Saul Kaplan: On the Internet, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Saul KaplanThis is the fourth of a series of conversations published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI.

Ethan Zuckerman’s job is to see the Internet for what it is.

As the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and the author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, Zuckerman studies civic engagement within digital infrastructures. He has made the case that we are not as connected as we appear to be.

Zuckerman’s research explodes what he calls the “myth of connectivity.” As he claims, “The world is more global. Our problems and economics are global. And though we are inundated with content, the media is getting less global.”

He believes it is important to expose and rectify this fallacy; after all, “this leads not only to shocking ignorance about the world, but also to missed opportunities for marketing and collaboration.”

As it turns out, Zuckerman says, “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

“Atoms are more accessible than bits in many occasions,” Zuckerman says. “Fijian water is easy to access, but Fijian culture is not.”

He attributes the myth of connectivity to a lack of demand rather than too much supply. With the explosion of personal publishing and the “read-write web,” the issue isn’t so much the lack of stories told from other parts of the world, but rather, that these stories have been filtered out by the American attention span.

One of the problems of “free market journalism,” Zuckerman says, is that it relies on user behavior to recommend content. This filtering mechanism is deeply susceptible to what he calls “homophily.” Meaning “love of the same,” the concept is also known by the truism “birds of a feather flock together.”

Homophily explains the tendency of news coverage to cater to the lowest common denominator, or, speaking within the realms of Zuckerman’s research, of the disappearance of international or investigative reporting.

“What we need are new systems to help us stumble over things, to jog us out of ordinary reality,” Zuckerman says.

Zuckerman claims the key to integrating international or hard-hitting perspectives into domestic discourse is to provide relevant context. Fundamentally, he says, “What’s most important to you, is ‘you’ and ‘yours.’ If we’re not giving people some way in which they can interact with content, we’ll be missing giant opportunities.”

He forecasts that content recommendations of the future will be able to determine an audience’s interest and the “information rut” that they’re stuck in, before bridging that gap by suggesting novel, yet unexpectedly useful content. For instance, “following your interest in US mobile phones, you might find yourself reading about Chinese phone technologies, or about how much disposable income the mobile market captures in East Africa,” he explains.

“I was never in love with the narrative of the Internet startup,” Zuckerman says.

“Dot com” entrepreneurism did not excite him as much as the question of the Internet’s potential to transform the world.

Yet, for all his reluctance to view enterprises as one-stop fix-its for society’s ills, Zuckerman looks forward to returning to speak at the Collaborative Innovation Summit hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

At the Summit, Zuckerman intends to engage the BIF community — which he knows to be composed of unconventional tinkerers and seasoned social entrepreneurs — with a critical question he has been wrestling with: how to innovate journalism.

The BIF Summit has been a site of meaningful connections for Zuckerman in the past. He recalls meeting his MIT colleague Neri Oxman there, and marveling, from her talk about her first encounter with snow, Oxman’s intuitive thought process as a materials scientist.

“What I value so much about BIF is this notion that you’re not there to give a presentation, but to tell a story,” Zuckerman says, “With stories, the interesting motivations are never completely rational. That irrationality, that underlying passion, is to me what’s fascinating about anybody who’s trying to change the world.”

He believes that in BIF’s passionate community, he will find a receptive audience. “Storytelling is hugely underrated as a form of human communication,” he says, “It’s really hard to make money while doing good, investigative journalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

“Ultimately, I think we need to be having a deeper conversation about what public goods we should be willing to pay for, that the market isn’t good at provisioning,” Zuckerman says. He recognizes, “Those tend to be fighting words in the United States, but I think this notion of having really high-quality information is something that we’re not talking seriously enough about.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Fridays at 51

jyb_musingsWhat makes Fridays nice at age 51 is the vague but pleasant recollection that 15 or 20 years ago something really fun –maybe even edgy and exciting– used to happen on Friday nights.

Even though you can’t quite remember what it was.

You realize that was a long time ago and isn’t going to happen tonight. Because you are too tired and have to pick up the kids later.

But the fuzzy memory that something fun used to happen to you on Friday nights still sustains you.

And is enough to still make you “thank God it is Friday.”

Just with a lowercase “T.”

Julie Rath: That’s What She Said, Vol. 2: Ms. Williams and the ONE Accessory to Avoid at All Costs

In today’s edition of That’s What She Said, I interview recording artist Ms. Williams on men’s style.

Click here or on the image below to watch our interview. You’ll hear her take on the matter, including the ONE accessory that makes her run the other way when a guy wears it.

