What’s the GOP Field Look Like?

Posted on April 30th, by matt_schiavenza in US Politics. No Comments

With the exit of Haley Barbour, the field of likely Republican candidates now consists of the following, culled from the top of my head:

Mitt Romney
Mitch Daniels
Mike Huckabee
Tim Pawlenty
Jon Huntsman
Herman Cain
Michelle Bachmann
Ron Paul
Gary Johnson
Donald Trump

Is that it? Am I forgetting anyone?

The field seems split between wonky, competent manager types (Romney, Daniels, Pawlenty, Huntsman, Johnson) and fire-breathing Tea Party populist types (Huckabee, Trump, Bachmann, Paul, Cain). The task for the GOP would be to bridge the two groups, but this is easier said than done. Of the second group I mentioned, only Huckabee is remotely electable and he doesn’t even seem interested in running. Ron Paul has his fans but is too isolationist for the Republican mainstream. Nobody knows who Cain is. Bachmann has promise but is kind of a poor man’s Sarah Palin, isn’t she? And Trump I talked about earlier.

You’d think the base would hold their nose and vote for the managerial types, but these guys have significant flaws, too. Romney and Huntsman are Mormon, a religion viewed as highly suspect by mainstream evangelicals. Romney may be unable to dodge his health-care past, while Huntsman was sleeping with the enemy as Obama’s ambassador to China. Daniels earlier called for a “truce” on social issues, something plainly unacceptable to a sizeable chunk of the GOP base. Johnson likewise is too libertarian; he’s still best known as an advocate for drug legalization.

That leaves Pawlenty as the candidate with the least blemish, and as a former governor he has the “executive experience” that people think matters. He also looks the part. Will it make a difference? Ultimately it’s too early to tell. But I get the distinct impression that most Republicans think the 2012 election is one to sit out. President Obama isn’t wildly popular, but he’s doing OK considering the sluggish economy. Rumblings of discontent on the left have been fairly muted so far. No serious primary challenger seems likely. He also has an experienced, successful campaign team and the advantage of incumbency. Should the economy improve significantly (no sure thing, mind you) he’d be pretty much unbeatable. Even if it doesn’t, he could slug out a victory. I’d bet the smarter Republicans know this and are going to bide their time for 2016.…

Don’t Sweat Trump

Posted on April 30th, by matt_schiavenza in US Politics. No Comments

The New Republic editors wring their hands over Donald Trump:

Democrats may be tempted to take pleasure in the fact that Trump will likely push the GOP presidential field to the right, and thereby help Obama in 2012. But this would be sheer myopia, and any delight over Trump’s arrival on the political scene is entirely misplaced. The Trump ascendancy calls not for glee, but for serious concern about the state of our country.

I think this is overwrought for several reasons. First, the only reason Trump’s political views are getting any attention is due to his celebrity. He outpolls other Republicans because people simply know who he is. The average rank and file Republican might have more in common with Tim Pawlenty, but who the hell is Tim Pawlenty? Trump, he knows, is the guy with the funny hair who has a TV show.

Secondly, does anyone actually think Trump will be a serious candidate ten months from now? It’s one thing to fly around the country and deliver speeches, it’s quite another to decamp in Iowa in the middle of winter and seriously campaign for office. Something tells me that Trump doesn’t have the gumption to do that. By then, anyway, the peculiar science of retail politics will be at play and the more experienced politicians will have an advantage.

Third, Trump’s viewpoints don’t constitute a coherent criticism of Obama rather than just an inchoate series of blustering jabs; his speeches are akin to someone tossing raw steaks at a pack of wild dogs. Trump isn’t tapping into some pocket of Republican rage that doesn’t already exist; he’s merely using his sizable bully pulpit to articulate feelings about the president that a fair chunk of the country has anyway.…

Kunming and SIPA

Posted on April 30th, by matt_schiavenza in School. 7 comments

In ten days I will hand in my last final and have thus finished my first year here at SIPA. To summarize everything that has happened between last August and now would be a futile task, but there are a few things that are worth jotting down anyway.

