Wednesday, September 30, 2009
HSBC (HongKong and Shanghai Banking Company)
The Customs House:
The Shanghai Gold Exchange:
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
It looks like a regular train/airport rail link:
However, since it is basically a tourist attraction, the train actually has display at both ends of each car that tell you how fast it is going. My train reached a maximum speed of 431 km/h (which is about 270 mph). The total trip took 8 minutes, giving it an average speed of about 225 km/h. (On my return trip, after dark, the train only maxed out at 300 km/h).
This is definitely the fastest I've ever traveled on land, given that commerical aircraft takeoff velocity are in the range of 250-300 km/h. (Even the Condorde, which I've never flown on, takes off around 360 km/h.)
And, a round trip ticket costs about 80 yuan, which is around $12-$13 dollars. Amazing
Sunday, September 27, 2009
As Yom Kippur begins in a few hours here, it will take me the next few days to post pictures and reflections about my experiences in China. In the meantime, here are some initial observations. Also, I will continue to use the "Japan" tag for these posts, even though they are primarily about China, so that it will be easier in the future to identify all posts from this extended trip. This is not an imperial statement on my part. That said, I also don't mean to imply any moral equivalence, since there are obvious objective differences between the level of civil freedom (i.e. press, elections, religion, imprisonment) in the two countries.
I'm amazed at how happy I am to be back in Japan, and not just because it's been my home for the past 6 weeks. Japan and China really are two different worlds. Japan is the most ordered country I've ever been in, where no one jwalks, ever. (There's a joke that if a traffic light broke in Japan, no one would ever cross the street.) In Shanghai, while not on the scale of a truely lesser economically developed country (like in Cairo), everyone jwalks, jbikes, and even jmopeds (which is terrifying). When crossing streets, I would frequently have to wait for a Shanghai native to cross so that I could follow him or her.
Also, one of the main reasons that I did not blog while in China is that blogger.com is blocked (as is youtube and Facebook). I could still, however, access them on my Blackberry, which is amusing given that I was using a Chinese mobile company's data plan. Regardless, it is amazing to me that the Chinese government continues to officially block these websites, despite dubious benefits to the regime's security, and such obvious workarounds.
Anyway, I should get ready for Yom Kippur. A G'mar Hatima Tova to everyone - may you all be inscribed in the book of life.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
No idea who these people were, but those kimonos are lovely. I did see what I think was an American bachelorette party walking around in kimonos.
Sanjusangen-do. (The following two are pictures of pictures, since I wasn't allowed to take my own photos inside.) The statues are cypress coated in gold. Amazing. A must see.
There were 1000 of the following statures (where are each 6 feet tall). Imagine a high school or college choir of 100 on risers, and then multiply by 10.
Gion. I did not, unfortunately, see any Geisha (who, by the way, are not traditionally prostitutes).
Yasaka Jinja - one of the few temples open at night.
Ginkaku-ji - the pavilion is under construction, and it took probably an hour on a bus to get there from Kyoto Station. Not really worth it.
Monday, September 21, 2009
This is the famous Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Gold Pavilion. It is covered in gold leaf. Getting there was a bit of a schlep. (It took a half hour bus ride from Kyoto Station, which was VERY crowded given that it's a national holiday. I guess Japanese tourists in Japan are just, well, Japanese.)
Here's another picture from closer up:
Next, I walked about 15 minutes to Ryoan-ji, which has an interested rock garden. There are 15 rocks, but you can only see 14 of them at a time, no matter which way you face (based on how spread out they are and what the viewing area is). I was honestly a bit underwhelmed, but maybe it was because it was crowded and so I was not really able to meditate on them. Regardless, once you go the Golden Temple, which is worth the trip, you might as well go here too.
In Kyoto Station on the way to my next destination, I saw the following. I have no idea what was going on, but these costumes are amazing.
My last stop of the day was Nijo-jo Castle, which is an enourmous doubled moated fortress for the Kyoto shogun. It was amazing, and completely worth seeing.
Above is the inner moat. Below is Honmaru castle, inside the inner moat, which I could not go into.
I was able to go into Ninomaru Palace, which was amazing, but was unable to take any pictures. One thing I will note was that many of the floor boards sqeak (and are called "nightingale boards"), having been intentionally engineered to do so to prevent nighttime intruders.
The above is a picture of the underside of one, showing that there is a space between the board and the beam. The diagram below, from the pamphlet handed out there, describes it better.
