Are These the 10 Best Onsen in Japan? (Spoiler: no)

I originally planned to write about how railroad company executives in the United States are holding the economy hostage so they can avoid wages increases which match inflation and giving their workers paid sick leave… but plenty of other people write about that better than I. I find it astonishing that Congress and the POTUS are avoiding the obvious solution: force a contract which gives the railroad workers what they want. Well, it’s not astonishing. The Railway Labor Act, which allows Congress to block otherwise legal strikes, gives the executives too much power and workers too little. It’s ‘rational’ for executives to abuse this imbalance by denying shipping service to force the government to impose a contract which allows them to squeeze as much as they can out of workers for profit. Workers can’t retaliate with a strike. Except… many railroad workers have been quitting for a long time because the railroad companies penalize them for going to necessary medical appointments. If the railroad companies lose too many workers to stay functional, that’s also a kind of labor strike.

Anyway, instead of writing more about that, I feel like writing about something frivolous: Japanese onsen.

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Buy a Product with Money, or Buy a Skill with Time?

My small net-tent under a tarp

People who are new to camping often ask, “What tent should I buy?”

My answer is, “a cheap secondhand tent, ideally from someone who has used it and can show you how to pitch it.”

Might the tent suck? Yes. That’s why you shouldn’t pay much. Never buy a secondhand tent for more than 50% of its original retail price (a few rare ‘collectable’ tents which are no longer manufactured are worth more, but if you’re that kind of connoisseur, you don’t need my advice).

You can find secondhand tents for sale at various websites, but, if possible, I recommend buying from someone you know or a local camping group. Camping enthusiasts tend to build up a collection of tents over time, and chances are some of them have tents they no longer want to keep.

If you can borrow a tent, that might be better. It’s a tradeoff between money vs. the obligation to return the tent in good condition.

As a beginner, there’s something more important than what tent you use: starting with easy conditions.

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Wildfires, Again

I slept in this bed in Westwood

I once spent a night in Westwood, Lassen County. Specifically, I slept in a building which had once been the home of the richest guy in Westwood (he was a timber baron).

For about two weeks, Westwood has been under mandatory evacuation orders due to the Dixie Fire. As of the publication of this post, the fire containment lines around the town are holding. The wildfire only surrounded it on three sides.

Westwood is less than twenty miles (thirty kilometers) away from Greenville, the town which the Dixie Fire destroyed. As soon as I learned that the wildfire was threatening Westwood, I knew Susanville is in danger. How? I’ve hiked the Bizz Johnson Trail from Westwood to Susanville. Dry forest goes all the way from the town to the city.

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I Haven’t Stepped a Toe Past City Limits in 15 Months. How Do I Feel?

I haven’t left the City and County of San Francisco since February 2020. I haven’t been to anywhere other than San Francisco or Alameda County since October 2019. 47 square miles / 121 square kilometers has been the limit of my physical world.

How do I feel? Surprisingly, I feel fine.

As soon as pandemic restrictions became serious, people complained about cabin fever and how much they want to ‘get out’ and travel far from home. Even now, over a year later, I… still don’t relate.

My life is such that I rarely have an ‘essential’ reason to leave city limits. Among people in my physical social circle, I’m unusual in not having crossed city limits at all since the first stay-at-home order. Many people I know have essential reasons to cross city limits, but I also get the sense that they are surprised by how seriously I’ve taken the ‘no nonessential travel’ thing.

I’ve been lucky to have already done quite a bit of travel in my life, and even before the pandemic, I felt I was getting diminishing returns from additional travel. For me, personally, staying in San Francisco city limits for over a year wasn’t bad.

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People Do Give Up on Travel… Or Do They?

I read the article “Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won’t: ’Sustainable’ travel is an oxymoron” shortly after it was originally published on January 24, 2020. At the time, I considered writing a response; I’m glad I didn’t, because anything I would have written at the end of January 2020 would have become out of date fast.