Before I begin, a few words on my background, which though familiar to most of my readers is pertinent to what will follow. At the time of my acceptance to Columbia I had been in China for six years, the previous three and a half in Kunming. I worried that I would have trouble adjusting to two things- one, the culture shock of being back in the United States and living in New York City and two, adjusting to life as a student in a highly competitive atmosphere. At this time last year I worried more about the former, but as it happened culture shock and adjusting to New York caused me no trouble at all. Adjusting to being back in school and in a competitive atmosphere has proven to be far more challenging, however.

The reason for this is simple. Kunming is not the world’s most challenging place to live for a laowai. In addition to the favorable climate, low cost of living, and ease at finding employment as a teacher, most foreigners who choose to live in Kunming tend to be in retreat, rather than pursuit. Kunming is a place where people come to chill, to retire, to take time off, to take a break. It attracts people who are willing to sacrifice net financial worth for quality of life, and for people who want to gather their thoughts in a low-pressure environment. At the time of my arrival in the city in 2007, I had wanted an inexpensive, nice place to study Chinese. Kunming provided that for me, and then some.

But as time passed I began to demand more and felt eager to establish myself.  For that phase in my life, Kunming was less suitable. Beyond my colleagues and friends there were few people in the city who were in my frame of mind. I wanted to work and to make money and learn; I wanted competition and action. Other foreigners I knew complained that Beijing and Shanghai was the China they hated and wanted to escape; by the end of my time in Kunming, I felt almost the opposite.

Despite my eagerness to embrace a new lifestyle in New York, my classmates at Columbia represented such a radical shift in my social environment that I found it difficult to adjust at first. Suddenly everyone I knew was motivated, had professional experience, was well-educated, and was willing to put in the effort to succeed. Throughout the year I have met people three, four, and five years younger than me who have accomplished just as much, and often more, than I have. Everybody, to put it crudely, has their shit together here. And that is something that I have found equal parts exhilerating and daunting. Exhilerating because of the extraordinary people I get to talk to every day and all the wonderful friends that I have met. Daunting because coasting on my accomplishments no longer was acceptable.

I should clarify before going any further that in no way do I mean to impugn the people I knew in Kunming. I learned an awful lot from people there, and I count several former and current residents of that city as among my closest friends. Kunming has a wonderful mixture of nationalities, ages, and life experiences that gives the city so much color. Had I not thought so I wouldn’t have stayed there for as long as I did. But what was a perfect living situation for me at age 26 became untenable at age 29, and for that reason I left.

And let’s be frank- Columbia is a top-notch university, and SIPA is an excellent program. I say this with no small amount of pride and a lingering disbelief that I was allowed to attend. My classmates here are among the most talented, motivated, and interesting people that I have met. They say that for a boxer or ballplayer to realize his potential, he has to challenge people above his rank. This spirit is one I have adopted for myself here at Columbia, and despite some of the growing pains I have endured this year I am certain I will end up better, personally and professionally, because of it.


Digital-Era Manners

Posted on April 29th, by matt_schiavenza in Technology & Society, Uncategorized. 2 comments

Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe have an interesting series at Slate debating manners in the new digital age, and in this article they have a brief chat about whether or not to call back if someone doesn’t leave a voice mail.

I’m with Farhad. I hate voicemail. As he says, you can’t skim it, you can’t preview it, and in the vast majority of cases the message left is totally useless. If someone has a message for me, I’d much rather receive it via text or e-mail than via voice mail. Like Farhad, I automatically call back anyone who calls me regardless of whether they left a voice mail or not, so why bother leaving a message?

I should note though that my opinion was informed by six years in China, a country where voice mail doesn’t exist  for some reason. I didn’t miss it, though, and can’t remember hearing anyone complain to me that they wished China had it.

