Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Malatya, Turkey: Well-Designed City Centre with UNESCO Site 2 Hours Away

If I were Turkish, I'd live in Malatya. It's clean; the perfect size, geographically and  population-wise; and enough to do but not so much you feel pressured to jump out of bed at 7:00AM each morning. 

Best of all, just 2 hours and 15 minutes away is a 2000+ years-old UNESCO site, Mount Nemrut (aka Nemrut Dağ), containing beautiful views reminiscent of one of my favorite places in the world, Chile's San Pedro de Atacama. 
On the way to Mt. Nemrut.
The city of Malatya itself also has a beautiful vibe, like a teenage girl prettier than everyone else at the party but not obviously so because she hasn't learned to use make-up. When I took the bus, I didn't have the local bus card and didn't realize I couldn't pay cash. Someone, a young person, scanned his card twice, once for me, and once for him. When I tried to pay him, he refused to accept my money. Being Iranian and thinking I had to be persistent until my act of courtesy was accepted, I actually tried forcing the money into his hand, only to have him forcefully push my hand away. (Note to self: although the Turkish drink, ayran, is similar to doogh, Turks ain't Persian and don't know taarof/تعارف‎‎.) 

This situation repeated itself a few days later--I underestimated walking distance to a location and spontaneously hopped on a bus--and after I literally waved a 10 TL bill around, a young woman ignored my money and scanned her card for me.

My tour guide for Mount Nemrut? He met me at my hotel the day before our trip so we could see each other in person and agree on the basics. 
My tour guide's info. I paid 250 TL.
Worth it.

Lest you think I'm discussing a farming village the modern city hasn't corrupted, here's a photo of Malatya's city center at night.  
All the roads are perfectly paved. All of them.

Interestingly, Malatya's economy does rely heavily on agriculture, more specifically apricots. The best are the black ones, and dried apricots are everywhere.
12 TL.

There's even a small shrine to the apricot in the middle of the city. (Tip: when choosing hotels, try to stay near the apricot statute, which is near the Sire Bazaar and other convenient locations. Best hotel in town is the Doubletree Hilton. If you want non-corporate, try the Kircuval Hotel.) 
All hail the Great Apricot.

In addition to the apricot, Turkey's national food, doner/shawarma, is also popular. I didn't find the local speciality, kagit kebabi, though. Maybe you'll have better luck. 

Let's do a quick rundown of sites to see in Malatya:

1.  Nemrut Mountain and Sire Bazaar were mentioned above. 
Sire Bazaar
 
2.  Waterfall Park aka Şelale Parkı and Kernek Meydani aka Kernek Square are next to each other. (Most people outside of upscale hotels do not speak English, so always have the Turkish name available). There's a restaurant with bland food at the top of the man-made waterfall's stairs, but it has beautiful views, especially at sunset. 
The bottom of Waterfall Park aka Selale Parki

Kernek Meydani aka Kernek Square.
No one I met knew the origin of the word, "kernek."
(By the way, there's a beautiful-looking natural waterfall about one and a half hours away from Malatya called Gunpinar Selalesi.) 

3.  Hurriyet Parki, a small but pleasant park. Ataturk Museum aka Ataturk House, a tiny museum, is nearby. 

4.  The best mosques to see are Battalgazi Grand Mosque, Yeni Camii (New Mosque), and Aysehan Cami. You can skip all the other mosques. 
Aysehan Camii/Mosque
5. 
 Arslantepe Ruins aka Arsaltepe Mound aka Aslantepe. I haven't been there yet, but you can look up pictures online. See here, for example. 
From the Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate

6.  The Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate in Malatya publishes a very useful tour guide. You can see the guide at the local tourism office, but I'll publish just one more page of additional sites I didn't include here. 
From Malatya's Provincial Culture & Tourism Directorate

7. If you are into interesting architecture, there's a building next to Malatya Park Mall called Malatya Büyükşehir Belediyesi. 
Local government office. Spiffy.

 4 days is more than enough to see Malatya, but I'm staying for 7 nights, and I'm more relaxed than I've been in months. If want a simple travel experience with all the amenities of a modern city, try Malatya--a city-village that hasn't outgrown its country manners and, like Cinderella, in need of exposure and luck to show the world her charms. 
Bonus: a few suggestions for Malatya's tourism department: 

1) Hire more people who speak English and Farsi. Most of your tourists are from Iran, Russia, and Germany, but almost no one speaks any of their languages fluently in Malatya. Why not hire college students abroad during the summer or do a student exchange with an Iranian, German/Austrian, or Russian university? 


