The other night, I was in the Bettr@ office in Beijing, which is not but a 10 minute walk from the hotel that I’m staying at (the Sariz international, which is pretty nice since it has a gym). It was kind of late, and I was the only one left in the office. I asked Jeff if it was safe to walk home and he suggested I “run” but that it should be pretty safe. After looking outside, it was pretty dark and rainy so I decided to take a cab. When I got in the cab I tried to recollect how to get home (keep in mind, it’s literally only like 4-5 blocks away).
I guess I never realized this before, but it’s extremely disorienting to try to register landmarks when you can’t read the characters around you.
When you’re in the States (or somewhere else where the character type is the same as the Latin alphabet), you can look around, and recognize the name of a certain place or even the logo of a company. Even if you’re not actually actively reading the letters, you are subconsciously recognizing them.
In Beijing, I can’t read any of the words, and everything looks the same to me. So I ended up paying more for a cab than I needed to and it took me 20 minutes to get home instead of 10 just by walking.
Why is any of this important?
Well, it made me think of how often we take for granted that we can understand our surroundings, and the situation we’re currently in, and a strong sense of control that we can change that situation if we want to. We have (or at least I had) a certain level of confidence that stuff *can be* figured out. There’s a certain feeling of safety in “knowing” things that we can rely on.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to be a disenfranchised poor person in a developing world. You don’t really have the safety of looking around and always “knowing” what’s going on or feeling like you’re in control of the situation. Yikes. That worldview is completely antithetical to risk taking, entrepreneurship, and the sense that one can improve one’s own lot in life. It’s disheartening, desolate, and defeatist.
And as we know (or are learning more about), perspectives on the world matter a lot. In fact, that may be all that matters– far more important than the resources and natural abilities that a sovereign state is endowed with. Related: One of the very few things that I actually learned in bschool in a strategic competitiveness class in a note I jotted down: “You can choose to compete” from a Singapore case study.
Respond to me on Twitter: @AshBhoopathy or follow the discussion on HN.