That aside, what are some general etiquette tips in our modern, digital era? Here’s a few I’ve come up with.

  • Playing with one’s phone idly; i.e., checking e-mail, is only acceptable when one’s alone. Doing so when someone’s talking to you is extremely rude.
  • Interrupting a conversation to take a phone call or to reply to a text is OK so long as an apology and “excuse me” are proffered and the delay is very brief. Leaving someone sitting there while you have a casual 10-minute conversation is rude
  • Turn your ringer off for goodness sakes!
  • This day and age, it’s frankly unacceptable if people are lax about returning e-mails. I’m an inveterate letter writer and realize that not everyone has the inclination to write several paragraphs to a friend, but I demerit people who fail to reply at all to e-mails I have written within a reasonable time frame.
  • I have no problem at all with people using cell phones on subways, planes, buses, and trains and think people should get over their aversion to dealing with cell phone chatter.
  • That being said, one thing I do appreciate about the US is that people are relatively quiet when speaking on the phone. Not so in China, where people will shout at high volumes as if they’re standing alone in a vast, empty canyon rather than crammed onto a city bus with 40 other people. The worst I ever saw was in Laos, where an older man at an airport actually put his call on speaker and shouted into the phone as if it were a walkie-talkie.
  • Being something of a traditionalist, romantic break-ups should be done in person, over the phone, or with Skype. E-mails and texts are too impersonal.
  • I appreciate the hands-free technology used these days, but people who walk down the street talking into a headset still look like raving lunatics to me. As long as they know that, they’re fine.
  • I’m a curmudgeon in my use of language and have accepted that lol, brb, roflmao, and other acronyms have become accepted into our common vernacular. But only in writing. Please, please, please don’t say it out loud.
  • Oh, and if you’re buying something at a shop, don’t talk on the phone. Even the scrooges at the Westside Market deserve better than that.



Posted on April 29th, by matt_schiavenza in New York. 5 comments

Yelp, as everyone in the world knows, is a website that allows consumers to write reviews and give ratings for all sorts of businesses. People in New York seem to take Yelp very seriously. In a way, Yelp has become something like the know-it-all cousin that anyone has. ‘Oh, let’s ask Yelp if this Cuban restaurant is any good’. ‘Is there a dry cleaner around here? Check with Yelp’.

In Yelp, there are no parameters. Everything is up for review. One wonders if pretty soon Yelp will allow us to review other people. “Matt. 3 out of 5 stars. Would have rated him higher, but he told a lame blonde joke at the happy hour yesterday and then started quoting lines from Caddyshack. Bo-ring!’

More seriously, Yelp is designed to be about as unhelpful as possible. For literally every business in New York City there are both glowingly positive and scathingly negative reviews. Each, of course, having nothing to do with the business itself but rather one’s particular experience there. Here is a typical Yelp review for, say, a bistro in Morningside Heights.

‘Came here with my boyfriend after being told good things by his yoga teacher. Tried the arugula salad for an appetizer and then had mussels for an entree. The boyfriend had a turkey burger with a side of Parmasean polenta and chocolate mousse for dessert. The food was Ok (meh) but the service was AWFUL!!! First of all, the waiter didn’t take our order for ten minutes even though there weren’t THAT many people around. Hello? We’re sitting here? Then, when I asked for maraschino cherries for my salad he brought me raisins. I get that you’re an immigrant and from, like, France or something but I don’t want to pay $12 for something gross like that. Ew!’

With all the negativity on Yelp, it’s a wonder that people leave their houses to do anything at all. Fortunately, Yelp has two uses. One, the overall star rating system, if enough people participate, is a fairly decent barometer for a place’s quality. Two, when wandering aimlessly in the city Yelp is pretty good at steering one toward a desired establishment.

Otherwise, those who frequent Yelp must be prepared to wade into the morass of score settling, grievance airing, and grandstanding that dominate the site.



