What You Get in a Homogeneous Society

Culture, not ethnicity, is the determining factor of a society’s outcomes.  Korea has a homogeneous culture.  Policymakers in the US will often cite Scandinavian countries or East Asian countries to rationalize their opinions, but usually these statements have miniscule merit, as what you get in a homogeneous society is not what can be gotten in a free-for-all like the US.

Here are some notes from being in Korea for over a year now.  In a homogeneous society, you get:

  • Lower crime, and kids under the age of 10 riding the subway or bus by themselves, and walking home after leaving their tutoring academies at midnight.
  • A social problem with people inflicting physical violence on police officers, ambulance workers, firefighters, and medics.
  • Informal credit systems where neighborhood grocers will tell you to pay them for groceries later, with no mention of when or even of a deadline.  This extends to modern restaurants when the POS system is down, and they tell you to come back later to pay them back.
  • Less of a litigious society, with personal lawsuits over bodily injuries, medical malpractice, etc., not very common or pursued – mostly, these types of things are settled out of the courts or person-to-person over the phone.  Correspondingly, a lower cost of social services like child daycares ($100/mo.) or medical care.
  • A society/major city with a higher average level of service for most things.  A city that is so prosperous, that sometimes it gives out bus and subway rides for free.
  • The culinary custom of serving an entire table-full of side dishes for free, which can be refilled to your stomach’s content.  This has been going on for decades, if not centuries, and abuse has not caused it to stop.
  • An inherent-not-explicitly stated business oligarchic class that has implicit societal objectives such as high employment at the expense of productivity and margins and ROE, although none of the Korean conglomerates would ever admit to this.
  • Rampant double-parking on the street, with cars put in neutral and their owners’ cell phone numbers either printed or otherwise left on the dashboard.  If a car is blocking another driver, then the other driver is expected to push the car (which is in neutral) out of the way – and if it doesn’t work, then to call the owner, whether at 6 am or 6 pm.

But what you also get is:

  • An invisible pressure to conform to social norms and mores, including that of physical beauty, and a huge plastic surgery and aesthetic care industry.
  • Rampant copying and gauntlet-style jousting as the prevailing method of competition in every facet of life, from education, to restaurants, to business in general.
  • Highest average spending on education in the OECD, with high average test scores on math and science to match, but limited innovation and creativity, a lot of which is directly related to the oligarchic business complex that stifles / crushes SME’s and mom and pop stores.
  • An entertainment-industrial complex that churns out pop stars as if on an assembly line, with artists at the mercy and whim of their producers, who create, produce, prettify, write the songs, house, feed, and choreograph the dances for them.
  • High rates of suicide as people who don’t feel they have succeeded along the narrow metrics of defined success, feel they have failed in life.
  • Barriers to immigration that are causing the society to age, and die – with deaths outnumbering births, the population will soon plummet.
  • Insane FOMO, as evidenced during the cryptocurrency boom and bust within a span of a few months last year (2017), that drives speculative bubbles.  See 1997, 2007 as well for eerie rhyming.

Elements – Philippines Edition

1. This rooftop garden in the foreground, at bottom, hovering above Makati.  So lush and alluring.  I’ve decided that my company’s future office will be located in such a setting.

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2.  In most developed countries, furniture has become disposable.  Of course there’s a role for disposable furniture, but there’s a role for solid, permanent furniture too.  I present this picture of a table setting in El Nido to introduce a single thing – the sheer mass of the table and chairs.  These chairs were at least 40 pounds each and were difficult to move just with an arm.  And no, I didn’t even try moving the table.  This is the kind of furniture that will stock the office in our rooftop garden.

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3.  Bedside tables/reading desks built right into the bedframe.  Why is this not more of a thing?  And as expected, solid.  Could probably have supported by weight as a chair.

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4.  This is where I stayed in El Nido, and I moved the desk from the corner to here.  I tried for many years to work out of minimalist virtual offices where my desk was nothing but an empty surface surrounded by nothing but blank walls.  And while that might work for some people, I couldn’t work more than an hour before needing refreshment or a walk outside.  Eventually I moved out of the private offices to cheaper hotdesks where I was surrounded by ambient conversation, open space, and windows.  This, is a natural extension of the ‘office’ setting that works for me, and will serve as inspiration for my eventual rooftop garden office.

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Elements – Korea Edition

1.  This is a ‘study library’ in Jamsil, near where I’m staying.

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This is a study hall+library+coffeeshop, where you pay a little over $3 to read or work for two hours, and drinks like tea and coffee are free.