Looking at the article again, I don’t understand some points. The article’s principal argument seems to be tourism is bad because it encourages frivolous flights which wastefully increase CO2 emissions. I’ve expressed thoughts on this before. It’s curious that the essayist criticizes the cruise ships for dumping sewage rather than air pollution (according to the link, 50,000 Europeans die premature deaths per year because cruise ships burn dirty fuel) or that they emit more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than commercial passenger airplanes. It’s especially weird to criticize airplanes for emitting carbon and NOT criticize cruise ships for emitting even more carbon.

I also don’t understand how short-distance tourism (say, visiting a place fifty miles away from one’s home) is so terrible for the environment. Yes, it has a higher environmental impact than just staying at home, but it’s a vastly lower impact than traveling two thousand miles.

Now, in the pandemic, we can ask: did tourism die? Technically, no. But tourism received a mortal wound. Continue reading

Why do self-identified progressives/liberals use Uber/Lyft? And am I really any different?

I only need one reason to vote against California’s 2020 Proposition 22: it requires a 7/8 majority in the California legislature to be amended unless it is overridden by another proposition (meaning another expensive campaign – the Yes on 22 campaign, at over $180 million dollars, primarily funded by a few corporations, is already the most expensive campaign for a ballot measure in California history). The original AB5 law had glaring problems, has already been amended by the legislature, and can be amended again. Any law like AB5 or Prop 22 with massively uncertain social and economic effects needs to be open to amendation by the legislature and not require a clunky voter measure to fix. For this reason alone, I urge all California voters to VOTE NO. If you support any clauses in the proposition, it is much better to pester your representatives in the legislature to pass appropriate legislation so that if it backfires and does not work out the way you hope, it can be fixed.

That said, what I really want to talk about how people who claim to be progressive, in favor of fair pay, an equal economic playing field, and rule of law, still choose to patronize Uber/Lyft/etc.

Last year, when I was in Juneau, I needed a few car rides, and I wanted to share them with other people so I could split the fare. I knew, from talking to locals, that there were very few Lyft drivers in Juneau and that they charged even higher fares than the local taxi companies. I passed on this information to other tourists in Juneau, and they still chose Lyft. At first, I could not believe it. Why would anyone choose a more expensive service with less availability? It was only when they tried to get a Lyft and failed because no driver was available that they finally listened to me, called a local taxi company, and were shocked that the local taxi company charged less, even though I had already told them that would be the case. When I asked them why they tried Lyft even after my warning, they said “because it’s convenient.”

And not all tourists heeded me even after they could not get a Lyft ride. Even when they knew they would have to wait more than an hour for a Lyft, they refused to do a price comparison with a local taxi company and preferred to wait for the Lyft rather than get a taxi which would arrive much sooner.

I finally figured out that, by ‘convenient,’ they mean it’s their habit to always choose Lyft, even when someone is telling them they will have to wait longer and pay more. They are not in the habit of dealing with any of the taxi companies in Juneau. There is some psychological benefit that is worth spending more time and money on. Continue reading

The Joy of Picking Fruit

It started with Himalayan blackberries.

On the left is a ripe Himalayan blackberry; the one on the right is unripe.

For as long as I can remember, I have known how to pick fruit, specifically Himalayan blackberries. It’s something I started doing as soon as I was physically capable. My father recalls that a gardener came to my kindergarten class to explain how flowers led to fruit, and that he was impressed that I already knew about all that because I had already seen it all happen with Himalayan blackberry plants.

I was primed at a very young age to figure out how to get ripe fruit, even if it meant navigating thorns, to get the sweet reward.

The Himalayan blackberries are in season now in San Francisco. Some years I ignore them (it is annoying to deal with the thorns and blackberries are not, IMO, the tastiest of fruit), but this year I am collecting blackberries. Continue reading

Remembering Jiaming Lake and the Southern Cross-Island Highway (Part 4)

This is a photo taken on the Southern Cross-Island Highway – I’m guessing that’s the Xinwulu river

Continued from Part 3.

When I wrote the emails in 2013 about my trip on the Southern Cross-Island Highway, I promised at the end that I would an email about Wulu Gorge, which I never did. Thus, unlike the previous parts of this blog post series, this entire post was written in 2020. And instead of being able to copy and paste a bunch of text I wrote shortly after the trip, all I have to rely on are a few photos and memories which are more than six years old.
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