Bidding on First Dates

Posted on April 26th, by matt_schiavenza in New York. 1 Comment

Conor Friedersdorf worries about whatsyourprice.com, a new dating site that offers men of certain means a chance to go on a first date with an attractive woman if the price, as negotiated by the two, is right. He writes:

It’s one thing if a rich guy gets to drive a nicer car, live in a bigger apartment, and take women to first dates in nicer restaurants – maybe a less wealthy guy is better looking, or funnier, or more charismatic, or a better lover, or his interests more closely match those of the women he tends to pursue. If, however, sex with attractive women becomes a straight up commodity, turning mostly on money, the rich guy wins every time. And that’s the sort of system that the folks at the bottom will rationally revolt against.

I’m not sure why this is so objectionable. There’s a notion, sold by Hollywood and by popular literature, that qualities such as looks and wealth shouldn’t matter in choosing a romantic partner. We tend to regard men who want to date only good-looking women as “shallow” and women who only want to date well-off men as “gold-digging” and encourage people to look for “true love” with their “soulmate”. How many movies have you seen where the rich and successful man ends up with the so-called “ugly duckling” (typically a beautiful actress made to look plain by makeup and costume choices)? How typical is this scenario in real life?

One thing I found interesting about the Chinese was their ruthless pragmatism in choosing romantic partners. Here’s a recent article describing how men in their late 20s and early 30s who don’t own their own place are increasingly finding themselves unlucky in love. The point of the article is that with the housing bubble few Chinese can afford their own place, but the point still stands- many women in China do not want to waste their time with someone who may not get ahead in life.

A lot of us would like to think we’re different here in the States, but I’m not so sure. Good-looking women and well-to-do men have been coupling since well before the whole concept of internet dating even existed. A website like What’s Your Price makes up for its lack of taste with no small amount of ingenuity. I predict it’ll be pretty damn successful.…

Guangzhou, China by David Abrahamson

Posted on April 26th, by matt_schiavenza in City Project. 2 comments

Image courtesy of xzmallet.blogspot.com

For a full explanation of this series, see here.

Other cities:

Austin, TX by Jascha
Los Angeles, CA by Andrew Culver
Shanghai, China by John Pasden
Boston, MA by Ella Chou
Toronto, Canada by Erik Schomann
Washington, DC by Sarah Hassaine
Beijing, China by Jeff Crosby
Chicago, IL by Ben Ross
Atlanta, GA by Valerie and David
San Francisco, CA by Sandra Possing
Tokyo, Japan by Polly
Singapore by Edna Zhou
Mexico City, Mexico by Anna Trott
Portland, OR by Lydia Beyoud
Hong Kong by Jon Picker
Brisbane, Australia by David Jorm

For our next city profile, we go back to China and to Guangzhou, the bustling port city long known as Canton. David Abrahamson has been fascinated with Asia ever since he took a trip to Thailand during his junior year at Colorado College. After completing a degree in Psychology, David moved to China and has stayed ever since, doing “one more year or so” for the past nine. Most of David’s work since then has been in the development field ranging from nature conservation, poverty alleviation, and education work. Now, he works for a product testing and factory inspection company handling corporate sustainability.

Matt Schiavenza: What brought you to Guangzhou in the first place? What keeps you there?

David Abrahamson: I first moved to Guangzhou from Kunming in 2006 to set up a branch office of an NGO,  and now I divide my time between Guangzhou where my wife is from and Shenzhen where I’ve been working the past year or so. What keeps me coming back are my friends and all of the wonderful restaurants.

MS: What are the best things about life in Guangzhou?

