Category Archives: Life

Beeronomics 2017

I have just finished participating in the Economics of Beer conference hosted by the Copenhagen Business School and the Carlsberg Foundation. It was a really great conference, combining academic rigour with collegiality and many opportunities for socialising and learning about Danish culture and Danish beer. I think I speak for all participants when I say it was a very successful event, and I look forward to the next conference in 2019, which should be hosted in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

Before going into the research proper, here are some photographs of lovely Copenhagen, one of the bars we visited (as part of the conference program there were two brewery tours and two bar tours) and some of the presenters speaking in the plush Carlsberg Academy.

I drank a large quantity of free beers over the course of this conference, some of which were quite good. Two special beers were made available: the Carlsberg Rebrew (read about this on Cornell’s and Pattison’s blogs), which I very much enjoyed, though struggled to discover the “old” in it, and the Copenhagen Business School’s Centenary IPA. This was a 6.5% ABV Westcoast IPA brewed to celebrate CBS reaching 100 years of business education. It was delicious and set the mood for the conference very well. Other beer highlights were Warpigs’ Kaffestout and Last Rites IPA and the full range of Mikkeller beers we were supplied with.

In addition to academic papers, the conference was fortunate enough to hear from Danish beer heavyweights Flemming Besenbacher, Carlsberg Chairman, and Jacob Gram Alsing, Mikkeller Operations Manager. These were great talks and I was fortunate enough to have a ripping yarn with Jacob afterwards. Mikkeller are truly a unique operation in the beer world. We discussed Mikkeller’s Asia operations and its investigations into the Myanmar market.

But without further ado, here are just a few of the highlights from the conference proper:

Carlos Eduardo Hernandez presented a compelling case for why the US brewing industry moved west in the latter nineteenth-century. Essentially, the answer was bottling. He also discussed comparative advantages between brewing locations in the midwest.

Kitayama, Williams and Takeshita examined the relationship between corporate governance and internationalisation strategies of major Japanese breweries. I found their discussion of corporate governance differences between Suntory and Kirin particularly fruitful for my own understanding of Myanmar’s industry, and Kirin’s partnership with the Tatmadaw.

Kind and Kaiser had a work-in-progress report on how climate change could affect the value chain of the beer sector in Germany. In doing so it used case studies of hail and drought in Hallertau and drought in the southwestern US. Although very exploratory, this was a great paper that drew attention to the bigger issues.

I also enjoyed Steriu and William‘s presentation on Heineken’s internationalisation strategy, again for its relevance to the Myanmar market. Interestingly they were positive about Heineken’s Myanmar work and applied agency to their ability to keep other entrants out of the market, which I thought was quite peculiar.

There was also a fun panel on regulation of beer in the United States with some good qualitative and historical work thrown in between econometrics papers. Richard White delivered his paper on Alabama’s idiosyncratic history of regulation with particular verve and enthusiasm.

There were some big picture works on the craft beer revolution and the launch of a book from the society with the same name. Stack and Wagner seemed to be doing the most to understand the revolution in the US from a supply/demand, large-scale level. But the other papers on clustering, particular national craft beer sectors and consumer taste preferences were also food for thought.

The plenary session was on new research frontiers in beer economics. Of course, there is no shortage. But even so, Jen Gaamelgaard did a great job distilling and presenting these. For those interested, the main book presentation was for The Craft Beer Revolution: A Global Economic Perspective, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Lastly, a big thanks to the Carlsberg Foundation for funding my participation in the PhD workshop at this conference.

Recording an Experience of Loss

I wasn’t sure where to put this little record, but I haven’t posted recently so thought the blog would be as good a place as anywhere.

I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar on an AirAsia flight to undertake two years of fieldwork for my PhD thesis in Anthropology on January 20, 2017.  Unfortunately, nineteen kilograms of my luggage did not arrive with me.  This post is simply a record of my experiences, which may be useful to the airlines, to other affected travelers, and possibly to other graduate students.

The executive summary of my experience is that my baggage was never found and I was without any compensation for four weeks.  Thanks to local networks and friends I managed to borrow replacement electronic equipment for use in the field until I could afford to buy new items.  On the whole, I was very impressed with the expertise and knowledge at my University’s insurance office, but very disappointed with the staff of AirAsia Myanmar.

