some travel writing from 2009 – 2013
this page will be dynamic, and is something like a transforming book. The work-in-progress is public, and the final result will include illustrations, maps, and photos. For now, expect zero photos below. This is reading. If you want photos, I happily refer you to the links to travel blogs I follow, which have wonderful, vast collections of photography.
I recommend SCANNING the content below until something grabs you, or SEARCHING for keywords that interest you, such as “jazz”, “samba”, “Brazil” “peace”, “Ethiopia”, “Chinese”… (use Ctrl-F or search box widget on right column).
In addition to travel stories, history topics, and cross-cultural reflections, posts below also include: economic analysis for the layperson / economic data / and reflections on the global financial crisis… as effects of the economic slowdown manifested and dramas played out. I used to invest in emerging market stocks. Now I grow vegetables, ride bicycles, practice jazz piano, and study mandarin chinese.
written content Copyright — E***
published (via internet / web-blog) August 13 , 2013 revised Sept 24, 2013, second revisions Feb 11, 2017 & Feb 19, 2017
Mission Statement of 2009 -2013 global travel and nomadicism was: “I am traveling to educate myself, and subsequently others, about world history”.
The stories are yet to be written, mostly. But, I’m starting to sift through the cosmic debris and aggregate themes….
without further noise or much more pomp,
excerpts of writing on WORLD TRAVEL TALES —from May 2009 – March 2013
* * * * * * * *
Up next: travel future in India
I have applied for a tourist visa to travel to India, and plan to buy my plane ticket within a week to fly to either Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), or Bengaluru (Bangalore). I’ve been reading about India’s history, geography, and culture. The people of India have interested me for many years, and I hope to leave around the end of this month. My travel plans in India are logistically flexible, but involve trains. Also, it may be difficult to avoid gravitating toward music. : )
Here is some information about India: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India
Q4 2009 — FROM BRASIL (Jan 18th, 2010)
2 stories of India, summary of experience
3 what’s next – Brazilian Portuguese and a first-trip to China/Japan
4 global economic climate, statistics, and outlook
…I survived my first trip to India without suffering sickness or physical harm, and flew from Delhi to Seattle, then Portland to Denver… I made use of my late-night Asian jet-lag by purchasing tickets for some of my next adventures: Jan – Apr in Brazil, followed by 5 weeks in China/Japan, and then a one way ticket to Europe in late June. Airfare prices are pretty good nowadays…
TRAVEL in INDIA Oct 31 – Dec 13, 09 (6 weeks, 2 days) – Stories from India –
Where to begin? I didn’t bring a camera to India, but drew 20+
pictures in my notebook, some of which I have scanned to highlight my experiences. In chronological order, the cities I visited were:
Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Agra, Varanasi (Benares), Mumbai (Bombay), Bengaluru (Bangalore), Mysore, Kochi, Cherthala, Alappuzha, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil, Madurai, Villipuram, Pondicherry, Chennai (Madras), Hyderabad, Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi again.
This was achieved through the Indian railway system, which employs approximately eleven million (1.1 crore) people. Rail travel is very affordable. For example, the 24 hour ride from Mumbai to Bangalore was $7.50 (about 350 rupees). However, trains are slower than airplanes, and I spent a total of seven nights on the train and many days watching the scenery float by at about 50 km/hr. This was just fine, because I had plenty of time to chat with an interesting array of Indians while in transit. I’ll avoid reciting extensive information about demographics, politics, and history, and leave it up to you to find this information if you’re so inclined.
Basically, India has more than 1.1billion people, and the population grows by over 2% annually. That’s the population of Australia, every year, as Indians are fond of saying.
Average annual income is around $800-1,200 USD a year. There are (for now, I think) 28 states, which usually have their own distinct languages, histories, beliefs, and cultures. India is very diverse. Much like the continent of Africa, the country of India cannot be generalized about without a very wide margin of error due to this diversity. As contemporary political boundaries are prone to confuse or over-simplify the human perspective of the past, historical accounts are also varied and dynamic – India is not an exception.
Recent historical GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth percentages in India are impressive (343% increase from $356B in 1995 to $1.22T in 2009), but this growth is less wowing when compared with food inflation (now 20%/yr) and dramatically worsening pollution. The poverty in India is intense, and my experience was eye-opening, and (I hope) “character-building”.
I have a much stronger appreciation for fresh water, fresh air, waste-disposal programs, recycling programs, and bicycles.
Environmental sensitivities need not be political.
I had lots of time to think about trash and air pollution. Broadly, these are called
The hotels I stayed at were $2-5 a day (these were midlevel by Indian standards). I traveled with a normal-sized backpack, which was adequate for my three sets of clothes, travel towel, bag for toiletries/medicine, and a bulky guidebook. I strapped sandals onto my bag, and also had a cover for it in the event of rain. An essential travel item I recommend is a sleeping bag liner – it keeps the bedbugs away at night, mostly. My fancy “REI” backpack is orange, so between my shoes, my backpack, and my face I stuck out in a crowd.
Overall, Indians were very curious and friendly.
Eye contact is not to be avoided, and direct questions such as
“what are you doing?”,
“what is your profession, good sir?”,
“what is your income?”,
“for what purpose are you here?”,
“are you married?”,
“are you alone?”, and
“why aren’t you married?” are common.
Be careful about entering stores – Indians are very effective salespeople, the key ingredient to success being persistence. India is frequently described as colorful and vibrant. This is true.
Going to India is relatively inexpensive after the round-trip ticket (about $1,000 USD) and a tourist visa ($130-220). Insurance is also recommended, because travelers are said to get sick about 50% of the time. Malaria pills are essential – $20 for a six month supply of daily doxycylin pills (that’s what I used..). Bug spray, long sleeves, and long pants are recommended most of the time to keep the mosquitos away.
I believe fears about violence are overblown.
Generally, people in India are peaceful, and from my experience, aggressive behavior is rare outside of a retail environment. You’re more likely to get hit by a bus than a fist.
Anyway, you should go if you can fit it into your schedule. I had a learning experience in India, and if/when I return I plan to spend less times in Megapolises and more time in rural and mountainous areas to see the other side of Indian life. Visiting eight out of ten of the nation’s most populous urban centers was rewarding, shocking, and uplifting. I can’t escape the thought that happiness comes from relationships, not material wealth.
MISSOURI, FLORIDA, BRASIL, AND THE NEAR WEST
On Jan 14th I arrived in Sao Paulo, Brasil. In the first week of April I return to the USA via San Francisco. I have chosen to return to Brasil to continue my language study with Portuguese, and to learn more about the culture, history, music, and business climate. Brasilians are cheerful, friendly, and not shy. In English it’s BraZil, in Portuguese it’s BraSil. I have my laptop, and also my electric bass. Hopefully I’ll settle into a spot where I can groove into a rhythm.
Prior to my trip to India, I visited my grandmother (mom’s mom) in Missouri, and my grandfather (dad’s dad) in Florida in late September, and went from Denver back to Portland through Montana– my first time in the big-sky state. … I am now not only cellphone-less, but also automobile-less – hallelujah!
FINANCIAL AND ECONOMIC INFORMATION as of Jan 18th, 2010:
With a few exceptions, it’s cheaper for Americans to travel now than it will be later…
INTEREST RATES (for borrowing and lending of money)
US Federal Reserve – Fed Funds Rate 0.25% (lowest-ever!)
DEBT AND SURPLUS
Total US private Debt (people and businesses) – $20-50 Trillion USD (my own estimate, this figure is elusive due to political biases, but very important, I’ll try to pin it down better)
US public (gov’t) debt – more than $12.2 Trillion USD(treasurydirect.gov)
China currency reserves – probably more than $2.0 Trillion (Bloomberg.com)
A few centuries ago, European law mandated that failure to meet reasonable demands to repay debts resulted in enslavement<!> of the borrower to work off the balance through manual labor until death or payment in full. In fact, it’s pretty much been that way for thousands of years in most of the world.
Talk about Live within your means!?
The financial crisis can now be viewed as a long-term debt crisis.Over-consumption is by definition unsustainable. I know that’s not particularly uplifting, but face the facts and take preventative action in your personal life by avoiding unjustifiable expenses.
USA unemployment: 10.0%ish
US President Barack Obama’s popularity level averaged 57% in first year (Gallup.com)
Next USA election: Sept 2012, when everything will be Barack Obama’s fault……
…attitude … externalities. But, externalities … attitudes … … it’s practical to be optimistic because it reduces stress and thus decreases chances of certain preventable illnesses.
Perhaps even optimism can be inspired from actual material fact. A child once burned fears the flame – maybe we’ve learned a good hard lesson here.
Doesn’t a wildfire create fertile soil? It could be that the
world will get a bounce, since the consensus outlook is so glum that an
unexpected improvement in affairs may make for exponential brightening. Just saying – it could happen. The stock market is up over 60% from it’s lows in Sept-Oct 2008, which reflects the new-found optimism of the gamblers, investors, and business-owners in the pits moving their money around. Maybe some of this will
trickle down, up, or out into “Main Street”.
Of course, a wildfire can have lasting effects, or become rekindled. As far as I can tell, some great music came out of the 1930’s depression backdrop. And then, there’s the nuclear bomb, so cross your fingers.
“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Please Listen to Louis Armstrong!
… My friend … successfully kayaked the Mississippi River from Montana to New Orleans in three months … <inspiring>
3/30 FIRST QUARTER 2010UPDATE
ERIC IN BRASIL
USA unemployment near 25 YEAR HIGH! STOCKS AT 18 month high!
Oi meus amigos – tudo bem?? Eu posso falar Portugeuse ja! Esta fui meu destino principal com este viagem, e eu acho que eu vou voltar para Brasil com certeza, mas nao sei cuando ou onde… Eu discubrei uma nova coracao no Brasil, e agora eu conhecer quasi-todo do pais. Eu acho que opportunidades para enseigner musica ou ingles existe, depois que eu procurei um visto trabalhador. Eu falei com muitos tipos do Brasileiros, e entender melhor a historia, cultura, musica, e possivelmente…. o futuro? Si voce nao fala ingles, eu recommendo esto tradutor: http://—–
For me anyway, 2010 has had an excellent start, and I’ve been a smiling vagabond backpacker musician for long enough that it’s starting to feel like a profession. Brasil is a bit expensive (nearly same prices as the US), but overall I’ve found traveling to be much less costly than common wisdom indicates. It may be my low standard of living.
Time is more precious than money,
and responsibilities are the ropes that keep you in the harbor – in other words, traveling need not be as expensive as you think. Without a wife, girlfriend, kids, house, car (sigh… saudade for the Eagle), job, dog, cat, or plants I ramble merrily along, newly 26 years old. .<… forgive my expression of joy if you must (’17)>. I’m happy to carry the load for vicarious travelers. … but I haven’t been taking pictures …
CONTENTS: recent adventures in Brasil, which was fun and educational, and overviews the jobless economic recovery in the USA. Takes the position that some “emerging markets” (i.e. countries exploited by colonization, now better able to compete in international free market capitalism on an equal basis) look economically healthier than the “occident” (i.e. “the west”). Warns that futures crises are possible (save your nickels). Tries to speak humbly of his international travel opportunities with great enthusiasm.
1) Three months in Brasil (summary, history snapshot) *exhibit at end of email – detailed account of Brasil trip
2) economic outlook – DOW AT 18 MONTH HIGH! But there are no new jobs…
3) future travels in 2010 – China, Japan, Europe, 2011, and 2012
B R A S I L TRIP #2 (Jan 13 – Apr 6 2010): SUMMARY
I’ve been traveling in Brasil for three months, in a broad clockwise loop beginning in
Sao Paulo, followed by the state of Minas Gerais, the capital Brasilia, the Amazon (Manaus, Belem), the Northeast coast (Sao Luis, Teresina, Fortaleza, Natal, Joao Pessoa, Recife), Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo once again
for my return flight to San Francisco. I have a laptop, which has been both handy and heavy. Halfway through my journey I bought a $60 USD 4/5-size acoustic guitar and once again carved “verdade” (truth) into it. On the back, I’ve carved a nearly-to-scale world map …. I’ve been speaking Portuguese 95%+ of the time, learning about history, culture, music, and economy. If you want to get to know Brasil a little better, the best thing to do is follow the keyword “SAMBA” through the portal of the internet. This has been my second experience in Brasil, my first visit was in July of 2009. I’ve been drawing pictures regularly, and again traveling without a camera
*** 500 YEARS OF BRASILIAN HISTORY : ***
Brasilians speak Portuguese because the Portuguese colonized Brasil, starting around 1500. The land was considered a paradise due to natural beauty and resources. Natives were killed in combat, but especially by new European illnesses. In rough chronological order, the primary economic staples of the became
sugar, cotton, gold/silver, coffee, and rubber.
Today the economy is mature and diversified. Brasil covers a lot of landmass because various groups of people called “bandeirantes” explored the interior of the continent in violation of treaties with Spain, claiming land as they went and the claims stuck. Brasil has a beautiful mixture of European, African, indigenous, and Asian cultures due to its history of (voluntary) immigration, slavery (forced immigration), and historically, a less restricted view of interracial relations than in North America. Catholicism remains the primary religion, but protestantism is also common.
The country become independent from Portugal in 1822, in the wake of Napoleon’s destabilization of Europe. Brasil’s only major war was in collaboration with Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay (which was crushed), around the same time as the US civil war. Industrialization began in the mid-1800s. Slavery in Brasil officially ended in 1888. The military has overthrown the government twice – in 1930 and in 1964. Democracy, followed by hyperinflation, was instituted in 1985. Since the 60’s foreign capital has been a major factor in economic growth. The current president is nicknamed “Lula”, which means squid – he has remained popular for the last eight years. The next presidential election is at the end of this year. The Northern region (Amazon) has more indigenous influence, the Northeast has more African influence (see “Capoeira”), and the Southeast has more European influence. Salvador da Bahia (1549) and Rio de Janeiro (1763) were colonial/national capitals prior to the federal transfer to Brasilia (1960). Today there are about 200 million Brasilians…
WORLD ECONOMY AND FINANCIAL OUTLOOK
CURRENCIES quotes (3/30/2010)
Euro to USD 1.34 Indian
Rupee to USD 0.022 (inverted: 45)
UK Pound to USD 1.51
Japanese Yen to USD 0.0108 (inverted: 92)
Chinese Yuan to USD 0.14 (static)
Australian $ to USD 0.92
Russian Ruble to USD 0.034 (inv. 29)
Brasilian Real is pronounced “Hey-eye” and you get 1.75 for a dollar
commentary : – The United States Dollar (USD) is stronger over the last three months, mainly because the global perception has been that the US is recovering more elegantly than Europe from the financial crisis. This is a big generalization, and is only reflective of the last three months. I don’t know a whole lot about currency. The main thing I can’t get over is that it’s really just paper. Many like to say that in the LONGterm, it’s not worth anything. Most likely it will retain some value for the rest of your life, though. Is it cheap to travel to Europe? Depends on how much money you spend.
STOCK MARKETS, BONDS, INTEREST RATES :
Up! Dow over 10,900 – this is 51% higher than the 10 year low of about 7,200 in Mar 09 and a mere 23% down from all-time high of +14,000 in Oct 07 – see attached five year chart for visual aid. Many say the stock market is up because so much NEW government money (bailouts and stimulus) has flowed into markets.
I’m in Rio de Janeiro, and it’s a SHAME to be on a computer, so I’m not going to give you all the world market statistics. Bonds are loans to companies are federal/state/municipal governments. Bonds and stocks often perform inversely, but not always. I’m kind of stupid when it comes to bonds. The original lender (bond holder) is allowed to sell their loan to someone else, so prices can change the same way as stocks, but usually with less volatility. If you buy a bad bond (like a California bond) for $1.00, someone might only give you $0.50 for it in the future.
interest rate challenges – this is complicated and boring, here goes: Basically, interest rates need to be raised (an action of the Federal Reserve/Ben Bernanke et al) so lending money to the USA is attractive to foreigners (we will need more loans in the future due to deficit). But if interest rates are raised, the fragile economic recovery may be squashed and the recession returns. Think between a rock and a hard place. Usually raising interest rates counters inflation, and lowering interest rates helps the economy. Boring, no? But important.
emerging markets healthier than the rich world –
Why? They have room to “grow”. Sorry about all the quotation marks, but I can’t get over the weakness of many of these words for accurate communication. Basically, people are poor, but getting educated, and willing to work for less than you (maybe some of them studied harder than you?). This also means that the foreign “markets” are growing – companies can sell more stuff. Selling stuff profitably is the same thing as “growth”, and this is considered progress in the economic realm. I’m not taking a position about whether it’s good and bad. I think it’s good AND bad. Standards of living are increasing, and that’s good. Risks (collateral damage) include environmental degradation, increasing disparity of wealth distribution, strains of overpopulation, war… Situations are not improving everywhere. Africa’s being the most precarious.
GOVERNMENT DEFICITS AND DEBT,
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS,
US and UK governments are nearly in the same financial situation (running annual deficits of about 10%), and the EU isn’t looking so good either, as people play “nose-goes” for who has to bail out Greece. Add Portugal, Italy, and Spain, and you have the “P.I.G.S” of Europe. This drama, combined with mainly positive monthly economic information from the US is principally why the < US economy is relatively more stable and better posed for growth when compared with the economy of Europe – in terms of economic recovery…..
Are you living within your means? An equilibrium with income greater than expenses is preferable in the long-term. If you’re spending more than you’re making then maybe it’s because you’re investing in your skills?
China’s foreign exchange reserves are over $2 Trillion USD. Balance of payments refers to the difference between imports and exports. The US is a net-importer [China manufactures stuff, ships it to Walmart, we buy the stuff with credit cards, China lends money to the US government – US public (gov’t) and private (personal) debt increase], China is a net exporter.
Unemployment is technically just below 10% in the US. This is basically the same level as in Europe, where you have to wait for a more “seasoned” person to retire for a position to open up.
2010 ECONOMIC OUTLOOK – with some political considerations
Better than 2009? I think so, yeah. Job losses have slowed considerably, and maybe soon nongovernment job creation will resume. All eyes on Barack Obama as the conservative grumpily bristle against reform and the liberals gloat despicably. The continuing cultural polarization of the US (I hope I’m imagining it!!!) has my brow furrowed. I mention politics because they’re intimately linked with the economy. If Barack Obama scares away capitalists, they will load their money into briefcases and catch flights to someplace else.
Many people in the world still look up to the US as a country of civil liberties, freedom, opportunity, and democracy.
As I travel in countries with heaps of corruption and great inequalities, distance makes my heart grow fonder. …. The US is still a land of great wealth and opportunity. Strikes and gutters… The sun will shine again, I don’t know how brightly in 2010. Really I’m not qualified to be making any predictions. The numbers say that stimuli and bailouts have stabilized the economy, and the nation has returned to growth. The real risk of that the crisis will be repeated in a rather similar way if we don’t (collectively) learn to change our living habits. I mean saving money. But of course, many economists would say this would kill the US economy, which is fundamentally built on spending, shopping, consumption, service. Any thoughts?