DA: The myth is true: the food in Guangzhou is outstanding. It doesn’t matter if you’re into the wide variety of Guangdong cuisines or the major Chinese schools of food, it’s all here, the price is right and the taste is great. Guangzhou doesn’t excel at the snack level, but at the mid to high range the food is especially good, and some of the low end places can have flavors that are just as awesome. I lived in China for five years before moving to Guangzhou and have traveled extensively, but I gained a whole new appreciation of Chinese food after I moved here. Just within the Cantonese cuisine is so much variety, with each restaurant having different specialties. There’s even a great selection of world cuisines; of particular note are some outstanding Middle Eastern restaurants.

There’s also just so many of them; a lifetime is not long enough to try all the places in Guangzhou and, since I keep going back to my favorites, I probably will never try even one percent of them. Now, it’s rare to be far from a restaurant in China, but in Guangzhou you’re usually within walking distance from dozens. Eating is an obsession here.

The other thing they say about food in Guangzhou is also true: they eat everything in the sky (but the planes) and everything on land (except for cars and people). As a colleague advised me before I moved here, if you drop your keys in Guangzhou only pick them up with one hand, otherwise the Cantonese might think you’re a four-legged animal they haven’t tried before. Some weird stuff makes it onto dinner plates here.

Food aside, the Guangzhou people have a fantastically unpretentious and honest attitude, and this rubs off onto the international scene as well. This is a city where people care less about appearances and more about capabilities; you can really be yourself in Guangzhou.

MS: What are the worst things about living in Guangzhou?

DA:  Well, the lingua franca here is Cantonese, which can be frustrating if you only speak Mandarin (i.e. me!). Nearly everyone in Guangzhou can speak Mandarin, but as a second language and not by preference. I’ve spent many meals with Cantonese friends not really understanding what’s going on,  and I’ve also had to occasionally teach my Cantonese friends Mandarin.

But probably a more important complaint is that this city has a lot of crime, especially petty crime. It’s definitely better than it was four years ago, but I still see a crime or two a year—you really have to watch your stuff here. One time my wife and I were having dinner at a nice restaurant. Two fellas at the table adjacent to us stole her purse, and they were such pros we didn’t detect it till long after they had left. Most of the Guangzhou denizens I know have had a thing or two robbed.

MS: If you were the mayor of Guangzhou, what would be on your agenda?

DA:  My agenda would be to eat at as many places as possible, and then export the best of Chinese cuisine to North America. There needs to be a sea-change with Chinese food in the States and I know Americans from all over the country are ready for the authentic stuff rather than the imitation American-Chinese food that they’ve become inured to.

Seriously though, what I should do is go a step further in protecting the local culture and architecture as well as listen to the local people. There’s been a move in the past two years to restrict the Cantonese language, with the government trying to restrict Cantonese TV shows and promote Mandarin as the official language of the city. While I find Cantonese a little cacophonous and learning it is exasperating, I know enough to attest that it is ingrained in the local culture and quite different from Mandarin. It’s an older form of (loudly) spoken Chinese and lends itself to a certain type of humor that is different from Mandarin, one that usually involves lots of swearing.


David doing what he loves best

Guangzhou people simply can’t be Cantonese without speaking Cantonese, just as you’d never tell the French “You can stay French, but only talk in English.” Cultural diversity should be celebrated and promoting homogeneity is only fueling discontent and frustrating the local people, and there have already been protests over this. There’s enough discontent with the local government from corruption and an extremely inconsistent police force. Maybe it’s too much to ask for the government to be a little democratic, but I am mayor in this hypothetical scenario…

MS: What’s something about Guangzhou that can’t be found in a guidebook?

DA:  In the Liwan district is the Guangxiao Temple. If you walk about 200 meters from the gate, on the right is a tiny little soup shop, called Dunpinghuang I think. It doesn’t look like much but passing it up would be a big mistake: this is a city treasure. They start brewing the soup around 4am and have dozens of varieties to choose from. A little overwhelmed at the selection? Just ask the boss what kind of feeling you’re looking for and he can hook you up. The scorpion soup is a favorite.

