the nature preserves, one of which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Flights are cheap too.

China is such a huge place with so many things to see and do. Shanghai, like Tokyo and Singapore, is a very modern, ultra high-tech city that is easy to get around. Prices are cheaper in Shanghai than they are in either of those cities. Prices for food and lodging in other areas of China are a broad range. Generally Shanghai is the most expensive city to visit, so your money will definitely go further in, say, Beijing or Chengdu. Getting around as a non-Chinese speaker is pretty similar to how it is in Japan, but it requires a little more effort on your part. I used Google Translate on my phone to basically communicate with store clerks in written form. I would translate my sentence into Chinese on my phone, and he would translate his sentence on his phone into English. It's not the most efficient system but it works.

China is less English-friendly when it comes to signage. Metro data is also not available on Google Maps because Google is blocked in China, along with thousands of other sites you use on a regular basis. These are good things to plan around in advance so you're not caught off guard when you get there.

All in all, Japan was my favorite. It's just an easy, fun, happy time no matter how you approach it. It should definitely be high on everyone's list of cities to visit.


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