WHAT’S NEXT – travel in 2010 and 2011
On April 7th I return to San Francisco to apply for my China visa. If that goes smoothly, I fly to China April 13, and will spend three weeks there and two in Japan. On May 19 I return to Los Angeles, fly to Denver on the 22nd – my brother graduates…, Portland on the 1st of June, New Orleans on the 10th, and Boston on the 15th. On June 25th I have a one-way flight from New York City to Dusseldorf, Germany. Not sure how much time I’ll pass in Europe, but I’m estimating in the 3-5 month range. Christmas will be back in the states, and then I reckon most of 2011 will be in Asia – particularly India and China, but maybe also Indonesia (these places are easier on the wallet). This is all subject to change, but I think I’m pacing myself adequately, with substantial periodic returns to the US, to keep this traveling up for a while longer yet. In Europe I hope to travel around most of the continent (I would argue Europe is actually just part of Asia, if you look at a map, but whatever) and develop my skills with French, Spanish, Portuguese, and maybe Italian and German. This all beats around the bush of Greek and Latin <…>. I hope to make it to Turkey as well.
I’ll restate that my general goal is to spend six months in each India, China, and Brasil. After that point I will evaluate opportunities for work and further education.
Improvisation is still the guiding philosophy, and I’ve become more focused on improving my musicianship (though I don’t reckon music will ever be my prime career). …. I think perhaps after 2-3 years of travel I can put together a little booklet synthesizing everything – pictures, short stories, data and statistics for education purposes. I really enjoy writing, … reading.
BE WELL, my friends – <please> keep your head straight
P.P.S. Music I’ve been inspired by lately: Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Hank Williams, SAMBA, Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Joao Gilberto, Baden Powell,Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Gonzaga. I’ll share more about Brasilian music in future newsletters.
…more on my journey in Brasil :
SAO PAULO (Saint Paul) is an industrial powerhouse
that is responsible for around 45% of Brasil’s economic
output (GDP, BPI). The city is over 450 years old, and
has developed gradually and haphazardly into the
world’s third largest city (Mexico City is second and
Tokyo is first) of over twenty million inhabitants. Traffic
and transport around the city isn’t terrible, but it’s not
easy. The metro system is high-class. As a true
melting pot for global culture, there is always something
to do in Sao Paulo. There I met with my friends Sergio
and Andrea, and had the opportunity to play my electric
bass. I brought my bass with the notion that I would
stay in once place for most of my three months in Brasil,
by my rambling spirit took control after I spent enough
time looking at a country map – I sold the bass in Belo
Horizonte, Minas Gerais and bought a Chinese-made
acoustic guitar a few weeks later in Manaus. Sao Paulo
is a city of work. If you’re going to Brasil on an
international business trip, you’re probably going to Sao
MINAS GERAIS means “General Mines” (gold, silver),
and the state is bigger than France (so is Texas, I
hear). The state doesn’t have a coast, but it’s actually
still cool anyway. In Belo Horizonte (state capital, pop.
3 million) I had my first experience
withcouchsurfing.com, which is a collective project with
about two million members worldwide who offer free
housing for travelers for the benefit of inter-cultural
exchange and education. Trust strangers? After Minas
Gerais I ended up staying with, I believe, seven or eight
different hosts for 3-7 days each – positive experiences.
This approach afforded deeper immersion in Brasilian
culture, saved me a bit of dough, and facilitated the
opportunity to exclusively speak Portuguese. Since
learning Portuguese has been the primary goal of this
adventure, I’m happy to report that I am now
conversationally proficient in the language (this is
different than fluency!). After Belo Horizonte I rode
buses to Ouro Preto and Sao Joao del Rei and spent
Carnaval staying at various “republicas” (shared
housing for college students). After Carnaval I met a
saxophone player whose passion is Chorinho (Choro,
Brasilian Tango) and he had a guitar for me to use to
we played music constantly for four days.
BRASILIA is the “rectilinear capital of a non-rectilinear
people”. The federal government is concentrated in this
wealthy city of about five million, which was designed
largely by Oscar Niemeyer in collaboration with the
popular revolutionary dictator turned elected President
Getulio Vargas. The city is only fifty years old. Brasil
(and South America) are famous for corruption.
Coincidentally, a week before I arrived in Brasilia the
governor (who is also the wealthiest man in the city due
to success with real estate) was arrested after the
delivery man of one of his bribes was intercepted. In
Brasil, people sometimes go into politics with the notion
that it will make them rich. If you’re into “futuristic” style
architecture and an urban layout that basically makes
walking impossible (you MUST drive or take the bus)
this could be your paradise. I don’t mean to bash it.
The people there are well-educated, and the nightlife is
After a $100 flight to Manaus from Brasilia I was in
the Amazon. But really, I was in a big city. Manaus has
over 1.5 million inhabitants, and is a major center of
industrial production. My favorite part of the city was
the docks – a fun place to pass time watching the daily
rhythm of the porters, resellers, captains, crew, ordinary
locals, riff-raff, and tourists. This may agitate some
readers, but I didn’t really go off into the forest much.
It’s quite expensive to go on a tourist expedition, and
nobody there really seems to truly like tourists. To
really know the Amazon, maybe I can go back with
more time on my hands. I think the ideal approach
would be having a month to work with, take some of the
smaller boats to smaller towns, hunker down, make
some friends, and go meet their relatives who live and
work in the forest. Next time…
From Manaus I took a boat (4 days, downstream,
about 250 people) to Belem. For this you need a
hammock, or there are a few cabins (3x more
expensive, I think). I slung a hammock in the common
area with the other common folk, and had a great time.
The bathrooms got a bit gross, and the battle for toilet
paper was constant. As a friend of mine put it, “I don’t
get this every-man-for-himself thing with the toilet
paper”. It ain’t free everywhere. This boat ride was the
first time that I encountered foreigners (about 15
europeans), at which point I realized that I had been
completely immersed in Brasilian culture aside from the
occasional phone call to my family or grandparents. It
was good to have a guitar, which is my primary
diplomatic asset. The total cost was $60 for four days,
$10 for the hammock.
Belem (which means Bethlehem) had a great
market on the waterfront with fresh fish and fruits from
the amazon. I wasn’t in a hurry to leave, because they
are all quite delicious. The history of the city is simple –
the Portuguese built a fort on the southern bank of the
river to claim everything upstream for themselves – it
worked! (until independence, anyway). I’ll try to
describe some of the fruits. There is Acai, which is a
thick purple liquid from a fruit that looks like a berry and
comes from a type of palm, very tasty and nutritious.
Cupuacu is a big fuzzy brown fruit shaped like a melon
with a hard shell – you crack it open on a rock and the
inside has yellow pulp clinging ferociously to large
seeds, citrus taste. There is Mangaba/Bacuri, which
has brown/purple skin and when opened has rich
creamy white sections inside that look like a clove of
garlic but are actually sweet. Acerola is a small red
berry that is shaped like a mini-red pepper but is like a
sweeter, thicker version of watermelon. And on, and
on… it was hard to leave.
The northeastern part of Brasil is adored my many,
and is particularly popular with tourists. This region has
beautiful beaches, but is dry inland (sertao).
Historically, all the slaves who didn’t go to work in the
mines came to the Northeast (or Bahia, which arguably
should be categorized as an independent region). The
mortality rate for slaves in Brasil and the Carribean was
higher than in the United States due to climate and work
conditions. After emancipation, the region has
remained the most economically impoverished in
Brasil. However, a richness of culture exists as a result
of the fusion between diverse influences that have
manifested in music, cuisine, and cultural traditions. My
journey so far has consisted of four days in Sao Luis
(Saint Louis), which was founded by the French and has
been left in decline since the 1800s. It was interesting
to walk in the old parts of the city to see the crumbling
historic buildings. Sao Luis is famous for reggae, I
caught some excellent “roots” samba, and took my first
samba lesson on guitar. Bossa nova comes a bit more
naturally to me, since it’s rhythmically closer to jazz. I
left Sao Luis for Teresina, where I waited five hours to
catch a bus to Natal via Fortaleza. After more than
thirty hours of eastward bus commuting I arrived in
In Natal I went to the beach, drew some pictures, … Natal is a wealthy city, and I heard it compared to Miami- relaxed, people who like parties and beaches. I don’t know, never been to Miami. I was invited to a wedding in Joao Pessoa (3.5 hours to the south, in the direction of Recife), so I went and borrowed
a green 1970’s suit that was a bit too small,
along with some nice black shoes and a white 70’s style collared-shirt. I danced from midnight until 3:30, poorly, and with great enthusiasm. There is only one way to get better at dancing, and that is dancing. It’s a test of patience to endure the sarcastic comments, but most people appreciate the effort. After the wedding it was a day split between the quaint historic town of Olinda and Recife proper. By now I’m in the habit of always walking around with my guitar in my hand – keeps the chops fresh and I meet musicians as I stroll. They yell “Oi!” as
I pass and we sometimes jam. Today I woke up at 4:30
am and went to the Recife airport, and flew to…
RIO DE JANEIRO via Brasilia. Like I mentioned above,
it’s really a shame to be frantically hacking away at a
computer in a city such as this, when I should be
seeking out samba. I have a week until my flight to San
Francisco on 4/6, so I’ll split my time between here and
Sao Paulo, where I fly out from. I can’t really write much
about Rio since I just got in today. The people here are
physically attractive, maybe due to competitive
pressure, like in New York or Los Angeles. On average
17 people are shot/stabbed a day in Rio. Yeah, thanks,
I’ll be careful. Don’t talk to me about the movie “City of
God” (Cidade de Deus), please. You know I get upset
Overall my adventure in Brasil
has been easier
than travels in India (in terms of emotional/physical challenges).
India is poorer, and the culture more “foreign”. Future work opportunities exist in Brasil, and I am optimistic that I’ve made enough progress with
the language to realistically consider these. For now, I still just have a tourist visa, and I would like to stomp more ground in other countries, but I’m rather certain I’ll be back. Maybe for 3-6 months in a less transient manner to understand the culture of a particular region better. Maybe just to play SAMBA and FUTEBOL all day every day. Saying this, future work in Brasil really isn’t any more likely than employment in India, China, the US, or Europe. Time will tell where the dial will stop…. Until next time…
** Q2 2010 update – June 30th – July 11, 2010 **
Salutations! I hope you’re mostly smiling as the world spins.
CONTENTS: Travel update, Economic update (international), drawings of brazil, drawings of india, salvador da bahia
In the news: Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico! South African World Cup – SPAIN WINS! I love vuvuzelas! USA-China relations! Middle East tension!
Greece/PIIGS/EU debt crisis! terrorism! echoing from the Cold War! rapid environmental destruction in general! high unemployment! tea parties!
After a five week tour of the USA I’m in Europe, back after nearly twenty years away (Paris 1990-1991). To make the most of the opportunity, I’m working my way through a book about the continent’s history since 1945. I departed New York June 24th, and in five months I will be back in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Missouri, and Northern California Dec 1 – Jan 23.
Good to see …… for a few weeks this summer……. I made a stop in New Orleans and took a Greyhound bus to Florida to see my paternal grandfather Wilkes before my first time in Boston/NY. It’s been revitalizing to read some fiction and biographical writing, as I’ve focused mostly on international affairs (“non-fiction”) since 2001. I recently read a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book, Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory, and ….
Countries visitied since May 2009: Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, India, Brazil x2, China, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands
In the next five months: Belgium, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Missouri USA, Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, China x2, Hong Kong, USA……
—– 2011: USA, Hong Kong. likely China x3, India x2, other travel perhaps in Asia, Europe, Africa
ECONOMY: (partially edited)
Maybe I’m out of the know because it’s been a year “self-employed” International economics has been a soap opera. Hopefully I can share thoughts that are useful and concise. Big news is the Euro’s sharp drop… contra dollar.
I’m not an expert on the European Community/Union, but basically this is because of sovereign debt default concerns from Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Ireland/UK, and others. The EU formed an emergency loan mechanism to provide more debt to these countries to help them pay their debt.
In terms of debt and deficits, some argue that the United States is in no better shape than the European Union. But there is high demand for the dollar and this inspires confident lending to Uncle Sam. Maybe carrying the big stick will continue to keep interest payments on loans relatively inexpensive, or maybe a large western USA state will lead the country down a new crisis-spiral if possibility of government debt problems arise. unlikely in the immediate future, but such a situation becomes more probable as you stretch your mind into the medium/long-term.
Recent housing sales data in the US has spooked observers that demand is soft and supply will likely remain abundant. Too early to say for certain, but time will tell whether home prices fall further or find a bottom and slowly inflate once more.
Speaking of inflation, there basically is none. Deflation is a possibility, which means things become cheaper to buy, dollars become stronger, and debt becomes harder to pay. Right now it’s not possible to say what will happen, but important variables to watch are economic growth, employment, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decisions (raise or hold, can’t go lower than 0%).
Stimulus versus deficit-reduction is a raging debate, as is capitalist-free trade versus protectionism and social programs. I don’t have a strong view on govt budgets – whether stimulus or austerity works better in a crisis situation such as this. We’ll find out, as the US seems to be favoring stimulus spending while some of the EU countries are cutting government budgets and/or raising taxes to reduce deficits. I think protectionism is a bad idea, dangerous, and would be a quick way for the US to “shoot itself in the foot”, since the country consumes more than it produces.
So far the US Dollar has maintained strength as a “safehaven” currency (meaning it is popular with foreigners when they become scared of risk, and demand drives up the value). With the US deficit piling more debt onto already massive accumulated debts, the US has basically been in debt since the War of Independence in the 18th century. I believe the comparison with the 1932-1937 period of Great Depression economic history relevant to the current situation.
a few simple changes
I believe the US standard of living is unjustifiably high. The country is wealthy due to commercial and imperial successes (as were the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, British), but the lives of future USA generations and has been mortgaged for over-consumption … …. Who really deserves a plush national inheritance, anyway? Americans are still lucky folks, overall.
Humbly, prescriptions for personal financial health/balance:
1 frugality (learn to save more than 0%, careful with debt),
2 smarter consumer spending decisions (know need from want),
3 a disciplined focus on perpetual self-education (turn off the TV)
4 reverence for wisdom (rather than wealth, image, status, pleasure)
stockmarkets, commodities, currencies:
S&P500 and DOW JONES Industrial Avg (USA)- We’re sure in an interesting spot. Inspired by accelerated money-printing and the lowest possible borrowing costs, US markets rallied in 2009 and 2010. … the biggest stock rally in the US since the 1930’s. Now what? Well, everyone is pretty scared again. The DOW has been swaying above and below the 10,000 mark for a few months, and I predict that in the future it will fluctuate. ; )
— WORLD MARKETS —
So what can I say? China is still growing like mad (+10%ish of GDP/yr). Some talk of bubbles. India is a very rich country, with lots of poor people. It’s stock market is volatile. Brazil is wealthy in natural resources, but also suffers high rates of social violence. Its stock market is linked to commodities. European markets are politically jittery.
Simply, many markets follow the US, moving more or less in tandem because so much of international business feeds the US consumer.
Commodities – Usually prices go up when economies
do well (“grow”, “expand”, “develop”), because
companies buy more stuff, then sell it to people. Right now oil is really the main commodity, if you think about it. Or food…We transport food to places like Phoenix, Arizona with fuel, so when oil costs more, food costs more. So though food is more important to human survival than oil, the middle-men determine the prices, and they have to pay their fuel bills too. Gold is at a new recent high … because people are freaking out, and they think other people will still like shiny metal after the financial crisis. In which case, yeah, I suppose it’s better than paper.
…. US Inflation is technically in the 0-1% range,
US/Euro unemployment is technically around 10%.
Thank you all for your encouragement, enthusiasm, advice, jokes, and stories.
be kind, Be well and be real – next update will be from China in October 2010. -Eric
musical recommendation: Antonio “Tom” Carlos Jobim
(father of Brazilian bossa nova)
Eric’s Quarterly Travel Newsletter – from Europe to China (Q3 2010)
Hey folks (guten tag, goddag, bom dia, buenos dias, shallam alekkum, ni hao, merhaba, namaste, bon jour)
I’ve passed through Europe and now am in China, somewhere between Beijing and Chengdu. In the last three months I’ve been rather nomadic… highlights include: finding out my brother is getting married, visiting my maternal grandmother Vera for two weeks, finishing a long, heavy book called
Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (Tony Judt)
, losing two laptop computers in Spain, speaking Arabic/French/Portuguese/Spanish/Chinese, seventeen days in the Muslim world, coincidentally hearing
Andrea Bocelli at the Giza Pyramids,
making new friends of diverse origins, and learning how to travel without a guitar and still… My main goal for the next seven weeks is to learn Chinese (give me a break – I mean fundamentals, not fluency).
The contents of this bulletin include:
1. summary of where and when, past and future
2. travel stories from the old world
3. playing music, losing computers, dreaming of bicycles
4. economic update – trying my best to be positive
Where I’ve been since May 2009:
six months in South America
a month and a half in India
six weeks in China and Japan three
months in Europe/Middle East
several great visits to Granddad Wilkes in FL,
Grandmother Vera in MO
a variety of USA cities – seeing friends and family, plus pioneering
Where I’m going from here and now:
in China until Dec 1st, 2010 – Beijing, Sichuan/ Yunnan Provinces, Hong Kong
Dec 1 – Jan 23, 2011 in Portland, San Francisco,Denver, Missouri, Florida
first half of 2011 in Asia… mostly China/India
T R A V E L S T O R I E S from the old world
where to begin… my first time in Europe in twenty years (excluding airport layovers to and from India)… many wonderful experiences and rather frequent unloading and reloading of the trusty blue Gregory backpack. By now it’s nicely scuffed, slightly ripped, and discolored in places……
I recently transitioned from the
European Union to the People’s Republic of China
via Istanbul and Cairo. Great to get a small sample
of Turkish and Arab cultures. I played a fair bit of
backgammon and dominoes, drank lots of sugary
tea, and often repeated “Bush mish kwayyis, Obama kwayyis”.
Friendly, clever people, usually joking. The food in Turkey is better.
My rambling aim is to follow the examples of those famous socialites
– Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi –
walk, walk, walk
enough to get some very dirty feet
and work my blisters into callouses –
to chat with new folks different than myself and hear what they have to say.
everyday sights, smells, and sounds of
the streets are the most intriguing aspect of life abroad
for me, and I’ve found the people to be happy to share their
food, drink, and ideas.
MODERN history**** ROOTS research ***
-what about Europe since World War two? This
have been the main curiosity that has motivated me
to convert Dollars to Euros and
trace my roots
as an European American mutt. I had a great time, but of
course I couldn’t “do it all”. I visited family friends in Germany and the Netherlands. I rode a tram to the top of Germany’s highest Alp –
– and watched many World Cup games. I saw some friends from Portland in Norway(Muesli and Salmon are the best deals on offer there, everything else is painfully expensive), where,
we had free places to sleep. I had my well-loved mini-guitar and we made a lot of noise I mean music. I spent nearly three weeks in
Lisbon,Portugal,- HISTORY of Colonization >>
learning that Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe thanks to nearly fifty years of dictatorship (Salazar, associate of Franco in Spain) and wars to suppress independence movements in Angola and Mozambique.
when sized up to its former colony and now <“rising power” (’17 *)> Brazil.
I sure do like Brazil, but I tried to keep it quiet.
I flew from Lisbon to Missouri for a two week visit with my mom’s mom Aug 18-31.
That was fun. We played about thirty games of Scrabble, did a few puzzles, patronized live jazz, drove around, and just plain hung out.