I especially like the lighting and the colors.  The windows actually face an elevated train platform and a mess of wires, but the dark wood shelves do a good job in covering it up – while still letting the light in in abundance.

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The warm lighting is especially nice against the dark wood motif.  Elements will be taken from this for my future library.

2.  The National Museum of Korea.  The overhang creates a nice shaded canopy that reminded me of La Defense, in Paris.  La Defense made an impression on me when I visited it in high school almost half a lifetime ago.  I remember that because of the large open plaza and the shape of the arch, it created this nice breeze all around it, especially at the top of the stairs.  Like you were under a tent.

It was the same here.

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Inside, the building is like a cathedral.  Love the color, I love the materials.  Elements will be taken from this building for my future Museum of Chocolate.

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Not sure if these trees in the courtyard were intentionally placed like this, or were in transit to a planting, but noted as elements for my future avocado or cocoa tree groves.

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3.  This restaurant in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Incheon had an element I’ve never seen before.  Carved like a cave into a sinuous wall, it supported an extra layer of lighting  – and was very inviting, also inviting of a certain mystery.

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4.  The courtyard behind the Lotte World Mall – this picture does not do it justice.  Just to the left of this photo is an aerial walkway between two wings of the mall.  Standing under it, you have the same kind of tent-like effect as in the museum above, but it also feels like a gate.

You enter the gate, and see this wide, sprawling courtyard and greenery – and the fact that the building curves around the grassy area made the whole area seem much less expansive, and more intimate.  That latter part struck me.

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Stealing the Peach

I was in a small store in Fukuoka.  It sold organic products and local delicacies and specialties.

I was walking the aisles when, wafted by the breeze of a light air conditioner, and presumably my own movement, came this tropical scent.  It was just perceptible, a smell of coconut, an evocative, sweet aroma.

And also agonizingly transient.  It was there, and disappeared as soon as I sniffed again.

I stopped in my tracks and tried to figure out what it was.  I picked up the bottles of olive oil and local sweets.  Sniffing, it was there, and then not there again.

It smelled like strawberry fields, like a pina colada, like something both floral, fresh, new.

I turned around.

I saw these.

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Unsure, I leaned down to test the scent.  It was it.  Luscious, sweet peaches that smelled so good, smelled of the happiness of childhood, smelled plump and like spring.

These were 3 dollar peaches, but I should have stocked up on more.

We took it outside to eat, and the first bite, as I punctured the thin skin, was just of juice.  These peaches are juice, in peach form.

The juice burst all over my shirt and pants and I didn’t care, because most of it exploded down my throat in the most satisfying and delicious way to communicate laying in a spring meadow of flowers under a blue sky under a gentle breeze with a lover, exploding head sensation I’ve ever felt from a fruit.

I vacuum-slurped the whole thing and at points was chewing it with the roof of my mouth because these delicacies were so soft, these flowers of Japan.

Why are these not more well-known?  Why are they not being sold in every supermarket in every corner of the world?  Why is Amazon not drop-shipping these from the sky like manna?

Of the many pictures I took, the one above is my favorite.

The Audacity of Slope

After a decade in real estate, I can safely say that right now, if you want to see the most creative buildings and structures in the world, you go to China.  It’s not Dubai.

On almost every trip, I’m left speechless by a building or structure that is breath-taking in its creativity and sheer audacity.

Let me present Exhibit H.  Nestled deep in the mountains west of Beijing, this serpentine structure is so large as to be visible, several zoom levels up on Google Earth.

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What is it?

This is none other than the longest waterslide in the world.  Made of some kind of welded metal, meant to be ridden on these bamboo rafts with no harnesses, and shooting through power transmission lines and what looks like a transformer, this slide starts 500 feet up.  At ground level, you can’t even see the beginning.  The edges of the slide look uneven and the contraption looks completely unsafe.

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The local story (in my mind: legend) is that the villagers ignored the authorities, who told them not to build it because it was unsafe, and they built it anyway.

I would like to nominate this ride for an award.

On another note, the sheer audacity and the mind-blowingness of this waterslide reminds me of the time I was in Changchun and stumbled on an AK-47 shooting attraction at a theme park, but that’s a story for another time.

China is in many ways a blank slate.  It’s a country that few outsiders understand.  Visiting it always leaves me in awe.  If you think you know China, you likely don’t.