I forgot to mention I got scammed in Beijing. A woman came up to me near Tiananmen Square and asked me where I was from. At first I dismissed her, because of course anyone who comes up to you unbidden is trying to scam you, but she was actually very friendly and helpful, telling me that she was visiting Beijing with her friend from Chengdu and that the hotel I was trying to visit was closed, which turned out to be true. We fell into an easy conversation about cultural differences and met up with her other friend to go have a drink – all of which was logical for a fellow visitor with a few hours to burn. We ended up at a karaoke bar (that they worked for, no doubt) and sang a few songs, along with a few cups of wine, which I foolishly allowed them to choose. Turns out they chose the most expensive wine in the place, and then insisted I pay, because they didn’t have enough money.
I should have realized what was happening right then and refused, but the confusing exchange rate coupled with the wine made me offer up my Visa card without a fight. Stupid. Luckily it got denied, and I fell back to paying only a third of the exorbitant sum, because we were ‘among friends’ and it made sense to split it to each person. So in the end I got an hour of karaoke and good wine for $150 – not the end of the world. But watch out – apparently any locals near tourist attractions are scammer, no matter what they appear to be.
I finished East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which I was not impressed by. Apart from a few insightful existential paragraphs, the rest of the novel is an exercise in banal Americana, with half the characters not mattering in the end, and many of the others meetings disappointing ends. Not my type.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman was a better read, where he outlines the differences between your System 1 of thinking, which is fast and emotional, while System 2 is slow and logical. There a lot of interesting research he covers there, but what is talked about less is his theory of two selves – the experiencing self which does the living moment to moment, and the remembering self which looks back on everything you’ve done. He finds that the remembering self dominates your personal decisions, and does not remember the experience as a whole, just the peak or valley of happiness. Reminds me of my piece on travel memories not mattering.
There’s also a great long read at The New Yorker about Jony Ive, the man behind Apple’s design. The man is obsessive in the best of ways, and it’s fun to see how he decides to spend his billions to keep everything in his life well-designed, but little more.
Speaking of the New Yorker, there’s also this hilarious piece expounding on the classic ‘Guy Walks Into a Bar’ joke.