2) Why is Wikipedia blocked in Turkey? I can use a VPN on my phone to get around restrictions, but my connection slows down a lot. Strangely, my VyperVPN does not work at all when attempting to connect to any U.S. server. 

3) I still don't know where to buy a bus card. Hold on, I just asked one of the few fluent English speakers at the Doubletree Hilton hotel. Apparently, I can buy a local bus card at a shop near a specific bus stop. Why not make it easy for tourists and sell local bus cards inside hotels?

Double Bonus: a taxi from the airport to the city centre should cost about 80 TL, but you can take the Havasbus for 10 TL. Uber and Careem do not operate in Malatya as of October 2017. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Travel Posts

Interested in travel posts? See below.

Abu Dhabi (UAE) is HERE.

Brunei is HERE


Cebu, Philippines is HERE.

Cuba (Part 1) is HERE.

Istanbul is HERE.

Malatya, Turkey is HERE


Oman is HERE.

Qatar is HERE.


Toronto is HERE. (Bonus: Toronto Museum.)

UNWTO's 2017 Conference is HERE.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia is HERE

My lengthy post about visiting 18 countries in 5 months is HERE.

You may also follow me on IG under mateoraft to see more photos. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Idiocracy

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” ― Winston S. Churchill 

Does peak stupidity exist, or will people find ways to accelerate idiocracy to ever-increasing heights? 

It is impossible to write about politics in a semi-normal way today. It's true epithets and crassness have always existed in politics. Margaret Thatcher had to contend with chants of "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher" when she cut welfare spending. Reagan was derided as nothing more than an actor. Yet, one still had admit some level of intelligence behind the criticism. It takes wit to rhyme Thatcher with anything mellifluous, and it managed to impart essential information as well: this particular party was cutting welfare to prioritize other spending. 

Such criticism starts the hidden clock behind all political calculations. If Thatcher cut welfare but failed to lower unemployment, at some point, she would appear incompetent. Cutting or reforming welfare benefits without a net positive result in the overall economy is monstrous for obvious reasons. Liberals understood this and planned their attacks accordingly. Conservatives knew they had to produce results because they lacked the touchy-feely platform of the liberals, and stepped up or lost power. The accusatory dance never seemed to end, but it was an unappreciated form of checks and balances: sometimes sentiment is favorable, sometimes an economy needs a firm hand, and democracy assumes voters can be trusted to know which style should lead and when. 

Speaking of conservatives and results, Barry Goldwater--a sincere, intelligent politician--was seen as so radical, he repelled American voters, losing in a landslide.  Yet, he was savvy enough to attract none other than Hillary Clinton: "I was also an active Young Republican and, later, a Goldwater girl, right down to my cowgirl outfit and straw cowboy hat... I liked Senator Goldwater because he was a rugged individualist who swam against the political tide." 

Irony of all ironies, Hillary lost the presidential election to a rugged individualist who not only swam against the political mainstream, but bazookaed it on the way to the White House. 

Meanwhile, voters slowly began to realize--or should have realized--central banks, bondholders, and the military create more policy behind the scenes than anything they would ever see on a ballot. If a firm hand was needed on the dance card to create a soft landing from 2002 to 2008, voters had no options--they could do nothing to influence Alan Greenspan or the independent Federal Reserve. Ron Paul's arguments to abolish the Fed make more sense in this democratic context, but once any entity holds trillions of dollars in debt, everyone realizes the debt will never be paid off completely, and the entire game changes.  

So yes, something feels different today in politics, but every single commentator and philosopher predicts the end of civilization every twenty or so years, and the wheels keep churning, so writers find it imprudent to sound the alarms. 

And yet, something does feel different this time. Since the dawn of television, optics over substance has been with us. JFK was derided as a pretty face but beat Nixon in part because female voters found him handsome. Had he run for office when only the radio existed, his higher-pitched voice may not have bested the deeper, more measured Nixonian sound. Canada's Justin Trudeau certainly continues the JFK dynamic. 

When Hillary supporters argue misogyny caused her loss, they fail to account for their nominee's anti-JFK momentum: no charisma, no youth, no idealism, and--dare I say it--no sexuality. (Had Hillary's campaign "leaked" a few photos of her frolicking on the beach with a 30 year-old Cuban male model, she may have won. Think about it--which of her existing supporters would have switched their votes or stayed home post-disclosure?) 

