Flight to Chiang Mai and Globalization

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Here’s an entry from my Chiang Mai triplog on (2008 03 06):

I booked with China Airlines, expecting… not expecting much. Boy was I surprised. The service was fantastic. They even gave me slippers!

As usual, I got the kosher meal and the food was great. Katleta, omelet, noodles. It’s always fun having the staff check beforehand that I was the guy ordering the meal and having it arrive in a sealed box that only I can open. Almost like a spy movie.

On first, longest flight (to Taiwan), I sat next to a guy who ran an export company. He sent ships of goods from one country to another. He said that world grain supplies were down to two months from their usual three–possibly due to the impact of bio/alc energy. He talked a bit about his job and globalization, about how imports help drive down prices, and how our salary growth remains the same but electricity and gas keep rising. He said it was a relationship that helped both countries, providing jobs for people overseas and providing us with lower prices. While everyone is complaining about the imports, we do enjoy the cheaper goods. He also talked about genetic engineering, how while people fiercely oppose it, our breeders, albeit at a slower pace, have been doing it for years, and that while it has caused trouble, it has helped a lot of people as well. Interesting jobs people have. Imagine that, sending ships all over the world and negotiating with people in all sorts of countries. Beef from South America, feed from somewhere else. It was an interesting conversation because I was reading Education of a Speculator, the part where Niederhoffer was talking about relationships between wheat prices, volcanoes, and dust storms in China. Interesting how the world is so inner-connected.

The guy said I should visit Taipei. The food is delicious and the museums are filled with ancient treasures and there’s a lot of culture saved from the Cultural Revolution.

On the crossover, as we waited to board the next plane, some idiot started going off on the ticket lady. “Why the f- do you always make us wait in line? How can you treat people like this?” He felt proud to be standing up for the rights of us American travelers against the evil machine we were flying through. Except he didn’t do anything to any machine. Or for us. Or anything except have a power trip, scare a young lady trying to do her job, and embarrass us as an unwanted self-appointed representative of the passengers. Seeing what was going on, I (I hate to admit), stepped away from the confrontation. I wonder what the course of action would have been. Luckily, some of the older guys in line had more guts and did something.
“Shut up. Leave her alone.” Once one man said it, everyone else followed.
“You guys are like sheep. I’m standing up for you.”
“Speak for yourself. We’re just fine. If you don’t like the service at this airport, then don’t fly through here.”

Guess who my neighbor on the plane was? Our fearless defender against the translator/directions lady. He actually turned out to be a interesting guy. Both a complete opposite of the previous neighbor and in many ways just like him. He was in his forties, maybe older, although he looked my age. He owned a custom bike company in SF. He had a cool story and was quite a cool cat (had to be quite a story to make up for his earlier behavior huh?). I forget why he was going to Chiang Mai, I think for a vacation. He had a way of raising his voice when he got passionate about something, kind of like a man riding life, a buzz in his eyes, although I don’t think he was drunk at all. Maybe drunk on life. His opinions on trade, outsourcing, globalization were a bit different from the previous guy. He believed much of the outsourcing and international jobs were forms of exploitation. He told about how some plants would create so much pollution that they’d ruin the water supplies of the entire areas. It wasn’t just about pay. He said that before letting our corporations open a factory abroad, we had to make sure that it actually benefited the community there, improving their lives and at the very least not hurting their environments. Funny, how someone who was so rude to the lady at the airport cared so much about people abroad.

It’s interesting. I agree with both of them, although I’m no expert on econ or trade, but it doesn’t seem right that our companies can have oppressive measures and destroy our planet just because they operate in another country. At the same time I don’t see a problem with letting people in another place have a chance to work on products and services we use. Especially when the internet makes connections so easy. Why shouldn’t someone in the FRU be able to make more money for his programming skills, why shouldn’t someone in Bangalore provide excellent service at a call center? However, I do think our government should give some sort of protection to our own workers too. But at the same time, I don’t believe in protecting professions that are going away either (the destroying the machine style stuff). And at the same time, that job, as automatable or exportable as it may be, has a person behind it, a living breathing person, who has a family, most likely kids to support, and human dignity often connected to being a provider and supporter of himself and his family and in getting stuff done (hopefully). Although it’s easy to think, “Well go do something more useful,” it may not be that easy for someone who has worked hard for decades. I don’t know the perfect solution and I’m not into “ologies” but I feel that neither a “stop all trade/overseas plants” nor a “let the market take care of everything and keep the government away” offers a full solution.

On a side note, while waiting for the bathroom stall. I talked with a guy from Laos. He said I should go teach in his country. The people are super friendly, it’s beautiful, and the language is almost the same as Thai. That would be a fun trip.

We landed in an airport amid a light gray fog. Hot day but a gray fog. People said it burning rice fields.

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