In September I migrated from Lisbon to Madrid to Sofia to Thessaloniki to Istanbul to Cairo to Beijing. Yes a lot of variety in one month, and it’s been a blur – too fast. I’ve become <more> aware of the pros and cons of nomadic life, and I’ve become rather certain that spending more time in less places will pay off. Not that I’m finished with adventures abroad, just that I don’t want to go to so many airports and ride so many trains or buses. Also, maybe the countryside is a good compliment to the city streets… in 2011 I plan to gear down and reap the benefits of a less migratory lifestyle. So what about Europe? I wasn’t surprised by my experiences, really…
I was in Paris for a year as a kid (1990-1991),
and though I didn’t return there on this trip, I did get to see Le Tour Eiffel et L’Arc de Triumphe out of the window of the flight from Oslo to Lisbon.
It’s funny, I had an unconscious presupposition that Europeans are all rich – this is not true.
Also many people, especially young people, speak English. This was good and bad. It was certainly convenient, but it also made things seem easy, which was quasi-boring compared to the wilds of other-worldly Asia. But, when people speak English well, complex conversational topics become more accessible for me < because English is my primary language (’17)>, so I can’t complain that the new generation has been studying hard. I suppose I’m lamenting the loss of cultural diversity that is resulting from
English’s ubiquity – in Europe, yes, but this phenomenon is more pronounced than in Asia. Overall, I’d say Europeans are very much like North Americans, despite what they may have to say about it. The cultural divide with Asia is much wider.
I’m thrilled that now, while I’m in my 20’s, it is possible for me to see the other side of the mountain so I don’t have to speculate about it instead…
…once you adjust your standard of living to local
conditions…. (excepting Europe and Japan, which are unavoidably expensive).
My top recommended travel destination in Europe is Istanbul.
Some other places I’d like to visit in Europe are Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Barcelona, and Prague. I think I could live in Istanbul or Berlin.
DREAMING OF BICYCLES
Music is a major part of my life. Right now I’m traveling without a guitar so that I don’t have a golden ticket into social situations. A little break helps me approach music with a fresh mind from a new angle. I’m got a chromatic harmonica ….
A long term goal is to become an intermediate jazz pianist…
Trying to shed adversity toward dancing, turn off my brain, and move my body when the vibrations sound…
… I’ve heard an interesting variety of music in Beijing – ” metal” rock (not my choice, really), cutesy indie rock, punk rock, funk, bebop, smooth jazz (also not my choice, it was digi-awful), singer-songwriters, and street performers.
At an open-mic night we performed “Hot Pants” by James Brown,
peace be upon him, which baffled and amazed our audience. Bringers of the funk, are we.
Now a story I’d rather not tell but might as well. I bought one of those small laptops (about $350) in Colorado this summer. It was great. When I flew to Malaga, Spain in early August, took an overnight bus to Lisbon, and checked into a hostel I discovered it had disappeared 24 hours later. Probably stolen, maybe lost (unknowingly left somewhere along the way). So it goes. I was mopey and grumpy and vexed and perplexed for a week or two but moved on. When I was visiting my grandmother I received a package mailed from my parents with my old laptop in it, which I had requested. They took the liberty to gift me with a replacement of my smaller laptop – a very nice gift. Cool. I transferred the data from one to the other, flew back to Lisbon, took a bus to Madrid, spent a day there – another computer gone. Where did it go? I don’t know. I’ve always thought of myself as responsible, but these strange events rattled my confidence a bit. Unsolved mysteries. So it goes. No I was not drinking. Now here I am computer-less, but maybe it’s for the best. I can still call my kin with Skype from cybercafes.
What’s the greatest human invention of all time?
Sanitation? The Internet? Music? Or is it the Bicycle?
Bicycles have been on my mind lately.
Sure, I whizzed around on some in Portland, but the idea of multi-month touring is starting to excite my imagination. I’d say that sometime soon, I will acquire a reliable set of wheels, some saddlebags, a feasible itinerary, and then take to the road in a new mode.
Where? I don’t know… probably in Asia.
There are so many motorized vehicles to contend with, and flesh is softer than metal… but if I’m on a bike, the adventure is new, different, flexible, and excellent exercise – so I’d say the rewards exceed the risks.
So I’m declaring 2011 the year of the bicycle.
Here’s a fun activity – draw a map of the world from memory. Compare it to a more accurate one. Where were you the most off? Have a laugh and repeat.
E C O N O M I C U P D A T E
Trying my best to be positive
<…> Lately I’ve been thinking about the environment and human population growth, both topics about which it is sometimes difficult to paint a pretty picture. Both are also subjects, primarily, of the qualitative. Thus, I’ll use words instead of numbers this time.
Yesterday in Beijing the sky was overcast – with smog.
You could look at the sun without hurting your eyes, and it was orange.
I remember this from Mumbai
and Kolkata (Calcutta) as well. The rivers are terribly
polluted, and function like drains disposing it all into the
ocean. The smell when crossing a bridge in India often
made me feel nauseous. Nonetheless, an average
lifespan in China is 72 years. In India it is 63. That
doesn’t seem so bad, given an average of 79 in the USA
weighed against all of the seemingly negative variables
in the developing world.
I began investing in “emerging markets” in 2003. USA
trade imbalances seemed unsustainable – consumption
cannot be funded with debt forever, according to
conventional wisdom. For this reason I tried to avoid
investing in the USA. When the formal crisis of 2008-
2010 set in, all markets initially lurched downward
as people frantically converted their assets from
stocks and bonds into cash, fearing total collapse
of the financial system. I was expecting that things
would somehow go wrong, but I failed to understand
the inter-connectedness of everything – a global crash. Now, since the worst case scenario has seemingly been averted, the USA stock markets (DOW, S&P500, Nasdaq) have rallied, basically, exactly to their levels when the market suddenly crashed in August of 2008. The DOW is right at 11,000 as I write, up from a low around 7000 in March 2009. However, between November 2007 and August 2008 the market had already been steadily declining from a high around 14,000. … “Emerging markets” have rebounded more dramatically (generally speaking), but I’m a bit skeptical that the broad upward trajectory can continue much longer. Markets are going up because interest rates are low, which means growth and inflation – money goes to stock since paper money is not expected
to hold its value. The landscape is favorable if you’re college-educated and employed – but more complicated for everyone else. So what? Well after being in Brazil, India, and China, my enthusiasm for investment in general has waned. I hate to kill the
buzz, but I must assert that international investment is doing some real harm (in addition to some good). In other words, there are both benefits, and detriments to “development”. Measuring progress by annual increases in consumption of material goods does not capture the entire reality of life and well-being.
India has no waste disposal system.
When all the plastic and Styrofoam ends up on the ground or ocean instead of in a far-off landfill if affects your mind differently.
But is everything so terrible? No, I don’t think so…
well, yes, maybe. See it how you will. The world is
changing very quickly. Perhaps more quickly than
ever in history. Humans have reproduced extremely
successfully over the last several millennium. Now
here we are – Labor in the USA, Europe, and Japan
is more expensive than in other parts of the world. In
the global free market, competition is intensifying
as populations crescendo and new people are
educated. Oil is overused and everyone wants to live
like Americans. Multinational Corporations (“MNCs”)
are positioning to profit through the apocalypse. But
it could be so much worse – the apocalypse could be
now. It may not be encouraging, but remember that
the Renaissance occurred after the Bubonic Plague
swept through Europe. Us humans are trying our best
to make this whole thing work out. There are just so
many of us. Tensions abound, but at least we haven’t
blown the whole mess up yet. It’s a crazy out-of-control
train, really. Do what you can to enjoy it. Most of all, for
goodnesses’ sake, be kind.
If you’re interested in learning more about finance
and economics, I recommend regular reviewing of the
Financial Times, Bloomberg, the Economist, China
Daily, finance.yahoo, International Monetary Fund (IMF)
/World Bank publications, and US government public
data releases. My main mantra of advice remains “live
below your means”. I don’t know if the stock market is
going up or down in the next 3, 6, or 12 months (and
I’m beginning to care less and less) but I don’t think this
crisis is over. Wealth of paper money, stock certificates,
and real estate holdings ultimately fades away, but
relationships are priceless.
S O W H A T ?
I don’t know. Maybe you’d rather hear specific travel
stories. I’ve written some of my reflections on travel,
without many details. I think the specifics come out
better in the context of conversations, so I’m reserving
them. I’m writing these updates to practice my writing,
in an honest, transparent, and semi-professional
way. Just keeping in touch with the familiar as I become
more deeply immersed in the unknown. I find your
responses energizing and encouraging. <….> I’m not done
traveling yet. Health permitting, I expect to continue
my adventures through the end of 2012 – focused on
India, Brazil, China, and Africa. Inshallah I will be
able to spend at least six months in each of those for
destinations, and I will develop some useful language
skills and meaningful relationships along the way.
“The rhythm of the drum changes – the
dancers must adapt”
Kossi Proverb, Burkina Faso
Be well! Eric
Oct 11, 2010 from Beijing
Eric’s Q4 2010 newsletter
… as I bike around in China.
Intro ~~~ happy new year!!!
Still alive and well, and perhaps halfway through my world travel adventure. Since leaving work in April 2009 it’s been 400+ days outside of the USA- four months in brazil, three in china, one and a half in India, and the rest spread far too thinly between a dozen or so other countries. Yes, I’m gradually changing my approach a bit in the process as I learn from mistakes (going too quickly) – but The main idea remains learning new languages, particularly Brazilian Portuguese and simplified mandarin Chinese
•October, November, December in review
•Global Economic Outlook – year in review
•lots and lots of photos, new and old
China – two months of language immersion (For less than $1000…)
•studied hard, learned about people in China
•first month- Beijing to Xian to Chengdu to Kunming to
guangzhou/hong kong by train
•second month- ten days “hitch-hiking” from Changsha to Chongqing and
three weeks in the Sichuan basin
•built basic Chinese conversational skills – I can express myself
better than I can comprehend… Going back for more immersion time (february-April 2011 in china & Vietnam). Chinese is difficult but not impossible
… I’m well… …
2010 was a year of learning, growth, and exciting challenges.
Hard to believe that I was in Brazil from January into April.
<Now> studying history and international affairs rather actively.
Keeping journals and drawing sketches… Very few photos.
key to happiness?
I think it’s relationships
(but what do I know…)
World economy – keeping positive
If you’ve read some previous updates then you understand my outlook about the USA and Europe is a tad dour. Jobs, especially “good” ones are not easy to come by… Many complex phenomena are at work. You’ve heard some version of the story already.
Try to keep your head on straight
ECONOMICS 2010 in review
Stockmarkets worldwide are mostly up, but unemployment remains a huge issue … Obama’s popularity has waned in the USA.
The EU crisis has taken center stage
worldwide. Debt debt debt! Signs that global inflation is on the way especially
The USA cannot afford to raise interest rates. Multi-national Corporations have led the recent “recovery”, but benefits have not been widespread. Culturally ….?? Polarization continues? …
2000-2010 in review
Boom to bust.
China’s economy has more than doubled < in ___ period of time (’17)>, and has overtaken japan to become the world’s second largest (America has held the top spot since WW2). Economists estimate that in terms of consumer buying power (purchasing power parity, or PPP)
china will overtake the USA around 2020<-2030(’17)>. They’re poorer, but goods are cheaper to buy. India and Africa are still very poor. Brazil’s internal enemies are internal corruption and violence… … discovery to massive oil reserves off the coast.
… Afghanistan and Iraq. Housing/debt crisis erupts in america, sending the
into recession. USA elects first African-American president. water is rapidly becoming commodity-ized. In 2008 oil reached record high of over $140/barrel. Human population approaching
Eric’s First Quarter Update 2011
April 4th, 2011 — somewhere between Kunming, Yunnan, China and Hanoi, Vietnam
My Plans for 2011:
•Bicycling and language study
•Three months in Southwest China
•Make you find Tajikistan on a map
•Study music in Africa?
•Autumn pilgrimage to grandma’s house
… journal drawings from India (Nov 1-Dec 15 2009), Brazil (Jan 13-Apr 7 2010), summer of 2010 (working across the USA, EU, Turkey, Egypt eastward), China trip #2 (Oct and Nov 2010), …
Be well, take care, study hard – your friend, Eric
Hello folks! Good tidings from southwestern China. I’ve been in the PRC since Jan 24, with the exception of a mid-February week in Hanoi. Studying Chinese language through the “jump in the deep end” approach and I’d say overall it’s working out pretty well.
Tomorrow I’ll take my new touring bike with me on a bus to Vietnam and from there bus/train to Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn City (fka Saigon) …
…SE Asia. … I will modify future travel plans according to circumstances. After ten days with… I’ll head back to China and go by train to Beijing and Xinjiang (aka “China-stan”). As the summer arrives I’ll make my way to
Tajikistan, most likely via Kyrgyzstan, and fly from the capital, Dushanbe to Istanbul, Turkey in mid-July.
After several weeks of cycling somewhere in Europe
I’ll fly back to the states for Autumn visits with family and friends. About three weeks ago I bought a near-top-end Chinese touring bike for just over $400 and have been breaking it in up and down the mountains here in Yunnan province. I\ve focused on Yunnan due to it’s diversity of ethnic minorities, weather, and mountain landscapes. I wrote most of an update already but the formatting got funny so I’m starting fresh. Forgive the light editing… Low-tech newsletter this time – no photos – you’ll have to use your imagination… or a web-based search engine. I’ve been doing drawings, so those will be available sometime in the future.
outline of 2011 so far :
– Mom’s birthday festivities
– two weeks of Scrabble with Grandma
– lunch in … Florida with Granddad
– three days in San Francisco
– three days in Hong Kong
– five hours in Macau
– three days of leisurely short-distance bus rides from Guangdong to Guangxi province
– a week of Chinese lunar new year festivities in a country village of 1000 called Shenshancun (near Yulin)
– ten days at an art college in Nanning
– a week in Hanoi with Elliot and his buddy Joe
– total of six weeks in Yunnan province’s Kunming (x2),
Heqing, Lijiang, Dali (before the bike)
– bought a bike and rode from Kunming five days to a place called Shadian/Jijiezhen between Jianshui and Mengzi
– three days of rest in Muslim town of Shadian
– biked to Yuanyang and passed five days in and around a mountaintop town called Xinjiezhen amongst clouds and farming terraces
I have a lot of thoughts about China, so it’s difficult to write something concise. By now I’ve visited the People’s Republic three times and netted a total of five months within the borders. That’s more than my four months in Brazil and my six weeks in India. It’s hard work being here due to the communication challenges and cultural differences. I had a little kid-sized guitar that I bought in Chile May 2009 but I forgot it when I quickly disembarked from a bus. So it goes.
miss American and Brazilian music. On sunny days the
parks in bigger Chinese cities are full of old people
singing and playing instruments and that usually hits the
spot, but unfortunately the countryside seems more
focused on survival than the luxury of music. Young
people in China have not impressed me with their sense
of musical taste. Lots of mind-numbing techno-pop and
rock that knocks off the worst of what America has to
offer. Some people say I need to be more objective, so
there you go… I complain about similar things in
America, I suppose. Kids these days. The Kenny G
infection has also reached Asia. But the absence of
good jazz and samba aside, I’ve found the ancient
Mandarin Chinese language to be a rewarding brainpuzzle and can now report that I can banter in the
language throughout the day with locals, as long as
their dialect isn’t too severely deviant from the official
Beijing tongue. My comprehension level is high enough
that connecting with patient souls possessing a will to
communicate with outsiders results in mutually-beneficial mind-melding. Also, Chinese food in China is
awesome. Really, it’s wonderfully tasty. You have to
have an open mind and be able to eat spicy, though.
Europeans proudly contrast their slow pace of meal
consumption with Americans who shovel down too
much too quickly. Well, the Chinese are slow eaters
too, and it’s really a good way to be.
Certainly learning Chinese is useful and practical, in light
of developmental trends. Maybe in the future I’ll spend
a few months or a year teaching English or studying
Chinese here. Maybe. But I’ve found myself thinking
more and more about Africa. When I depart China
westwardly sometime in June, I may not return for a
while. It’s not that I don’t like it here – it’s that I’ve driven
pretty hard to make progress with the language, and I
reckon I’ll soon be ready for new, different adventures.
My heart still yearns for general education rather than
specialization, so until I have a beautiful woman twisting
my arm I’m likely to continue with that plan: 6 months
in India, 6 months in Brazil, 6 months in China, and 6
months in Africa. I figure that’ll give me a half-decent
idea of what’s going on in this wild, rapidly-changing
world and I can decide where to locate and what to do.
By now I’m 90% sure my future career will be in the
educational field. Perhaps in Africa, India, or a US city
like NOLA, NYC, or SF. I’ve narrowed my strongest
interests down to jazz music, foreign languages, and
world history. I’m lucky to have the money, time, and
freedom to travel as I am now, but I’m not planning
on having much physical wealth in the future. In a way
that relieves a lot of pressure. Buddhism kind of stuff.
Of course, I don’t have kids… and if those come along I
bet my mind could change and I’ll join in the rat race. I
still don’t see myself signing on with a Hong Kong hedge
Anyway, about my time in China. I guess what I’m most
proud and enthusiastic about is bicycling. I intended to
purchase a bike much earlier than I did. Thus I didn’t
ride for as long as I wanted to in Yunnan. However, I
did have a great first touring experience squiggling
mostly southwards from Kunming through the
mountainous countryside of Yunnan. The day after
the twenty-seventh anniversary of my … birthday I left my hostel with a British fellow named
Charlie who rode his bike from England to China in
eight months and plans to keep at it for maybe four
years to go everywhere and write a book about it. His
blog is:http://www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk/ . He’s
23. … after a half-day of riding we pitched our tents together and made a fire. The next day we split up since we had disparate destinations. I rode on for another four days by myself, and was astonished by how much vertical I had to climb – who designed these roads??
The scenery was magnificent,
and I chose snaking routes that had little through-traffic and lots of small villages. People often could not speak Mandarin Chinese, wore colorful clothes particular to their ethnicity, worked from sunrise to sunset in the fields, and gawked speechlessly at me as I rode by. I had a bell to ring, but envied Charlie’s squeeze-horn
which has priceless humor-creating power. I was
planning to diffuse people’s discomfort by traveling with
my little guitar – alas, “oh he’s a musician, he can’t be
that bad” could not enter their minds… instead who
knows what they were thinking… maybe a lot of “wow,
you must be very rich, we’re very poor”. Probably better
to be guitarless though – I’m spending more time
studying grammar, vocabulary, and not carrying as
Interesting and bizarre things I’ve done in China:
– helped to carry a 91-year-old man’s coffin up farming
terraces for the construction of his burial site – competed
in a rural Spring festival tug-of-war tournament – learned
to sing the Chinese national anthem “mostly” correctly –
eaten chicken from head to toe – …-
sang karaoke … –
sang karaoke … – stayed in Yunnan… … … to get back on the bike – ate meat in Yuanyang,
was asked what I thought it was, said “…beef?” Dog
tastes like beef – learned how to say “drink!/cheers!” in a
few minority languages – ate for free about half of my five months
(Chinese hospitality is un-parallelled) –
pedaled and cursed my way up mountains – cruised and sung my way down mountains
– have been called “Laowai” maybe 10,000 times
– refused cigarettes
hundreds of times, which, In China, is conduct
unbecoming of a man – ate pig feet – ate pig brains – ate
wild boar – ate dozens of vegetables I’ve never eaten –
breathed oh how I’ve breathed second-hand smoke –
washed my clothes by hand in sinks, showers, and
streams – adapted to the “everyone-for-themself” toilet
paper policy (only rarely do public bathrooms have
soap, either) – learned to play “fight the landlord”, a very
popular three-person card game – became proficient in
chinese chess (like international chess, you have
horses and rooks, but instead of bishops you have
cannons and elephants and no queen)
Let’s get a cat out of the bag. I have a perception that
in America and Europe, learning Chinese is not as cool
as say, Brazilian Portuguese or Arabic. Do you share
this point of view? Why or why not? I guess what I’m
getting at is the idea that Asia attracts the freaks, dorks,
and creeps of “the West”. It’s true that from Thailand to
Vietnam to the Philippines to China there are plenty of
twenty/thirty/fourty-something men glad to find a place
where their relative wealth makes them sexy when they
otherwise struggle to achieve this status. I’m slightly
reluctant to march too far down the Asian path, due to
fear that it would isolate me from society at home. I’m
just being honest about my observations and
perceptions as someone crossing back-and-forth over
the cultural divide. Clearly the relationship between
China and America is very important – and
communication is a major problem. I’m secure and
confident in myself and my intentions, but I’m curious to
hear you reflect upon your point of view. Please share
thoughts. China-phobia is likely to grow stronger over
future decades as the world’s two largest economies
compete and the comforts of western post-imperial
entitlements slowly erode. Let’s try to keep things
peaceful, no? I really enjoy trying to take on the
Chinese language, but I’m not quite ready to hitch my
wagon entirely on China. Despite my misgivings about
some of American culture’s materialist aspects
(television, shopping malls, driving too much, self-induced obesity) the comforts of home are beckoning.
