Last Day

Waking up on our last day in HK. Ben is still asleep. Some random thoughts.

1. HK is crazy expensive. On balance, false. I don’t know about housing of course, and there were the $100 grapes, but overall, prices seem to be about the same. BTW our hotel here is perfectly fine and costs around $130 CAD/night.

2. For me the most notable thing about HK is the crazy volume of very high end luxury, especially watch and jewelry stores. Imagine those stores in Vegas lining street after street. One chain, Chow Tai Fook, it is common to stand in front of one and be able to see two more. All full of bored looking staff and generally empty of customers.

3. HK is safe, definitely true. Never crossed my mind that I needed to worry about anything.

4. Tons of English, both the language and the people here, false. It’s no problem but put it this way. We went to Starbucks and the barista had flawless English. We both chatted about it because it was so unusual – mostly it is awkward and broken. As for people, except in the hardest core tourist situations, we are usually the only white people in the room.

5. HK is a massive concentration of skyscrapers. True, according to yesterdays bus tour, 8000 vs 4000 in NYC, but false in that on HK island alone there is massive forested areas and actually I don’t understand why they don’t exploit these to relieve crowding and high real estate prices.

6. Also, this is just an impression, but I feel like HK skyscrapers are mostly residential. The waterfront sports an impressive facade of global brand names (quick, from Canada, which ones?) but the business skyscraper district seems to be only a few blocks wide unlike NYC which goes on forever. Manulife and Sun Life.

7. Feng Shui is a big thing. True!

8. Overall while HK is reasonably clean I’d say no better or worse than cities in Europe.

Today I have vague plans to walk around Kowloon all day and tick off a bunch of touristy things that have thus far evaded our attention. We spent all yesterday on bus tours which were awesome.

Why The Internet Sucks

Because I’m chatting almost daily with Spanish people on different continents, I think about time zones more than I ever used to. Today I wanted to make sure I had the time right for a Skype with Guion, so at 7:18 AM Vancouver time, I tried this. I think it’s 9 hours difference, but since our daylight savings operate on a different schedule (actually it’s a little different [the date of the change varies] in each of Canada, Costa Rica, Spain and Uruguay), I am never certain. So:


WTF? I am pretty sure Spain isn’t 4 hours ahead, and it’s definitely not 4 hours and 11 minutes ahead. Nor is it 6 hours behind, let alone, 10 months behind (at least the last one has the decency to make it obvious that it’s confused). Let’s try a different search:



That’s better. And, to the Internet’s partial credit, this is the entry that comes up first with this particular search term. It’s too bad that a slightly different search yields a completely bogus result. But that’s the Internet for you!!!, amazing, extremely cool, with a titanic mountain of information about almost everything you can imagine… it’s just that, you can never trust any of it.

Over, Over, Over

Yesterday, Saturday marked the final Sam grad event. In an attempt to prevent excessive grad drunkeness, it’s traditional to organize a fairly elaborate multi-day wrap-up, which goes like this:

1. Thursday night: fancy dinner at hotel (Renaissance on Hastings).
2. Friday: rafting trip in Lytton.
3. Saturday: BBQ at parent’s home.

I went on #2 (one of 12 ‘supervising parents’) and I think it’s fair to say that it was enormously successful. Lytton is extremely hot!!, and the campsite we stayed at was crazily noisy, with an active train track within 50 feet and a busy airport about 1/4 mile away.

How busy can an airport in Lytton, BC, be? Quite busy insofar as Lytton’s #1 industry is forest fire fighting. We were woken up each day at the crack of dawn by one helicopter after another shuttling fire supplies to 2-3 conflagrations clearly visible on the ridges surrounding Lytton.

I’ll try to post some pictures later.


I love being surrounded by Spanish and I´m ever more enthusiastic about spending some time at a Spanish immersion school sometime in 2015.

On the other hand, apart from communication problems (of both the linguistic and technical variety), I have felt somewhat stressed on this trip about money. Not spending too much, but just having the proper form in the proper quantity at the necessary time.

