Travel Itch Again

Ugh. I clicked on an account of a road trip through Siberia and now I want to go dash off and explore for 3-6 months. It really got my travel juices flowing again. Good thing I have the NYC trip coming up, and Hawaii after that (though they’re both pretty tame as tourist places), else I don’t know how sane I can stay.

More on Tammin Sursok

I’ve always thought her to be one of the more talented young singer/songwriters with her own unique style. Her one studio album was certainly a local sensation, and inspired many more famous artists to cover her songs. “Around the World” definitely gets my travel juices flowing. It’s a bit of a tragic loss to the world of music that she went into acting instead. Also another tragedy is her breaking the hearts of adoring [male] fans everywhere by tying the knot back in 2011, and now has a kid to boot. Anyway, definitely worth checking out.

Japanese Herbivore Cycle

It seems that Japan is a media whipping boy that the B-grade press can turn to at any time for a sensationalist article. The focus always seems to be a nation in trouble – declining population, unfavourable demographics, collapsed bubble economy, and herbivore men. See here, here, and here. Hey, wasn’t it just 3 years ago that they last brought up this topic? How much has really changed since then, I wonder. As most commentators have noted, these articles cherrypick studies and make extrapolations based on anecdotes. Why don’t people ask if Italians, with their low birth rate and Catholic upbringing, are having too little sex? Are there Japanese men who subscribe to “herbivorism” and aren’t competitive on the dating market? Sure, and outcasts are there in any other country. It’s just easier for most readers in the west to imagine such oddities happening in a distant exotic land than somewhere familiar in the west.

SoCal is Filled with Competitive People

And here I thought I had a tough time adjusting to life in the Midwest. SoCal is also a place with a totally different mentality also. People are really really judgmental and superficial. They’re also incredibly insecure. For example, an aspiring actor working as a waiter will not hesitate to criticize and look for every opportunity to make a competitor or colleague (basically the same thing) look bad. This is in surprising contrast to the Bay Area, where everyone is smart but remarkably humble about their accomplishments, realizing that working together as a team enhances one’s individual brilliance. There’s also terrible sprawl, which leads to a car culture and bad air quality.

There are redeeming factors though. The weather overall is great. There are many outdoor activities and great hiking and biking spots. World class shopping malls and innovative restaurants abound. There’s enough room for housing not to be as supremely expensive as in the Bay or NYC.

The Troubles Facing China

I’m incredibly lucky. Not only do I have a loving family, but with their help I’m close to being able to live the dream. My parents are also thankfully getting to a comfortable enough situation with work and finances that I’ve been talking to them about early retirement (sometimes jokingly about me “retiring” before them). A combination of prudent investments and diligent savings combined with a lot of luck has helped them to this point, which I’m really happy about given all their sacrifices and all the risks they took along the way. In our discussions, they seem reluctant to move away from California though. I keep trying to sell them on the benefits of life in Malaysia or Singapore, both of which offer a nice community at a great price. The commonality to our discussion though, is that neither they nor I want for them to move back to China, despite what all of our relatives encourage. It’s quite simple actually. Chinese society has changed dramatically since when we left. I see it every day in the overseas Chinese community in the ethnic enclaves I’ve lived in around the world. These immigrants have kept intact certain fundamental traditions and attitudes that the huge rush into modernity has stamped out in China.

Take communal living in villages for example. In a time of scarcity, people in the villages would band together and help each other out. It was possible to go from village to village and have people. No one locked their doors, because everyone was equally poor. In fact, it’s been shown in some circles that the most generous are the poor. Not so much in today’s China, where everyone is out to get rich quickly, including by tramping over others and the justice depends on your income. It’s a place where even the smallest child learns the value of graft. Companies cut corners to make profits at the cost of people’s lives. Heck, learning isn’t done for learning’s sake anymore. It’s all about trying to game the system, getting the grades needed to get a top job to make money, even if you have to cheat to get there. And that’s not to mention the pollution and environmental devastation that’s accrued.

