I prefer Melbourne to Sydney—it’s more compact and has better public transportation—but wherever you go, Australians are some of the most open, friendly, and down-to-earth people you’ll meet (except in their airports, which, like America, seem to require hiring citizens with the lowest IQs). In a city where slot machines and horse race gambling are regular additions in bars and restaurants; brothels with mostly Thai workers offer sex for 140 AUD and Australian dancers don't permit touching for less than 100 AUD; and marijuana is essentially legal with a doctor’s prescription, you realize regulating man’s vices can be done ways that do not automatically remove the populace’s brains or sense of adventure (as opposed to say, well-regulated Taipei, where people—both inside and outside of airports, remarkably—are also friendly but where your greatest danger is dying of boredom).
Go to Places where People Ignore Rules Crafted in Response to Fear
I’ve mentioned Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational (2008), before. Ariely discussed an Israeli daycare’s late pick-up policy. Initially, a few parents were late picking up their children, causing the daycare to incur overtime. In an attempt to minimize disruption, the daycare instituted a penalty for late pickups. Every late interval incurred a certain fee. What happened next? Late pickups *increased*. Ariely’s accomplishment was figuring out why.
Creating rules or laws almost guarantees—in the absence of an irreverent, anti-authoritarian culture—that people will be more likely to do the minimum required by law, because lawyers have interjected themselves in a social norm and overruled it by fiat. Sure, we have the Queen and her progeny as a useful conduit to establish social norms in the U.K. and to take attention away from Englishmen with bad teeth and out-of-shape British women, but when lawyers set too many social norms, they take away personal initiative, and societies seem to become apathetic. Indeed, more laws don’t mean the intended goal of the law will be achieved or even promoted—it could mean that people see the law itself as an excuse or barrier to acting on their own. Meanwhile, in Japan or South Korea, social norms usually prevail over legal ones, so any older male can be an authority figure, not just the police.
Thinking about this social dynamic gives me more insight into why some Asian countries, like Japan, are opposed to mass immigration. It’s not xenophobia or racism—it’s because they haven’t figured out how to maintain their harmonious social norms, which, in the case of Japan, have led to one the most peaceful, polite, prosperous, safe, and efficient countries in the world.
See, for example, Ferguson, MO, where studies have shown the poor and politically-disconnected are fined at alarming rates to maintain government jobs or government job growth, or intentionally segregated. Exploitation "is in turn made possible by residential isolation. Ever since the creation of the 16th-century Venetian ghetto, the physical separation of a dishonored group has served to shield the larger city from the consequences of disinvestment in the marginalized area, and to shift the blame for the conditions in the community onto the dishonored group. The maintenance of segregation--by race or class or religion--permits the cycle of neglect to continue." (The Atlantic, June 2016, page 37, Patrick Sharkey.)
Update: I realized I didn't mention South America much. Rio was overrated, though its Botafogo neighborhood had some interesting cafes and bookstores. I also enjoyed the Cinelândia area. Both Botafogo and Cinelândia take 1/2 a day to see each, though Botafogo is best seen on a Friday or weekend evening. (I didn't go to São Paulo, and every Brazilian I know swears I'd have a different opinion of Brasil if I visited its commercial center.)
Cartagena's old town is romantic and worth a one-day visit. Medellin, situated in a valley and therefore cooler than most Colombian cities, has much potential. Overall, Colombia needs so much infrastructure work, I see no reason to return in the next 10 years. The worst airport experience I had was in Colombia, where Colombian-based Avianca airline staff misled me. I had to call a Colombian friend in California to assist me and was charged twice for a replacement ticket--no small sum. Although Avianca is one of South America's largest airlines, for safety and convenience purposes, I'd avoid them and choose LATAM or Copa instead.
Buenos Aires, Argentina is a fun, vibrant place and not as expensive as Chile. Many tourists enjoy the Palermo neighborhood.
Colonia, Uruguay--accessible by Buquebus--is a cute little hamlet.
Chile was my favorite South American country and also the most "advanced." It doesn't seem a coincidence that Chile was able to "re-set" many of its problems after Pinochet's often brutal regime.
Perhaps there's another pattern worth following: after various government agencies gain too much unchecked power, they often become ineffective or arbitrary despite their increase in power. (Absolute power corrupts, remember?) At that point, a strongman ruler is more likely to get elected or ushered in by a coup--whether in Turkey, the Philippines, or America--and the people, fed up with ineffectiveness and corruption, give license to extrajudicial measures, as long as they feel the ruler is trying to clean up the mess.
The psychological effects of the new, often politically incorrect politician are immediate--people are energized because they feel as if their voices have been heard. I've visited the Philippines several times. After the Philippines' recent election, I was struck by the chasm between what I was seeing and feeling in the country--renewed optimism and hope--and what the media was reporting--an out-of-control politician. The Philippines' Duterte is a lawyer who's taken on the Catholic Church and mining companies and spoken in favor of environmental regulation and women's rights. (Just goes to show you--you can't trust the media. Get out there and see for yourself before making any conclusions.)
I'm guessing the positive mood was the same in Turkey after the recent alleged attempted coup, when people came out in droves to support the existing president, who then removed thousands of government employees allegedly involved, including teachers. Do years of static government consolidation require a strongman to use extrajudicial means to clean up shop?
Seeing lithium miners' poor living conditions in one of Chile's most visited tourist towns indicates that a strongman may be able to reverse stagnation and corruption, but the long-term picture is not clear. In an ideal world, people would realize how lucky they are to live in relative peace and do whatever it takes, including self-sacrifice, to never reach the point of needing a strongman ruler.
Update: I originally thought I'd been traveling for 6 months straight, but someone told me it's about 5 months straight--from April 22, 2016 to September 16, 2016, or 147 days.
Update: from The Pew Center, "Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065," Lopez, Passel, and Rohal: "Between 1965 and 2015, new immigrants, their children and their grandchildren accounted for 55% of U.S. population growth. They added 72 million people to the nation’s population as it grew from 193 million in 1965 to 324 million in 2015...The combined population share of immigrants and their U.S.-born children, 26% today, is projected to rise to 36% in 2065, at least equaling previous peak levels at the turn of the 20th century."
Update: my Taiwanese friend just told me Taipei is the most "laid back" developed Asian city--a welcome contrast to my satirical comment above about boredom.
Bonus: an earlier post about my travels is HERE.
Update on March 2017: a recap of Toronto is HERE.