If politics mirrors society, thereby shining a light into voters' minds, does the pessimist have evidence today's politics--and people--are more corrosive than ever before? When I watched the debates, I heard not one inspiring sentence from Hillary--or Trump. Even now, after Trump's many opportunities to speak, not a single memorable sentence comes to mind. I know Hillary would have been no different. (By the way, much of the gender pay gap can be attributed to the unequal pay and gender composition of CEOs and other high-ranking executives. Most CEOs are male and the gap between their compensation and average employees' pay has grown dramatically over time. The key to solving the gender pay gap is to pay CEOs less or figure out how to get more women promoted into the highest paying management jobs. You won't hear this common sense approach from any politician in office because it won't get as many votes as a more divisive policy. Besides, how could your supporters sell t-shirts with faddish slogans if politicians used common sense?) 

Americans don't tolerate idiots in office just because they're entertaining. It's because once in a while, they inspire us, and we suspect the chaos they deal with is a crucible that produces something other than sheer crass. Thus far, aside from Justin Trudeau's media ops with Syrian refugees, 2017's politics have produced no semblance of Vaclav Havel's wisdom or inspirational moments. Peace in the Middle East isn't nearer on the horizon. Space travel is being handled mainly by billionaires while NASA is reduced to begging for more government funding (its GPS-based maps are quite useful, though). Water management worldwide seems to lack any cohesive plan, and we are told every year that American aquifers continue to be in dismal shapeAnti-poverty efforts have benefited more from developed nations outsourcing manufacturing than anything government has done. 

In short, the number of wins assigned to the government's side of ledger over the past 5 to 15 years is nil. K-12 education is in worse shape, unless you live in a district with very expensive homes or win a charter school lottery. University tuition continues to increase much higher than the overall inflation rate, and parents are told to budget for 5 to 6 years because students may not get the classes they need in 4 years. Police brutality has always been with us, but the lack of accountability when unnecessary and excessive violence is captured on film, especially against teenagers and unarmed minorities, has shocked many Americans. Meanwhile my local "bullet" train was built in the 1980s and is slower than a car unless taken at a specific time. 

Even on smaller issues, the government has proven untrustworthy with taxpayer funds: there are fewer blue P.O. boxes available, reducing convenience as well as required personnel time, but the USPS deficit continues unabated. Many liberals will argue the solution is to reward incompetence with more taxpayer funds, without realizing most voters' taxes have already increased year over year, and accountability and responsiveness haven't improved. To sum up, former politicians have made so many promises to existing interest groups, higher taxes simply sustain the status quo rather than assist new ideas or the general public. 

A government that fails to make education useful and affordable; fails to institute accountability in police departments; and fails to improve infrastructure while increasing taxes and reducing services is bound to be viewed with contempt. Welcome to America in 2017. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Istanbul: Best in Class Tourism

I'm in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the most visited cities in the world. It's easy to see why tourists love Istanbul. It has an inexpensive subway and fast-moving bus system; wonderful cafes; incredible pastries and food; let's repeat this again--wonderful food, especially puddings and sweets; and a blend of religious sites not available elsewhere because few other cities have experienced so many conflict while also having rulers who chose to preserve rather than destroy. 
Lot of different bread options. I call the one in the background "puffy naan." 

Have your pastries with a drink called "sahlep"
or some tea/çay, pronounced "chai."
Great-tasting chocolate, 
esp the bittersweet or pistachio-infused pieces. 
Sweet shoppes are everywhere. 
I can see why C.S. Lewis's nephews & nieces loved Turkish Delight so much. 
Istanbul is the kind of city where you'll see a nondescript, empty restaurant, walk in, eat something you've never had before, love it, and order three more. 
Was it carrot pie covered in syrup? No idea. It was awesome.
(Update: I think it was pumpkin.) 

Don't know what was in this spread, but I ordered three.  
It had a pleasing pepper kick. Only 3 TL each. 

Here's a basic rundown of how to approach Istanbul. Think of it as divided in two sides by a body of water called the Golden Horn, with one side called Europe and the other side called Asia. (Although I didn't hear anyone actually use those specific terms, apparently the Europe side is more developed than the Asia side.) 