I could go into much detail about exactly how my luggage was lost; my own inductions and deductions.  But they are not useful for the purposes of this piece.  Briefly, on the evening of Saturday, January 20, my nineteen-kilogram box of luggage was not on the carousel at Yangon Airport.  My other six-kilogram box was.  The Yangon airport staff were businesslike in dealing with the issue, giving me an official document from the Yangon Airport Group (YAG) to take away, and stating that my bag would be “on a plane here tomorrow”.

This initial document was very important.  Anyone in this situation should not leave the airport without it.  In my case, there was a further complication.  It turned out that the Melbourne Airport staff member who checked in my boxes put the six-kilogram baggage tag on the nineteen-kilogram box, and vice-versa.  I made this clear at the time, making sure the YAG staff wrote 19kg on the document, and not 6kg – which was crucial for full compensation later.

There was no phone call the following day.  In general, both the YAG and AirAsia staff are callous care about these passenger predicaments.  They have procedures they must follow, and they will follow them, but only if you take the initiative and call them every single day, which is the pattern I followed.

On the Sunday when I contacted the YAG they admitted to having no idea where my box was.  After 48 hours I was transferred to dealing with the AirAsia property department, based in Yangon.  They required the document from YAG to initiate proceedings, then informed me that if they could not find my luggage after two weeks the box would be declared missing and the compensation process would begin.  It did not sound likely that they would find my box, even at this stage.

Given this, I contacted the Australian National University Insurance office and sent them the YAG document I received from the airport.  They informed me that there was no harm in getting a claim ready, but that I could not lodge it formally until I received a confirmation of loss and compensation by the airline.  The ANU Insurance office diligently pointed me to the relevant documents, including guidelines for making the claim, which would go under the University’s travel insurance policy.

I have always purchased travel insurance but have never needed to make a claim.  The only time I ever considered it was back in 2008 when a pickpocket nabbed $150 from me in Ho Chi Minh City.  But the complicated process at the police station and the fact that the excess was not likely to cover the loss made me hesitate from proceeding with a claim at that time.  I was somewhat daunted to be finally making a travel insurance claim after so many years of travel, but the University Insurance office was very helpful.

AirAsia requested that I send them a photograph of the box to assist them in their search.  Luckily, I had one by coincidence.  I now recommend whenever checking in baggage of any consequence that all passengers should take a photograph of it.

AirAsia also could not handle the issue of the swapped baggage tags.  I had to really push this – in the end they contacted Melbourne Airport to receive confirmation that this occurred.  I also had to send them a photograph of the six-kilogram box with the nineteen-kilogram baggage tag – again, luckily I had kept this, but could just as easily have thrown it in the recycling by the time they asked for it.

After two weeks (and a few more days of pestering) I finally received confirmation from AirAsia that they had lost my box and that it had officially weighed nineteen kilograms.  I passed this on to the ANU Insurance office along with my travel insurance claim.  I then received confirmation from AirAsia that they would be compensating me $20USD per kilogram, for a total of $380USD, deposited into my Australian bank account.  A few days later, I then received the outcome of my ANU travel insurance claim.

The most important thing to note about my University’s, and many other, travel insurance policies as it regards to lost baggage is that they do not cover any checked-in electronic items.  I had a considerable amount of electronics in my lost box which the policy did not cover, including my second or “backup” laptop and camera equipment.  Thankfully the policy covered all of the other non-electronic items I claimed, such as books, clothes and specialist coffee-making equipment (some pleasures we cannot easily do without in the field).

In the end, the ANU travel insurance reimbursement came to $571 AUD.  So in total, I received nearly a thousand dollars, if the AirAsia and travel insurance reimbursements are taken together.  This covered most of the lost items in my baggage, enough to take the harsh edge off the loss.

