Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Editorial Note: The Time

Hong Kong

I have changed the time stamps on this blog to Hong Kong Standard Time.


Singaporean Expats Living in Gilded Cages, With An Example of State-Controlled Spin

Hong Kong

Liam O'Brian wrote a seemingly innocuous feature for the Singapore Straits Times about how some expats in Singapore live in caucasian-heavy luxury condos and have little meaningful interaction with locals.

Foreigners who, like me, like to take in the local culture and people when resident in another country will be in for a surprise if they spend much of their time within the gated confines of their lush and well-appointed condo.

If I close my eyes while I sit on the balcony at home, I could just as well be located in an upscale suburb of Sydney, Wellington or Washington, rather than in Tanjong Rhu Road in the East Coast.

The accents of Australians, Kiwis and Americans - plus those of Filipino maids glued to their prized mobile phones - form much of the background hubbub, rather than Hokkien or Singapore English.

This is a pity, because expats can spend years here and not really venture beyond their cultural comfort zone . . . .

Sure, they might go out to restaurants and theatres with their friends, but they may never really speak in any significant way to a true local. They will go to the zoo -- many times -- as well as Sentosa, take a few weekend jaunts to neighbouring countries, play golf, and do lots of shopping.

Then their time here will come to an end, and they will go back to wherever they came from.

O'Brian's observation is correct. While I come from the strain of expat that loves to learn about the local culture, there is a sizeable contingent of Westerners in Asia -- particularly in the financial centers -- who may as well be in Cardiff or Miami. Their focus is on their career and family, not their host nation.

But then O'Brian -- who writes for the state-controlled media -- makes a misleading statement while trying to make a helpful suggestion.

It is a bit like stating the obvious to say that expats do not mix much with locals.

I know that the Government sets ethnic quotas for HDB blocks, so that every block of flats represents in a small way the multicultural mix of Singapore.

What about something similar for condos?

I don't know if O'Brian is being naive or crafty with this suggestion. Yes, the government of Singapore enforces a rule that the ethnic percentages in public housing (called "HDB") be no greater than the percentages in the overall population. The rule is defended on multicultural grounds.

But the actual purpose of the rule is to protect Chinese hegemony and to prevent the formation of minority-controlled electoral districts. "Reflecting the multicultural mix of Singapore" is happy talk for "the Chinese will always be the majority in every public housing block."

Assuming O'Brian is correct that the quotas do not apply to condos, the government would not bother to extend the rule to condos because (1) most Western expats don't have the right to vote in Singaporean elections and (2) the Singaporeans who can afford to live in private condos are either supporters of the regime or have been cowed or coopted into non-opposition.

Pictured: The Singapore Zoo, favored haunt of Western expats who are more interested in wild animals than in learning about the lives of Singaporeans.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Moving On Up

These cats are moving from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Consequently, they have an attitude.

Pictured: Fang (left) and Mingus. Or vice versa.


Points on American Reluctance To Travel

Sherman Oaks, California

I had a question for travel guru Rolf Potts about why Americans are so reluctant to travel overseas. He answered it.

A few additional points:

✈ A frequent excuse is that the United States is geographically distant from the rest of the world.

Nonsense. Australia and New Zealand are also geographically distant -- Sydney to Tokyo is a 10-hour flight, and Auckland to LAX is 12 -- but their nationals travel the world. Because they want to.

✈ Geographic isolation is a meaningless concept in a world where two or three flights can connect any city pair. Airbus and Boeing have models which span one-third of the globe without stopping for gas. A person in Bamako, Mali, can fly to New York City with a single change of plane, and it works in the opposite direction, too.

✈Even if the concept were meaningful, the U.S. isn't geographically distant from everywhere. Mexico, in particular, is next door, and perhaps the American travel attitude that vexes me the most is the refusal of many Americans to see Mexico as a viable travel option. I chalk it up to the fact that Mexico is not seen as a glamourous destination. Co-workers won't ohh and ahh if you say you spent a week in Zacatecas; most will look at you funny and say "That's nice."