Another great activity is the xiaomaibu (bodega) beer crawl. Starting from anywhere in the older districts of Guanghzou, grab a beer, some friends, and explore the myriad of back alleys off the main boulevards. In those alleys and back streets you’ll find old architecture, friendly locals, markets of all sorts (antique, pottery, jade) and lots of nifty secrets like hidden cathedrals, tiny parks, 6-story toy wholesale markets or if it’s the late evening, hidden barbeque gardens. You don’t need a map for this, you just need walking shoes. If you’re not comfortable walking with a drink, it’s standard affair for a xiaomaibu to give you stools and put a board on a milk crate; voila, the cheapest bar in town.

MS: What kind of person would be best suited for Guangzhou?

DA: Food lovers, epicureans, the eating obsessed. Also good for traders, entrepreneurs, and people who prefer the practical to the cosmopolitan.

MS: What kind of person would be worst suited for Guangzhou?

DA:  People who don’t like crowds or are sensitive to heat and humidity. People who like their city to be neat and tidy, the oddball who dislikes Chinese food, Mandarin purists, animal rights activists and the monsoon averse.

This also isn’t a city for those addicted to wheat noodles. The Cantonese prefer egg noodles and hefen, a type of rice noodle. Wheat noodles are widely available at the Lanzhou Pulled Noodle shops throughout the city, but these are a far cry from a bowl of wheat noodles you’d get in Xi’an or Chengdu. I know a few Sichuan restaurants in Guangzhou that have some good bowls, but they are too few and far between. (If you haven’t had a bowl of dan dan mian in western China then I’m probably not making a lot of sense here, but I’m kind of obsessed with the stuff.)

MS: What’s something about Guangzhou that runs contrary to popular perception?

DA:  That Guangzhou is a “hardship post” with nothing to do. Now Guangzhou is not the prettiest city in China and I’ll admit it doesn’t make the best first impression. But once you reach out a little and see this place from the right angle, it’s a great place to live and all my friends feel this way. If you’re looking for a view then go to the north gate of Sun Yatsen University in the evening and stroll along the Pearl River watching Qinghai music hall against a lit Guangzhou skyline. There’s also plenty to do, some great parks, symphonies, punk rock, art exhibits….did I mention the restaurants? Some of the things to do you have to find as the local expat listings don’t do a very good job. The scene here is generally unpretentious and has a nice community feel. There’s a couple of bars where you can go in knowing you’ll run into your friends, or make some new friends if you don’t.

There’s also local culture galore here, and unlike some of the other big Chinese cities (Beijing comes to mind), the government hasn’t gone wholesale with the destruction of local architecture and marginalizing the people that made Guangzhou Guangzhou, at least in the last few years (knock on wood). Despite my comments in the “if you were mayor” question, Guangzhou is still very much about the Guangzhou people, and that is a good thing.

It’s also misleading to think of Guangzhou as a furnace. It is indeed hot and humid from about June to September, but the winter is mild and the spring and autumn are long. Four months are hot, but the other eight are usually great.

MS: Is Guangzhou suitable for all age groups, or would it be better for some age groups rather than others?

DA: Guangzhou has food appropriate for all ages. It’s fine for everything else too.

MS: Do you feel optimistic about Guangzhou’s future?

DA: I do. The food probably can’t get any better, but the air quality has improved dramatically in the last four years, and with the new subway lines, zipping to any part of the city is a breeze. I can get to any part of Guangzhou in half an hour by cab, or under an hour by public transport. However I think the last year has seen a big traffic surge, which I hope isn’t a sign of things to come.

MS: If you could choose, which other city would you like to live in?

DA: I’d love to live in Beijing simply because I’m attracted to the wide range of people and industries there. In Guangzhou, and Guangdong in general, so much revolves around manufacturing. People are either making stuff, trading stuff, or connected to consumer good manufacturing in one way or another; it is quite homogeneous.

However, if I moved to Beijing I’d miss Guangzhou and my favorite Guangzhou restaurants every day, but luckily since my wife is from there I’ll always be returning.