Lunar New Year (Spring festival) in the Guangxi
province near the border of Guangdong province with
my friend Li Lu and her family was a lot of fun and a
great way to learn about Chinese countryside culture.
I visited around February 2nd – 10th. Li Lu is a 25-
year-old art student in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi.
Her family raises pigs, owns/operates three local
buses, and speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin. Her
mother and father have four siblings each – big family.
I met her and two of her friends in Fenghuang, Hunan
last year during a sidetrip on my ten-day hitchhiking
journey from Changsha to Chongqing. I was honored
to have an invitation into such a situation. The town of
Shenshancun, south of Yulin, had never been visited by
a foreigner, as far as anyone knew. For a week many
fireworks exploded, family meals with 10-20 people were
eaten on low stools around low tables with a burner
and a pot of boiling spiced and seasoned water in the
middle. Drop in animal and plant bits, fish them out with
chopsticks and place them in your rice bowl, drink rice
wine and beer, and chatter about whatever – great fun!
Guangxi is famous for its rice terraces and oddly-shaped rock formations that jut abruptly from flat ground. Nanning, Hanoi, Lijiang, and Kunming – honorable mention.
Don’t buy stuff you don’t need, don’t buy stuff you can’t afford.
Time is your most precious resource.
THE WORLD ECONOMY
<… In 2011 look for the US Dollar and Euro to weaken against other currencies, particularly the Brazilian Real and Chinese Yuan. Maybe I’ll be wrong. We’ll talk about it in 12 months. Anything could happen, but deficits increase debts, and bankruptcy for the governments of the developed world is not at all outside of the realm of possibility in the next decade – I HOPE I’m wrong about that, but unemployment remains just under 10% in the USA, the worst in 25 years.(’17)>
Oil is a lot more expensive – nearly $110 a barrel, partly related to instability in Egypt, Tunisia, Lybia
Japan struck by Tsunami and shaken by earthquake, in crisis
Debt concerns continue to dominate headlines in the West, particularly in Southern Europe (“the club med”, “PIIGS”)
The official US unemployment down to 8.8% from around 10%, the best it’s been in over two years
The US stock market is up, nearing all-time highs from 2000 and 2007
Gold right around all-time high: <currency of fear>
The Chinese Yuan (aka ren-min-bi) is at an all time against the US Dollar, recently loosened somewhat from the peg
Some say globalization is leaving the “feel-good” phase and entering the “political” phase
Barack Obama, the president of America is not as popular as he used to be in the USA
America’s 2012 presidential election draws nearer, the people, as the news sources, are polarized
India, Africa remain very poor
South America is chugging along nicely, more or less
The world’s human population will soon top seven billion
TRAVELS PAST AND TRAVELS FUTURE
It’s now been exactly two years since my last day with…. I worked that job for just over two years, so the date has double meaning for me.
As I reflect on what I’ve done since I walked away from a perfectly good job it’s hard to quantify many achievements. In fact most of what could be called “an accomplishment” is qualitative. I could use numbers to summarize how much time I’ve spent in which places. I could take a proficiency test for Portuguese, Spanish, or Chinese and get some kind of number. I could do math to see how much money I’ve used and measure whether I’ve stuck to budget (it’s been cheaper than you may think). I guess it’s hard to get around the thought -… It’s been six months in South America, three in Europe, six in China + Japan, one and a half in India. The rest of the time is accounted for by 1/3 of the last two years (8 months) spent in the USA with family, friends, and travel preparation.
Future plans are:
April 7-18 in Vietnam, return to China
– go to Beijing and Xinjiang, go to Tajikistan (June), bike around and go backpacking, fly to Istanbul, bike across part of Europe (August), fly back to the USA to visit grandparents (grandparents are important), parents, family, and friends. 2012 in Africa, India, and Brazil doing some volunteer teaching and biking. 2013 ?…
…Be well! Study hard!
Your friend, Eric
Eric’s travel stories from Asia – Second Quarter2011
Yo! Here’s a <rugged> update from the Pamir mountain area of TAJIKISTAN. The internet was down for four days here, because maybe a rock knocked it into the river.
Now my Chinese language skills ain’t half-bad. My recent six months in China helped me realize that I really like Brasil as I enjoyed the challenging language but missed familiar musical culture. … gracefully started chemotherapy… and I’ll be back in the USA from Aug 15 – Jan 5 2012. ….
I bought a new mini-guitar in Vietnam
that I’ve been using to make friends and find language teachers. Brought my chinese touring bike 5000 km from SE Asia to Central Asia, mostly thanks to trains and buses, plus a little pedaling. Started learning Russian in Kyrgyzstan. Now studying Tajik (same as Farsi/Persian) in Tajikistan. On July 13th I fly to Istanbul for a month there, and then go back to Colorado. Visits to grandparents in Sept and Oct. November in Portland, Oregon. December back in Colorado before return to Istanbul and onward to AFRICA in January 2012
– trains, buses, and bicycling from Vietnam to Tajikistan
– what happened and how I feel about it
– the world economy: grinding teeth and the wringing of hands
– future travel plans: Africa! Brazil? travels in Vietnam. In late March I started southward on my newly purchased…
Chinese bicycle touring from Kunming, Yunnan toward Hanoi, Vietnam.
I went up and down mountains, exchanged stares with poor farmers, and eventually made my way by train to Ho Chi Mihn City to spend ten days with … and the … …
In February I had made my first trip to Hanoi,
but the last time I was in HCMC I was fifteen years old. Saigon, like the eastearn seaboard of China, has boomed and developed very quickly in the last few decades. The city is packed with speedy motorscooters, French-styled boulevards, and sprouting multi-storeyed buildings. … have visited the place many times in the last twenty years, and have … Actually, I wasn’t planning to make the journey down from China, but due to … in March …
For the sake of brain exercise and melting the ice with the Vietnamese people a bit, I made my best efforts to learn some Vietnamese. Since the language uses tones like Chinese, I was already in the mode of emulating strange sounds. Many asian languages are funny noises to Westerners. Laughing is okay, and trying to communicate in the local language always demonstrates a respect much appreciated by the host culture.
Not a few older Vietnamese made the point to explaining to me that 3,000,000 Vietnamese were killed from 1964- 1975 in the war with America. Lots of bombs were dropped, especially in the north. Say what you will about Communism, but that many deaths is a bummer anyway you look at it.
Overall I’ve found the Vietnamese to be very friendly, humorous, and cheerful. They fought for independence from foreign control for more than 100 years – beginning in the 1860’s as France’s “Indo-Chine”. Nowadays the government is not particularly powerful to control the people. Economic development has benefitted most, and maybe democracy will spring forth naturally and peacefully sometime in the next twenty years.
travels through china
After taking the train from Saigon back to Hanoi I rode
my bike to the Chinese border and spent my sixth month in
the PRC. The two day bike ride from Hanoi was flat, across
farmland with dramatic karst rocks jutting from the ground –
very beautiful. In China I caught a bus on Nanning, Guangxi,
where I have some old friends at an Art University.
Another week in Nanning provided further opportunity to
experience the daily rhythm of a typical large Chinese city
with very few tourist attractions (over 6 million people and no
hostels). I spent three days around Guilin, which is one of the
hotter spots for foreign backpackers to pound beers and snap
photos. I was planning to get to Beijing quicker, but train
tickets were not available until May first.
In Beijing I passed two weeks with my good friend Elliot,
who has significantly enhanced my explorations of China
by providing insight and an outpost to crash at. Elliot has
been teaching in the PRC for two years, and just renewed his
contract for another year. His Chinese language skills are
more advanced than mine, and he’s on the scene. We listened
to the jazz on offer, drank tea, played Chinese chess, studied
at cafes, rode bikes, and went to 798, a hip/posh art district.
After six months in China (my original travel goal has
been to spend six months in China, India, Brazil), I feel
confident that I understand the place a little bit. My greatest
achievement during this time was my development of basic
conversational, reading, and writing skills in Mandarin
Chinese. In fact, my favorite characteristic of China is the
language. It carries an ancient logic, a fascinating artistic
aesthetic, and immense practical application. I’ve been eager
for a real intellectual challenge, and studying Chinese has
delivered. I’m happy to report that now for the rest of my
life I’ll be able to chat with any Chinese people I encounter,
and the option to delve deeper can remain on the back burner
for a few years. However, I need some time to digest the
recent immersive adventures before I can make any decisions
about spending more time in China. Candidly, China has also
helped me understand that I need a lot of music in my daily
life, and music is not a top priority in Chinese culture. I miss
jazz, samba, open-mic nights, street performers, drum circles,
and jam sessions…
arrival in central asia
Okay, most of you should go get your globe. I took two
trains from Beijing to across Western China through the
Xinjiang province to the cities of Urumqi and Kashgar. This
province hosts the old famous silk road, Muslim Uyghur
people, and Han Chinese immigrants from the East. After
a fast week and a tiny sample of the vast province, I was
compelled to take a bus to Osh, Kyrgyzstan due to the
restrictions of my 30-day visa visit.
In June 2010 Osh and the nearby cities of Jalalabad and
Uzgen witnessed terrible violence between Kyrgyz and
Uzbek ethnic groups. I won’t get into any analysis of these
events, but all over Osh many burnt-out buildings are still
to be seen and there is a detectable gloom over the city.
NGOs has descended upon the city from Geneva, and slowly
life seems to be returning to normalcy. I spent two and half
weeks in and around Osh. Two noteworthy excursions were
to the walnut forests in the mountain valley Uzbek town of
Arslanbob, and a trip into the green mountain grazing land
where to nomadic Kyrgyz live in yurts take their horses,
sheep, and funny hats every summer.
I made friends with teachers and students at a foreign
language university. In exchange for some volunteer serves
in English classes I was assisted with my beginning efforts
to learn Russian. On June 10th I went further West to the
Northernmost part of Tajikistan that borders the Fergana
Valley (mostly in Uzbekistan) to the city of Isfara. From
Isfara I spent three days bicycling across flat land through ripe
apricot orchards and passed a large lake to arrive at Khujand.
As I cycled into town I met an American named Dwayne
Hershey as he was driving his family home, and I ended up
staying with their family for five days before taking a car
south over and through the mountains to the Tajik capital
of Dushanbe. In Khujand I spent several days at a USAsponsored library where I began Tajik language studies with
the assistance of some hard-working local students.
On the way to Dushanbe, I went through the scariest
tunnel I’ve ever encountered. It is six kilometers long, fully
of large puddles that conceal large potholes, and has no
ventilation at all. Though it seems to be in a state of advanced
deterioration, it was completed only five years ago. In
Dushanbe I met my friend Mikey from Montana and spent a
few days there before taking another car fifteen hours East to
Khorog – the biggest Tajik city in the Pamir mountains. The
Pamirs make up 50% of Tajikistan’s land mass, but contain only 3% of the country’s population. The Pamirs are peopled by hardy Ismaili muslims. The Ismailis represent a Shi’a sect of Islam and they’re a friendly bunch. Here people speak a variety of Pamiri languages, mixed with Russian and Tajik. The USSR was pretty good to the people of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the Pamirs benefited significantly from road-building, subsidies, and the arrival of electricity. Tajik is actually the same as Persian (Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan), but it’s written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
It’s been fun to come to a part of the world that is so poorly understood in America and Europe. I’ve befriended some Afghan English students and they’ve been kind enough to host me at their apartment while I’ve been in Khorog. They’re the first people from Afghanistan who I’ve had the opportunity to speak with at length. Afghanistan has experienced 35 years of war and chaos. I don’t think most Americans even know that Russia had a war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. I have a lot of gaps to fill in my own general historical knowledge – especially the Cold War of 1945-1991. Afghanistan has about two million Ismailis, who mostly fled the country to Pakistan when the US-led invasion against the Sunni-Pastun Taliban was launched in 2001.
On July 13th I fly from Dushanbe to Istanbul, and on August 15th I return to the USA. I’ve been away since late January. Homecoming with be great. I will soon re-calibrate and get ready for my first experience in sub-Saharan Africa. Now I’m especially interested in Africa for musical reasons (jazz, blues, and samba are my favorite types of music – which all have strong black influences). Also
Africa is an ignored continent.
It is very diverse, has a fascinating history, and I suspect I might love it over there. My long return to America will facilitate plenty of time to research and prepare for my first, but probably not last, trip to Africa.
See you in the USA, Eric
The rhythm of the drum changes, the dancers must adapt
-proverb from Burkina Faso
Whoa! I’ll again begin by admitting my ignorance – I haven’t been following the news very closely, so my thoughts on the global economy will remain concise and hopefully not too presumptive.
The world stock market is still mostly way up from 2009 lows. Oil prices have been bouncing violently around $100/barrel, which is inflationary for all goods. Oil is used to transport stuff from where it is manufactured, mined, or harvested to where it is purchased, so high oil prices mean higher prices for everything. Food is getting more expensive.
Water is important.
Debt, debt, debt is probably the main talk of the finance world – European crisis, American crisis. Live below your means. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Sell the stuff you shouldn’t have bought. Live with your grandma. Work hard. Save money. Eat your vegetables. Ride a bicycle.
The USA election of 2012 will be a big deal. If it all seems bad just remember it could be worse.
Africa is calling. I will re-energize and spend important time with family and friends for the last 4.5 months of 2011 and re-embark for a big adventure in 2012. I reckon I’ll travel through 2012, and maybe a bit into 2013, but by around then I’ll be good-and-ready to settle into one place for a while (a year-ish in New Orleans, Brazil, or Africa, for example).to do something perhaps less self-indulgent. I’m 95% certain this will mean working with education. Maybe I’ll write a book. Lately I’ve become taken by the idea of learning to play jazz piano. Language skills are developing. I’m feeling positive, healthy, and eligible
(sea is my country, ship is my home, duty is my life, who is my wife?).
Eric Robinson’s Q3 update, 2011
BACK FROM ASIA, PREPARING FOR AFRICA
October 17, 2011 c.e.
Lots of attachments this time, but none too bulky – I hope it makes those of you who are visually stimulated happy. Many flashback family photos, a map of the route I took across Asia January through July, some drawings, a painting of Abe Lincoln I just gave away to my 5th grade teacher, my newest guitar (etched proverb means “reap what you sow”) which will go with me to Africa, and some more recent photos from Colorado.
I’m back in the USA for 4.5 months, and already have my plane ticket to Ethiopia via Istanbul and Bahrain in early January 2012. For now I’m developing my jazz
giving my family some love, reading about African history, and keeping on with foreign language studies. The text below was written in two sittings – one
at the end of September in Colorado, and the other now
and here in … Missouri – the hometown of my mother and grandmother. My grandma doesn’t use the internet, so I’ve been off the grid for a while – today my aunt is letting me tap away on the computer at her house… By the way I’ll have a cell phone through Jan 5th, so calling might be a better way to get in touch than email. My email account is moving lower and lower on the priority list.
Howdy! … writing from … Colorado, listening to some swingin’ jazz, and celebrating dog Millie’s thirteenth birthday. Since my August 15th flight from Istanbul to Denver I’ve been living the dog’s life…, reading books about Africa, playing piano, riding bikes, and giving …love and support. … chemotherapy treatment and, inshallah, is now on the up and up. … but doing well and carrying a positive attitude. I played some golf with …, shooting 123 and 116 during our two full rounds of 18 holes (I play by the rules – counting every stroke – never taking mulligans or accounting creatively). … It’s good to be back in the USA for a while. I miss speaking foreign languages, but I enjoy freedom. After my upcoming circuit through Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Portland, and Seattle I’ll fly back to Denver for Christmas and continue back to Istanbul and start off 2012 right in Africa.
Reflecting on my nearly seven months through Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkey gives me a sense of confidence and accomplishment. I’m still quite ignorant about Asia’s history, culture, and contemporary events, but I sure had a good time along the silk road. Experience is something that is easy to question, but very difficult to take away. I didn’t travel bicycle-touring-style as much as intended, but I made more progress with foreign language than expected. Bike touring is an awesome way to adventure, but it’s much better with company.
The Yunnan province of China is stunningly beautiful and painfully mountainous.
Highlights in China were:
Lunar New Year celebrations in the countryside of
Guangxi province, exploring Nanning by bicycle while
staying with an art professor and his family, visiting my
English teaching buddy Elliot in Beijing, and zipping
Westward through Xinjiang (Chinastan) to Central Asia.
Due to Chinese visa restrictions, it proved necessary
for me to make several border crossings between
Vietnam and the PRC. That’s okay, I enjoyed multiple
visits to Hanoi and took the train to Saigon to meet
with my parents during their medical expedition there.
The US war on the Vietnam was one of the more tragic
episode of America’s history. I had many emotional
interactions with the Vietnamese, who are fun-loving,
hard-working, friendly, resilient, and humorous people.
I still have a lot to learn about the Cold War. Our similar
modern day tragedy is the US invasion of Iraq – built
on lies and manipulative motivations. Support our
veterans, listen to their stories. Yes, religious extremism
is a global problem. I was happy to see the ten year
anniversary of 9/11 pass uneventfully. After spending
three months in Muslim regions of China, Central Asia,
and Turkey I appreciate that 99% of these people are
the same as everyone else – good humans. I was never
threatened, and as an American I was received very
warmly. Terrorism is the murder of innocent people.
By the way please note: Muslim is not a synonym for
terrorist. Anyway, everywhere I go, people dream to go
to America. Now, more than ever, I appreciate the USA
– freedom of speech, national parks, jazz, samba, good
coffee, good beer, and a diversity of people.
Central Asia is a poor region mostly ruled by
dictators. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and to a lesser
extent Kazahkstan are resource-rich. Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan have water, mountains, goats, friendly people,
and not many other economic resources. Osh,
Kyrgyzstan may not typically draw tourists for a three
week stay. However, the Fergana Valley that it borders
has been a critical region for the Silk road, agriculture,
and the golden age of Islamic intellectual thought. In
Tajikistan I had a week in the northern city of Khujand
(fka Leninabad), about a week in the capitol of
Dushanbe (fka Stalinabad), and two weeks in the Pamir
mountains across a river from Afghanistan, near the
Wakkan corridor. During my two months in the region I
met dozens of friendly students who were happy to
practice English through explanations of culture, ideas,
and history in addition to helping me learn broken
Russian and Tajik/Farsi. Now I can read the Cyrillic
(Russian) alphabet, very slowly. One of the best
aspects of passing through Central Asia was
contemplating the Soviet Union and observing its relics
twenty years after its dis-integration. Special thanks to
Mikey Church for making the journey through Central
Asia an idea in the first place.
