The original Indiana Jones

I enjoyed this article in Aeon about the eighteenth-century French scholar-adventurer, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron, who authored the first translation of the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures into a Western language. According to the article, Anquetil was also the prototype for a long line of swashbuckling Orientalists like Sir Richard Burton and Lawrence of Arabia, and indirectly the inspiration for fictional heroes such as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.


Before Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, there was this guy

I was less impressed by the author’s efforts to paint Anquetil as some kind of con artist. “Violent, paranoid bully” he might have been, but that only makes Anquetil more interesting as a historical figure.

Banal incidents such as passing through customs inspections, suffering travel delays and being propositioned appeared to Anquetil as life-or-death crises. In his memoirs, he transformed them into stories of his own bravery and of the dangers lurking in India.

What a huckster! I’m sure traveling through India in the mid-eighteenth century was perfectly safe.

Also, the suggestion that later British adventurers such as Burton and Lawrence “adopt[ed] Anquetil’s methods of self-promotion” is something of a cheap shot that does nothing to detract from their undeniable achievements… like translating¬†One Thousand and One Nights¬†and helping lead the successful Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. For example.



The mother of all bubbles?

Real estate developer Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, has warned that the country’s real estate market is “the biggest bubble in history.” Home purchase prices in Shanghai rose 31.2% in the 12 months ending August, according to figures cited by Mingtiandi, while Shenzhen saw a 36.8% increase.

One gauge of this extraordinary situation is that housing in Shanghai is nearly as expensive as in New York City, despite the vast gap in earnings between the two cities. The average price to buy an apartment in the center of New York City (presumably Manhattan) is $1,330.61 per square foot, only around 14% higher than in the center of Shanghai where it is $1,161.78, according to the crowdsourced data site By contrast, the average monthly disposable salary in New York City is nearly three times as high, at $3,866.18 vs. $1,407.01 in Shanghai.

In case you’re wondering how ordinary Chinese people can afford housing in a country where home prices are so absurdly out of sync with personal income, Wade Shepard explained it well in Forbes back in March.

The short answer is two-fold:

  1. China’s housing market was conjured out of thin air via policy reforms barely 20 years ago, whereby the government privatized the country’s urban housing stock, allowing residents to buy their homes at subsidized rates and thereby creating a vast cohort of new homeowners.
  2. Home buyers in China typically draw on financial support from their parents and other family members, unlike in the West.