Finally, one more picture from the castle grounds:
The distance between Tokyo and Osaka is a bit over 300 miles, roughly comparable to Philadelphia to Boston, New York to Buffalo, Chicago to St. Louis, or a little less than Los Angeles to San Francisco. The Nozomi takes less than two and half hours. That's amazing. By contrast, the Acela Express train (which theoretically tops out at 150 mph but normally cruises closer to 75 mph) takes fives hours to go from Philly to Boston.
Inside, it looks and feels like a normal train. (I also took the regular express train between Osaka and Kyoto tokay, and I could not feel a difference.) In classic Japanese fasion, the tray table even manages to contain a ridiculous amount of information.
Also, by the way, the conductor can tell you exactly when the train will pass Mt. Fuji. (About 45 minutes after leaving Tokyo.) This would of course be impossible with the multi-hour delays that the Acela Express normally has.
I just spent a wonderful Rosh Hashana here in Tokyo. The Tokyo community has been nothing but warm, friendly, and welcoming to me throughout the past month here. It was truly reminiscent of the enveloping, never ending chag of davening, eating, and shmoozing in a large commuunity that I've experience both in college and in New York.
It really is amazing that I can travel half way around the world, and find basically a conservative shul that is very similar to the one I grew up in (frummer in some ways - no microphone, duchaning, less frum in others - most heavily attended service was Friday night, and enormous drop off between first and second day despite it being a Sunday)
The food was again out of this world, with 120 people at Friday night dinner (I won't list all of the items, but everything was great from the onion soup that came with two 18 inch thin garlic bread sticks to the Waldorf salad to the nutty cinnamon bobca).
By the way, it is amazing to me the way that on chag and Shabbat, Jews basically eat a sumo diet - a huge meal, follwed by sleep, followed by fasting (whether during davening until a late lunch or throughout the day), followed by another huge meal, followed by more sleep. We're not so good at grazing throughout the day. As Tzom Gedaliah draws to a close here in Japan, I've been trying to think about what a sumo wrestler would do (eat a lot quickly and then go to sleep), so I can do the opposite.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
However, in numerous meetings, one of the relatively senior clients has wanted to have an "internal discussion" with his team, during the meeting. This meant that he and his colleagues in the room were going to speak and Japanese, and the translator should not translate.
The generous view of this was that, because of something new in the meeting, and and his team needed to confer for a few minutes to clarify something or make sure they were all on the same page, and, to expedite it, he didn't want the translator to waste everyone's time translating to English. This internal discussion had to happen right then and there so that the meeting could continue.
The less generous view is that it's just plain rude. What would he have done if everyone in the meeting spoke Japanese? One would have hope he would done what they do on the "West Wing," which is excuse themselves for a moment and confer in the hallway. But to do while we're sitting there is like the rather inconsiderate staff Verizon Authorized Retailer in the base of my building who would speak to each other in a foreign language in the middle of selling you something.
This behavior is consistent with stories I've heard about gaijin (foreigners) who understand Japanese being kicked out of meetings because they understood what was being said during "internal discussions". Lovely. Yet another way that we're made to feel welcome here in Japan.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Embassy will do this for free, and when I dropped it off this morning said that I could come back tomorrow at 2 and pick it up. That's not bad.
Two things I learned though:
1) Make an appointment on their website before you go. Free, very easy, and puts you at the front of the line
2) Bring a newspaper or novel or work or some other hard copy of something to read. Because the Embassy makes you check every electronic device in your possession before you go in, and you can't get them back until your way out. It's like Shabbos inside there.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
He describes the absurdity with the following analogy:
Health insurance is the primary payment mechanism not just for expenses that are unexpected and large, but for nearly all health-care expenses. We’ve become so used to health insurance that we don’t realize how absurd that is. We can’t imagine paying for gas with our auto-insurance policy, or for our electric bills with our homeowners insurance, but we all assume that our regular checkups and dental cleanings will be covered at least partially by insurance.His solution is, in part:
In place of these programs and the premiums we now contribute to them, and along with catastrophic insurance, the government should create a new form of health savings account—a vehicle that has existed, though in imperfect form, since 2003. Every American should be required to maintain an HSA, and contribute a minimum percentage of post-tax income, subject to a floor and a cap in total dollar contributions. The income percentage required should rise over a working life, as wages and wealth typically do. All noncatastrophic care should eventually be funded out of HSAs.I couldn't put my finger on why this bit bothered me, until I remembered a question I asked my mother when I little. We used to join a swim club every summer so we could go to the pool. I asked (apparently a consultant from birth): "If we paid each time we went, how many times would we have to go to get to what we pay for membership?" My mother replied, "A lot. But, then we'd think about whether we really needed to go each time, and would often wind up not going. This way, we can go for a swim whenever we want."