Istanbul (fka Constantinople) is one of the most
important cities of the world, and has been for a long
time. Location, location, location. The Anatolian
peninsula (Turkey) was a critical area for the early
survival of Christianity prior to it becoming the official
religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in the
early 4th century CE. It’s definitely a shame my total of
five weeks in Turkey has only been spent in Istanbul.
However, it’s such an engaging place I’ve found it hard
to get away. I learned to speak Turkish at a very basic
level, which is sort of a creole language the Ottomans
developed through the gradual blend of Arabic, Farsi
(Persian), and even some French. Ataturk (Turkey’s
George Washington) was an aggressive secularist and
he engineered the switch from Perso-Arabic script to a
slightly modified Roman alphabet, making the language
more accessible for westerners. In Istanbul I did a
whole lot of walking with my guitar, met some Chinese
to spend a few days bantering with in Mandarin,
stayed with some generous local fellows my age in
their Asian-side apartment, provided the background
music for street-performing Russian mimes, played a
lot a backgammon (aka tavla), rode ferries across the
Bosphorus strait, went to a wedding, and bought a 1947
Larousse French encyclopedic dictionary. Now it’s time
to jump back into the French language to facilitate better
communication in West Africa next year.
My travels follow the “developing country” theme.
I study history and language on-the-go. Europe and
America are in a crisis of sorts. Really I think it’s mostly
a seismic shift in the global balance. It’s not the end of
the world. The high standards of living in “the West” are
the inheritance of centuries of European international
policy, industrialization, effective political organization,
technology (guns, transport), and maybe some good
luck. I wouldn’t call it manifest destiny. So what
may seem like a falling sky is mostly an adjustment.
Things are getting better for some people in some
developing countries. They are competing, rather
successfully, against Europe and America. So yes, (un)
employment is a problem. Over-indebtedness is a little
more complicated to analyze – that’s a more modern
phenomenon. I’ll get into that a bit below.
the importance of music
Between January and July with the passing of time I
came to miss music more and more – and I even had a
guitar with me. China, Vietnam, and Central Asia all
have music. I went to the central parks of Chinese
megacities to listen to the wise elders sing the classics
and challenge them to chess. In Hanoi I found myself in
three different touristic venues that all played Kenny G.
In Saigon my hosts at a restaurant learned that I wasn’t
enjoying the Kenny G, so they asked the owner to
change the music. What came next? A different Kenny
G album. Asian Karaoke is fun – sing-songy love
ballads, American pop super-hits. But the Chinese are
even more averse to dancing than Americans. In
Central Asia and Western China I bumped into
some “Middle-Eastern style” drumming that started to
hit the spot. Some good stuff, but heavy doses of
soulless electronic dance music assauls the senses with
greater frequency. That’s alright, at least it gets
people dancing. Some of the old folks could sing old
Russian songs. Flying from Dushanbe to Istanbul was
exhilarating – from a country of about seven million
people to a city of perhaps over fifteen million.
Dushanbe was nice to leave in a way. An American guy
with Tajik language skills helped me check my bike on
the plane. He hadn’t registered properly when in the
country and wasn’t carrying cash so I had to spot him
$50 – which was barely enoughly to bribe the
customs “officials” and barely catch the flight. It left me
with a somewhat bad taste about Central Asia. After
almost six months of being treated like a celebrity all the
time it was refreshing to be an ordinary person again in
Istanbul. Istanbul is a musical city. If you ever go there,
head straight for Istiklal (Freedom) Street in the Taksim
district. It’s just north of the Golden Horn from the
oldest and most touristic part of the city where the Blue
mosque and Haghia/Aya Sophia are. By the way, from
the inside, the Aya Sofia is probably the most amazing
building I’ve even seen. From the outside I’d still give
the prize to the Taj Mahal. Anyway, the reason to go to
Taksim in Istanbul is because there are street
performers there all hours of the day, and it is the street
with the densest concentration of music venues in the
city. Istanbul has something like 45 universities, and
the students join the foreign tourists on Istiklal for
recreation and relaxation. Lively. Rivers of people.
I love music. I like playing bass, guitar, and drums,
but the drive to learn piano has taken over. Particularly,
I would like to be able to carry the torch of jazz tradition
and learn hundreds of jazz standards so I can do my
part to keep my favorite type of music alive and well.
I printed off a bundle of sheet music and had it bound
into a book that I’ll be carrying around with me for the
next several months so I can work toward this goal
in Missouri, Oregon, and Colorado where there are
pianos available. I love to play music with groups.
Jam sessions. Improvisation. Folk tunes. Honest
music. Electricity is not essential for the creation of
music. Radio and televison certainly isn’t. Bah! Kids
I will be heading into Africa with the little
Vietnamese guitar pictured below, and as in the past
I expect music to be my greatest asset for connecting
with people, cross-cultural immersion, and plain old
good times. Since my favorite music – Jazz, samba,
chorinho, blues – has some heavy doses of African
influence (all due to forced migration through slavery,
let’s remember) then I reckon it’s about time for me to
trace the roots.
I think I might enjoy getting to know
African culture at the source.
After all, we’re all from
Africa. I guess I’m going home.
begin October 17th…
Lately I’ve been listening to African music thanks to internet radio, and I’ll go ahead and make some recommendations in case you’re interested to hear for yourself.
African music is not well known in the USA, and I think we’re really missing out.
Some recommended music for enlightened listening:
Youssou N’Dour, Fela Kuti, Franco and OK Jazz, Highlife music, and Afrobeat. Check out “escolas de samba”, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Chico Buarque, Luiz Gonzaga, Pixinguinha, and Cartola from Brasil. For the
a taste of the roots of American music, turn to Robert
Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Hank Williams (Sr!), Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and maybe watch some movies by the folklore chronicler Alan Lomax. Taste is subjective. I’m just saying maybe you’ll like some of this stuff. I’m restraining myself from typing too long of a list.
“the worst financial crisis in eight decades” – <…>
Alright, so it’s been five years since the financial crisis of 2007/2008 got going, and how’s the situation?
Well, lots of people sure are mad. Allocating blame seems to be everyone’s part-time job. I haven’t heard many solutions, though. The atmosphere is a bit toxic. Stocks are volatile. Europe is in severe political crisis. American politics have polarized even more than the extreme unpleasantness leading to the 2008. So what is to be done?
First I’ll present some facts. You’ve probably heard most of these before. US interest rates are at an alltime low – the lowest they can be lowered. The US government is borrowing for ten years at 2.15% – that’s cheap. US mortgage rates have dropped well below 5%/yr – the lowest in, what, 60 years? Or was it the lowest ever? The stock market has been volatile (that means all over the place). Right now the DOW Jones Industrial average is at 10,400, give or take several hundred. That’s a lot higher than the low in Mar 2009 of ~7,000. It’s also a lot lower than the Nov 2007 high of ~14,000. Oil is $86/barrel – it’s been all over the place.
Gold hit an all-time high, and then fell dramatically –
values are still very high. The Chinese Yuan has been loosened a bit, allowed to float and appreciate relative to other currencies more quickly. Not quickly enough for many American politicians, eager for a scapegoat for our domestic problems. US unemployment is officially 9.1%. European unemployment is something like that too. Developing countries are still developing. Chinese growth has slowed a bit, but this has been deliberate since their government has raised interest rates to combat inflation. The official inflation rate in America (how quickly your money loses value) is something like 2%/yr. Economists and the politically passionate debate whether we’re headed for Great Depression-style deflation or 1930’s Germany/2010’s Zimbabwe – style inflation. Stop. Breathe. It sounds like the trailer for a very exciting movie, I think.
So what? I wish I knew. Most likely it will be a long slog. Maybe less exciting than we would be lead to believe by the headlines. My advice is the same – live below your means, save money, study hard, make lots of friends, enjoy the ride. The 2012 election is a big focus. Right now Europe looks most worse than America, if that makes you feel better. It’s been worse before, if that makes you feel better.
… There are certain trends that don’t look like they will reverse – the middle class will shrink in America
and Europe, the gap between rich and poor will increase
worldwide, the largest multi-national corporations of the world will reign, more and more people will learn to speak English, Partisanism will cause Congress to continue to miss opportunities to actually fix problems, most cars will get smaller, slowly more Americans will ride bikes (okay with me), homes will be foreclosed, home prices will fall further (I don’t like to say this, but I believe it), the Chinese middle class will expand, most governments in less developed countries will remain corrupt, banks will remain of questionable stability, financial markets will be volatile, Obama will be blamed for everything, I will never like chihuahuas, hot dogs will never really be food, there will never be a free lunch….
This sounds awful bad I guess. The good news is that things will gradually get better. Take the long view, go where the puck is going. Adapt. A wildfire creates fertile soul. Business school made me a bit glum, and then something exciting happened right after I got my first gig: A Panic! When the crisis first started, I sort of thought it would be alright if things came crashing down – the financial system was rotten and we could start fresh. Let banks fail if they deserve it! Bailouts prevented the scorched earth scenario from manifesting. I was a kid without any money, …? In hindsight, it could have been much, much worse. Fallout is severe in a worst case scenario. If all the banks fail? Well that would’ve been pretty bad, actually. A criticism of the stimulus has been “look! It didn’t work! things still …!” It cannot be determined what would have been without the government actions that occurred. I believe things would have been much worse. Unemployment of 25%. Yes, government debt is a serious problem. The debate is and will be – austerity or not? Balanced budget, or not? The federal reserve says “first economic recovery, then gradual cuts”. I sort of agree. If we balance the budget in 2013, think of all the government layoffs – unemployment would increase substantially. Yes, maybe it would be worth it. Here’s a fun game – you balance the budget!
Go to one of those federal websites and look at the breakdown of where the money goes. Then you fix it. It’s a good way to inform yourself for the political campaigns of the coming year.
I don’t think the president can really fix the economy, anyway, but I guess they can screw it up more. Actually my biggest personal priority for choosing a president is their foreign policy. Lately it’s all about the economy though. If Obama gets ousted, what solutions will be implemented by a new administration? Stay tuned to find out if we find out.
I’ve come to thinking that this whole mess isn’t any kind of “their” fault – it’s “our” fault. Who caused the financial crisis? Americans. Europeans. Our consumer decisions, maybe? What about over-spending at the indidivual level? Whose fault is that? I’m still thinking about it.
Probably the government got way too big during the Cold War, perhaps and that’s what this all comes down to. I don’t know. I enjoy trying to figure it out. The scary thing is that political leadership across the board seems to be lacking. There’s no cooperation. No one seems to understand what they’re talking about. The rhetoric is inflammatory and populist. The best leader for America is someone who can stop this polarization of the country from getting worse. I’m hoping hoarding gold, guns, and ammunition turns out to be a bad investment strategy <because we’ll see sunnier scenarios>. Keep calm, carry on. Sorry I couldn’t paint a rosier picture for you… but don’t forget what Gandhi said: “be the change you wish to see in the world”. In the 1930’s a golden era of music blossomed.… afrer Nanning, China …of Guangxi
For now, the plan is two or three month in Ethiopia – initially with some friends from Portland and then on my own with the locals. From there I hope to move on to West Africa for three to four months. March – May is the hottest time of the year in many parts of West Africa, so maybe I’ll go on a digression to Mozambique or something. Flying around Africa is not cheap. I expect to be able to use and improve my French conversational skills, maybe some Portuguese, and probably some Chinese. I’d like to get into some volunteer teaching. After Africa I hope to meet my parents in Europe sometime in the late summer, and from there I don’t know where I’ll go. Starting in January 2013 my sister and I plan to travel for a few months together, and that will be the grand finale. Then I’ll … fall in love, have some babies, get old, and all that. … … …
Thanks for … supporting my rambling lifestyle through your enthusiasm and encouragement.
take it easy, be well, be real, be honest, Eric
end note: By now I send this email update/newsletter to… It’s been a great way for me to practice my writing for a broad audience. … But please understand, I’m trying to limit the amount of time that I use computers. I’ll write an update around New Year’s Eve with more thoughts and information about Africa. Probably the Q1 and Q2 2012 emails will be pretty sparse and Spartan, since I plan to be immersed in Africa. The internet is becoming ubiquitous, so probably staying in touch won’t be too difficult, unless I go someplace really cool…
Eric’s Quarterly Update — Q4 2011
from the comfort and familiarity of … suburbs to mythical never-been-colonized Ethiopia
Happy New Year! Good tidings from Africa! … … from Vietnam, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Istanbul,…
– Denver, London, Istanbul, Bahrain, AFRICA
– the last four months in America
> reading about Africa
> learning jazz piano
– here goes African Odyssey #1
– the world economy in 2012
It was unplanned, but my return to the states coincided with the American football
season. It helped me feel like I was really in America. The Denver Broncos hype about quarterback … was highly amusing, and I was happy to be back
home with my family. From August 15 to Jan 5 it was –
– Six weeks in Colorado – a flight with
my sister to Florida to visit Granddad for his
birthday – a bus ride to southern Alabama … – with them, my first trip to
Disney World – a long bus ride to … Missouri –
three weeks there with Grandma – a week at Enid, Oklahoma with … – a
month in Portland, Oregon – a quick trip to Denver and back for Thanksgiving – two days in Seattle with my “Bodhisattva” buddy Trenton after a northward train ride – three weeks back in Denver for Christmas…
Now I’m in Awassa, Ethiopia, five hours (200 km) south
of the capitol Addis Ababa after flights through London,
Istanbul, and Bahrain.
Here in Ethiopia, I was granted a three-month visa on
arrival for $20. I can stay until April 11th, and maybe I
will. I would enjoy getting down south to Portuguesespeaking Mozambique, and might maybe perhaps. For
certain, I intend to fly to West Africa – probably Mali,
Burkina Faso, and Ghana, perhaps maybe Senegal and/
or Cabo Verde too. I’ll remember quality over quantity,
though. Right now I’m relieved to have no flights
booked, leaving the adventure flexible and adaptable.
There are about eighty languages in Ethiopia. Ethiopia
has never been successfully conquered by
foreigners. Britain and America bolstered Haile Selassie
(Jah, Ras Tafari!) as Italy tried and failed from 1936 to
1941. Ethiopia is the only African country that can claim
this besides Liberia. That’s another complicated story
though. The primary language here is Amharic. I have
some simple phrasebooks and am doing my best to
learn how to communicate.
After the festivities of Timkat (“Epiphany” – John the
Baptist’s baptism of Jesus Christ) things are settling
down a bit, and I’ve been having fun with Adam, Emilia,
and their Ethiopian and “Fareng” (foreign) friends
here. If you don’t know, Adam and Emilia are two good
friends of mine from Portland, Oregon who invited me
to come check out the scene here in Awassa as Adam,
PhD student of anthropology, finishes his semester of
I’d like to draw your attention to Emilia’s web-log,
or “blog” if you will:
chock full ‘o photos for all y’all to check out the local
scene in Awassa. She started it four months ago, and
it’s a great way to get a sense of life in and around the
city of 250,000 souls here.
My adventure in Ethiopia started only recently, so I’ll
save writing about it for later. By The end of March or
early April I’ll write again, probably from West Africa.
Really most of what has occurred over the last months
for me has been in the United States of America. Family
time. Visits with Grandmother … and other … Granddad’s 86th birthday in …
Florida with a convergence of his sons, grandchildren,
and sister-in-law. I was honored to be with …during last two chemotherapy treatments, and to return again in mid-December
to accompany … final radiation treatments. Both 2010 and 2011 have been tough
years for … and I’m rooting for a much more
pleasant 2012. Hopefully they’ll join me for some sort of
vacation this summer, maybe in France.
Back in the USA … as a student at an
imaginary graduate school getting an imaginary degree
in globalization… To prepare for this African adventure,
and to enjoy the libraries full of books in English, I checked out literature about
and did my best to soak up the content before embarkation. In addition, I launched a new
pursuit that I envisioned somewhere along the silk road
last year. See, I really like jazz music, and I think the
piano is a powerful and wonderful instrument.
Therefore, I printed off the musical charts for 200 or so
songs that are already familiar and important to me, had
it spiral-bound, and did my best to apply my existing
knowledge of music theory and harmony to becoming a
decent, respectable jazz pianist. It’ll be a long slog.
Jazz piano is not easy, but I consider it an awesome
human phenomenon. I would love to participate in the
tradition, so as a long-term goal I’ve decided to devote
my efforts toward learning to play and play well. I’m
singing too, and inshallah dancing skills will gradually
develop as well. There are negative racial/national
stereotypes about white gringos dancing, but I’ve found
the joy of music is best experienced if the critics are
marginalized and the analytical aspects of the mind are
pacified. In other words, try, do, and you can and will.
Dec 12 – Jan 5 at my folks’ house, I enjoyed the
company of brother and sister-in-law for a week and my
sister for two weeks as she was home between
semesters from Colorado State University in Fort
Collins. Her and I watch the full Ken Burns’ history of
Jazz video documentary series – 19 hours. The final
episode finishes in the 1970s when Duke Ellington and
Louis Armstrong die and jazz has dramatically declined
in popularity since the 1940s. No mention is made of
Kenny G (word is he just got divorced). The civil rights
movement and the factors that necessitated it were
prominent and thought-provoking themes throughout
the film. I enjoy jazz from the 1920s through the 1960s
the most since it tells these stories of life in a
segregated America that are healthy for a young chap
to meditate on. And, it swings. I’d call jazz America’s
Oh, by the way, if you want to hear some of Ethiopia’s
best music on offer I can recommend Mulatu Astatke
(vibes) and Mahmoud Ahmed (vocals), in addition to the
french-released “ethiopiques” compilations. All from the
organic drummer and horn section era preceding the
tragic inventions of drum machines and synthesizers.
From Nigeria, I can again highly recommend “father of
afrobeat” Fela Kuti. From the Congo/Kinshasa I can
again recommend Franco and OK Jazz (Afro-Cuban
So, anyway, two weeks with sister Anna Rose was more
than I’ve had with her since I moved out of the nest and
got going at the University of Colorado in Boulder nine
years ago. Priceless to have time to talk and give each
other some support in this mad mad mad world. She’s
the same and only sister who I will travel with when she
graduates in December of this year. Destination(s) to
be determined. That’ll about do it for my world traveling,
then maybe perhaps I’ll get a job and settle down.
Maybe in the USA, or maybe Brazil, Africa, or China.
We did some paintings together, none of which I have
photos of at this time (sorry). They weren’t that good
anyway. Our father was gracious enough to sit still for
three hours as my sister and I painted his portrait. My
sister did a great job of blending the oil colors, but mine,
though it had a striking resemblance to dad, also looked
creepy and zombie-like since his face was shades of
white, red, pink, blue, black, grey, green, and yellow and
I neglected to paint his eyelids.
My piano playing still hasn’t evolved much, though I
can put on a cute amateurish show for small groups.
Insert proverb about hard work and patience leading to
I can’t really tell you now how long I’ll be in Africa.
Probably through the end of May 2012, and then I’ll fly
from West Africa to Europe to meditate on colonization
for a month or so. Then what? No airfare booked yet,
THE WORLD ECONOMY 2012
Pianos and anvils are still falling from the sky, but
in more isolated locations than during prior years.