Men's Style: What to Wear on a Date

 

After you’re done watching the interview, make sure you take my style quiz to see how you rate on a scale of 1 to 10.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Ticked Off

jyb_musingsSometimes I can feel so ticked off that I am not even sure who or what I am mad at.

And when I get so mad I can’t figure out who or what to blame, it usually means the thing or person I am so angry with … Is me.

And then I feel embarrassed. But not nearly as angry.

Jason Atkinson: A Klamath Update

Josh Bowen: 3 Thoughts We Should Stop Having About Fitness

joshI have been traveling the last few days and have had several conversations with people on the planes I’ve been on about fitness. One in particular with my taxi cab driver who picked me up at the airport in Florida.

The lady must have been in here early 40’s and in decent shape but really wanted to be in better shape. After finding out what I did for a living she instantly started probing me for information. And as it is in many cases the person will ask questions or state beliefs only to validate their own beliefs regardless of my opinion on the subject matter.

15 minutes into our ride she had told me how diet X didn’t work for and neither did diet A-R but diet W and Z were the bomb.com. What?! She also referred to anything lifting related as the “man zone” and quickly wanted to tell me how doing an hour of cardio was great but was boring and she wasn’t sure she could tell a difference. You don’t say?

So, as only I can do, I referred her to my book 12 Steps to Fitness Freedom as a step in the right direction for her. Maybe the book could do a better job of explaining the components of fitness than I could do. Either way these random conversations with people boggle my mind. I still cannot understand why we have such a hard time understanding the core principles of fitness. We continually over diet, we look at food as either bad or good and we have no concept of what is too much or not enough.

Let’s set the trend here with the 3 Thoughts We Should Stop Having About Fitness:

Thought 1: Diets Work
If diets work then why is obesity and the number of diet books on sale at an all time? Diets don’t work. Have never worked. Will never work. They are often too stringent and restrict our favorite foods. They are also not nutrient driven and only focus on the amount of calories you eat, forgetting about the nutrient value of protein, carbs and fats.

Thought 2: More Exercise is Better
Using exercise to lose fat is like using a band aid to on a gun shot wound. Thinking you can go workout to eradicate that pizza you just ate or that bottle of wine you just drank is lunacy. The average person cannot eat what they want then go workout and expect to look the way they want. You also can workout TOO much. Your nervous system can only handle so much (this is where the value of rest comes into play) exercise thang it can become fried and will need a break. 3-4 days of vigorous exercise is usually enough for most people, anymore than that and the body will not be able to handle stress (unless nutrition, rest and genetics intervene).

Thought 3: Lifting Weights Makes Women Look Like Men
It doesn’t. Never has. Never will. There are outliers to everything, however those are few and far between. Want to be leaner? Want to have a defined waist, shoulders and back, pick up heavy things. With the help of great nutrition habits, lifting weights will make anyone look great naked. And that’s a great thing!

My hope is I can put these to bed and never have to discuss them again. But the majority of you reading this already know these so if you could forward to friends and family, it would help he education of the exercising public and maybe increase my subscribers! Until next time.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Hidden Value of a Legal Education

jyb_musingsThe headline today in the Courier-Journal reports a sharp–even shocking –decline in law school applications for the three KY law schools: 60% at UL and 40% at UK and NKU over the past 3 years. And this decline follows national trends for law school applicants.

The verdict? A law school education and the debt incurred to complete it is no longer as good an investment as it once was given the current market crunch for new attorneys and the projected income for those who do find legal work.

That is simple math and, frankly, a bursting of the law school bubble, so to speak, has been long overdue.

But for someone who is a graduate of law school myself and works both inside and outside of a law firm, I would like to make a personal and emotional plea to those who are considering law school but for whom the math doesn’t quite add up.

First, it’s not just about the math. To paraphrase former President Clinton’s famous 1992 campaign slogan, “It’s the education, stupid.” I know that is easy to say for someone like me who went to law school over 20 years ago when tuition was a fraction of what it is today. But I contend a legal education shouldn’t be a decision like investing in a stock in a mutual fund. It is about something far more personal; more intangible; more defining. A law school education is stepping up and putting yourself on the line as you attempt to go through one of the most intellectually challenging, invigorating and gratifying rites of passage that exists in the world of higher education. (And, yes, you learn to write long-winded and dense run-on sentences like the one I just wrote.) But there are many other benefits, too.

