A lot of time I work in cafes. I don't see it as expensive coffee - I see it as cheap office space.
Sometimes I'm not thinking very well where I'm living or staying, so I change the scenery to do better work. I've gotten pretty good about not compulsively checking email, Hacker News, etc., but some days the 'net keeps calling me, and I head out to a cafe without internet. Sometimes I'm staying at a place without internet, and I had to a cafe to clear out my emails and do my business online.
Here in Hong Kong, I'm staying in a little hotel in Kowloon with internet, but I don't really dig the vibe of my room. It's too... clean, actually. Now, don't get me wrong, I like a clean room, but there's a faint air of soap and antiseptic and I see a cleaning woman mopping at least twice per day. Add that to my room being in the middle of the building with no window and I decide to head out to a Starbucks for some ambient noise, more light, and the smell of coffee.
At the cafe, there was a young girl playing. I'm not so good at telling age, but maybe 9 or 10 years old? She was of South Asian descent, maybe Indian, Pakistani, or Sri Lankan. Hard to tell an accent at that age, but sounded vaguely American. Maybe her English teacher or the international school she attends is run by an American? Or she's with her family on holiday from the States?
She was running and jumping around, dancing, while her parents were talking intently a little ways away. She kept talking to me, saying "Hello!" and looking at my computer and saying, "To - shi - ba!" She got a bunch of either straws or coffee-stirrers and was bending them into shapes, climbing onto chairs, and otherwise jumping around and having fun.
But y'know, I had this vague feeling of, "Don't play with the kid" - maybe it's different in South Asia or Hong Kong, but in America there's a vibe that if you're a single guy, you're just not supposed to play with kids, look at kids, or otherwise interact with kids that aren't yours. If you're with your wife or girlfriend, then it's okay to play with kids and babies, but people are a little uneasy about men around children.
And I start thinking - is that a good thing? When I was little, we lived in Dorchester and Quincy Massachusetts, and people were friendly. I hung out with the neighbors. When the landlord came by I'd talk to him. Sometimes I'd walk down to the local bakery and buy coffee and donuts. I'd talk to people on the way and people in the coffee place. But now, guys are scared to do that because of the culture of "beware of predators!" I don't watch TV, but I'm under the impressions there's lots of stories about predators and kidnappers and people recruiting into slavery and things like that. I'm also under the impression this is a really, really rare thing that's blown out of proportion and sensationalized.
The Kowloon Starbucks were set up to maximize space in an area that probably wasn't originally designed for a cafe, so there's pillars and stands and tables snaked around them. The little girl's parents were on the verge of being out of sight, so when she talked to me, I was just polite and then kind of ignored her. In a more sane and less paranoid world, I think I'd have asked where she's from, does she like Hong Kong, what grade is she in, and normal things friendly-adults-ask-kids type questions. But I didn't. I think that's kind of sad, kind of sending the wrong message - I'm glad people talked to me and interacted with me when I was a kid. I wonder if that'll change going forwards, it'd probably be good for the world if it did.
I like to kill two, three, four birds with one stone whenever I can. Produce and learn at the same time, consume and produce, learn and relax, connect with people and learn, learn/connect/relax/produce, etc. Every day I try to exercise and learn at the same time by listening to some smart audio while I walk, jog, or run. I like to do small projects with friends and acquaintances - it's a great way to connect with someone, get to know each other more, learn/knowledge exchange new skills, and maybe make some money in the process.
Mixing "walking around" into other time and paying attention goes a long way towards getting smarter. Sometimes when I want to think, I go walk or jog around a neighborhood I don't know. I figure if I pay attention, I can learn the layout of the neighborhood, what kind of people live there, what kind of businesses are there, what kind of businesses aren't there that could be.
I went for a three mile walk near Sheung Wan in Hong Kong yesterday. I walked through an area with lots of mechanics and other mech/craft shops. I kept walking, and as I climbed up some hills, I came suddenly into a really upscale neighborhood and the cars started looking nicer - I saw particularly quite a few BMW's. So I think - hmm, there's a lot of mechanics two miles away, but I'm not seeing a garage up here. I know in nice neighborhoods people will pay as much as a 2x premium to get their car serviced without driving far. (I made the mistake of going to "Bel Air Auto Care" once when I lived in Bel Air last year - yeah, 2x what it should have cost for some work). But that's a good deal for some people whose time is very precious to them, they'd rather get premium auto service fast than drive a couple miles to save a couple bucks.
So I start thinking, if I spoke Cantonese, was local to Hong Kong, and had money to invest, would it make sense to look for some space two miles up the hill in Sheung Wan in the nice neighborhood? I was impressed with the mechanics walking through - generally looked pretty skilled and hard working. In one shop there was a boy, maybe 8 years old, reading a book while his dad worked. So I think - these are smart, hard working people. If you could get a lease at the right price, you know there's already talented mechanics nearby you could hire with a pay increase. Could your auto shop make enough money to cover the lease and expenses? I think locking up a long term lease in Sheung Wan would be worth some money in and of itself, so if the business was slightly profitable you'd have a good thing going.
It was like a scavenger hunt trying to find good coffee when I was in Cambodia a few months ago. I thought to myself - hey, here's an opportunity to build a chain of cafes, starting in Siem Riep and Phnomh Penh. You could brand/gear it up like the coffee chains that tourists like - Starbucks, Pacific Coffee, Coffee Bean, etc. If you went a step further and branded it the right way, you could also make it the kind of place that's an experience to go to, that would be a fun activity for even a relatively poor Cambodian family to aspire to go every so often. I was thinking I'd call it the "Western Coffee Company", and brand it like the Old West a little bit. Wooden saloon type vibe, little brick mixed in, Old West-inspired dress, and maybe live guitar or fiddle once a day or once a week. It could be an aspirational, entertainment place for local Khmer people while serving tourists heading to Angkor Wat and exploring Cambodia. And again, that land's only going to go up in value. Someone's going to build or expand a coffee chain into Cambodia and make a mint.
Why I Don't Take Medicine
I'm aware that admitting / proclaiming that I don't take medicine sets me up to be bucketed in with the nutty religious people who handle snakes and let their kids die on rare occasions before allowing them to go to the hospital.
That's not me.