✈ Possibly the stupidest excuse I hear is that "we have everything in the United States." If all you're considering is the geography, maybe that's true. But the deserts of Nevada are not the deserts of Rajasthan, and the deciduous rain forests of Oregon are not those of Japan.

But nothing compares to the totality of being in a foreign country. The air, the people, the way the sidewalks are paved, the street noise, the dress, the layout of towns, the buzz of language -- everything in the natural and built environment combines into a gestalt that does not exist anywhere else.

Where in the United States can you see this?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Article About How U.S. Health Care Reform Affects Expats

The Health Care Bill Exempts Illegal Aliens

Sherman Oaks, California

Legal blogger Patterico was wondering if the health care bill, on its way down Pennsylvania Avenue, exempts illegal aliens.

Looks that way.

The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code and adds section 5000A(a), which mandates that every "applicable individual" obtain health insurance.

The new Section 5000A(d)(1) defines "applicable individual," and the definition is a negative definition. In this case, an "applicable individual" is defined as everyone who does not fall within one of three exemptions.

The first exemption -- at new Section 5000A(d)(2) -- is for religious objectors. I don't have an opinion about this.

The third exemption -- at new Section 5000A(d)(4) -- is for people who are incarcerated after conviction. I guess this makes sense since the government pays for convicts' health care as far as I know.

The second exception is the one Patterico is interested in. The new Section 5000A(d)(3) creates an exemption for:

INDIVIDUALS NOT LAWFULLY PRESENT. -- Such term [i.e., "applicable individual"] shall not include an individual for any month if for the month the individual is not a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the United States.

There is no mandate for people who are not U.S. citizens or nationals. OK, foreign tourists legally visiting the U.S. are not required to be covered.

Patterico's question is answered by the next phrase, which explains, in a purposefully obscure double negative, that the definition of "applicable individual" shall not include aliens who are not lawfully present in the United States.

That means illegal aliens are not "applicable individuals," are not required to obtain health insurance and will not be fined for failure to do so.

If you want to read the text, click here and read pages 321-328.

The Guardian has some background here.

UPDATE: Welcome Patterico readers! You are invited to hang around and enjoy the scenery.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

One Thing I Don't Like About Asia

Many of the shopping malls in East and Southeast Asia have multiple storeys which, if you are as scared of heights as I am, is a problem. Pictured is the apm Mall in Hong Kong, which is by no means unusual in its design.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cathay v. Singapore: Advantage to Cathay's Shell Seats?

Sherman Oaks, California

Are shell seats in economy the next weapon in the war for long-haul passengers?

People who routinely takes flights of longer than eight hours sitting aft of the blue curtains hope so.

Over the last two years, Cathay Pacific has improved the quality of many of its seats under an internal initiative codenamed "Olympus." The results of the makeover in First and Business are breathtaking, with seats as individuals pods, sometimes in a herringbone configuration. The English firm of Design Q did the creative work, and you can see their handiwork here.

The Economy Cabin seats (pictured) were also upgraded into "shell seats," seats which recline within a fixed space. So, if the person in front of you reclines, you don't get her chair in your face, you don't even notice. This may be an advantage for Cathay over its trans-Pacific rival Singapore Airlines, which does not have shell seats in economy on its routes from the western United States.

Plus, I love adjustable headrests.

More info on the seats is here and here. Click here for passenger reviews, which are mixed because some people with lower back issues don't like the shell seat's more limited angle of recline.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I'm Busy

So watch this trailer.

The story looks awful, but the Chinese locations look amazing. Note: The film had the involvement and approval of the Chinese government, so I'm guessing there won't be anything about politics or food security.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

How Awesome Was Nineties Britpop?

This awesome.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Read My Friend's Blog: Uninformative Priors

Sherman Oaks, California

I've known Mike Manti since September 1984, and I still don't understand what he does for a living. It has something to do with banking and computers and statistics and using Greek letters to represent numbers when everyone knows that Greek letters should only be used to make Greek words and sentences.