When I was an undergraduate student I went to see a movie with a couple of older students and a newly minted attorney. After the movie I asked the attorney what law school was like and how he liked being a lawyer. He said practicing law wasn’t that enjoyable but “being a lawyer” was great. He added, “You just don’t get intimidated by others or put people on pedestals.” He pointed to a TV with President Reagan speaking and added, “I wouldn’t even be intimidated if I were in a small group of people talking to President Reagan.”

That conversation obviously left an impression on me. And it wasn’t from the comment about not enjoying practicing law. I wanted to be able to have a conversation with a President and not be reduced to mush. That happened to me 3 years after I graduated law school and I got to meet President Bill Clinton while he was campaigning in KY for re-election. He was still the President but he was also now–to me—just “a law school graduate.” Like me. And I stood confidently and initiated a short, pleasant and sensible exchange.

But these benefits are only some of the, shall we say, shallower benefits of going to law school. Law school, after tearing you down, does eventually build you back up and boost your confidence. Somewhere late in my first year of law school, I decided, “I had what it takes to be a lawyer.” I had completed a long and difficult assignment and was recognized with an award for my work. I felt catapulted to a whole new level. I went from being a successful college student with a liberal arts degree to someone who was capable of doing important things in the grown-up world.

The day I was offered my first summer internship at a top Kentucky law firm, I cheered alone in my apartment as wildly as I did when UK’s men’s basketball team nearly made the Final Four two years later. Except mine was a victory. A voice inside me —one quieted by the rejection letters from several top law firms earlier that week—roared, a little that day. Or maybe was born. And that inner voice has stayed with me and served me well in periods of self-doubt.

Still and all, attending law school is a very personal and tumultuous life decision. How does one know how to make this decision? I can’t offer a clear-cut guide. I suspect the decision is akin to the decision made by a mountain climber when staring at the highest mountain he or she has ever faced. In the end, they climb it because it is there and that’s what mountain climbers feel compelled to do. This statement, I suspect, will spark a good deal of disagreement. But I will stand by it in the broadest sense.

Put another way, if you are intellectually curious and interested in institutions like government, business, economics, and community and drawn to ideals like justice and fairness, truth and reason –then you are likely an intellectual mountain climber. And need a mountain to climb that’s worth climbing. And law school, I believe, is a worthy mountain to climb.

Legal education is a process that stretches all your intellectual faculties and then hones them in a forceful and focused manner. It may suffocate some creativity but when you are finished, you’ll feel the three years in the legal laboratory helped you be, intellectually, “All you can be.,” as the Army used to promise. Students get whipped into shape through a form of intellectual boot camp. And that process provides an intangible value that can’t be easily quantified or measured on a spreadsheet alongside an entry level banking or finance position that pays the same as the average attorney, including law school, over a 10 year period. Some things just aren’t made to fit into a spreadsheet cell. But they still matter. Maybe a lot. Possibly even a whole lot.

A legal education, I contend, is the best educational preparation for most any profession outside of a technical or scientific specialty. I also have an MBA and am grateful for that education. My business education, if I had to describe it quickly, was “informative” but my legal education was “transformative.” And legal training has been useful to me in all my different and varied occupations–from start up businesses to corporate executive to elected official to practicing attorney to consultant and lobbyist and to adjunct college professor and whatever else may lie ahead. Whatever I am doing in 20 years, if I am still alive, I will owe To some extent,  to my legal education. Even if I am a professional fly fisherman. I will at least be an orderly and logical one who is trying to be better than the fly fisherman down river–who didn’t go to law school. (Yes, you will be forever competitive about even the most trivial things thanks to law school. But you were already wired up that way. Law school just ran the electricity through your wiring and lit up your competitiveness more than you ever wanted others to see.

And I believe that those who believe the intrinsic value of a legal education is actually quantifiable are the same  people who believe everything is quantifiable (and probably would have been better off taking more liberal arts courses in college). The intrinsic value of a legal education isn’t something with clear contours and can’t even be articulated clearly. But this intrinsic value does become part of a completeness you feel about yourself when you are sitting alone and wonder if you have asked enough of yourself. Sound hokey? Perhaps a little. But “hokey” matters more than we want to admit when we are young–especially when we are trying to seem together but don’t quite feel it yet inside

