Stream of Conciousness Style.

The amount of wealth that has recently been transferred to the east is staggering. Baku is RICH! The clothes and vehicles here are ridiculous. The old city is exquisitely beautiful. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has recently been revamped. Truly, it has defied all of my expectations. I have thus far had an excellent experience dealing with Azeris. I have already learned the basics of their language and have been treated with warm hospitality on numerous occasions!

I am staying at a guesthouse run by a family of women that spans three generations! I am the only one staying there, and they treated me to a delicious lunch of a chickpea based stew, with heaps of bread and vegetables on the side. In fact, all of my meals the last few days have been spectacular. Last night, in Almaty, I ate the fruity version of plov. This is a slow cooked rice dish with apricots, raisins and carrots. I suplemented it with grilled chicken and peppers and a vegetable/feta salad. This morning, I tested Air Astana’s “special order menu.” They offer a staggering amount of special meals: raw foodist, fruititarian, lacto-ovo vegeterian, vegan, kosher, muslim, bland, etc. I went with the lacto-ovo vegetarian meal and I can confidently say it was the healthiest in-flight meal I have ever been served! Spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread, coffee, fruit salad, orange juice and tomato juice. I had boursch and bread for dinner.

As an aside, by far the most underrated, and likely the third most important phrase to learn in a foreign language is: “where is?” This phrase is remarkably versatile and important. With this phrase, and clever charades, you can obtain anything you need. Harda (type on air keyboard, take a bite from your air spoon, make a vehicle’s sound, lay your head to rest on your air pillow, etc.) In case you were wondering, the most important phrases are: “hello” and “thank you.” Combining these two with a smile opens many doors. There is then a huge gap before you arrive at “yes” and “no.”

As another aside, it is unbelievable how far your money goes outside of the west. In China, I was able to buy Washington apples and Florida oranges for less than I can get them in the states. In fact, I was able to buy produce from California for cheaper than I can find it at a farmer’s market a couple hundred kilometers from where it was grown. I read an article in today’s ‘International Herald Tribune’ about google’s new Chinese music app. 1.1 million songs are going to be available for free download — something that will be exclusive to China. There is something systemically wrong when Americans are paying (and stupid enough to be willing to pay) prices that are orders of magnitude higher than those abroad, for identical products. These goods are sold at such high prices, because we are willing to go into debt to consume them — and that debt is currently held by China. China then gets to turn around and consumes the same products for much less. Shockingly, outside of housing, the real standard of living in China’s major eastern cities is almost identical to what I observe in the states. We are basically arbitraging money to China, and along with the Chinese, there is a very small class of people who are profiting from this — namely, whoever is selling goods at these higher prices to stupid Americans.

Furthermore, the only solution I currently see to America’s declining hegemony is to reduce our dependence on the East’s hydrocarbons, and to moreover, become a leader in future energy technology. I am enjoying my time in Azerbaijan, but there is nothing here except for commodities. They produce their own food and energy, with a large surplus on the latter, and are thus able to consume an incredible amount of discretionary bullshit from the west (clothes, cars, yachts, jewelery, etc.)

The US has been focusing on minutiae for the last decade. We need to stop making minor incremental safe changes, and truly make some massive investments in infrastructure and technology — specifically, we need to drench researchers in energy related technology with money. We need to make the incentives so high, that we can’t help but lead this space going forward. We are going to be hurting in the short-term either way. The infrastructure in the rest of the world has become too robust, the education gap has narrowed and we are riding a sinking ship. However, it is not to late. I reckon we will still have research and education supremacy for the next decade, at the current rate of decline. Our best hope, is to leverage this, to drown the space in cash, and thereby create jobs and maintain incentives for the world’s most talented to immigrate. We also need to completely revamp our visa policies. I have heard some alarming stories on the road — we have become stodgy — the future is obviously for nimble states.

Finally, I don’t want this to be interprated as wanting to close off from the rest of the world. We also must realize our diminished status and listen/collaborate. The worst path America could puruse would be to blame others and to continue acting out of fear and jealousy. The reasons why China is able to consume products at such low prices and still buy our debt are failures all our own. Blaming and isolating will only speed our decline. We must embrace China and developing nations and work towards a mutually enhanced future.

I sat down to simply update you on my last couple meals and it turned into a stream of conciousness rant about how to save the world. This probably makes no sense and I am, once again, too tired to even proofread this. Here is a summary of my last week: 2 days on a  train from Beijing to Urumqi – 1 day rest – 2 days to Almaty – 1.5 days rest – 4 hours of sleep – flew to Baku – been on the go here for 17 hours. I am absolutely exhausted — but free of the censors!

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