The Downside of Speaking Too Many Languages

Though I swear I don’t get them confused in my head (I “enter” into a “mode” where I think, act, and behave in that particular language), an odd thing happened while driving into work this morning. I usually run my language tapes as a way of multitasking and staying sharp on them (how easy it is to forget when one doesn’t speak/use such languages regularly), and as a side note try to watch and read news in as many different languages as possible (now possible thanks to the wonders of the internet). I think that we all are exposed to too much of the dominant language in our everyday lives, depending on where we live, and of course English as well being such a global medium of interchange and entertainment that one is bound to see it everywhere, that I think it’s best to have the other changeable aspects of life be conducted in one’s ancillary languages, in order again to keep up with fluency.

So anyways, when listening to my Spanish tapes, I was asked to say a sentence containing “children”. The rest of the sentence was not a problem, but somehow my mind blanked on that word and kept trying to fill it with “kodomo” (the Japanese equivalent), when it should have been “niños”. Ugh… this is a first. Usually when I mix languages (je melange tous tambien), it’s between Romance languages. This is the first time a “leak” has occurred between such vastly different language families. FML.

Want to Meet Amazing People? Travel

This started in part because some coworkers and acquaintances were complaining about how impossible it is to find good, compatible, [single] people, especially in one’s mid-late 20s. To this, I say bollocks. These people may be trying hard, but obviously aren’t looking in all the right places.

People of a certain mentality gravitate to certain places and activities. If you want to meet jocks/bodybuilders, head to the gym. For extreme fitness people, try a marathon. A shy nerd, maybe Gamestop (not a bookstore, that along with coffee shops is for hipsters). Old retired wealthy patricians? Perhaps in the exclusive country club. Serial flirts looking for a quick lay, head straight for the seedy local bar. Basically, the image you have in your mind of who goes to these places is probably correct.

Now for the kicker.

Want to find a beautiful, wealthy, cultured, worldly, and adventurous individual? Travel.

Seriously, I’ve met more amazing people on my travels than by doing any other activity. The reason seems to be that they self select. Someone with those above traits likes to travel as opposed to work (the other place you might find these people) because 1. he doesn’t want to overwork himself to an early MI or 2. has way too much disposable income that he doesn’t need to work. Travel also requires a certain curiosity about the world, and a mindset of thinking beyond borders rather than remaining comfortably confined to a cocoon (how’s that for unintended alliteration?), and of course the financial means to afford to do it. Even better are the ones who travel for more than just pleasure. Those on some kind of cause (UN, Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, ecovolunteerism) usually have the caring personalities that make a solid relationship possible.

Oh, and also people are genuinely happier, more carefree, and more open on travels. That makes it very easy to get to know someone quickly. I honestly believe that being free on the open road brings out all the sunny aspects of someone’s personality and does wonders to enhances that person’s attractiveness. Really, think about comparing a harried office worker eking out a few hours in the evening to date versus someone totally loose and in the element not distracted by those mundane concerns, living it up in a fun and adventurous way.

In my regular life, I meet maybe 1-2 women a year that I’d consider attractive and worthwhile pursuits. When traveling, it’s about one per week. Though of course there’s the slight problem of them being free spirits who don’t want to get attached or those already taken traveling with their SOs.

News Roundup – Happiness Edition

Apparently HuffPost  stole my thunder and came out with an entire section of their webpage dedicated to healthy living and happiness. They do have some interesting articles, which I have listed here.

The first post that really jumped out at me is about the new generation of doctors. They combine modern expectations about work/life balance with a fresh approach to the staid profession. They are more personable, casual, friendly, and sociable (old-timers would argue less professional) with both patients and coworkers. Overall, the article’s appraisal is spot on, and describes me almost to a T. I especially like to have the same attitude at work as I do with friends. And that bit about locums all over the world, while living it up YOLO style, perfect! Oh, the bit about quitting work after 3 years to pursue the dream of traveling, sailing, surfing, and hiking around the world… exactly what I’m looking for!

Germans know this very well. It’s no surprise that they are the #1 represented ethnicity among travelers I meet around the world. Not only do they have plenty of vacation time and money, but they have an innate desire to see the world and escape their “boring” (in their own words) country. I think they just have a taste for disorder on command, outside of their country, for a limited while. But yes, Germany has chosen to spend its wealth in ways that genuinely have high yields in terms of happiness for its population. That means extensive vacation times, beautiful preserved nature, a more compressed wage schedule, attainable middle class jobs, and subsidized education/health care. The US, on the other hand, has chosen to squander its [more extensive] wealth on things like the military, policing foreign countries, maintaining bases around the world, projecting power, and giveaways to big companies and the rich.