And then there is the practical benefit of networking that law school provides. If you attend a Kentucky law school you will be in a class with many of Kentucky’s future leaders in their legal, business and political community. You are exposed not only to your class but the two classes ahead of you and behind you. And within 5-10 years you’ll find yourself with “friends” (former classmates) who are now serving as judges and law partners and heads of local organizations or corporate executives and business people as well as elected officials all across our 120 county state. The guy you sat next to in Torts I  and wouldn’t dare ask to  borrow notes from now has his own courtoom. And his older sister two years ahead of you in law school is now in the state legislature.  And you all will belong to the same club they do: Law school graduate

The club or fraternity (or sorority), exists as the result of successfully enduring a common endeavor that at first seems like an overwhelming challenge. But proves not to be. And along the way, you learn your limits –and capabilities. You learn the extraordinary capabilities of others. You face yourself as you really are. And you surprise yourself with what you are capable of doing. I remember during my second year of law school asking a fellow law student I worked with the summer before, John Roach, “How can we possibly finish these assignments? There is no way we can complete all these projects in the short time we have!” I waited anxiously for John to provide a reassuring strategy as he always seemed to do. But this time he didn’t. He just shrugged and answered, “We have to do it. We don’t have any choice.” That is law school in a nutshell. And you somehow get it all done. Because you have to and don’t have a choice.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are deep friendships that develop. My first summer internship I worked in a narrow corridor of carrels that was closed off to the rest of the law firm. We were a bunch of nervous and hard working ambitious young people whose private grandiose plans were counter balanced by our secret fear that we would eventually not amount to much of anything. But we were impressed enough with each other that we started to figure maybe we had more going for us than we thought. And the more we got to know each other the better it made each of us.

That summer I sat next to Robert Weir, who later was one of the best men in my wedding, and is now a U.S Magistrate Judge and finished first in our law school class. Behind me was John Roach, who was general counsel to a governor and served on Kentucky’s Supreme Court and who now has his own thriving private law practice. Next to Robert was Matt Nelson, who ranked among the top 5 in our class and seemed to plow through writing legal briefs like a champion swimmer swims through the water in a meet. Next to Matt was Will Montague, a trusted and long-time friend who has been a successful partner at several of the state’s top law firms and now has his own firm. And across from Will was John Butler, a lovable guy from Green Co, Kentucky who left the law to coach high school basketball instead, breaking the long family tradition of practicing law but boldly and bravely choosing the life he wanted instead —and with all of our blessings and full personal support. And there were other extraordinary people, classmates, who filled up those remaining nondescript but hallowed (to me anyway) carrels making up that narrow corridor of law school interns.

The next summer my closest friend was David Hale, who became Kentucky’s U.S Attorney and is now the nominee for US District Court Judge. And Ben Fultz, who now has his own thriving law firm starting with his last name. And I have had an interesting, rewarding and diverse career myself and have many of these individuals to thank for helping me along the way, personally and professionally. And each of these individuals are, I dare say, friends for life. Even if we go long periods without seeing or talking to one another. And the same can be said with most every other law student in our class who I sidled up next to as we slogged together through the arduous law school mountain climb.

This Sunday afternoon before last I was out driving with my family and got a call from an old and dear law school friend. The call was to tell me of the members or our “corridor group” from the summer of 1990, had taken his life. Although our group hadn’t spoken in weeks or months –or in some cases even years– we quickly lined up as though it were late August in 1990. With our spouses and graying and thinning hair and paunchier midsections, we stood together on a hillside in the rain and watched one of our dear friends be laid to rest.

I hadn’t seen Robert Wier since his investiture ceremony several years earlier. I patted him on the back and hugged him and he hugged me back. He was from Benham, Kentucky and told me shortly after we met, “I thought I wouldn’t like you at all, John. I assumed you’d be a spoiled entitled jerk. But you turned out to be just the opposite. After getting to know you, I now think of you as one of the very best people I’ve ever known.” I consider that passing comment from Robert many years ago, perhaps the highest compliment I’ve ever received in my life. But we were now back in the present and it was nice to be standing next to my friend again after far too many years. I whispered, “I figured they’d have a special seat for you today, Judge.” Robert’s eye’s gleamed as they always had as he smiled warmly, “I’m just hoping to stay balanced on the side of this hill like everybody else.”

After the funeral, many of those from our original summer group and many other former fellow law students, huddled together and talked, and laughed, and talked some more. it was never said, but clear that we were grateful to have each other.. We tried to put together an impromptu lunch but everyone seemed too busy to make it work on the spur of the moment. We promised to get together for lunch sometime soon but probably won’t. But in law school I was taught the perils of ever assuming anything. So maybe we will get together for lunch soon. I hope so.