Under Goldhill's plan, when I sprained my ankle last month, I would have likely thought twice about going in and paying $600 out of pocket getting x-rays to be sure it wasn't broken before I came out to Japan. I would have relied on my doctor-father's free no-equipment diagnosis, and toughed it out. (It wasn't broken and got better in a few weeks.)
Here in lies the problem. If all American pay for routine care out of pocket (like haircuts and car washes), some of them will wait until the they really need it, and some will wait until it's too late. We want Americans to go to the doctor when they feel sick, and not have to make a calculation about whether the price is worth it to them.
Goldhill's right that, utlimately, Americans collectively wind up paying for all the care they get (as my premiums and co-pays with my co-workers in aggregate basically paid for my x-rays). And greater up front price disclosure so I can go to the doctor with the lowest x-ray prices who has a good online rating would be great. But I'd much rather pay for insurance up front and take the risk I'd over pay than have to debate with myself about whether I really need to go see a doctor or not.
I should have remember the following quotation, which my senior project adviser in physics recently quoted to me (as he had also chosen between physics and economics):
During his senior year of college, [Larry] Summers was considering graduate school in both theoretical physics and economics. For weeks, he anguished over whether to pursue his passion (physics) or the family business (in addition to his economist parents, Summers has two uncles--Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow-- who won Nobel prizes in the field). After he finally decided on the latter, he explained his thinking to Rollins: "What does a bad theoretical physicist do for a living? He walks into an office, sits at a desk, and stares at a plain white sheet of paper." "But," Summers added, "there's a lot of work in the world for a bad economist."I'm also of course reminded of the great Jed Barlet quotation about why he didn't go to law school (another choice that I've made):
President Josiah Bartlet: [later] [The White House Counsel] looks down his nose at me 'cause I'm not a lawyer.Fiction of course, but amusing fiction nonetheless.
Leo McGarry: Yes.
President Josiah Bartlet: I didn't go to law school. I got a PhD in economics instead.
Leo McGarry: Your parents were very proud.
President Josiah Bartlet: Yeah, and all that happened was I won a Nobel Prize and got elected President so I guess that decision didn't really pay off.
Leo McGarry: Yeah.
President Josiah Bartlet: Should I run back and get my Nobel Prize?
Leo McGarry: I think he knows you've got one.
"The West Wing: Bad Moon Rising (#2.19)" (2001)
Monday, September 14, 2009
Here's the best section:
When Mr. Reid presents his shoulder to his own orthopedist in Colorado, the doctor is quick to recommend a shoulder replacement. It will cost his insurer tens of thousands of dollars (assuming it agrees to pay), with unknown co-payments for him. Risks include all those of major surgery; benefits include a restored golf swing.
The same shoulder gets substantially different reactions elsewhere in the world.
In France, a general practitioner sends him to an orthopedist (out-of-pocket consultation fee: $10) who recommends physical therapy, suggests an easily available second opinion if Mr. Reid really wants that surgery, and notes that the cost of the operation will be entirely covered by insurance (waiting time about a month).
In Germany, the operation is his for the asking the following week, for an out-of-pocket cost of about $30.
In London, a cheerful general practitioner tells Mr. Reid to learn to live with his shoulder. No joint replacement is done in Britain without disability far more serious than his to justify the expense and the risks, and if his golf game is that important, he can go private and foot the bill himself.
In Japan, the foremost orthopedist in the country (waiting time for an appointment, less than a day) offers a range of possible treatments, from steroid injections to surgery, all covered by insurance. (“Think about it, and call me.”)In an Ayurvedic hospital in India, a regimen of meditation, rice, lentils and massage paid for entirely out of pocket, $42.85 per night, led to “obvious improvement in my frozen joint,” Mr. Reid writes, adding, “To this day, I don’t know why it happened.”