Let’s call 2012 the year that optimists win out and
surprise the doomsday prophesies. Admittedly, the
situation in America looks better than in Europe and
China. Forecasting and predicting can be careless
and embarrassing business, so I’ll tread carefully.
What I can tell you is that today the USA DOW JONES
stockmarket is up around a two year high (12,700ish),
and nearing the all-time-high from late 2007 (14,100).
The US Dollar has mostly strengthened over the last
year (no other large safe-haven currency alternatives
exist during times of panic, fear, and uncertainty) – A
Euro will get you about $1.30, down from 1.6 in the past:
Also, the unemployment rate in the USA has decreased,
from just under 10% as Obama settled into the
white house, to 8.5% now.
unemployment rates ..
Like official technical measurements of
inflation, unemployment is tough to quantify
flawlessly. Nowadays, Europe and America face
similar challenges – high costs of labor. Hence high
If inflation is what you’re into, check this out:
The CPI (consumer price index) clocked in at 3.0% for
2011, compared with 1.5% in 2010. That means your
dollar lost 3% of its buying power last year.
If you wanna check out a well laid-out comparison of
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by country, including
historical numbers, look no further than this link:
GDP represents that quantified value of all goods and
services created in one year in a particular country. The
USA is #1 on the list. China is now #2, recently
surpassing Japan and Germany. GDP and annual
GDP growth is not necessarily the best and only way of
measuring progress and well-being but we the numbers
it that way.
financial analysis, update
A few <humble> thoughts and reflectionsabout what to think about in 2012 from the finance/economics perspective:
– live below your means, save money – don’t buy stuff you don’t need, save money – if you have debt, do your best to pay it off – consider driving less and walking, bicycling, ride-sharing, and taking public transit more – don’t smoke, don’t eat too much, eat healthy, get exercise? The main causes of preventable disease in the USA are obesity and cigarette smoking (and healthcare ain’t gettin’ any cheaper) – learn to speak Mandarin Chinese? – don’t panic, stay calm, smile and laugh to prevent stress, take a deep breath
Europe’s crisis: Call it a debt crisis, call it a political crisis, either works. Folks in the European Union surely have a diversity of feelings and opinions about the various tense situations that have developed there. Time will tell if the EU and the Euro currency hold together…
Europe was largely destroyed after World War Two, and then hosted the Cold War confrontation between the USA and the USSR for 45 years. I suppose overall the situation is better now, but Europe has less flexibility than America to weather the ongoing financial crises since it is a looser federation without a strong centralized bureaucracy to steer the ship, for better or worse.
Looking at GDP growth expectations for 2012, a case could be made that the USA’s stimulus measures may be vindicated as Europe slips into recession in wake of austerity and America continues with slow gradual improvement. It’s maybe not so simple. For spins on this, check out Obama’s 2012 state of the union address and/or the ongoing Republican primary debates and candidate speeches (Newt, Mitt). Polarization. Let’s be civil. Enough said.
China is expected to growth its GDP at over 8% this year. That’s incredible, especially since they’ve been growing so quickly for decades now. It’s not only scaring Americans, but also the world.
As China’s economic magnitude increases, its approach to international diplomacy needs to mature commensurately. Of course, America’s diplomacy can be equally terrifying to those if affects (bombs, drone strikes, leftover cold war guns), so I’ll reserve my judgment and choose humanism over nationalism. God bless America and everyone else. Anyway, China seems to have a housing bubble, consumer debt bubble, major environmental degradation and pollution tragedies, and a very difficult labor market for young college graduates. GDP growth ain’t everything, after all. In addition, the Chinese stock market did worse than the USA markets in 2011. In 2012, watch China – it’s a big wild card. China’s economy will grow to be larger than America’s in about ten years, IF they maintain current GDP growth rates. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.
Much Chinese growth has come from cheap manufacturing labor, pirated goods made from stolen intellectual property, and an artificially weak Yuan which
boosts export competitiveness. These relative
advantages may prove unsustainable. The good news
is America and China are mutually dependent. Sort of
heavy stuff, I suppose.
So I hope I didn’t overdue the rants. I try to be fair and objective and give useful information. It’s tough out there, so emotions are running high. I’m energized from my time in the United States, and I’m happy to be in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time. I’ve got my miniature black guitar from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Apr 2011 and I’m ready to engage with all the musicians I can find. I learned how to write “reap what you sow” in Ethiopian Amharic, and will add the etching to the existing equivalent carvings in Russian, Farsi, Turkish, and Chinese on my guitar.
How can one travel the world and miss Africa? It’s such a huge continent I suppose I may need to come back later if I want to experience a wider variety of geographies. Culturally, historically, musically, Ethiopia has plenty to offer. It’s the size of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico put together. I’ll start reviewing my
french to get ready for Mali and Burkina Faso. Ghana ought to be easy. They speak English and they’re considered one of the friendliest countries on the continent. I’d call that a good start. … Take care!
I wish you good health! “tena yestuhlain”
Slowly slowly an egg learns to walk “cass bih cass unkoolel begoor eehuhdell”
Jan 24 2012
Eric’s Q1 2012 update from Abyssinia
(Ethiopia is cool, don’t worry) March 31st, 2012
Hello folks! “Selam no? Dena nachoo? Exhabier
I’ve been in Ethiopia since January 12th, and early early
Sunday morning April 1st I’ll fly to Johannesburg, South
Africa with Kenya Airways via Djibouti and Nairobi.
From there the plan is to go to Mozambique for a month
of beach-bumming, Portuguese speaking, music
making, history reading, and sunrise watching. On May
8th I’ll fly from Johannesburg (not so far from Maputo,
so I’ll go back) to Accra, Ghana. On June 7th there is
another flight from Accra to Paris via London. I’m about
halfway through my five-month African adventure, and
so far it’s been all Ethiopia. I’ve made some new
friends, picked up some of the most prominent language
(Amharic), and also stumbled upon some enlightening
– Ethiopia – Greek for “land of the burnt faces”
– Global Economics – no problem! mostly.
– Music – Ethiopian scales and Afro-USA jazz
– End Note + some proverbs I like
– some photos of Ethiopia (that I did not take)
I didn’t come to Ethiopia with a lot of expectations. The
music, food, people, and lakeside bird-life have all been
pleasant surprises. I attached a photo of some common
food here during the fasting season – a variety of dishes
served on injera (the sour, spongy, very healthy
pancake-like base of most meals – made from a plant
called teff). You tear off a piece of injera with your rght
hand, pinch some goop, and shove it in your mouth.
The particular dish pictured is called “bay-eye-net”. The
photo includes some meat dishes, but during the fasting
time Orthodox Christians act vegetarian. There are also
photos of two of Ethiopia’s most important indigenous
musical instruments – the six-stringed harp-like krar, and
a single stringed sort-of-violin called a mesenko (an
instrument from ancient Egypt). Add some drums,
maybe a flute, and some dancers you’re ready for a
good time. Maybe check now Disney-owned youtube
for something like “Ethiopian dancing”, “Ethiopian
music”, or “Ethiopian traditional music”. The modern
pop music, sadly, includes a lot of synthesizers and
drum machines – cheaper to produce that way.
Ethiopia is home to one of the older continuous
civilizations in the world. (Mostly) Italy tried to colonize
the country (1880s-1940s), and it didn’t work out.
Ethiopians are proud that their country, unlike all of the
rest of Africa, was never colonized. Don’t tell me Liberia
wasn’t colonized – it was awkwardly colonized by
the “back to Africa” movement. From the 1930s into the
1970s Ethiopia was ruled by emperor/dictator/
Rastafarian messiah (Jah!) Ras Tafari Haile Gebre
Selassie (not to be confused with world-record breaking
marathon runner also Haile Gebre Selassie). After that
Ethiopia had a socialist/communist government
called “the DERG” (doesn’t it sound evil?) until the
collapse of the USSR in 1991. Since then they’ve had
the same Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, and his party
has stayed in control. Depending on who you ask the
current political system is either a democracy or a
dictatorship. Relations with Eritrea and Somalia are not
so good. Relations with Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan,
Kenya, and not-internationally-recognized Somaliland
(North Somali, aka “Puntland”) are mostly harmonious.
Relations with America are so good that Ethiopia
sometimes sends troops and tanks to Somalia on the
USA’s behalf. By the way, Eritrea used to be part of
Ethiopia. Most imports come through the port of
Ethiopian people are generally rather outgoing
(foreigners get a lot of attention when they walk on the
street), and their directness can sometimes feel a bit
rude or invasive. There are many beggars, particularly
in the cities. Walking around with my little black guitar
from Vietnam maybe draws more shouts than may
occur otherwise, but I need to make the most of my time
so why not practice on the go? Also, people perceive
me to be a musician, and that usually helps the firstimpression judgments. Typical things yelled at a
foreigner, by order of frequency, include “you! (“anta!”),
come! (“na!”), foreigner! (“farenj!”), (give me) money!
(“genzeb! seteny!”), or “play a song!”.
Economically, things are very tough here. The average
person makes something like $300 a year, which gives
them about $700 of purchasing power when compared
to life in the USA (about $45k/person/year). Due to the
country’s imbalance between imports (many) and
exports (few) the current annualized inflation rate is
35%. That’s bad news. The country imports a lot of oil,
and receives a lot of international food aid. India,
China, Tajikistan, Vietnam, and Kyrgyzstan have large
numbers of people living in comparable poverty, so the
experience wasn’t totally new for me, but each situation
has its particularities. Many Ethiopian women go to the
Arab world to work as domestic servants to earn better
wages. The USA offers a “visa lottery” for Ethiopians –
their odds of getting in aren’t good, but for many, the
USA is the promised land.
You can look at the maps I’ve attached to locate
Ethiopia (in Northeast Africa, near Saudi Arabia), and
get an idea of where I’ve been. In the last two and a
half months I’ve made my way to Addis Ababa, Awassa,
Sodo, Shashamene, Gonder, Bahir Dar, Lalibela, and a
little village named Argisa (means aloe vera) across
Lake Awassa from Awassa city. There I spent my 28th
Birthday with a kindly woman named Sister Donna who
has spent the last 31 years of her life working with
orphans in Japan and Ethiopia. My piano student friend
Beruk joined me on the journey. I made three trips to
Awassa in all – five hours South of Addis Ababa (the
capitol) – I love the lake and all of the birds it attracts.
Kingfishers, Maribu storks (see photo), Egyptian geese,
Ibises, ducks, fish eagles, a bunch of small beautiful
songbirds, and a myriad mix of birds I can’t identify.
Of the photos attached, the only site I didn’t actually visit
was Aksum, the ancient capitol of Ethiopia, famous for
its huge obelisks. I was in Bahir Dar for a week, by
Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, which links with the
White Nile from Lake Victoria and they make their way
merrily North through South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt
to the Mediterranean. I visited Lalibela and its
famous “monolithic rock-hewn churches” for four days.
I was in Gonder for five days or so, and saw the 400
year old Fasil castle and a lovely church there. Gonder
is near the Simian mountains (Ethiopia’s highest peaks),
but I didn’t make it to those this time around. Bahir Dar,
Gonder, and Lalibela are in the northern Amhara region
of Ethiopia. Aksum is further North, near Eritrea (the
Tigray region). Awassa is South of Addis in the
northern part of the great African rift valley and its
accompanying lakes. My Portland friends Adam and
Emilia had been living in Awassa, working at the
university for several months by the time I arrived in
Ethiopia, and I began my adventure by spending two
relaxing weeks with them. A great introduction.
Probably about half of my time has been passed in
Addis Ababa, the third highest capitol in the world. I
selected four photos from the web to represent the
place. You can catch a minibus anywhere quite easily
and cheaply, and its a fun way to get around. I’ll miss it
when I’m back in the USA, where we think we all need
cars. Centrally-located Merkato is considered to be
perhaps Africa’s largest market. My first experience in
Addis was two weeks with two women from Australia named Ruth and Har who came here with their
for six weeks to jive with the local music scene – a very serendipitous encounter, since I’m in Africa for the music too. We formed a nice gang until they had to leave.
One way and another, I also found a pleasant elementary school with 94 K-2 students and nine teachers and spent nearly a month volunteering there 9
am to 5 pm. Since I’m on the trajectory to be a teacher,
it was priceless experience for learning patience,
communication skills, and teaching methodology.
During the day I helped in classes, often teaching the
lessons, and in the afternoon I held English classes for
the teachers. They sent me off with a very warm
goodbye and it was sad to go. It was sad because we
had such a good time, I suppose. If we didn’t have a
good time they’d be happy to see me go. In addition to
these activities I found an African brother in my new
friend Beruk, who is a bright student studying classical
piano at the country’s most prestigious music school.
We’ve had many, many meals together over the weeks
and he’s explained a bit about the culture. Ruth and
Harriet put together a big band with some of the
students at his school and after they flew back to
Australia Beruk and I began working together to develop
our jazz piano skills. I’ve been staying with his family for
the last ten days, and this evening his father will drive
me to the airport so I can make my way to
Johannesburg, South Africa and then go overland to
One more thing I forgot to mention – the coffee
(“Boonna”) ceremony! Ethiopia grows a lot of coffee.
Unfortunately for them, international prices tanked in the
1990s and it really hurt the national economy. When
someone invites you for coffee served the traditional
way, you’d better not be in a hurry. They roast the
beans, crush them, start up a charcoal fire, put the
coffee on, light some incense, and serve you some
popcorn. All in all you’re gonna need at least an hour.
It’s a nice social event, and the smell of frankincense is
something I’ll miss. One more thing I forgot to tell you,
the country’s religions are (Ethio-)Orthodox Christian,
Muslim, and Protestant. The country has little violence,
because people fear God. Good people, sweet, really.
Like India, watch out for the motor vehicles, not the
people. Maybe they’ll lie to you or steal from you, but
they won’t hurt you. Unlike Brazil or Detroit.
Overall, Ethiopia has been a very positive growing
experience for me. Yet another adventure that helps
me appreciate life in my home country in new ways (but
I still hate TV). I have some good friends in Africa now,
and I’m ready to spend a month in Mozambique and a
month in Ghana to sample a few slivers of Africa’s vast
diversity. If you look at that Africa map, my planned
route will make a big triangle from NE to south to West,
and I’m pretty excited about that… by the end of June I’ll
be back in the comfort and luxury of the ex-colonizers’
world, dans la France, hopefully traveling around with
I’m gonna lean qualitative over quantitative. What’s
new? Oil is more expensive now. The USA stock markets (Dow Jones, S&P500, NASDAQ) are higher.
The USA unemployment rate has dropped to almost 8%
– the best in four years. USA consumer sentiment is also the best it has been in four years. Some concerns about the Chinese economy – slowing growth, maybe bad bank loans, housing bubble, inflation, those same old concerns about pollution. North Korea, Iran, Israel, and Syria are getting a lot of press as bad actors they are. European Union debt/political crisis carries on.
Presidential election in France. Greece still center
stage – rioters versus government austerity reforms and
foreign banks. Brazil, India, and Russia still doing their
thing. Australia selling a lot of metals to China. China
selling a lot of manufactured stuff to everybody. Africa
is still poor and most of its governments are rotten and
ineffective. Overall, things are not worse than a year
ago, so that’s something to celebrate. Nothing has
gone terribly wrong, and that’s pretty good for a year
people say may be the end.
If you care to read about these things, I
recommend bloomberg.com,economist.com, bbc.co.uk,
or nytimes.com. If you care to understand anything,
turn off your television and go to the library. Do you
think the political climate in the 2012election will be
more toxic than 2008? Any predicted outcomes? I’m
curious to hear your ideas and hopes. I looks like the
choice will come down to Barack versus Mitt. I’ll try to
stay away for as long as I can….*** For me, the most
important issue of2012 is – please please please no war
My short, medium, and long term prognosis for America
and Americans is the same — pay off debt, avoid debt,
study hard, work hard, live below your means, save
money, sell your car, ride a bus, ride a bike, lose some
weight, smile and you’ll have more friends, scowl and
you’ll have wrinkles.
Want to hear some Ethiopian music from the golden
era? From the 1960s-1970s the big stars were
Mahmoud Ahmed, Telahun Gesese, Alemayu Eshete,
Melatu Estatke. Check ’em out online. I’ve learned the
Ethiopian pentatonic scales that give their music its
unique, exotic sound – Tezeta major/minor, Ambassel,
Batti, Anchihoye – good stuff. Some of it sounds a bit
Middle Eastern, harmonically. Rhythmically its rather
Ethiopian. Usually Ethiopian music has only one
drummer, different than the rest of Africa, where a big
posse bangs on skins together. The dancing is unusual
as well – don’t move your hips, and not much in the feet,
its all about the shoulders and neck. When you (a
foreigner) go to a traditional cultural music club, be
prepared to dance with the performers – they will come
to you, you must dance, and then you must stick a fresh
bill to their sweaty forehead to make them go away. I’m
not bad at the shoulder-dancing by now, but I’m not
great. The racist idea (in the West, but not here) that
white people can’t dance motivates me to keep on
practicing with all my best enthusiasm and positivity.
So yes, Ethiopian music is great. However, I don’t think
anything can usurp (1920s-1960s) jazz music’s position
in my mind, heart, and soul, as the boogie I really want
to be a part of. Brazilian and African music are still
pretty awesome, too. I’ve got a trendy ipod touch with
1700 songs on it, 350 of which are early Louis
Armstrong, and sometimes that’s really the best thing to
hit the spot. This is all just personal taste and opinion,
so I’ll stop wasting your time with it. Really there’s no
new news. Simply, I’m more motivated everyday to
figure out the piano and get really good at making it
make traditional jazz music. That might take a long,
long time, but I’ll try. Hanging out with Grandma Vera in
southern Missouri is a big help with this – she has a
Steinway grand piano, and she digs the same jive. I’ll
make my way there (to where Bible belt, mid-west, and
American south all converge) by the Autumn.
Well, I could write more about Ethiopia, but I don’t want
to tire you out. If you have any questions, you can ask.
If you come to Addis, you can meet my African brother
Beruk and he’ll show you around. Awassa was
probably my favorite place, on account of the beautiful
birds and the diversity of good-natured southern nations
people. So what’s next? I already told you.
Johannesburg, Mozambique, Johannesburg, Ghana,
Paris. Mali had a coup d’etat, by the way. Did you hear
about it? We’ll see if it sticks. By June I’ll be in Europe,
and I don’t yet have a ticket back to the USA, so that’s
still open-ended. In Europe, I’d like to practice my
French (I haven’t been in France since 1991), explore
the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo,
Macedonia, Albania), and maybe go join the other
Americans who are making bohemian Berlin less cool
by going there.
I hope you’re well. I’m always happy to receive your
responses to my updates. I try to make time to
respond, but I also try to keep myself busy with this
international immersion thing. Let me know what’s
new! How’s work, school, your family, and all that???
Right now it looks like I’ll keep on with this nomadic
lifestyle until about a year from now. In January my little
sister Anna Rose will finish university and we’ll go to a
foreign land of her fancy in January 2013. After that I
think I’ll be itching to work like a man is supposed to –
maybe a year in China so I can keep learning their
weird language. In case you’re jealous or baffled by my
seeming retirement since age 25, let me explain that it’s
my vision to work as a teacher until I die after I finish
this imaginary graduate degree. If I’m employed in the
field of education in developing countries maybe
retirement won’t be financially feasible, so I will end up
rather poor if everything goes as planned.
I wish you all the best! Take good care,
March 31st, 2012 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Africa
Here are a few quotes that I’ve found meaningful lately:
-A positive attitude will not solve all of your problems,
but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the
-If you judge people you will have no time to love them
-The one who asks questions along the way doesn’t get lost.