I hugged John Roach goodbye and thanked him for always “stepping up” in our group. I told him, “If my car broke ever down at 3am and I had only one phone call to make, I would call you. Because I know you’d be there as quickly as you could. There would be a long lecture for me to endure and you would make some good points. But mostly, you would just be there. And I thank you for that.”

I hugged and shook hands with others and waived goodbye and within minutes I was on a conference call and whisked back into my old and own little world. But as I drove away I felt a familiar rush. But not the rush that I could do anything or was finally good enough. But the mature rush of feeling grateful to be part of a special group of special people and honored to call each of them my friend—22 years after law school.

Was that feeling –and all the experiences I just tried to relate— worth the tuition? Were they worth the time and toil? Were they worth all the debt incurred?

Hell yes they were! Every penny. Every moment. Everything.

Perhaps, you might think, this is my conclusion because I believe that the decision of whether to go to law school isn’t mostly about the math. And if you think it mostly a decision about the math, you probably shouldn’t go law school.

But if you see value in the law school experience beyond merely the questionable spreadsheet analysis of “investment dollars” versus “future projected income,” then pack your mountain climbing gear and head up to the base of the mountain. They will be holding a place for you. But sign in quickly so you don’t lose your place. And get ready for an experience of a lifetime that you will be glad you didn’t miss—and one day not be able to imagine your life without.

Am I an idealist? I suppose I am. At least a little bit. And I hope I always will have that small flickering flame of idealism. Idealists never let a little fuzzy math get in the way of a greater cause. And if I  can look back on my life and feel that I have succeeded in keeping that flame alive, I will  have my law school education, in large part, to thank.

Lauren Mayer: The Sound of Marriage Equality

Whatever you thought of the live ‘Sound of Music’ starring Carrie Underwood, it was still commendable for a number of reasons, including exposing country fans to musical theatre, and showing people who’d only seen the movie the numbers & scenes that were cut from it. (Not that Julie Andrews wasn’t adorable, but in the movie the Captain dumps Baroness Schraeder just because of one dance with his employee, which is sort of creepy.  In the actual musical, Schraeder turns out to be a Nazi appeaser, and possibly a sympathizer, which is a slightly better reason . . .)
I was reminded of this song by Louie Gohmert (and a few other wingnuts) remarking that the spreading tide of marriage equality was just like the spread of Nazism . . .

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Dear God

jyb_musingsDear God,

When you invented shaving every morning for men, what were You thinking? I know it was a long time ago and there was a good reason for it at the time. Just help me to understand.

P.S. I have lost 29 lbs this year. Since you don’t follow me on Facebook, you probably hadn’t heard. Pretty good, huh?

Hope the shaving question didn’t make You mad. Not questioning you. I am just curious. I think losing weight has given me more confidence and allowed me to be more assertive. And ask questions I wouldn’t have asked last year when I was heavier.

Let me know on the shaving thing.

And good job on most everything else.

P.P.S. I noticed in pictures of you at church you are carrying a few extra pounds than you probably should at your age. Do you know your BMI? I know we are all very busy, especially You, but we still have to take time to take care of our health. And that goes for You too. Since you don’t shave, maybe you could take those 5 minutes every morning the rest of us guys spend shaving and try running in place. Or doing jumping jacks. You will notice a difference pretty quickly.

Not judging. Just notice others wieght issues more than I used to. A more slimming and darker colored robe might help too. Just a thought.

Erica and Matt Chua: He Said/She Said: Saying Goodbye to China

Three months, 11,000 miles of travel and visiting more than 20 cities, we are leaving China.  After all this, what do we think of China?

HE SAID:

China brings to mind one word: wow.  I knew very little of China prior to coming here.  All I knew was that we had three months, where we would go and what we would do was completely unknown.  Wow, how time flew, we did so many things, traveled to so many places.  Wow, the people I met.  Wow, this country is beautiful.  Wow, the trains.  Wow, the people.  Wow, the history.  Wow, China, wow.

Some big, eye-opening wows I am not going to miss: etiquette and hygiene.  I found that no matter what, I can’t stand it when people chew with their mouth open.  I can’t eat when lips are being smacked together and half-chewed pieces of food are falling from people’s lips.  I can’t believe that children are expected to do their business on the sidewalk, when there are public bathrooms everywhere.  It is not that the infrastructure for cleanliness doesn’t exist, they have made an honorable effort, but etiquette and hygiene just doesn’t seem to be the cultural norm.  Wow, I look forward to being in a place where people are not spitting on bus floors and I have to dodge human feces on the sidewalk.