Here’s a timeline of the process:

Date Event
January 20, 2017 · Arrival in Yangon
· Yangon Airport Group issues Baggage Loss document
January 24, 2017 · University Admin contacted
· ANU Insurance Office contacted
January 26, 2017 · AirAsia issues Property Irregularity Report
January 30, 2017 · Travel Insurance claim initially lodged
February 9, 2017 · Photograph of 6kg box with 19kg tag provided to AirAsia
February 12, 2017 · AirAsia confirms reimbursement of $380USD
· Bank details provided to AirAsia
February 13, 2017 · AirAsia provides final Confirmation of Loss document
· Confirmation of Loss provided to ANU Insurance Office
February 17, 2017 · Chubb Insurance provides Settlement Letter
· ANU Insurance Office confirms reimbursement of $571.46AUD
February 21, 2017 · Chubb Insurance reimbursement received
April 6, 2017 · AirAsia reimbursement received.

Passengers beware!  It’s a jungle out there.

A Rooster as Big as a House

This is the eighteenth in a series of posts about living, teaching, traveling and studying in Southeast Asia during my twenties. This entry is about a friend of mine and his many motorcycle accidents in Laos.

In November 2009 I motorcycled around the southern part of Laos for a month with a close friend who I will call Greg.  It was a trial by fire for Greg, who had never ridden a motorcycle before.  He was very keen to learn and I thought there could be no safer place in Southeast Asia than the beautiful dirt roads of Laos, blessedly free of the traffic that chokes so much of the region.  We landed in Vientiane, rented our motorcycles and headed into the suburbs for his first lessons.

This is a story of three motorbike accidents.  It is a story of fortitude and perseverance in the face of repeated bruising, a story of the human spirit overcoming an increasingly broken body, a story of lessons learned.  But mostly it is a story of luck – that Greg didn’t shuffle of this mortal coil deep in the Laos jungle, wrapped around a twisted metal heap that used to be a two-wheeled vehicle.

The first crash happened somewhere near Thakhek, only a few days into the trip.  Greg and I were putting merrily along a dirt road on the way to a lake for a swim.  I had a passenger at this time, a lovely Australian named Ricky who was on a worldwide tour for a year.  I was confiding to him at the time that I was a little worried about how Greg would go riding.

“But, he seems to be quite safe,” Ricky said to me.  “He’s not going fast or anything.”

It’s true; we were cruising at about forty kilometres an hour, a pretty tame speed for the empty dirt roads of rural Laos.  But as sure as the sun rises, as soon as Ricky said that, Greg sped past us.  He gave a knowing nod and smirk as he did so: catch me if you can, it communicated.

But before I could attempt to catch him or not, Greg pushed his bike into a ditch, smashed the wheel into the corrugated dirt and catapulted himself onto the road.  It was a perfect sequence of events from our perspectives: he zoomed past Ricky & I, came in full view of us and only then promptly crashed the bike.  I shook my head and skidded to a halt.  There he lay, this friend of mine, just gaining his confidence on two wheels, only to be dashed against the hard earthen reality of over-enthusiasm.

The second incident occurred a few days later, further south near Savannakhet somewhere.  I forget where we were headed, but it was just the two of us by now, Ricky having departed for his next destination.  This was before I had a smart phone or GPS and we were relying on print maps.  I knew we had to make a right hand turn somewhere but wasn’t sure where, so I took the lead, ducking through the paddocks checking left then right at each intersection.

Then HO! I spotted the turn.  It was too late to make it, so I put the brakes on after crossing the intersection and turned my head – once more, just in time to see Greg’s face contorted in shock as he applied his front bake, skidded into the dirt and crash out alongside me.  I just stared at him in disbelief.  If he had used his back brake he would have been fine, but for some reason he panicked, and instead of cruising past me or initiating a rear brake skid he opted to put all pressure on the front – and on these red dirt roads, that was a recipe for disaster.

Greg slowly rose to his feet.  Somehow his pants had fallen down.  He stood on the road in his boxer shorts, breathing heavily.  Dust and steam surrounded him as our motorcycle engines purred.  Three farmers, who had seen the whole thing, approached from the fields, and another motorcyclist pulled up to ask if we needed help.  Greg stared at them.  They stared at his naked legs and boxer shorts.  I stared at the whole scene.  Then we all burst out laughing.  Thankfully Greg and the bike weren’t too hurt; but his pride was taking a slow, sure, beating.  After righting the bike I took a quick photograph and we moved on.