Starting on the upper left of your visual map and working your way down, you'll see Chora Church, Suleiman Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, and the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. On the right side, you'll start at the top again with Taksim Square, Galata Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, and Topkapi Palace. You can see these sites in three to five days. 

Some tourist books include the Basilica Cistern and Maiden Tower (at the Bosphorus Strait) as major attractions, but I didn't like the Basilica Cistern--it's just a small underground cave with a few pillars where water used to be stored--and I didn't bother visiting the Maiden or Maiden's Tower. Some tourists may enjoy the Istanbul Archeological Museum, but I skipped that one, too. (Another site list is linked here, from Lonely Planet.) 
The quickly-expiring museum pass is in vogue. I hate it.
Why pressure guests by allowing only a few days to see your best sites rather than a more reasonable two weeks?
Also, stop charging for "special exhibitions." If I buy a ticket, I should be able to see your entire museum. Ok, rant over.
Let's get some names straightened out, because many sites have completely different names in English and Turkish, and like "Firenze Santa Maria," it's not always easy to realize you're looking at Florence.

Within the Sultanahmet area, which includes a Sultanahmet tram stop, is the Hagia Sophia, a former church, also known as 
Ayasofya Müzesi. 

Right across from the Hagia Sophia (not Haga Sophia, as it's often misspelled) is the Blue Mosque aka Sultan Ahmed Mosque, built by Muslim Ottomans after conquering Constantinople and re-naming it Istanbul. The reason it's called the Blue Mosque is because of a few blue tiles within it, so don't look around for a blue dome, because you won't see it (though I thought I saw a subtle blue light around the mosque at night). 


Depending on whom you ask, the Blue Mosque is the largest mosque in Istanbul, but others say the Süleymaniye Mosque aka the Suleiman Mosque (named after Suleiman the Magnificent) deserves the honor. 
Suleiman Mosque

Around the Suleymaniye Mosque are also two tombs with beautiful wall tiles. Personally, I thought the Suleymaniye Mosque was the most interesting mosque. I was able to see all three religions represented within it, although I still have unanswered questions about the specific items in the dome itself, which appear to be amber, flowers, and a plump version of the fleur-de-lis.

Other than the mosques (aka camii) mentioned above, I particularly enjoyed seeing Mihrimah Sultan Mosque; Kalenderhane Mosque; and especially the Emniyet Evler Mosque 1970, Laleli Mosque (located at Kemal Pasa Mahallesi, Ordu Cd., 34134), and the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. 
Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque

Chora Church is also known as Kariye Muzesi. As of October 2017, it's under major reconstruction, so if you are a devout or Orthodox Christian (am I being redundant?), you should check its status before coming to Istanbul. For now, you'll be able to see only a few interesting and unique mosaics and frescoes. You'll notice several depictions of people holding three fingers, apparently to represent the Trinity; however, I saw some artistic renditions with just two fingers, not just in this church but other places, and no one could explain why only two fingers are being shown. One person suggested the two fingers represent Jesus's mother and father, but other Orthodox artwork highlights only Mary and John the Baptist, with Joseph nowhere to be found. 
Giving you the fingers?

Before you visit, download the app Trafi, which lists subway and other public transportation times and stops. Its GPS programming is a work in progress--it listed an incorrect metro stop as closest to me--but it is still useful for orientating yourself with various metro names. I could not clearly understand the labyrinth ways to get around--there are trams, transfer tunnels, buses, and subways--but luckily, Istanbul is eminently walkable, taxis are everywhere, and Uber, BiTaksi (an app that calls a taxi to your location), and Careem are allowed. 

Definitely get a subway or Metro card, which can also be used on buses (but not the short ones, which look like shuttles and accept only cash). When first using the old and confusing metro card machines, choose the third/last option on the menu, which represents a new Istanbul card. When re-loading, you just have to hold up the card to the card scanner/slot, deposit money, and confirm your selection on the screen after the machine accepts your bills. I put in 20 TL (Turkish lira) to start, but I should have put 50 TL to ease my mind about catching a subway or bus over a five day period. 
Metro Pass
Where should you stay? I like the Taksim, Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, and Karaköy areas. Karaköy is the most touristy of the four, but some people might appreciate its convenient location. If you want to be around lots of good cafes and restaurants, definitely stay in Beşiktaş near Türkali Mahallesi. I would stay in either Taksim (touristy, but well-done and enjoyable) or in Beşiktaş near Türkali Mahallesi (I'm writing this post there now, in a cafe called Baracca Coffee). No matter where you are, you'll probably be around 20 to 30 minutes away from wherever you want to go, assuming you're near a metro stop and don't mind walking. 