MS: Can you sum up Guangzhou in a word, phrase, or sentence?

DA: I’ll repeat that adage that is often used to describe Guangzhou: This is a city where people live to eat.

Questions, comments, suggestions, and criticisms should be directed to matthew.schiavenza (at) gmail.com or in the comment section below. Thanks!



The Grocery Checker Scourge

Posted on April 18th, by matt_schiavenza in New York. 2 comments

Finally, there are the checkers. A more despondent species does not exist. I know it’s heresy to say in NYC, but in other parts of the country, when you’re dealing with someone, in whatever capacity, you begin the conversation with “Hello.” But time is money in the concrete jungle, and such niceties cannot be afforded.

My conversations with NYC grocery checkers either involve a dialogue similar to this:

Me: “Hi, there..[scan]…   no, I have my own bags, thanks…[scan]…[scan]……[scan]…debit, please.”

Checker: “Credit or debit?”

Me: “Um…debit…[scan].”

Or the conversation bypasses me altogether as the checkers talk to one another in Spanish about what an asshole Carlos is and argue about whether the other one could be pregnant. All the while, they scan my groceries, one…[scan]…by…[scan]…one…[scan].

This is from my classmate Samantha McCann in reference to Westside Market, where I shop. New Yorkers have a reputation for rudeness, and for the most part it is unjustified. I’ve found the locals here to be extremely courteous and kind during my months here, though I’m sure coming from China has given me rose-colored lenses on this issue. But Samantha’s right- the tellers at Westside Market on 110th St. and Broadway are just miserable. On a lucky day I might get a “you’re welcome” from them, but for the most part buying groceries there is a silent transaction.

Still, it’s a small price to pay for efficiency. Two million people live on the island of Manhattan, which is approximately 11 miles long and 2 miles wide, necessitating the faster pace of life.  While it’d be nice to have a pleasant chat with the young men and women who work at the grocery store, of greater need is getting in and out of there quickly. I wouldn’t mind a slightly sunnier disposition, but having worked retail myself as a teenager I know better than to expect much.


Dictators Take Note

Posted on April 18th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Events. No Comments

Stephen Walt rightly wonders why Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down rather than use force against his people, will languish in a jail cell while Muammar Gaddafi may get comfortable exile. If you believe that people respond to incentives, doesn’t it seem like the smart move on the part of a besieged dictator is to double down and fight? Also, it should be mentioned that Gaddafi might have thought twice about abandoning his nuclear weapons program had he known that a few years later NATO would have invaded his country.  Kim Jong Il may be crazy, but I doubt the lessons of Libya’s fate are lost on him.…

Brisbane, Australia by David Jorm

Posted on April 14th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Image courtesy of www.traveljournals.net

For a full explanation of this series, see here.

Other cities:

Austin, TX by Jascha
Los Angeles, CA by Andrew Culver
Shanghai, China by John Pasden
Boston, MA by Ella Chou
Toronto, Canada by Erik Schomann
Washington, DC by Sarah Hassaine
Beijing, China by Jeff Crosby
Chicago, IL by Ben Ross
Atlanta, GA by Valerie and David
San Francisco, CA by Sandra Possing
Tokyo, Japan by Polly
Singapore by Edna Zhou
Mexico City, Mexico by Anna Trott
Portland, OR by Lydia Beyoud
Hong Kong by Jon Picker

For our next city profile we head Down Under to Australia and the capital of its Queensland state, Brisbane. Our ambassador is David Jorm, who in addition to Brisbane has lived in other Australian cities, Sweden, and China would love to hear about hare brained schemes leading to living in yet another country. David works on software security and documentation for a living, studies climatology at the University of Queensland, and has a child-like love of planes, currently indulged by learning to fly and a collection of lego aircraft. He lives with his wife, a historian from the American state of Alabama, who somehow tolerates all this.