We all should really take a page from them on that first point and enjoy ourselves more on vacation. I learned the truth of how freeing it can be, not being beholden to an alarm clock or deadlines. There is nothing more satisfying than planning my schedule at my own whim, waking up whenever I want, and doing what I want without external pressure. In fact, it’s so great I wouldn’t mind having my career built around that schedule, either as a locums/per diem doctor, contract worker, or freelance blogger. Apparently it’s not even that big a secret. Many of the top names in business, entertainment, and politics take extensive vacations to “reset” and “recharge”. It makes sense. To stave off burnout but yet still working hard at work, one has to occasionally take a break and mix things us.

The last great article, and perhaps a bit of a slog to read, on there is about the actual science of happiness down to the neurochemical level. It breaks down types of happiness into the eudaimonic (supposedly the more mature one) reflecting a state of well-being, or satisfaction with the present, being more lasting than the activity of pursuing happiness, which may lead one to be constantly unsatisfied. It sprinkles throughout theories of the evolutionary bases for why we are constantly searching for the next horizon. An interesting read throughout.

This is How Freedom Dies

With the gradual erosion of online privacy in a process so insidious that we take each step as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I’m off Facebook. I never started using Twitter. Is there more I need to do? Forsake Google and carve out my own mail server on a private domain using bitcoins as a transaction model? Nah… while admittedly I am more libertarian than before, I’m no Luddite yet (despite what Wayne may think). Even though, being outside of the tech bubble of Silicon Valley, it’s easier to criticize the tunnel vision of most inhabitants enthralled by the purity and world-changing potential of “the tech”.

Reminds me of Aviendha’s vision in “Towers of Midnight”. Each step seems entirely logical to the people making it, but one by one it leads to the depths of depravity and dare I say… serfdom. And the last part reminds me of Topher in Dollhouse and his all-consuming obsession about “the tech”.

Exciting Future Plans

Really excited about the things being I’ve set in motion recently, mostly involving business ideas, blogs, and upcoming trips.

  1. Planning to subdivide this blog into 3 commercially hosted blogs, in part to promote my upcoming book and websites. One will focus on how to live life, evidence-based approach to happiness, fun things going on in economics/politics, and of course my personal philosophy of minimalism. The site will serve as both an extension of and marketing for my book. The model for this is Dan Ariely’s site combined with Marginal Revolution. Another will be a pure travel blog, kinda like Legal Nomads or the host of other digital nomadism sites. This one will be mostly noncommercial and contain pictures, thoughts, observations from my trips. The last one will be work-related, focusing on medicine, and contain my business idea related to USMLE preparation.
  2. And now the grand unveiling of my business idea: Spaced Repetition, random generation of exam prep questions, flash cards, and other resources. The site itself will be ad supported and my vision is eventually for it to be a large forum hub for med students everywhere to discuss things, exchange info, and share study resources. Upon registering, they will have access to my flash cards, question banks, summary tables, and notes. Monetarization will come from banner ads, donations, as well as a mobile app version of the site, which will cost $3-$5 one time (much better deal than the other exam prep sites). Oh, and there will be a “premium” account which for a nominal monthly subscription, can tailor the selection of questions generated each day to match students’ areas of weakness.
  3. The book I’m writing about happiness is coming along… ever… so… slowly. Maybe after the in-service exam and step 3 I’ll have more time, energy, and motivation to finish it.
  4. Upcoming trip to NYC, Mpls, and San Jose, all to visit family and friends and to see new sights as a tourist. Luckily I have good friends in all of those locations who have offered me a bed/couch to crash on. This is especially handy in NYC, where hotel prices are insane. Oh, planned highlights include watching Ender’s Game, touring Manhattan, hiking with Rebecca, tennis with brother, and Vienna Teng concert in SF. That will be a fulfilling, fast-paced, and exciting time overall. Can’t wait!