What to do, besides see the beautiful mosques and other popular sites? A uniquely Turkish experience is a hammam, where you pay to enter a central room and wash yourself with a bucket of water and soap bar, or pay a little more to have someone of the same gender wash and scrub you as you lie down. The traditional hammam experience begins when you go to a nondescript room, strip down to your underwear, wrap yourself in a towel, exit the small room, lock the door, and find your way to a large room where several faucets dispense warm water. You'll lie face down on a centrally-located marble-like slab, your forehead resting on a rectangular piece of plastic wrapped around a small towel.

Your masseur will fill a bucket with water, soap you up, and intermittently splash warm and increasingly warmer water on you to wash away the soapy film and bubbles. Then he'll use a scrubbing pad to get you really clean. At some point, you'll turn over, and he'll prop your leg on his knee and massage your leg muscles. More soap and water will be used, and when you're done, you will get your towel and go outside, where another towel will be wrapped around your head while you wait to dry out before going inside a small sauna room or your locked room or locker. (Don't forget your key!) Some people swear they've found religion during this experience, but I had a thinly-built masseur and might not have gotten the soapy thrashing others received. (I continue to prefer Chinese-style reflexology.) 
On my way to the main bathhouse room.
The dome in this one was exquisite and allowed sunlight in.

Istanbul's other unique features are 1) its youthful population, which seems to be out en masse every night, cigarettes and beer in hand, at the lively restaurant and cafe districts in Beşiktaş or Taksim; and 2) its rug-making exhibits, which tell stories of a once-popular trade that flourished in many cities outside of Istanbul, especially Konya. Many of Turkey's best rugs are featured in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (Turkve Islam Eserleri Muzesi), a must-visit. 
I haven't been to all the popular sites yet. The Jewish museum near Galata Tower was closed today, and I didn't make it in time to go inside the baroquely-designed Dolmabahce Palace, but I'll end with this: Istanbul is a city for the young, but it manages to tolerate the old. If you ask me, 'tis a fitting description for a city incorporating each century's madness and creativity into one splendid domed, cobblestoned, and tiled package. The most beautiful mosaic isn't on the walls of the Chora Church, not really--it's everywhere you look in Istanbul.

Bonus: I'd avoid Blue Istanbul Hotel Taksim. Worst hotel experience I've had so far in Turkey. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Reporting from 2017's UNWTO Conference

Doha, Qatar is 2017’s host for the annual U.N. World Tourism Organization’s event. This year’s theme is “sustainable tourism.” Qatar seeks to attract tourists through its impressive pearl diving, oil drilling, and falcon raising heritage. 
Is that Wayne or Garth with his backstage pass? 
I’ve never attended a UNWTO event. The format is similar to most conferences—a keynote speaker, several other speakers, different panels, then dinner. The host country has an opportunity to advertise itself and demonstrate its capacity to entertain other countries and large organizations.
Main hall in Sheraton Grand Doha
Think of it as Middle Eastern hospitality on a large scale—one country invites a guest and proudly shows off its home, and the next year, it accepts a reciprocal invitation. The events work smoothly because each guest knows it will be a host one day, and each host wants to take advantage of its time to impress other guests.

Taleb Rifai, the current UNWTO Secretary General, was this year's keynote speaker. He’s an impressive orator, peppering his speech with the phrase, “My friends,” and speaking in such a way that you sincerely believe he is speaking directly to you, his dear friend.
The one and only Taleb Rifai
He praised Qatar for being the “most open country in the [Middle Eastern] region”—Qatar recently waived visas for many countries—and lauded tourism’s many economic benefits. Rifai’s most interesting comment related to “tourism phobia” in European cities like Barcelona and Venice. Despite local complaints about tourism, according to Rifai, just one hour outside these cities exist wineries and scenery more impressive than the city centers themselves, but no one visits and so they remain undiscovered. Thus, the future of sustainable tourism appears to involve greater diversity of locations and better marketing for undiscovered gems. All countries now recognize that only developing beachfront property isn’t a sustainable approach to attract tourism and investment long-term. Consequently, the UNWTO’s members plan to use tourism to develop smaller cities and to spread tourist dollars more equitably. The really difficult question, especially if you're wary of government interference in private markets, is this: if you're a developer or hotel management company, how does a country convince you to build in a smaller location, where the number of expected tourists are much smaller than in a city center? 