Matt Schiavenza: What brought you to Brisbane in the first place? What keeps you there?

David Jorm: I moved here in 2009 for my dream job – working on open source software. I really only moved here for the job and I had negative perceptions of the place, but I was ready to try somewhere new. Despite it being so hot most of the year, I’ve gradually fallen in love with this town. When I look out my window at the swaying palm trees, then ride my bike down to the city along the languid brown river, I feel like I’m living in a northern European’s wet dream. Now I have my job, I am studying at the university here, and my wife has moved here from the USA. I’m kind of stuck – but it’s a good place to be stuck.

MS: What are the best things about life in Brisbane?

DJ: The physical setting is just stunning. Rainforest, beaches, tropical islands, rivers… and in the middle of it all, a decent-sized city with all the culture and facilities you need to stay sane. The public transport system is good, except on weekends, and there are a million things to do within day-tripping distance.

MS: What are the worst things about living in Brisbane?

DJ: Brisbane has a well justified reputaiton as a “bogan” town. A bogan is the kind of guy who considers the local Hooters to be performance art, and takes great pride in his automobile, often festooned with Australian flags and stickers reading “Love it or leave it” and “Fuck off, we’re full”. There is a lot of coal mining and construction money here, and the CUBs (Cashed Up Bogans) dominate the recreational scene – jetskis, foam parties and BBQs are immensely popular. People from other parts of the country sneer at us for this, in the same way Americans might sneer at Alabama or Mississippi.

MS: If you were the mayor of Brisbane, what would be on your agenda?

DJ: Make the supermarkets stay open past 8pm and 5pm on weekends. Hungry at 6pm on a Saturday? Too bad, so sad. We have to fix that. That said, the city is quite well run, and I have no serious complaints.

MS: What’s something about Brisbane that can’t be found in a guidebook?

DJ: Tangalooma wrecks. These are a series of boats intentionally sunk around Moreton Island, a 1 hour ferry ride from the city. The island itself is an idyllic tropical paradise, and the wrecks are swarming with vivid sea life, rivaling any reef or famous dive site. If you peer up at just the right angle, you should be able to catch the fish and the city skyline at the same time.

MS: What kind of person would be best suited for Brisbane?

DJ: I think the aforementioned Cashed Up Bogans are truly in their element here. It also helps if you like hot weather. If you’re a qualified engineer of any sort, getting a residence visa and job is a formality – come one, come all.

David Jorm, in his element

MS: What kind of person would be worst suited for Brisbane?

DJ: Someone who can’t handle hot weather, a culture snob, or someone in a very specialized line of work. Although it is a large city, the range of business conducted here is fairly limited, and some specialized professionals find it hard to get work in their field.

MS: What’s something about Brisbane that runs contrary to popular perception?

DJ: Most people really aren’t racist. Brisbane has a history of certain infamous racist politicians, and is perceived by some as a redneck/racist paradise. Increasingly, it is home to very large immigration communities and the racists can no longer safely promulgate their views in public,which is the way it should be.

MS: Is Brisbane suitable for all age groups, or would it be better for some age groups rather than others?

DJ: The city is very family friendly. The weather, the early closing times, the wide open spaces and free standing houses all contribute to a family-oriented society. Retirees from colder climes also love it here for the weather. I think for young adults, it could lack the action they could find in larger cities like Sydney or Melbourne.

MS: Do you feel optimistic about Brisbane’s future?

DJ: Very much so. We have a huge skills base, natural resources, infrastructure, low crime, no pressing social ills and hey – it’s a tropical paradise. What could go wrong?

MS: If you could choose, which other city would you like to live in?

DJ: Oslo, Norway. I don’t think this needs justification!

MS: Can you sum up Brisbane in a word, phrase, or sentence?

DJ: It’s drinkin’ weather today!

Questions, comments, suggestions, and criticisms should be directed to matthew.schiavenza (at) gmail.com or in the comment section below. Thanks!