-If you ask a question you will be a fool for five minutes.
If you never ask, you will remain a fool forever.
-He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning
-He who conceals his disease cannot hope to be cured.
-The rhythm of the drum changes, then dancers must
-He who is in a hurry will step in shit (Ethiopia)
-It is impossible to walk with dignity when you are in a
-A great many people think that they are thinking when
they are merely rearranging their prejudice.
-You cannot depend on your eyes when your
imagination is out of focus (Mark Twain)
-He who knows how to flatter knows how to slander
-Some people cause happiness wherever they go;
others, whenever they go.
-No one is rich enough to buy his past
-A government is like a fire, a handy servant, but a
dangerous master (George Washington)
-Beware of the young doctor and the old barber (Ben
-Well done is better than well said (Ben Franklin)
-When all is said and done, more is said than done
-Am I not destroying my enemies when I make a friend
of them? (Abraham Lincoln)
-You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for
war. (Albert Einstein)
-It is the richest who are content with the least (Socrates)
-The safest place to put money is in your head.
-Goodness speaks in a whisper, evil shouts (Tibet)
-Lower your voice and strengthen your argument
-Words must be weighed, not counted (Polish)
-Examine what is said, not he who speaks (Arabic)
-Choose the neighbor before the house (Syria)
-He who travels alone can tell what he likes (Rwanda)
-If you want to travel fast, go alone, if you want to travel
far, go together (Africa)
-When two quarrel, both are to blame (Dutch)
-Anger is a bad adviser (Hungary)
-The best response to anger is silence.
-You can only take out of a bag what is already in it
-Who seeks a faultless friend will remain friendless
-Never advise anyone to go to war or marry (Spanish)
-Better to give a penny than to lend twenty (Italy)
-Lend you money and lose your friend (England)
-Eat vegetable and fear no creditor. Eat duck and hide.
-He is rich who owes nothing. (France)
-Promise is debt (England)
-Everyone love justice in the affairs of another (Italy)
-Where there is a sea there are pirates (Greek)
-A narrow mind has a broad tongue (Arabic)
-A stumble may prevent a fall (England)
-The shortest answer is doing (England)
-There is no luck except where there is discipline (Irish)
-One who takes his rank lightly raises his own dignity.
-Patience annoys no one.
-Fix the problem, not the blame. (Japan) ***
-If you believe everything you read, better not read
-An excess courtesy is discourtesy (Japan)
-A good sword is one left in its scabbard (Japan)
-Be silent, or say something better than silence
-Don’t use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s
-A courtyard common to all will be swept by none
-After three days without reading, talk becomes
-If the pocket is empty, the judge is deaf (Russia)
-A golden key unlocks everything (Ethiopia)
-When money speaks, the truth is silent (Russia)
-An enemy will agree but a friend will argue (Russia)
-The rich would have to eat money if the poor did not
provide the food (Russia)
-With lies you can go ahead in the world, but you can
never go back (Russia)
-When one is prepared difficulties do not come (Ethiopia)
-Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan
Eric ‘s World Travel Bulletin
June 23, 2012 (Second Quarter) — mostly unedited….
Ola from Lisbon, Portugal!
Okay, yes, I’m starting to feel a little guilty for having this much fun…
* Back from Africa
* Eurocrisis! Eurodrama!
* 2500 km, 40 day bicycle ride, July 1st to August 10th
* MUSIC!! SPECIAL FEATURE — Eric’s recordings from Mozambique
attached mp3 #1 — Chega de Saudade, Tom Jobim 1950s
Brazilian Bossa Nova
1930s USA Blues
* Take my AFRICA-QUIZ!
I survived Africa, and as far as I can tell at the moment am
completely healthy and well. In the first weeks of January I
flew from Denver to London to Istanbul to Bahrain to Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia. Three months in Ethiopia, awesome. In
early April some airplanes brought me to Johannesburg,
South Africa via Nairobi and I traveled overland to
Mozambique for an April of sunrises over the Indian Ocean
and some Portuguese language practice. Back in
Johannesburg I hopped onto a flight to Accra, Ghana for a
month of meditation upon the trans-Atlantic slave trade that
#2 — Steady Rollin’ Man, Robert Johnson
played a profound role in the development of culture and
wealth in the new world. June 8th I arrived in London for a
long layover which I spent at the British Museum (loot!) and
then journeyed to Paris for the first time since 1991. After
five days with my friends Martin and Karine I flew to Lisbon
to visit my Portuguese friends Filipa and Susana from
Mozambique and here I am. My dad is flying here for a week
of father-son time, and he is bringing my bicycle for me to
ride in a general northeasternly direction for forty days.
Now that I write about Africa, the verb “to fly” seems quite
prominent (sorry, eco-warriors!!)… maybe that’s where all my
money went… but I made a geographic triangle across the
African continent (MAP), and feel satisfied that my five
month investment was well worthwhile. In a sense, Africa
was the final frontier of my world travel. Now, where haven’t
I been? I think I grew a lot and got a pretty good idea of
what’s cookin’ in Africa. After a while, all the
(overwhelmingly positive) special attention I received as a
farenj/branco/obruni walking around with a miniature guitar
wore me down a bit, but now I’m back in Europe where I’m
much more ordinary and anonymous (and enjoying comfort,
luxury, tap water, salads). I knew the economic
demographics – most people are very poor in Africa and they
don’t live for very long. Like in India, you are constantly
being asked for something, and unfortunately, there are many
dishonest hustlers who specifically prey on tourists. I made it
out without getting ripped off but once. But as an empathetic
person, I felt frustrated and powerless that I couldn’t do more
to assist all the good hard-working people who are, as the late
great Fela Kuti said, “suffering and smiling”.
People in Africa mostly need money money money,
and my financial capacity is increasingly limited…
Africa was great. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it
always goes that way when I arrive someplace unfamiliar. It’s
always sloppy. Improvisation through chaos. The main thing
I would emphasize in anticipation of any questions
about “what was it like?” is the same thing I always say about
India and China – it is extraordinarily diverse. Most African
countries host 20-50+ languages and distinct ethnic groups.
Each country has a unique history and identity. Yes, the
borders are mostly relics of colonialism, but don’t generalize
about Africa. It’s irresponsible, and you’ll be guaranteed to
mostly misunderstand the realities. Wisdom begins with the
recognition of ignorance. If you care to learn more, I
recommend going to your local public library, finding the
small section about Africa, and getting a copy of John
Reader’s Africa: Biography of a Continent. Maybe you
should go to Africa. It’s safer than you think. Whether a
tourist or volunteer, you (and your money) will probably be
helping out. Of course, you can just send money, too.
Test your afro-knowledge, take my AFRO-QUIZ!
(answers below at bottom of email)
5+/13=A, 4/13=B, 1-3/13=C, not trying=F … It’s a generous
1. Where is Lagos? (The soon-to-be largest city in Africa)
2. Which African country has the largest economy?
(measured by GDP)
3. Who was Vasco de Gama? What did he do to become (in)
4. Name three African musicians
5. Where is Timbuktu? Why is it famous?
6. Which country is, by far, the most mountainous in Africa?
7. What is the Rift Valley?
8. Which West African country experienced a military coup
9. What are the three (or four) most prominent river systems
10. When did most African countries achieve political
11. According to scientists, when did modern humans migrate
from Africa, beginning their subsequent colonization of the
12. What is the only alphabet/script indigenous to Africa?
13. Where is Zanzibar? Why is it famous?
Five months in Africa
three in Ethiopia, one in Mozambique, one in Ghana, plus a
week in S.A.
JAN, FEB, MAR — for Ethiopia stories see Q1 update from
APRIL, MAY, JUNE — Joberg, southern Mozambique,
coastal Ghana, Europe
Some flash highlights….
South Africa – Johannesburg
Gold rush city! Arguably the center and genesis of
Apartheid. A rich, modern city. Not everyone is rich.
Unemployment is perhaps 20-25%. I met some locals and
they invited me to stay with them. Big thanks to Sandi, Phil,
et al! I visited the museums, rode around the local mini-bus
taxi system, and got a sense of how the hum sounds in the
economic center of the southern half of the continent. Not a
peaceful, relaxing place, unfortunately. The statistics tell the
story about violence. Maybe a bit of a Sao Paulo or Rio de
Janeiro vibe. Haves, have nots, tension… Easy access to
Mozambique. Cape Town is more mellow, and attracts more
tourists, I hear. South Africa has a huge, rich, diverse music
scene that is not know much internationally, but is quite
wonderful. I have a lot to learn about it. South Africa has
very strong fundamental economics for the future — more
mineral wealth for export than any country in the world.
They have officially been added to the BRICS group of big,
important developing countries : Brazil, Russia, India, China,
Mozambique – Inhambane
I didn’t quite make it up north to Beira, but thankfully I
escaped Maputo for my month in Mozambique. I was lucky
to meet two portuguese girls and spend a lot of time working
on my speaking and listening skills. Beaches. Marrabenta
music. I met some local musicians, and played in several
shows. You can hear two solo recordings I did attached to
this email. I hear Pemba is very nice, but that’s a four day bus
ride to the north. Mozambique has a long, long coastline –
just a swim away to Madagascar. Did you know they had a
civil war from 1976-1991? I think I have those dates right.
Read about the war and you’ll learn about Cold war politics –
USA and South Africa vs USSR
Ghana – Cape Coast, Elmina, Kumasi
formerly known as the Gold Coast, Europeans set up shop
about 500 years ago looking for Gold, then Ivory, Slaves…
There are something like 50 forts along the coast here, related
to European maritime trade and commercial ambitions to
control the region. The most noteworthy forts are at Cape
Coast (British) and Elmina (Dutch), rival castles 10 km away
from each other. They both have slave dungeons… I
recommend a visit for any American with the time and money
to make it there. Kumasi is the Ashanti capital inland. The
Ashanti enriched themselves selling gold to the Europeans,
and were feared slave raiders. They also bought slaves and
used them in human sacrifice rituals. Lots of good drumming
in Ghana, and yes, friendly people. Lots of Chinese, too. I
also ended up joining some professional musicians in Accra
for some live jamming, as in Mozambique
WORLD ECONOMY – ALL EYES ON EUROPE
(Warning, readers may find content deeply depressing….)
Oh the drama. When life gets hard, fingers point most
quickly to the politicians. And of course bank is certainly a
four letter word. As the Socialist Francois Holland gets hold
of the reigns in France and tries to get Angela Merkel of
Germany to dance the financial markets are putting severe
pressure on the bond markets Italy and Spain rely on to fund
their fiscal deficits. Interest rates are going up, and demand
for the bonds drys up. International investors are becoming
increasingly suspicious that lending money to European
governments is a bad idea – maybe they will never get paid
back. Everyone wants to borrow Germany’s credit card.
They need a blank check from Deutshland (“Eurobonds”).
Austerity in (some parts of) Europe versus stimulus in the
USA. Economic theorists are watching their case studies play
out. Hong Kong hedge funds are making their moves and
Unemployment is still high, as it has been for the last five
years, in the developed/western/rich world. Unfortunately, it
will stay high. When the standard of living is higher, the cost
of labor is higher. India, China, and the rest of the up-andcomers are putting pressure on the global dynamics. Smart,
educated, hard working students from emerging markets are
appealing hires to international corporations. Western
workers are uncompetitive, on a cost basis. They’re too
expensive. The west is over-leveraged (too much in debt),
and this is one of the main reasons for a weak global
Now, everyone who cares or knows how much it matters is
watching leadership in Europe to take the actions necessary to
prevent what could gradually become the unraveling of the
Eurozone’s status quo. Many are saying that Greece is more
likely than not to leave the Euro and return to the Drachma,
eventually, due to the underlying fundamental economics.
Europe is going through a tough time indeed, and I can’t paint
a very pretty picture any way I look at it. The Eurozone
countries, all together, represent a huge economy that is
slowing down and under increasing pressure to fund deficits.
As Europe slows down, the world economy is being affected.
If things get bad enough, the world economy could tip into
Even if Germany and the Scandinavians subsidize everything,
it may not be enough. Probably any necessary reforms for
supra-national banking systems, deposit insurance, and a
more centralized political system cannot be implemented
quickly enough – Even if the political will power was there
across national boundaries (which, I think, it is not) and the
money magically appeared to fund the euro-banks as they
topple near the edge and government borrowing becomes
unaffordable. Ugh! There will be much pulling of hair,
grinding of teeth, and tearing of garments. Probably I should
keep my mouth shut, but this is what my crystal ball is telling
me. The (kind of) good news for Europe is that some people
are still very rich, actually, so their old money will help the
old world tread water and it will eventually emerge alright,
though substantially changed from this very dynamic
reckoning of globalization phase two.
The situation is overall better in the USA, though the
November election and the spectre of the “fiscal cliff” at the
end of the year have many spooked. If congresspeople reach
no compromise, a mandatory budget reduction of something
like 4% of the deficit will occur, which would be highly likely
to tip the US economy back into a recession. Things in the
USA look okay now, depending on your politics maybe, but
could turn sour as in Europe. In tandem with quantitative
easing from the USA (a nice way of saying “printing a lot of
free money, inflating the money supply, and making it
cheaper to pay back debts”), the consumer market is trying to
pay off debt. The housing market is soft. Maybe it’s
recovering, but interest rates are at something like a 60 year
low and house prices are still falling in many areas since
people can’t afford to buy. Some good indicators from other
realms of economics though, and the USA stock markets have
actually been some of the best performers in 2012, on a
The USA Dollar has strengthened significantly against the
Euro, now around 1.25, from around 1.60 a few years ago.
Oil prices went over $110/barrel, and now they’re falling
around $80. volatility. I still prescribe bicycles as a simple
solution to two of America’s biggest problems – obesity and
over-dependence on petroleum. How can you fight
terrorism? Sell the SUV, buy bicycles for the family! I’m
gonna keep beating this drum, even if it’s really annoying…
So if you’re reading this it’s probably obvious I’m shooting
from the hip. Not a lot of professional research, data, or
statistics. Like my traveling, clothing, and haircuts, my
writing is also quite sloppy. I have been reading the news
quite a bit, so hopefully I’m not misinforming anyone.
Finance and economics are usually very boring, but right now
they’re quite emotional fields, and people are more engaged
(and angry) with the industry. Whose fault was/is the
economic crisis? Who caused it, in your opinion? Can you
think of any solutions?
I still think you should consider learning Chinese. It’s easier
than you think, and the poor Chinese are so misunderstood. It
may just feel a little weird at first. In terms of Economics, the
Chinese economy is slowing as well, and the Chinese central
bank lowered interest rates for the first time in four years to
try to prod the economy along. Watch for Chinese bad loans
and real estate bubble. The Yuan has been allowed to float
more freely, and is thus gradually strengthening. have you
heard of “rare earths” metals? They mostly come from China,
and Apple needs them to make i-stuff. Congo has a lot of
them too. They’re quite expensive, and like diamonds,
sometimes they come from a bloody black market. Should
we feel more i-guilt and take more i-responsibility?
My forecast for the rest of the year – more volatility, hardship, anger, unrest, political tension, and drama. Sorry! The first half of the year brought some surprising good news, in terms of USA economics. …We can all look forward to 2013 for greener pastures, I believe. … I’m pretty happy with the situation.
Wow! That must be the most depressing economic section I’ve ever written… my sincerest apologies. I hope three months from now I’m writing about how wrong I was. The good news is oil prices may fall further. If you focus on Europe like I just did, it looks quite bad. Elsewhere things are better. Time will tell how much Europe’s struggle gets exported. A year from now I will be finished traveling. However, I will probably be working abroad. Most likely in China, so I can keep on with my studies while my mind has more capacity (youth) for it. Brazil is more fun, all in all, and certainly more fashionable in the West. I love samba, but I hate violence. Haven’t been in Brazil since Apr 2010, and India since Dec 2009! Saudades… I will travel with my sister … JanMar 2013 – maybe to South America or India.
Sept 4 I’ll fly from Paris to Iceland to Seattle and take a train
to Portland … for 50 days … Then I’ll spend 50 days with
Grandma … for lots of Scrabble and Piano. Dec
15ish to Early January in Colorado. … Sept 5 – Jan 5
I’m very excited about this bike ride. If all goes as planned
I’ll ride for forty days, through Portugal, Spain, France, and
into Germany. something like 2500 km, something like 50-
100 km per day. I’ll have a tent, try to smile and get hosted
by locals, and stay at the occasional hostel if I really need the
shower or to email mom.
Alright! That’s it for now. Until late September, that’s what you get! I’m sending the email a bit early, and irresponsibly unedited since my dad arrives here June 24 – Jul 1. I want to maximize my time with him, then I’m gonna get pedaling right away…
Your friend, Eric
AFRICA-QUIZ answer key:
1. Lagos, Nigeria!!! the BBC did an excellent series about it
2. South Africa (Gold, Diamonds, Mining/Metals, and now
3. Vasco de Gama was a Portuguese explorer who was the
first to sail around the coast of Africa from Portugal to India,
with a little help from his friends. Opening a 100 year period
of booming commerce for Portugal. Infamously, and less
commonly known, he also committed acts that would be
considered crimes against humanity in our modern
4. Oops! Harder than you thought? Some of my favorites
are Fela Kuti, the Bamako Rail Band (Albino singer Salif
Keito), Ethiopian music – Mahmoud Ahmed, Telahun Gesese,
Melatu Astatke, Alamayu Eshete. Franco and OK Jazz
(Kinshasa Lingara Afro-Cuban jazz), Kora (father of the
banjo) music from Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Mali, Youssou
N’Dour from Senegal, Orchestra Baobab, Marimba/timbila/
Xylophone music in general, Mariam Makeba, Hugh Makela
and township shebeen jazz from the apartheid in South Africa
5. Timbuktu is in Mali, on the Niger River, and it reached a
peak as an intellectual center for Muslims at the cross roads
of the trans-Saharan Gold/Salt/Slaves trade where it
connected with the Niger River and thus onward to the Gulf
of Guinea. By the time Europeans arrived it had declined
dramatically from its previous glory and influence
6. Ethiopia has by far the most high elevation of any African
7. The Rift Valley lake system constitutes most of Africa’s
highlands, and runs from North to South throughout eastern
Africa. Famous for hosting a wealth of anthropological
history (the cradle of humanity) – cute little humanoid
skeletons and footprints in a mudpan. Still digging…
8. Mali, previously one of West Africa’s most stable
democracies is now, unfortunately, in flux thanks to a
military-led coup followed by Taureg rebel campaigns in the
north, Stay tuned…
9. The Congo, the Nile (the longest river in the world), The
Niger, (I’d called the Zambezi number 4). The Amazon
transports the largest volume of water making it, technically,
the largest river in the world.
10. Most Sub-Saharan African countries achieved political
independence between 1957 and 1975. North African
countries were independent earlier, and South African
countries mostly later. South Africa is a special case, with a
distinction between political independence and political
freedom/equality necessary. Apartheid was like the USA
south’s segregation system on
11. According to scientists, modern humans migrated from
Africa about 100,000 years ago
12. Ethiopian Amharic is the only alphabet/script indigenous
to Africa. It is semitic, related to Hebrew and Arabic.
Arguably it descended from the Sabean script from the region
that is now called Yemen.