As good a place as any?
A father holds his child while it defecates in the middle of the Forbidden City, one of China’s largest tourist attractions.  A bathroom was less than 100 meters away.

The good, no great, wow, surpass my gripes.  My biggest wow was the honesty of the people.  I have traveled all around the world, dealt with people of all cultures, yet I have seen few as honest as the Chinese people I dealt with.  There was no foreigner pricing, what the locals pay, you pay.  I didn’t have to negotiate for a bowl of noodles like in Hanoi, worry about getting overcharged for entrance tickets like in Thailand, or worry about being robbed like on buses in Cambodia.  Sure, prices at markets are quoted to be negotiated, but the daily transactions, complete with posted prices, was amazing.  A few times I tried to round up my bill to not have a pocketful of change, but was forcedto take my change.  Wow, thank you China, for your honest people.  Clearly they exported all their shady people to the world’s Chinatowns.

Wow, the infrastructure.  China is pumping money into its roads, trains and national infrastructure.  It is clear that not very long ago this infrastructure was pretty bad.  We rode on many unpaved streets, riddled with holes, but were happy to see that brand new highways and streets are being built almost everywhere.  We rode every type of China’s trains and were amazed by their quality and service to everywhere.  It is true, you need to buy your tickets early or you end up in the “cattle class” of hard seats, but any higher class and “wow”, what a nice, affordable way to travel.  We rode the trains almost 10,000 miles and have no complaints.  Wow.

China is an amazing country.  If you haven’t been, add it to your future travel plans.  In the future, with all the changes, travel here will only get better.  I assure you communication will be a problem, but the people will work with you to help you.  The storekeepers will help you get what you need.  The trains will take you where you want to go.  Wow, I’m going to miss traveling in China.

SHE SAID:

Saying ‘goodbye’ to China will be like saying goodbye to a close friend, she has treated me so well and provided so many amazing memories.  I have to admit I was nervous about what people were saying about her before I came and how it might affect my relationship with her.  But, China has far exceeded any expectations I had and while not everything was perfect it wasn’t the horrible experience everyone warns you about, like when you room with your best friend in college.  Regardless about what people say about my new friend behind her back I will always defend her, because until you get to know her you have no right to comment.

Yes, there are the glaring examples of poor hygiene and bad table manners, but past that the other issues regarding travel in China are surmountable.  The vast distances to travel are combated with nice, clean trains even if you do have to plan ahead.  There is a considerable language barrier, but the people are surprisingly helpful in trying to understand you.  Best of all they won’t rip you off just because you don’t speak their language.  I was always shocked by the low prices of things and that it was the same price as the locals paid.

What I will miss most about China is the scenery, which never failed to amaze me.  Around every corner was a new panorama of breathtaking beauty.  The sights in China are so unique as well, no other country has a 5,500 mile wall, five holy mountains, including the best view of the world’s tallest mountain and countless awe-inspiring temples, monasteries and Buddhas.  The amount of things to see in China could keep you busy for years.  It certainly kept us running at a frenetic pace to see over 20 cities in the past three months, but it was more than worth it.  From back alleyways in Pingyao and the rice terraces of Yuanyang to the majestic mountains of Tibet, China’s superlatives will be hard to beat.

Next to the scenery the best part of China is the food, the sheer variety and incredible tastes of this vast country were delicious to explore.  I loved the skewers of meat hot off the grill and pitchers of beer for just a dollar in our first China stop: Qingdao.  Since then the Peking duck in Beijing, spicy Sichuan food in Chengdu and the interesting yak options in Tibet made for some of my best food memories thus far.  With meals costing between 50 cents and fifteen dollars you can’t go wrong.

The only thing that can make great views and delicious food better is sharing it with amazing people and China delivers on this front as well.  We met some of the most intelligent, interesting and well traveled people on the road in China.  From English teachers in Qingdao to fellow travelers on the hiking trail in Tiger Leaping Gorge the people we met in China will remain one of the highlights of China.  It was always fun to get to a new hostel and run into an old friend, many a times this caused us to be up until all hours of the night catching up on each others travels.  I will miss all of our diverse China friends.

I will try not to cry, but I won’t say “goodbye,” instead I will say “see you soon” because I will most definitely be back.  I know there will be a lot of changes between now and then so; “keep in touch, will ‘ya?”

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