I asked how Qatar planned to attract tourists from all income levels, given its relatively expensive food and accommodation prices. My answer would have involved something about Doha’s world-class service and its excellent value for money when considering the level of accommodation and quality of sites, especially its museums. The gentleman answering my question referred to airline partnerships and making the cost of travel cheaper. (WOW airline, for example, offers cheap flights from major California cities to Iceland and is expanding its U.S. presence.)

I wasn't impressed with his unimaginative response. Countries in more expensive developed countries ought to subsidize accommodation for tourists younger than 27 years old as well as city-wide bus tours to encourage a wide variety of tourists. For example, Abu Dhabi’s bus tour was about 70 USD, so I skipped it, perhaps missing an attraction or two I could have recommended to my friends and readers—other potential tourists. The subsidies could be as simple as tax credits for hostels with the subsidy/credit required to go towards upgrading or maintaining specific items such as security, lockers, and/or beds. The hostel would be required to charge a lower rate in exchange for the subsidy but would still have to make a profit to stay in business, thereby encouraging excellent customer service. Who knows? Maybe a few young tourists will enjoy a destination so much, they will apply to local grad schools and pay non-resident tuition rates. My point? The benefits from exchanging ideas spontaneously and freely amongst curious people, especially young people, cannot be measured in dollars and cents, especially not short term. If free markets are concentrating CAPEX in ways that guarantee unwelcome saturation, it's time for everyone to sit down and think outside the box. 

In any case, other than Taleb Rifai, the highlights were listening to Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, on one of the panels (he’s very, very direct and has a wicked sense of humor); hearing a string quartet at the sponsored dinner; and holding a falcon carefully on my arm. I also enjoyed meeting Croatia’s State Secretary of Tourism, Frano Matusic. (Did you know Croatia derives 20% of its entire GDP from tourism?) 
CEO Akbar Al Baker
Much to my lament, I didn’t hear any cutting-edge ideas at the conference, perhaps due to the current Saudi-led and American-instigated blockade against Qatar. Dubai may be one of the world’s most traveled destinations, but to prevent tourism from becoming a “winner-take-all” game, the GCC should cooperate and market a multi-country tour. Individually, between Abu Dhabi, Oman, Brunei, and Qatar, only Oman currently has enough unique items to warrant an extended visit, and the battle to outdo each other in architectural wonders can only go so far.

Even Dubai has reason to be concerned. Most people will visit Dubai only once, and if its future requires unlimited funding for the latest new gadget or building design, its tourism strategy is not sustainable. Thus, a sustainable tourism future for all neighboring countries, not just GCC ones, will involve much greater cooperation on all levels—security, planning, trade, and visas. Such cooperation, if done properly, should lead to more individual freedom across borders, as local countries temporarily swap visiting police, academic, and military workers to increase cultural understanding and share more information, lowering overall security costs and preventing a divide-and-conquer strategy.

Indeed, as far as I know, no one wants to imitate Chinese-style “tourism,” where visitors are herded into buses like cattle, given strict time limits at each destination (which inevitably leads to accusations of bad behavior—you’d take all the shrimp at the buffet, too, if you were hungry and afraid the bus would leave without you), and shown the kind of tour only North Korean travel agencies would appreciate. The Chinese travel this way to maximize their safety, especially because of the language barrier outside China. Sadly, if this “controlled tourism” approach continues, China may not produce another Jack Ma (aka Ma Yun), who gained his English-speaking skills and maverick style by seeing the world, especially Australia, on his own. 

In its final evaluation, if tourism cooperation is done properly, the costs of technological innovations—such as biometric passports and eye-scanning airport machines—will be shared across neighboring governments and less money will eventually be spent on security, especially weapons purchases. As more discretionary rials are freed for other purposes, governments, citizens, and private companies will feel more comfortable opening long-term visas and cross-border investments directly to ordinary individuals--not just through corporations, universities, and institutions. 


The key is to balance security and privacy. Thus far, the pendulum has shifted so far towards security, there is no doubt Eisenhower’s famous warning has come true. The true test of sustainable tourism will be whether it reverses global spending trends post-9/11 and creates, as much as possible, a world where the Chinese feel safe traveling as individuals. After all, who wants a world without another Jack Ma?