13. Zanzibar is an island off the coast of modern day
Tanzania. Kenya, Tanzania, and northern Mozambique
constitute the Swahili coast. Swahili is a language that
developed from the mixing of Perso-Arabic and indigenous
African dialects. Muslims controlled the East African coast,
acquiring gold and slaves, long before Europeans set up a
similar system mostly on the West Coast (Gulf of Guinea,
especially). Zanzibar was the economic center for the East
African slave trade, as the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) was
for the trans-Atlantic trade
How’d you do?
Happy autumn! How are you? Sorry, I meant to send this email a month ago… Oof! close race? Let’s all work together for a brighter future! red elephants and blue
donkeys… whatever. but yeah, please vote. countdown to the USA presidential election Tuesday november 6th. A week to go! Q1 I summarized my travels in Ethiopia, and Q2 was about Mozambique, Johannesburg, Ghana, and Lisboa. If you you did not receive these emails, let me know and I’ll email them. The highlights from the latest adventures – July, August, September – are a week with dad in Lisbon, Portugal, followed by a
1500 mile bicycle ride to Germany (up the coast of Portugal, backwards on Camino de Santiago across N Spain, to the Basque region, then to a music festival in SE france and finally a little help from a train),
speaking french in Paris, visit with dad+sister+brother+wife in Germany, … with Slovak friends, geneva switzerland, iceland, seattle, piano practice in portland….
I’ll write about my forty day bike ride and what I learned. .
… lately there hasn’t been a lot of NEW stuff to get excited about in world economics, aside from the same familiar excitement associated with fear, anxiety, and worry. Of course, economics is notoriously boring, But maybe less so nowadays… okay; i’ll tell you what. I dont much feel like writing long paragraphs of doom and gloom (I’m more interested in practicing my jazz piano and let’s face it I meant to send this email around Sept 30th) ….. SO, instead I’ll give you my “hot tips about the major 17 Things to look out for in 2013” ought to be an easier read than some of the prior updates… so: hot tips about the major 17 Things to look out for in 2013
1. The end is not near! everything is gonna be
okay. the future is bright.
, jazz, jazz
2. China! Change at the top. The Communist
Party is having its once-a-decade change of
leadership. Tensions with Japan about contested
islands. Access to the internet is becoming more
widespread in China. Standards of living have been
increasing substially for 20 years. In recent years
there has been more and more talk of China’s real
estate bubble and badly made government stimulus
investments. Maybe a reckoning or adjustment coming
soon. But don’t write China off. They’re too big to fail.
3. Iran-Israel hey cool it folks! Global economic
sanctions against Iran are effectively impoverishing the
people (the currency is collapsing)
4. Arab Spring Aftermath – Egypt, Syria, Lybia, Bahrain,
5. Afghanistan literally means “scream of agony land” –
nation building 2001-2014 The project carries on.
6. The fiscal cliff and four years of… something or
other…. New President (or the same one) in the USA
—- Mitt gets to work? Obama takes it up a notch?
Either way congress is a disappointment – and will
be. 2013 could be a year when american LEADERSHIP
has a positive impact on the world. or not. It’s
complicated. Whoever the man for the job is, would he
please do a really good job? Let’s hope. Let’s demand
7. Stock Market — I can simply mention possibilities. What
you should know is history: The USA stockmarkets are up a lot since the post-panic low of April 2009. Why up so much? new government debt
funded bailouts, stimulus, and extra money-printing aka
quantitative easing (Dow, NASDAQ 5 yr chart, S&P500
chart since 1950) Also, things are really looking up,
after all. It’s not all crashing down just yet.
8. Oil up 4x in 10 years – since 2002, the cost of a
barrel of crude oil has increased from $20 to now about
$85 (shot up to a peak of $147 in late 2008, and fell to
$40 in early 2009. CHART – Oil prices 2002-2012, up x4
9. Rare Earth Minerals – essential ingredients in
smartphones, ipads, laptops. China and CongoKinshasa are the world’s largest producers. Your smart
phone is made of rare earth minerals. Your smart
phone is made of rare earth minerals. Your smart
phone is made of rare earth minerals. It’s sort of a dirty
10. Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Iraq in 2013 Stabilizing
or de-stabilizing force in the middle east??
Wikipedia article — IRAQ WAR The
USA invaded Iraq pre-emptively to prevent
her use of weapons of mass destruction
(WMDs). Mission Accomplished. Where are
the WMDs? uh We’re spreading freedom and
democracy. Occupation. Private contractors =
mercenary army. Personnel who facilitate Foreign
Occupation of Iraq roughly comprised of half military
personnel (army, navy, air force, etc) and half private
contractors. Generally contractors get paid much more,
and tasked with security for large corporations, treat the
local people more severely than the USA military. This
occurs in part because private contractors are not
held to all the disciplined guidelines of the USA armed
forces SEE BLACKWATER Winning the HEARTS
and MINDS of the world’s people over to feel affection
for America may work better through the use of less
violence. Just sayin’…
11. Africa, India, and the ultra-poor — human life is still
the most difficult for the world’s poorest people.
Global food inflation
water purity education…….
12. Inflation vs. Deflation. With all this money-printing
and energy/food prices on the rise, will we have hyperinflation? But if people are over-indebted and cannot
afford to buy anything, then you get deflation – lower and
lower prices (for example imagine if the USA housing
market never recovered because too few people have
money to buy houses). There is much debate about
where this all leads, but there is not consensus. But
America is still number one, no?
13. USA GDP growth (situation normal) — USA 3rd
quarter GDP growth clocked in at a 2% annual rate
(meaning the USA economy is producing 0.5% more
measurable economic output than three months ago)
14. EUROPE ! This is a big one. The European
economy, if it stagnates further, may well drag the
rest of the world into a slow-growth, weak-demand
phase. Global depression has been averted thus far,
but rapid change is straining and mutating international
balances, relationships, and cultures. European,
American, and Japanese labor is more expensive than
that of laborers in other parts of the world. This is
fundamentally why unemployment is and will remain
high. This is the result of Globalization. A side
effect. In Europe, national politics may torpedo EU
integration plans, chaos ensues….
17. 2013 MORE BICYCLES — Bicycling is cool! face
it! Exercise is good for your mood. It’s not hard on your
knees like running. Once you have a bike, it’s nearly
free. Bicycling is going to become more and more
MAINSTREAM and HIP. It gets you outdoors, makes
you healthier, and takes you places. With oil prices
going up and to the right why not spend a little more
time pedaling? Another result – you’ll have more energy
and a sexier body. I don’t think you can bike through
a drive through though. Yes, sometimes it’s too hot or cold or rainy. You get sweaty, too. Yes, some places are better than others for bicycles.
FORTY DAYS FROM LISBOA
surprise! July is hot on the Iberia peninsula
my bike route July 4 – Aug 8
then I had to hurry up the pace to meet my family in
Germany (didn’t help that I stopped at a french music
festival near my french friend-who-I-met-in-Tajikistan’s
From Nancy, France, I rode about 200 km more to my
brother’s house, not far from Mannheim.
Total distance ~2320 km (~1500 miles).
about 80km/55m per day
average of about 15km/10m per hour
about five hours of riding a day
budget per day about 20 euros
two new tires, ten flats, two broken spokes, but no major
camping out gets a bit old after a long while on the go
friendly people everywhere, no incidents with cars
I ate lots of fruit and yoghurt
was a good adventure for practicing local languages –
Portuguese, Spanish, French
I did the Camino de Santiago backwards after biking up
the coast of Portugal from Lisbon
went through basque regions of Spain and France
got some exercise
was happy to finish
it was too hot, but glad I did it
The next tour is gonna be even better
but I’ll do a few things differently
sorry, i was going to write more about my bike ride, but
I’ve let this update slip long enough, so I just wanna
send it. With the election maybe I lack the focus to write
an inspired bit at the moment, so I’m not gonna push it.
maybe I’ll write about it for the Q4…
Well folks, not sure what the future holds aside from certainly a job somewhere. Teaching. Cash reserves have diminished, and frankly I’m tired of traveling anyway. A bit weary from the road. I can’t believe I just
did all that. Maybe without ample photos I’ll find that no one else does either. … I’m even going to get a laptop and start researching. Dec 13-27 I’ll be in Colorado.
Dec 28-Feb 13 I’ll be in Argentina and Brasil with my sister …
For now I’m Practicing my jazz piano playing here at … for 2-4 hours a day. Working on 60 jazz standard tunes. I’m doing well
… I’m alive – Right now recuperating from this little walkabout I’ve been havin’.
Yours truly, Eric
January 12th, 2013 Eric’s Fourth Quarter Update (Q4 2012)
Malaise vs HOPE Fear vs LOVE
from Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina
Summertime in South America with sister
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING Without hope, how can one carry on?
After a year spent in Africa, and Europe, and the USA I must admit that
it´s pretty tough out there nowadays.
Sometimes the blues come around. Stay calm, carry on. Me, I´m kinda tired. I’ve been a nomadic adventurer since May 2009, and now the challenge is to channel this energy and experience into positive impacts
outside my ego-self,
within appropriate cultural mediums. Time to give. But I have much to learn. … I want to write – some creative project to synthesize what is in my head in a useful way without being self-righteous, unempathetic, or highly annoying. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have these opportunities. I’m searching for my
thesis, conclusions, and perhaps a gentle, humble prescription or two. Not ready to begin yet, but I’m trying to refine ideas. …
I’m not done rambling just yet. My sister and I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 28th, 2012 and after a week there and a week here in Bariloche, Patagonia (provincia Rio Negro)
we´re getting on a 22 hour bus to Cordoba in a
Brazilward direction. America Latina. Last time was
April 2010. Now Anna and I make our musical way
northward until we fly back from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil to
the USA February 13th. Seven weeks together. Anna
just finished her university studies – congratulations to
Probably I´m having trouble re-assimilating to the
USA. Technically, I reckon I have to live someplace
permanently to even say I´m assimilating anywhere in
any way. Where will I call home? How about China for
my eleven-year-old cousin Caroline told me I “would
have done well during the caveman times”. Thanks
Caroline! : ) Smart phones are great inventions, I
admit… but I sure hope time machines are next.
2012 IN REVIEW
Big events in random sloppy order off the top of my head: Egyptian president Mosni on the way to dictatorial theocracy? Syria – trauma that will last a generation, conflict continues as rebels move in on Damascus, Assad weak and desperate with chemical weapons, Economic sanctions against Iran bring about high inflation, Ahmedinajad joins facebook but is not friends with Netanyahu, Israel becoming more internationally isolated after disparate death ratio of Palestinians to Israelis (~40:1, consistent with historical flare-ups) re: Gaza rocket incidents, Palestine granted non-member observer status at UN, steps toward statehood – Israel responds with accelerated and increased settlement building in pursuit of fortress Israel strategy, Kim Jong Un’s successful inter-continental rocket launch startles world (satellite successfully deployed), Diaoyu/Senkaku island drama between China and Japan, Obama re-elected for 2012-2016 term amidst negative and depressing attack ads, super-PAC $$ terrible polarization – let’s call it corruption, UAV predator drone program ramp-up carries on as adaptation to “asymmetrical warfare” in war on terrorism, Al-Qaeda on the run to north africa, Osama Bin Laden dead, appointment of first African-American senator from former confederate states since reconstruction – tea party type fellow, Afghanistan/Iraq status quo maintained, trouble in Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan(s), Yemen continues, Brasil/India/China economic slowdowns, Europe in bad bad shape economically and politically, much gnashing of teeth, finger-pointing, bye bye Wen Jiaobao and Hu Jintao’ hello Xi Jinping – Chinese Communist party held tenyear conference for leadership changes, subversive Chinese microblogs make bigger splashes, grassroots anti-gov’t corruption campaigns in China and India gain momentum, USA congress gets an F, but I still like American people, Russia joins the WTO, Africa and India are still very poor and the future looks harder, so think twice before you complain so much, the US Federal Reserve Bank and Helicopter Ben Bernanke keep dollars rolling off the printing presses at full bore, The USA borrows at a rock-bottom rate from international markets, for now, Mexico elects new president, In Venezuela Hugo Chavez on the way out for health reasons, flights from Miami to Cuba now available, Lybia is now Gaddafi-less – “he died like chicken!” <someone told me>, America polarized by election – ugly ugly ugly, but now nation united by unthinkable tragedy iCT, seeing the forest from the trees? Spain ItalPortugal Ireland govts having trouble borrowing debt to fund deficits at sustainable interest rates – trouble will continue, spread?, France elects socialist Francois Holland over incumbent “American” Nicolas Sarcozy, Angela Merkel to put Mssr Holland in headlock and administer noogie, Greece looks EU-exit bound if you ask me people there suffering too greatly, no more room for austerity, should exit, default, and print Drachma, Saudi Arabia keeps gladly feeding your SUV, Mali coup d’etat bedtime for democracy, Ghana election, Nelson Mandela in his early 90s undergoes gallstone surgery – watch out for Joseph Malema from ANC Youth League and his divisive racist populism, Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shankar transcend Samsara, <…>, Japan elects new leadership, Yen too strong, hurting economy, Philippines Vietnam and Indonesia mostly economic bright spots but tension over territorial disputes over South China Sea shipping lanes, Wikileaks tip America’s hand impacting foreign policy approaches, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worn ragged by the transparency with the cat out of the bag, Violence begets Violence, fighting fire with fire makes wildfire, but arguably some good progress despite instability in the middle east, Smart phone technology proliferates, anyone who is anybody gets an ipad, ipad envy sweeps the nation, Apple becomes the worlds largest corportation, sad sad “worst violence in the world since WW2” (NYTimes)<…> – record drought sweeps America, wildfires, Hurricane Sandy moistens NYC, The north and south pole are melting, facebook IPO…, Hostess bankruptcy – least food-like items in grocery stores (twinkies etc) removed from shelves boohoo – more schadenfreude, America learning to eat vegetables, ride bicycles, and live with their family, in rich-world (“the west”, “developed” countries) job market for young and manual/blue-collar laborers continues to be very difficult, globalization “mobilizes” labour away from the poor and middle class in the rich world – job losses, unions fight owners of capital to the bitter end, everyone loses their job, oof victims of forces bigger than them (but overall outlook in USA > EU), despite it all the world is technically still less violent per capita than ever in history (measuring by murder rates), global population now 7,000,000,000+ whoa Nelly!, Switzerland rated best country in the world to be born in (the Economist 2012), Forbes magazine rated Silicon Valley Bank (my employer Feb 2007 – Apr 2009 ticker “Sivb”) 5th best bank in USA, and 40th best company to work for in 2012 rankings – surprise feathers in my cap, yay, I donated my tourist money to
Africa and Europe Jan-Sept 2012 more expensive than anticipated, ouch wallet
Did I miss anything? It isn’t my imagination is it? 2012 was wild and crazy. Struggles. Let’s face forward, hope and fight for triumphs. Happy new year
What to expect: 2013, 2014, 2015 Economic Outlook (not for the faint of heart)
Uncertainty. Fear. Anger. Tumult. Yes, but maybe also some positive surprises to come. As for the economy, from here it’s hard to go much further without some jitters. The USA stock markets are not far from all-time highs, thanks to stimulus money-printing and government deficits to re-inflate the bubbles. The S&P500, Dow Jones, NASDAQ have climbed steadily since April 2009. Coincidentally, when I finished my work … the markets were hitting the bottom. The stock markets reflect expectations about the future economic outlook. Therefore if they’re up the supply and demand forces that drive them have leaned to the greed side after the fearful panics of Sept 2008 – Mar 2009. That means traders and investors are much more hopeful since then (and many have made a lot of money). Imagine a very choppy backwards “L” tilting 60 degrees to the right and you’ve got the picture of the stock recovery. …
Despite this apparent recovery, I cannot truly say that global financial markets are any more stable than in 2008. A major panic may not be the result of events in the USA. A worsening of European outlook and political shenanigans and/or a slowdown or crisis in China are the more likely events that could significantly hurt the international economy. Or USA default thanks to congress. The USA is struggling to balance deficit reduction efforts (austerity – tax increases and entitlement reform) with nurturing of the economic recovery (investing in beneficial ways to improve circumstances a.k.a. stimulus and bailouts). Since the crash, USA policies have played out very much toward the latter and not at all the former.
The fiscal cliff?
Little compromise, kicking the can further down the road. Cut entitlements? Raise taxes? Yes and yes. Contrast the USA with England and their big cuts. Neither country looks clearly “better” than the other as a direct result of these different policies. Each country is presented with different challenges. The UK’s main disadvantage may be its proximity to Europe. Economists sit and wait as austerity vs. stimulus theories are tested against each other. The USA has major “funding advantages”, since +60% of the world’s currency value is in US Dollars. Because the world mostly does business in dollars, they will keep wanting greenbacks, even though everyone knows the Fed is printing them like mad, diluting the money supply and devaluing everyone’s holdings. Hold assets in cash, get poorer over time. Hold assets in stock, value rises with the tide of inflation. That is, unless Crash #2 creeps up suddenly. Japan in recession, strong yen hurts demand for their exports.
Usurious credit card “gotcha” rates are +32%/yr for USA
consumers. Compare this with Uncle Sam’s borrowing
rates on the international market: Treasury yields (%/
yr) – cheap debt, low interest rates… for now . Effective annual rates for total public debt are currently around 2.5% – US treasury official website – effective borrowing
costs of US …
here’s an exercise. How much must the US taxpayer give each year simply to pay interest, and maintain the current debt level?
$16,400,000,000,000 x 2.53% = ~$414 billion annual
interest expense. And that’s at a “very low” borrowing rate
If Uncle Sam had borrowed that $16 trillion from MasterCard and got hit by the penalty rate, he would have to pay over $5 trillion a year simply to prevent total debt from increasing. And yes, total debt is increasing very quickly anyway, thanks to the vast gap between government revenue and expense. The deficit, in other words.
Nonetheless, I would give the government a “B-” for its handling of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. For the record, the gargantuan $180 billion bailout of AIG actually netted a $22 billion PROFIT for the USA gov’t. In other words, the bailouts were not all bad. The alternative, as much as I would celebrate a major shift of corporate business culture’s status quo, would have been an unthinkably larger crash, depression, and probably social instability. maybe war. Yes, it´s been scary. my only advice: work hard, don´t waste your money or time.
I´ve been more cheerful, but I´m confident humanity will bounce back. Trying to conceptualize ways to be inspirational instead of bumming everyone out. And after this much traveling, …so many flights. … graduate?
I´ve invested in this alternative education, now it´s time to work. “return home”… Three months in Portland, Sept 5 – Dec 11 were great for rest and recuperation, with 2-3 hours of JAZZ piano practice a day, yes!
April 2009 was a long time ago, and so much has changed. Thank you to all my friends for their support, encouragement, listening, and advice.
NOW — Dec 28 – Feb 13 sister´s post-university-victory-lap.
For me, a grand-finale of sorts also.
I´d like to make a trip to India before settling in China later this year for some serious language study, but… still pondering whether or not India will fit into the itinerary… … my eventual goal. Not ready yet. I need to read a few dozen books first. … Stay positive out there. … 2013 as a year for hope and positivity.
As I study history, economics, and international affairs, sometimes my inability to devise and implement solutions for all the world´s problems gets me down. Then I take some deep breaths to try to clear my mind as long as I can until the next intense thoughts again carry me away. I try to remember – “we´re all just drops of water in a vast ocean.” Let´s each do our best.
Thank you everyone, stay real -Eric
the rhythm of the drum changes
the dancers must adapt
– proverb, Burkina Faso
the advocacy of Peace and the principle of non-violence ought not to be confused with weakness. Surround hate with love and make it surrender.