The third and final crash was a doozy.  It beat Greg down and could have been quite serious.  Unlike the other two, I didn’t witness it.  Greg and I were descending a steep hill deep in a national park.  After five minutes of riding I realised I hadn’t seen him in my rear view mirror in a while, so I stopped and waited for him to catch up.  Ten minutes passed with no Greg passing me by.  I turned around and rode back up the mountainside.

There, in a small village, sat Greg, despondent, clothes ripped, skin slashed, surrounded by local peasants.  His motorcycle was not exactly a tangled heap, but the clutch had snapped off and there was significant cosmetic damage.  Oh dear, I thought.

“What happened man?” I asked.

“Rooster,” Greg said.  “As big as a house.”

I nodded.  Plenty of animals came at you on these roads.  I had been lucky to never hit anything.  I guess Greg was faced with the prospect of killing the rooster or hitting the brakes – and he went for the front brake again.

We didn’t say much.  He got on my motorbike and I nursed his own clutchless wreck down the hill and towards our accommodation.  That night I tended his wounds, using basically my entire first AID kit.

Did Greg have a good time in Laos?  Yes, he did.  He and I went on to take many more bicycle and motorcycle trips in Asia, and I am proud to say his vehicular stability is now peerless, with nary a stack or a skid for years.

But that trip in Laos in 2009 was a close call – and it could have gone either way.

Yangpu Park

This is the seventeenth in a series of posts about living, teaching, traveling and studying in Southeast Asia during my twenties. This entry is about a park I used to walk in daily.

Yangpu District (杨浦区), a concrete suburbia balanced on silt in Shanghai, sustains a vast swathe of people. It is a large urban area by
any standard, clocking in at sixty square kilometres, and as a result of a population density over six times higher than the Australian city of Melbourne, it has a population in the territory of millions.

In 2010 this inner-fringe corner of Shanghai had 1.24 million residents to be exact, all spread throughout hundreds of apartment buildings built up along the west bank of the Huang Pu river, four kilometres north of the famous Bund heritage area of Shanghai.

The name Yangpu means poplar bank, giving rise to a very different time in China’s history, evoking images of clean rivers, blue skies, and branches rustling in the wind, whispering serenity. The average visitor to urban Yangpu would be hard-pressed to feel the name justified, however, as very few poplars are in sight and the riverbank is dominated by industry.

What Yangpu lacked in serenity it makes up for in factories, firmly entrenched in the eastern and southern quarters, heaving rocks and spewing waste about the place; production, production, production, fueling the latest addition to the suburb – the Shanghai shopping malls; gleeful, shining-bright kingdoms of consumer chaos.

But when I lived in Yangpu, there was a place where one could go to attempt escape from the relentless rush, from constantly inhaling fumes, from the congested crowds of pedestrians. It was a place that gives a million people the chance to achieve that old elusive serenity, to reflect on poplar trees, golden banks, on what has been and could
be again. Smack bang in the centre of Yangpu district, hemmed in by concrete walls, iron gates and steady traffic, lies the Yangpu Park.

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but venture within the arched gateway and you will find yourself in a surprisingly huge, tightly manicured, twenty-two hectare green space. The Shanghai Municipal Government published an English manifesto listing the qualities of the park in the early 2000s:

Originally built in 1957, Yangpu Park has been renovated three times, most recently in 2008, and offers a wonderful interactive experience with abundant wildlife. The Yuhu lake is at the park’s heart and is completed by exquisite pavilions, corridors, bridges and ornamental buildings, among other forms of garden architecture and botanic attractions in different sections. The rock garden and waterfall near the main entrance hold special appeal, the fragrant pond of water lilies and the fish pond by the waterside promenade offer amazing views. The botanic zone boasts a complete and juxtaposed collection of vegetation featuring the four seasons and the fitness centre provides a wonderful, highly integrated functional space for recreation, sports and entertainment.

Although delightfully hyperbolic, as most English government prose in China is, the manifesto is a decent summary of what the park offers Yangpu residents. There are huge lakes, meandering streams, arched bridges, traditional pavilions, open green spaces, a rose garden, an outdoor public gym, a chi ldren’s play area and more. The approach is strikingly artificial, with a strong human influence exhibited by the standard asphalt paths, colour-coded flowerbeds, carefully shaped hedges, and in one corner of the park, a roller-coaster and tennis courts.