His new blog for civilians is Uninformative Priors, which includes posts about libertarianism and statistics and bitching tortas. A side blog hosted by Wordpress focuses on economics and numbery kinda stuff.

In a recent post, Mike discusses our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio:

Few of my memories of Cleveland the place are fond. I'm too young to remember the Cuyahoga River burning when the pollution in the river ignited. But I do remember dead fish floating in the mud-brown water and the sulfuric stench rising up from it when my grade school took us on an educational tour of the river on the Good Time II paddleboat.
He's not optimistic that the city can revive itself. I think it could. The infrastructure for a Midwest Portland is present, with parks and universities and affordable wooden houses with character and an airport that's a Continental hub.

But it won't happen. As with most shrinking cities -- and Cleveland has lost half its population in the last two generations -- a cabal of politicians, public employees and connected unions and businesses will fight to hold onto their piece of the pie. Most of these Rust Belt towns are going the way of Frank Miller's Sin City, and what has Cleveland done to avoid the fate?

I gave up on Cleveland when I was 12, and I've never found a reason to re-think.

Pictured: I can't find an online photo of Mike, so a cover featuring the libertarian superhero The Question will have to do.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Two Pot Shots at LAX

Sherman Oaks, California

Ю I like to mock Tom Friedman as much as anyone else who reads and writes about foreign affairs. But The World's Most Pompous Moustache has a point in today's column:

I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport — LAX — last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can't hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is us. We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance.
Friedman's column then shifts to one of his favorite recent themes: the superiority of China's government (mostly because they pay lip service to agreeing with Tom Friedman). But he's right about how the difference between the big city airports in China and the U.S. is such a contrast. The autocratic Chinese oligarchs point to a turnip field, say "Build an airport," and, three years later, there's an airport. In the United States, a new airport is literally a 30-year project.

Ю J.D. Power ranked nineteen of the country's large airports, and LAX did not come in last. It came in second-last, with Newark dwelling in the cellar.

New LAX slogan: "Better than Newark!"

Pictured: The little-known tunnel between LAX Terminals 5 and 6, as described in this excellent post by The Flying Critic.


The Internet Does Amazing Stuff With Advertisements

Sherman Oaks, California

In January, I used my computer to conduct a series of web searches and ultimately purchased a round-trip ticket on Singapore Airlines from California to Hong Kong.

Now, through something I'll call "the magic of electronics," half the ads I see as I browse the web are for Singapore Airlines flights from California. How this works is beyond me, but it's a cool example of identifying and targeting potential repeat purchasers.

Pictured: A Singapore Airlines advertisement from a stapled, paper delivery system known as a "magazine."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Odds and Ends of the Earth

Sherman Oaks, California

Are they inviting people to leave? In response to the ongoing (and perhaps worsening) economic crisis, the California Legislature explores taxing Amazon and other online vendors who do not have physical operations in the state. And, if the tax is finalized, never will.

Yes, they are inviting people to leave. The public servants on the Los Angeles City Council are debating an increase in the fees for emergency services.

Meanwhile, in a saner place . . . Hong Kong has released its new budget, and the quasi-independent Chinese city-state will slash income taxes by 75% (up to a cap) and will waive the fee to register a new business. Because, as crazy as it sounds, economies rebound faster if consumers have more money to spend and if entrepreneurs aren't shaken down for a license.

The moral: Some places get it. Some places never will.

The moral, revisited: When one place, which already has high taxes, uses the recession as an excuse to hike them higher, and another place, which already has low taxes, decides to return money to the people, you have to start asking yourself why you're still living there in the first place.

Pictured: Hong Kong financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah pictured in front of wine casks. In an earlier move, Tsang rescinded the sales tax on alcohol, leading to a boom in retail sales as well as the establishment of a big-money wine auction industry. Lesson learned, apparently.

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