Sunday, September 13, 2009
1) Spectacular fully egalitarian (both gender and sexual orientation) davening with no page number announcement, critical masses singing, and excellent, well screened, coached, and prepared daveners and leyners
2) Every Shabbat and holiday evening, morning, and afternoon davening
3) Large Kiddushes, and occasional communal meals
4) Inter-generational community (both kids and senior citizens), without comprising on #1
5) Several rabbinic presences, available for halakhic questions, teaching, pastoral and life cycle involvement, and occasional sermons/divrei Torah, but none of the pomp and posterity of a “shul rabbi”
6) Representative, volunteer leadership
7) Independence from traditional Reform / Reconstructionist / Conservative / Orthodox movement structure
8) Streamlined, low overhead budget
If not now, when?
- The G20's replacing the G7
- Countries are moving away from either fixed or floating exchange rates toward more intermediate regimes
- Countries (i.e. China) are getting more credit for accumulating reserves, even if they have to use "unfair manipulation" to do it
- Export price targeting will replace inflation targeting for central banks
- The dollar being the world's reserve currency is being replaced by a multiple currency system
1. Skip breakfast. By depriving their bodies of food after eight hours of sleep, their metabolic rates stay low.
2. Exercise on an empty stomach. If their bodies have no food, their metabolic thermostats are turned down even lower to conserve fuel.
3. Take a nap after eating. The Sumo secret for gaining weight is that, after eating, they sleep for at least four hours.
4. Eat late in the day. Going to bed with full stomachs means that their bodies must respond to the huge flood of nutrients with a rush of insulin, forcing their bodies to store some of it in the cells as fat instead of in the muscles and organs as nutrients.
5. Always eat with others in a social atmosphere. According to leading researchers, a meal eaten with others can be at least 44 percent larger and with 30 percent more calories and fat.
So, the healthy practice would be to do the opposite of all of these, meaning eat three balanced meals at regular hours, eat something before you excersice, don't take long naps after you eat (except on Shabbos!), and eat some meals alone. Sounds like great advice.
It was an absolutely amazing experience. I got to watch many matches in rapid succession, from up close and far away, and including the enormous amount Shinto ritual that is still embedded in it. Additionally, as someone who did (traditional) wrestling in middle school and high school for 5 years, I love the concept of an intense individual sport that's based on aerobic endurance and complicated moves and counter-moves.
A few quick tips for those of you who want to see sumo if you're in Japan, and then some pictures and videos:
1) Buy your tickets early. It helps to have a Japanese speaking friend help you. You can't buy them online, but you can in most convenient stores. Also, even if the store says they're sold out, they might not be, and so you should try a different chain.
2) Go early, or at least midday. The most junior matches started at 8:30 AM, and the final 15 with the best wrestlers was from 4-6 PM. I got there at 2:30 PM, before it was too crowded, and so was able to see plenty of matches.
3) Building on #2, if you go early, you can go right up and sit in the first or second row. No one asked to see my ticket or asked me to move. Sumo is amazing up close.
4) Finally, there is an English commentary option. You can rent a radio for 100 yen (~$1), with a refundable 2000 yen deposit.
Now, a word about how sumo works. The two competitors, wearing only loin-cloths are in a circle. Which ever player either touches the ground with any part of his body except the bottoms of his feet, or steps outside the circle loses. Grabbing loin-cloths is allowed, as is (it appeared) smacking with an open hand. That's the game. Each match is single elimination for that day. Most wrestlers get to compete again each day (and so the commentators would often report each wrestler's stats from the last tournament, such as 9 and 6, before each match).
Before each skill category, the wrestlers all enter in their fancy aprons. Very neat to see. The guy in the center is one of the officials. I saw a few different ones, each with a very fancy kimono.
Here's a close-up of another official .
When not competing, the wrestlers wore kimonos, the quality of which correspond to their skill category. This guy doesn't look to happy though, as he may not have done well in his match. (He spoke zero English, and so I could not ascertain whether he won or not.)
So, this is what a wrestler looked like right before a match. I'm not sure the purpose of the funky arrow things in from of him, but each wrestler always made a big deal of spreading them out (half left and half right) before crouching to begin a match.
This is what the top over the ring looked like. Very neat.
Before each match, there was a whole series of rituals. The wrestlers would stamp (to get rid of evil spirits), and throw salt on the ring (for purification). There was also some kind of ritual involving swishing holy water, spitting it out, and then wiping ones' face with a holy towel.
Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. An actual match. Check this out:
One more match, from close up:
Just a few other pictures:
This is Bulgarian wrestler, who was very good. There are now a reasonable number of foreigners in official sumo. Most are Mongolian, Korean, or Hawaiian, but an increasing number come from Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Georgia.