At the main entrance is a brilliantly awkward presentation of the park rules in English.

Pursuant to the regulations of Shanghai Municipality Administration of Public Parks, visitors are advised to observe that ethic and moral codes should be duly honoured:

  • Visitors are expected not to urinate or shit, post advertisements or posters, write or carve around in the park, expose one’s top, lie about, wash or air clothes.
  • Scavenging or begging from others is unallowable; climbing artificial hills is objectionable, ball games and kite-flying are impermissible unless in a designated area.
  • Visitors are not supposed to tease, scare or capture birds, crickets, fish or shrimp, or cicada (except for commercial purposes).
  • The visitor to the park should discipline himself instead of making himself a nuisance to others; any group activity in the park shall be subject to the administration of the relevant department of the park; public speech or public meeting of any nature is inexpedient.
  • Activities of feudalistic and superstitious nature and gambling are prohibited; peddling about, practicing medicine or distribution of propaganda sheets is not allowed.

Walking through the park reveals an enormous number of people recharging away from the hostile city, many in blatant disregard of
the above rules (though thankfully rarely the first one). People stroll aimlessly, people stroll with great aim, people sit, people stand. By the rivers and streams sit solitary men, seated on plastic stools with fishing rods in the water. They don’t read, they don’t listen to music and they certainly don’t talk to other people. They simply stare at the water and concentrate on fishing.

I once asked an elderly fisherman if he had caught any fish that day. He slowly moved his head, stared at me for ten seconds like I just didn’t get it and then said no. Conversation over. Representative of solitary fishermen everywhere, perhaps.

Spread throughout the park are groups of people gathered around card tables playing Chinese poker. These are the stragglers, the not-so-serious players, for everyone knows there is only one corner of the park where the real action is at. Tucked away by a pond, and a decent walk from both entrances, is a concrete and cobble-stoned space that teems with enthusiastic gamblers. At any one time there will be upwards of a hundred people playing poker, exchanging their hard-earned yuan among each other. It is not uncommon to see twenty onlookers for a game with four participants as local reputations are solidified and liquefied, relationships are tested, and (some) people achieve their own form of $erenity.

By the banks of the lake stand the saxophonists, the flutists and the brass bands. It is common practice to claim a lake-side space by nailing a music sheet to the trunk of a tree, then unloading your instrument of choice and letting loose with no inhibitions. Music notes of all flavours float across the Yuhu lake, meeting and mixing in the middle to form a mighty confusing medley. The only people who hear the performers from this vantage point are the boaters, usually young families, plying the green water in plastic rentals. They lounge around the centre of the lake in between tackling the narrower canals, where they regularly bump into each other causing merriment for all – unless you fall into the murky green depths. Then you go to the hospital.

People come to the park to fly kites, feed the pigeons, perform tai chi and sing karaoke. Portable karaoke amplifiers can appear at any pavilion or lawn and it doesn’t take long for a crowd of admirers to applaud participants – and then join in with their own takes on the classics. Towards sunset the park brings its sound-scape into its own hands, playing traditional, if slightly repetitive, instrumental songs over a park-wide speaker system. At the same time every night, the park empties itself out to the same eerie tune, set on merciless repeat.

As the residents of Yangpu finish their serene sojourns through the gardens, other creatures begin their own. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Yangpu park is that it is habitat to a burgeoning population of feral cats … and they all come out at night (… mostly). Tabbies, gingers, big fellas, little kitties, all ranges of cats prowl the park after dark, on the hunt for rodents, fish and left-over picnic tucker.

Clearly only a couple of generations away from domesticity yet still entirely freaky, strolling out of the park at dusk with all the other humans gives one the feeling of being part of a defeated army abandoning an outpost. At every turn the cats watch from the shadows, licking their lips, waiting for their chance … perhaps wondering about the taste of a different kind of flesh … God forbid an abandoned toddler estranged from its parents, wandering the paths in twilight … But I digress.

Yangpu park. For a time it was my local. A strange place, but a beautiful one in its own way, and I am still very fond of it, and for what it gave to me. Serenity now.