Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Docked on Cozumel


Submarine Coral Reef

Me and Nainai

Taken after James got an internship offer! More on that in a later post

After James graduated the entire Meiser family descended on Austin and we all piled into a mini van bound for Galveston to board a five-day Carnival cruise to Cozumel and Progreso (to see Chichén Itzá).

Nainai came all the way from Taiwan, first to Hawaii to see James' sister's graduation, then to Texas for the cruise. She's 85 and what a champ to do all that travel and eat almost all Western food for a couple weeks. When we all got caught up talking in English, she'd just take a nap. She was fine with all the Western food, James' mom said, because growing up in China (back when it was nationalist China!) she'd go eat at the hotels that served Western food, so she likes tiramisu especially. It was good to see her again, and this was most likely her last trip to the US.

The boat was fun. I've never taken a cruise before, but every day there are a ton of activities and gambling specials and shopping deals ... We did some of that stuff, like we went to see the shows every night, but the nicest thing was just finding a table on the top deck in the morning and hanging out and watching the ocean.

Cruise ships are also great for people watching (lots of people + leisure time). I witnessed several interactions over the week that were interesting:

1. As we were boarding the ship in Galveston a Carnival employee was trying to hustle people down the hall, away from the customs area. A woman told him forcefully she was not leaving because "she was waiting for a minor." The man barked into his walkie talkie "she refuses to leave." Eventually the kid showed up and the woman continued away, miffed.

2. On the pool deck I was in line to use the restroom. It was a tight space, a young woman in front of me asked in a loud voice before she opened a stall door, "is anyone still in there?" to a middle-aged woman exiting. The woman responded, "No one is going to help you if you are rude."

3. James and I got on an elevator. One floor up we were joined by a big group mostly comprised of giggling teenagers. They got off one floor later and next thing I hear James shouting at them. None of them will look at us. The adult in the group turns around to ask what's wrong and James tells him they've pushed all of the elevator buttons (we were on the 2nd floor, headed to the 9th). The man apologized. We continued upward.

The first instance in Galveston was funny because when the woman's daughter appeared, she basically looked like a full-grown woman. I suppose she was 15, but if someone had told me she was 25, I would have believed them. Even still, both parties, parent and worker, felt they were in the right. I think the bathroom issue was mostly miscommunication. The younger woman wanted to be sure she wasn't going to walk in on a kid, the older woman thought her tone was too demanding. Then what happened to us was just annoying, and the kids deserved to be yelled at.

The reason these three things were interesting to me is they all seemed like distinctly American interactions. They aren't scenes I can imagine playing out in the same way in China. I saw plenty of pushing and shouting and run-of-the-mill angry people when I lived in Shanghai and Beijing, but I think Americans feel more inclined to "teach" one another (i.e. complete strangers) what is right. I think this is probably wrapped up with our low power-distance culture and high value placement on individualism.

It reminded me of a New York Times article I read recently about spite. Usually that word is used in a negative context, but a group of researchers used game theory models to show the utility of spite. Basically, societies need people who will go out of their way, perhaps cause themselves inconvenience, in order to punish misbehavers. This provides a net benefit to the society as a whole.

Anyways, enough arm-chair sociology. The vacation was great.

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