Category Archives: Education

learning in America

Observations while traveling in Europe

Observations while traveling in Europe

Traveling can be a beneficial learning experience. Not all countries provide services or solve problems using the same methods. Following are some observations:

In all of the cities and towns that we visited there was a substantial use of bicycles for common transportation. Also, the prevalence of electric power assisted bikes is increasing.

In the downtown sector of one town the public transport was with Electric buses.

Historic downtowns remain busy & vital with retail businesses on the ground floor and accommodation on the levels above. In some cases, restaurants are located in what used to the back yards between buildings with access via alley ways.

There is extensive use of round-abouts and traffic circles rather than stop signs and traffic signals.

Petrol & Propane gas hybrid cars and trucks are a popular cost containment option. Gas is very expensive usually costing double the cost in the US.

In one hotel’s bathroom the bathroom door served double duty. It could be used for bathroom access as well as to close off the area occupied by the commode!

One hotel had a self-service kiosk for guest check in & key room key issuing.

Trains coverage is extensive. They are reliable, fast, inexpensive and comfortable. The one we rode on was electric powered.

Rest areas were no more than 10 miles apart on the motorways.

When there was a traffic slow down or backup on the motorway the cars in the right-hand lane would move onto the shoulder, but keep moving slowly. The cars in the left-hand lane would all move to the extreme left side of that lane. This a allowed a center access lane for police & emergency vehicles if needed.

Not all of the EU countries have been granted the right to adopt the EU currency. There are economic conditions that must be met. In these countries the EU is still accepted by most shops but the US$ is not.

Taxes are always including in the selling price (not added on) and tipping is either included in the price or optional.

China: Communism or Capitalism

 China: Communism or Capitalism

I had been wanting to visit for quite some time. My folks visited there about 20 years ago. When I asked dad about the trip he made the comment that China was positioned to dominate the world in the future. At the time that comment seemed ridiculous to me, but I was curious and I valued my dad’s opinion. In the Fall of 2017 we discovered a travel deal to China that was just too good to pass up. It was an eleven day fully guided tour with airfare (it turned into a 13-day trip at the same price owing to a mix-up in flight schedules). It was a great trip that included numerous fully guided tours in five cities and accommodation in 4 & 5-star hotels.

The government is still stuck in the quagmire of Communism which is much less a socialist approach and more akin to an authoritarianist. Authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. The official policy of the government bans access to numerous websites including You Tube and Facebook. However, our guide assured us that it is common knowledge among the masses that there are fairly easy “work arounds” that provide access. However, Facebook is not that popular as they have their own version called “Campus” (XiaoNei in Chinese).

It did not take long to understand that capitalism is alive and well in China. One factor in the amazing trip value is that subsidies are provided by several Chinese companies. As part of the trip itinerary, tours of the following were provided: a pearl factory, a Jade store, a tea plantation, a bamboo factory, a Chinese Herbal Clinic & visits to three “markets”. All of these locations provided ample shopping opportunities. We did spend a modest amount at a few of these locations, but some in our group went all out! What impressed me the most was the marketing professionalism of the “presenters”. All were women, all spoke precise English and all were enthusiastic, animated, accomplished and convincing. It was evident that they all had received considerable and effective training. Almost all of these stops involved private, for profit companies. The only government owned enterprise was the Jade store and the same level of marketing professionalism was not evident.

Until the trip I was completely ignorant of Alibaba. This marketing giant is the world’s largest and most valuable retailer since April 2016, with operations in over 200 countries, as well as one of the largest Internet companies. Its online sales and profits surpassed all US retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay) combined since 2015. E-commerce giant Alibaba broke records with sales of $14.3 billion on China’s Singles’ Day. It is the largest online shopping day in the world. I would say that capitalism is alive & well in China.

By far the Earth’s biggest problem – (con’t)

By far the Earth’s biggest problem (con’t)

The good news is that the rate of growth has slowed to 1.1% a year and it should continue to decelerate. The really bad news is that we most likely have already exceed the amount of population that can be supported by the earth’s available resources. Economists have calculated that the ideal world population is somewhere is the area of 4 billion. This would allow us to utilize and share available resources for the foreseeable future. What this means is that we are on track to deplete Earth’s resources. While this will not occur during my lifetime it will definitely have a significant negative impact on our grandchildren and their prodigy. As with our growing national debt, we are mortgaging the future in order that we can maintain out living standards in the very short term.

Currently 80% of the world’s population attempts to survive on under $10 per day!

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While some of this inequity could be resolved by redistribution that is unlikely to occur. Even if it were possible it would require the 20% to severely reduce their living standards. Keep in mind that the next group (say the next 15%) are not living anywhere near a “middle class” existence. I venture that all reading this post are in the top 5% and many are in the top 1% of the world’s income. Since we reside in an affluent country it is difficult to understand what is going on elsewhere, even though 13% in our country exist below poverty level guidelines.

What is the solution you ask? The best approach would be to limit families to no more than one child. Over time, this would cause the world population to decline. At the point that the population reaches a sustainable number, then the allowance could be raised to 2 or 3 which would maintain a fairly stable level. Of course, this only a fantasy, and it would only work if all countries agreed. That is not in the cards. Some speculate that the Earth will eventually strike back and take care of the problem via a massive pandemic. Estimates are that the Black Plague eliminated 50% or more of Europe’s population in the 14th Century. If this were in our future I wonder which solution we would prefer? Others insist that solution is to colonize other planets. While this may have some extremely long-term merit, it could not come about soon enough to provide the solution.