The highest ranked wrestlers had their own entrance dance, and even more special clothes to wear.
There was lots of clean up after each match, both to rake the dirt, and spread around the copious amounts of salt that were thrown.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
First of all, it was a totally amazing event. Their sanctuary was in full High Holiday mode, with portable walls removed (does every shul have portable walls? Do other houses of worship have this phenomenon?), and folding chairs set up.
I estimate there were 400 people there, including the Israel Ambassador, the German Ambassador (who stuck out like a sore thumb, looking an an old school northern European or old boy American diplomat), the Secretary General of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (who flew in from Moscow), the head of the Holocaust Memorial in Hiroshima (who read in the most wonderful Japanese-accented Hebrew), and the architect of the building, Fumihiko Maki (who has taught at Harvard, and designed one of the new buildings at the World Trade Center).
We davened maariv as a large community, and I was struck by just how passive everyone was. This is probably because many of the individuals who were there are either not traditionally practicing Jews, or non-Jews who are friends of the Jewish community in one way or the other. Given that I've been davening at Hadar this past few years, I've forgotten what it's like to be in a group of 400 people in a shul and be one of the only ones saying "beri kho" during Kaddish.
The food during the reception was amazing. In no particular order:
yakitori (chicken skewers)
breaded salmon balls
garlic bread with egg salad
cucumbers with tuna salad
garlic bread with smoked salmon
garlic bread with white fish
cocktail spoons of tuna
veggies and humus
I can't wait for Shabbat dinner tomorrow night!
Finally, a word about the building itself. It has:
a banquet hall
a gift shop
a deck (that would be great for a sukkah)
an enclosed roof (that would also be great for a sukkah)
an underground parking garage
and, a mikvah (though there didn't seem to be any water in it, so I'll probably have to wait until later in Tishrae for my annual pre-Rosh Hashana dunking)
A few pictures:
Also, if you haven't watched the President's speech to Congress, I recommend you do so.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Here are my thoughts, reprinted from an email to some physics classmates of mine from college:
I kind of see (in line with Krugman) economics having an identity crisis on continuum from physics to engineering to meteorology.
Meaning, the freshwater guys are like physicist in that they prefer purest approaches. The New Keynesians are more like engineers, where they do the best they can with assumptions and simplifications and so can do amazing things in the real world (like getting humans to the moon and back). Finally, the behaviorialist and their emerging colleagues are more like meteorologists, who can never really say what the weather's going to be next month with any real degree of certainty.
The question is then how do we make serious economic policy, just as how to we make serious weather and climate policy, such as where to store snow plows and salt, when to cancel school, and where to reinforces levees and dams. It seems that reasonable degree of conservatism would be helpful in both the economic and weather-related policy making world, given the current levels of uncertainty in even the best methods.
The other amazing thing about the more classical economists is not just that they believe that monetary policy is worthless, but that some even believe that the fiscal multiplier is near 0 (meaning that private demand reduces in exact response to fiscal stimuli). This seems absurd to me in the real world, given time lags and confidence boosters associated with a stimulus.
Finally, one note that Krugram didn't mention, is that Princeton has actually just hired a few freshwater economists. We'll see how that goes.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Here are some picture highlights.
Engaku Temple, in Kita (North) Kamakure. Amazing complex of 18 buildings.
More of Engaku Temple
The very refreshing iced green tea I had at the cafe at the top of Engaku Temple, overlooking the valley and surrounding mountains.
Some flowers at Tokei Temple. Tokei temple was an amazing place where for hundreds of years women who wanted to divorce their husbands could flee for asylum. After a few years, they would be officially declared divorced.
Part of the cemetary in Tokei Temple.
The crowded downtown shopping area in Kamakura.
Yes, a rickshaw. The drivers (mules?) wore a fancy two-toed sock/shoe kind of thing (that looks like a camel's foot). Maybe it's better for traction.
Hokodu Temple. Enourmous, with lily ponds and wooden bridges. Services (?) were going on when I was there, with a kimono-clad woman striking an enourmous bell, and meditation chants in the background.
The Great Buddha in nearby Hase. It's 37 feet tall, and made out of interlocking bronze pieces. You can even go inside of it (it's hollow)!
Finally, the view from the top of Hase-dera Temple.
Some of these were taken with my 8 mega pixel digital camera, while others were with my Blackberry, after my camera battery died. (All have been reduced to the same resolution.) See if you can tell which is which.