Now the rain has waned a bit

If everyone in the world earned wages comparable to those in the U.S., how much would stuff cost? Is this a price people are willing to pay? (And if not, why not?)

As you know, I like estimating, but answering this first question (which popped in my head whilst I was reading this article [shameless NewsDog plug]) was just way beyond me. It’s not just your shirts, cellphones, etc. that are made abroad. It may also be the machines that McDonalds uses to heat up its hamburgers. Or the instruments employed to measure your gas usage. Whatever. Europe might be a good place to look, since I think many of its countries employ protectionist tariffs that simulate higher wages (but of course the money really flows to the importing country’s government, and not to the workers producing the goods).

Another random world thought, inspired by recent drives through Connecticut, which seems remarkably sparse given that it is the second most densely population state in the U.S.: The earth is huge. You could fit the entire population of the world into Texas, and each person would still get 1150 sq ft to call his own. Texas! Compare this to Manhattan, in which each person gets about 400 sq ft (and this includes office buildings, etc.).

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So I’m back in Connecticut for my little sister Meera’s college graduation. Getting here was an airline-induced nightmare: 18 hours of delay- and mishap-filled travel. Two memorable moments:

1. Waiting in SFO, I glance at our luggage tags and realize that United has switched one of them with another passenger’s. That means that one of our bags is going to Dulles, and one of his is going to end up at Bradley “International” Airport in Hartford. My brother and I go up to the counter. The agent quickly understands our problem, and calls ahead to Dulles to have them watch out for our bag. We then think we’ll try to do the other poor sap in this affair, a “Thomas Schwarz”, a favor:
us: [Agent], you should probably also call ahead to Bradley, since this other guy’s bag is going there.
agent: I don’t understand.
us: You clearly switched our tags. You agree that his tag got put on our luggage. This probably means that our tag got put on his luggage.
agent: We don’t know if this other guy you mention checked any bags.
us: He obviously did. We’re holding his luggage tag right here.
agent: I don’t understand.
[ several more minutes of futile conversation, during which nothing gets resolved ]

In the end, the agent didn’t do anything, and of course during our three hour layover in Philly, I get a call from a United agent in Dulles who’s with a Mr. Thomas Schwarz — who’s wondering where his bag is. Gotta love United.

2. The three-hour layover in Philly didn’t include the additional forty minute delay in getting onto the plane that would take us to Hartford. I say “getting onto the plane” only because we didn’t take off for another two hours. Yeah, we sat on the runway for two hours. During this time, a number of very dark thoughts flitted through my brain. (This was, mind you, already after 14 hours of travel.) Then, after about 90 minutes, a ray of light:

Wait — I can write about this in my LJ! It’ll be so cathartic to vent there. It’ll feel so good.
(One minute later.)
Cool, I can even mention in the LJ how thinking about writing it made me happy when I was sitting in the plane! How meta. Sweet.
(Five minutes later.)
Hmm. It’s actually probably going to be really boring to write (and read). Nothing like having high expectations and then woefully failing them. This sucks.
(One minute later.)
Now I’m also going to have to write in my LJ about how I thought that. Shoot. This is getting complicated.
(Five minutes later.)
You know, it’s probably going to be pretty decent to write. So I’m just going to be happy about it. Hmph.

In the end, obviously, I circumvented the whole issue by just writing the meta part. Score.

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The weather here has been miserable and rainy, but graduation still turned out to be quite memorable.

In addition to Meera’s graduation, it also turns out that my dad won the Byrnes/Sewall Prize, which is basically for the best teacher at Yale. (Thus adding credence and an additional degree of embarrassment to my sleeping story from a couple of entries ago.) He had managed to keep this a secret from us until the day of, so we were all really excited. Yes, I’m very proud! (… Proud enough to brag about it in my LJ, apparently. Sorry.)

Another cool moment: they handed out awards for the undergraduates in various areas (Humanities, Social Sciences, etc.) with the highest GPAs. For the humanities, two people had tied, each with 35 credits (which roughly equate to classes) and 34 straight As. For the social sciences, the winner had 35 credits and 33 As. Ho-hum. For the natural sciences, the winner was this little Asian dude (uber nerdy-looking) who got his bachelors and masters in four years, doubled majored in Computer Science and Economics/Mathematics, and took 40.5 credits, of which 40 were As. The entire crowd went nuts at this, which was awesome. Represent!

This reminds me of the best graduation-related moment I’ve experienced. This was during my college graduation. I don’t remember all the details; perhaps someone else can fill them in. Anyway, the award was for public service. The presenter listed off the most ridiculous laundry-list of activies and projects that the winner had done, any of of which alone I’d consider a major accomplishment, and ended by saying that most of the winner’s friends had no idea he had even done this stuff.

Then the guy walked up from the crowd to get the award. Normally, when someone wins a big award like this, no matter how modest he is, he’s happy and proud: his parents are present, all his peers are there to recognize him, and hey, it’s just a really big deal. We all love a little external validation now and then.

But not this kid. He had to walk from the very back, the entire length of the seating area. His shoulders were hunched, and he looked at the ground the whole way, obviously embarrassed by the whole scene. It was clear that not only did he not want any recognition, he didn’t even feel that he deserved any. It was the most profound display of true humility that I’ve ever witnessed.

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6 Responses to Now the rain has waned a bit

  1. rwclark says:

    Woah. Power family. I like Songs for Silverman.

  2. walther says:

    The guy you describe in the last few paragraphs is John Jondou Chen, my housemate during the three years after we graduated. It’s true that most of his friends really had no idea that he had given of himself so completely in the service of others. I really can’t say enough about the amazing things he still does for other people, often at the expense of his own interests and comfort. I think that he was indeed pretty mortified about that whole experience of receiving that award in front of everyone, but he definitely earned it. =)

    • aj says:

      Hmm, are you sure about that? I remember it being a white kid. A Google search indicates that a “Lee M. Hampton” won the Ames Award in 2001, so that might be him. Not to say that this John guy wasn’t awesome too :)

      • walther says:

        wow, i looked at the online crimson article about class day from that year, and you are absolutely right. i am totally delusional, because i could have sworn that it was john i saw reluctantly walking up to the stage to claim the prize. (he was one of the other award finalists that they announced.) it is weird how my memory is completely faulty on this since i even have a vivid memory from that moment of turning to my mom sitting next to me and telling her that “that guy” was going to be my roommate next year. this is definitely not the first time that i have had to revise my memories of an incident based on hard evidence presented years later. i’m losing my memory in my old age. but i still stand by the awesomeness and selflessness of john! =)

  3. if europe is a guide

    i’d gladly pay it. i’d say things here in oxford cost about twice as much as they do in the states, maybe three times as much on the high end, and some things are about the same. it’s expensive, but even on my grad student salary i can afford it. i’d happily pay it in the states if it meant living wages all around (of course, it wouldn’t… it’d mean shareholder profits all around, but that’s another story…)