I spent most of April and some of May traveling around Ukraine, visiting the cities of Uzhgorod, Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Odessa.
As with my other travels, I’ll write down thoughts and observations from my experiences, conversations, and research that I found interesting. I want to say upfront that I don’t think I have any brilliant insights on Ukraine or the war. If you consider yourself fairly unknowledgeable about the war (like I was before going to Ukraine), hopefully you’ll come away with a better understanding of the nature of the conflict and what it’s like on the ground.
I spent eight days in the Dominican Republic, covering Santo Domingo (the capital), Puerto Plata, Sosua, and Jarabacoa. As with my other travel notes, I’ll try to avoid generic travel blogging stuff and focus on anything unusual I experienced or learned.
I spent one week in Panama this summer. As with Spain and Peru, I took notes while I was there and will try to summarize the most interesting experiences and things I learned in this post. Unfortunately, I think I’m a bit less detailed on Panama than the other two because most of what I did was hike through jungles, which is amazing and highly recommended, but I don’t have much to say about it.
I spent 11 days in Peru with two friends in the Spring of 2021, during which time we visited Lima, Paracas, Ica, Huacachina, Cusco, and a few other minor towns. The following is a summary of some notes I took during the trip. As with my Notes on Spain, I’ll try to keep my accounts brief and to stay away from ordinary travel blogging observations.
I think whaling is really cool. I can’t help it. It’s one of those things like guns and war and space colonization which hits the adventurous id. The idea that people used to go out in tiny boats into the middle of oceans and try to kill the biggest animals to ever exist on planet earth with glorified spears to extract organic material for fuel is awesome. It’s like something out of a fantasy novel.
So I embarked on this project to understand everything I could about whaling. I wanted to know why burning whale fat in lamps was the best way to light cities for about 50 years. I wanted to know how profitable whaling was, what the hunters were paid, and how many whaleships were lost at sea. I wanted to know why the classical image of whaling was associated with America and what other countries have whaling legacies. I wanted to know if the whaling industry wiped out the whales and if they can recover.
This essay is the result. It is over 30,000 words long, a new record for my blogging. It’s broken into seven parts linked here:
Present state of whaling legality and population impacts
Norway and Japan continue to hunt whales for opaque cultural reasons
Commercial whaling can return, but I’m not sure if it should
As with my deep dive into K-pop, I advise that if you are interested in whaling, but not that interested, you should skip some sections and focus on others. Parts I and II are short and get into the fun nitty-gritty details of the practice of whaling. Parts III and IV are more about the history of the industry and how it interacted with politics, trade policy, etc, and are the most easily skipped sections. Part V is the longest and (IMO) most interesting section; it’s both an overview of American whaling and a deep dive into the economics of the industry, including crew payouts, profitability, venture earnings, and the impact of whaling on the global whale population. Part VI and VII bridge the gap between the high point of whaling and its near death in the modern age.
I was once at a dinner party and someone was telling me about her recent trip to Arizona. One of the highlights was visiting a biodome project where scientists had attempted to achieve a totally self-sustained structure in preparation for the colonization of other planets. I told her that Steve Bannon used to run that place. She didn’t believe me. I obnoxiously pulled out my phone and showed her Bannon’s Wikipedia page.
Steve Bannon has lived a fascinating life. That’s not an evaluation of his politics or morality, it’s a statement of fact. Witness Bannon’s life in bullet points:
Born in 1953 in Norfolk, Virginia to a telephone lineman and a housewife
Attended military prep school and then Virginia Tech for a degree in Urban Planning, was elected president of the student body, worked in a junk yard
Served in the navy for seven years in the Pacific fleet
While in the navy, earned a Masters in National Security Studies from Georgetown
After leaving the navy, earned an MBA from Harvard
Got a job at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the mergers & acquisitions division, worked way up to a Vice President position
Left Goldman Sachs with some colleagues to launch Bannon & Co., a boutique investment bank specializing in media, nabbed a small slice of syndication rights to mega-hit tv show Seinfeld, still receives residual payments from the show to this day
Bypassing numerous international restrictions, I traveled from America to Spain for a month-long trip in July. Most of the month was spent in and around Madrid, but I took a brief trip north to Galicia, specifically Vigo and Santiago de Compostela. It’s a beautiful country, great culture, fun people. Here I will compile my notes on Spain and some assorted thoughts about the country and Europe as a whole. For reasons that will soon become relevant, I want to say upfront:
I really enjoyed my time in Spain
I spent much of my time with young, politically lefty, artsy types
I’m going to make a bunch of generalizations about Spaniards and Europeans off of my experience both with this trip and living abroad in Asia for many years. My confidence interval on most of these claims is fairly low.
With that said, here are my notes on things I found interesting during my time in Spain alongside pictures I took on the trip:
I read and reviewed Oliver Platt’s Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age over a year ago, and I haven’t been able to get one small story from the book out of my head.
In 1793, the British government launched the Macartney Embassy, the nation’s first formal diplomatic mission to China. A few ships led by statesman George Macartney set sail from Portsmouth, England, traveled down to Rio de Janeiro, then around the southern tip of Africa, across the bottom of the Indian Ocean, up through Indonesia, along the Chinese coast, to finally arrive at Beijing. The whole journey took ten months, and the diplomats played cards, drunk tea, looked out for exotic wildlife, and watched crew whippings to forget about being bored out of their minds.
While in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the crew spotted a tiny volcanic island. To their surprise, there were two men on the land desperately waving a makeshift flag in the air to get the crew’s attention. Macartney assumed the men were shipwrecked sailors, and he quickly ordered the ships to stop to lend assistance.
On the island, the crew found five men – three Frenchmen and two Americans (from Boston). Surprisingly, they were not shipwrecked, but were living on the island voluntarily under contract with a French merchant company. Their jobs were to harvest seal pelts to sell in Canton, China. They had been alone on the island for six months and had wracked up 8,000 seal pelts, and they still had another year to go on the contract before the merchant company picked them up.
I don’t know if I believe what I’ve written here. This isn’t a manifesto, it’s more like a bunch of random thoughts I can’t get out of my head. I could be convinced they’re all wrong, or that I’m not going far enough. I don’t hate dogs and I don’t hate dog owners, but part of me hates everything about dog ownership.
I grew up with a cat, but no dog. I have always liked animals, and thought dogs were particularly adorable with their playfulness and enthusiasm. But I never really understood what it meant to own a dog until just recently when I dog-sat a cockapoo for a family member.
I had seen this cockapoo a few times before and it was always just as happy and bounding as you’d expect any well-kept dog to be. When I arrived at the family member’s apartment, the dog jumped all over me and eagerly accepted my pets, even rolling over on its back to get some belly rubs. My family member told me that I’d have to feed the dog this expensive dry food with tasty treats on top, and that I’d have to walk her four times per day (which seemed excessive, but whatever), but that was about it. She was a great dog and would be easy to deal with.
The family member left the next morning and the cockapoo immediately fell into a depression. I say this as someone who is usually baffled when I hear that a dog is “anxious” or “eager” or “scared,” because honestly dogs always just look happy or sad to me. But even I could tell the cockapoo was miserable. She wouldn’t eat, she didn’t want to walk more than a block, she cried sporadically, and she slept pretty much every minute of the day I wasn’t taking her for four walks.
After two days of this, I texted my relative to ask what to do. In a massive block paragraph, she basically told me to cheer the dog up.