In both Europe and Africa, between prepaid things, near ubiquitious acceptance of credit cards and working ATM machines, I have never worried about money much …

But on this trip I sure have. We brought $3,000 cash and I am very glad I did; I have spent way too much energy trying to conserve it (eg by paying with credit cards or finding ATMs). Both are difficult due to a combination of seemingly arbitrarily not working ATMs, people not keen on credit cards, and people who only want local currency …

Well, the latter is a fairly reasonable requirement (though I am pretty sure almost any business in Vancouver would take US$, and I was told that everywhere in Argentina would – this is not true, and less so in Brazil).

It´s also tricky to keep prices straight when all the pesos (reals in Brazil) differ in value so greatly.


Not all Latin American countries call their currency ‘peso’, but most do, including Chile. Of course, they are the same in name only. 10,000 Chilean pesos are worth about $20. I want to attach pictures but the hotel Internet blocks them. About Chile,

Population: 17m (half Canada)

GDP per capita: $23,000 (about 40% of Canada)

Weather today: cloudy, cool, Vancouverish. Santiago abuts the mountains and is about 50k from the coast, which is a big cruise/tourist port called Valparaiso. It seems slightly sketchier than Vancouver in that the hotel has security guards and you are repeatedly warned against taking unofficial taxis.

Arrival at 7 AM following 9 hours to Lima and 3 more to Santiago. We have a Holiday Inn for the day and we’ll probably take a hop-on bus around as we have the whole day here before our 8 PM flight to Buenos Aires.

Country of the Year

The Economist is starting a ‘Country of the Year’ thing and came out with their first choice. After considering Ireland, South Sudan, Estonia, Ukraine, Turkey and a few others, they settled on …

(Wait: what do you think? I would have picked one of the Scandinavian countries. Probably Norway). OK, the admirably non-GDP oriented, Economist-keeps-track-of-relatively-obscure-countries-affirming answer, slightly edited for brevity is:

The accomplishments that most deserve commendation are path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation. Gay marriage is one such border-crossing policy, which has increased the global sum of human happiness at no financial cost. Several countries have implemented it in 2013—including Uruguay, which also, uniquely, passed a law to legalise cannabis. This is a change so obviously sensible that no other country has made it.  Better yet, the man at the top, President José Mujica, is admirably self-effacing. With unusual frankness for a politician, he referred to the new law as an experiment. He lives in a humble cottage, drives himself to work in a Volkswagen Beetle and flies economy class. Modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving, Uruguay is our country of the year.

There is also a rather dark piece comparing the current state of world affairs with the world immediately prior to WW1:

The United States is Britain, the superpower on the wane, unable to guarantee global security. Its main trading partner, China, plays the part of Germany, a new economic power bristling with nationalist indignation and building up its armed forces rapidly. Modern Japan is France, an ally of the retreating hegemon and a declining regional power. The parallels are not exact—China lacks the Kaiser’s territorial ambitions and America’s defence budget is far more impressive than imperial Britain’s—but they are close enough for the world to be on its guard. Which, by and large, it is not. 


Volcanoes vs People

There seems to be a cottage industry of old people sending around crazy emails, and my MIL sometimes forwards them to me. They usually blame all the evils of the world on either (a) muslims or (b) the government* … but the latest target is volcanoes.

Specifically, the claim was that the Iceland volcano eruption (when was that? A year or two ago?) produced enough CO2 to negate the effects of all human attempts to reduce CO2 over the past 5 years.

Well, first of all, that could simply mean that the human attempts were so pathetic that a small amount of volcano CO2 was enough to negate them. But, for sake of argument, I found a seemingly reputable analysis here:

Here is the tl,dr:

Globally, volcanoes release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually. The global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes. Thus, volcanic CO2 comprises less than 1 percent of that value.

I’d be interested (DAVE) to see more thoughts on this.

* Of course, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the government-evil theory …