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I recently completed two more courses. The first, called "A Brief History of Humankind," brings us from about 65,000 years ago to present day.

We started with 65,000 years because that's when Homo sapiens—you and me—developed complex language. At that point, biology became history. We continued through the agricultural revolution, then the industrial and scientific revolutions of the present day.

Professor Yuval Noah Harari, from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, taught the MOOC. Harari tells us, for example, that the agricultural revolution was history's biggest fraud.

We learned in grade school that hunter-gatherers succumbed to food shortages, were constantly on the move, buried their dead where they fell, were forced into cannibalism, and otherwise lived crummy lives. They were desperate to settle in one place and enjoy more reliable good supplies.

Nothing could be further from the truth, Harari argues. Hunter-gatherers had it pretty good. They enjoyed a diet rich in fruit and nuts, meat, edible plants, and fish. They were stronger than we are, smarter than we are. They worked about half the time we do today and probably enjoyed lives relatively free of violence.

These and other zingers from Harari worked on me like a page-turning suspense novel. I anxiously awaited each new lecture. I took all the exams to double-check my understanding of the material.

Dr. Paul Bloom from Yale taught the second course, "Moralities of Everyday Life." Professor Bloom researches cognitive development, especially with babies. His research confirms that babies enter our world with a partial moral compass. They have a notion of fairness, of good and evil. They prefer those who speak Mom's language and reject even those who speak Mom's language with foreign accents.

Think of our birth morality as a first draft of a book. As we proceed through life, we pick up new views along the way, turning our rough draft into a final product during our formative years.

I've long been perplexed by the question of where morality comes from. 
Specifically, without religion, would mankind have any morality at all? 
We now know the answer, at least in part. We're born with a moral sense and acquire more as we go along.

Perhaps the hardest issue in morality: How to explain altruism toward strangers in faraway lands. One writer, Peter Singer, says we should give away our assets beyond what we need for our basic needs. Singer points out that if we see a girl drowning in a lake, with no one else around, most of us would jump in and help her. He then argues by analogy that girls in poor countries drown (figuratively) every day. So why don't we help them? We should, Singer says, and he tells how to do it. You can read Singer's article here.

So I took these three courses. You can choose from hundreds of others. I took my courses with friends around the world and suggest you do the same. You can exchange emails about what you find exciting, novel, or perplexing.

Give it a try. It's free.

Paul Terhorst

Editor's Note: Perpetual traveler retiree Paul Terhorst writes a retirement planning column for our Overseas Retirement Letter. If you aren't already subscribed to ORLyou can sign up here.

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I think Europe will do a little better next year, especially in the second half. Europe has already double-dipped, with recession in 2008 and again in 2011. I think Europe will avoid a triple dip in 2015, but it'll be a close call. And I think, and hope, by the end of the year Europe will pick up with help from Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

The euro should weaken even more, call it 1.15 to the U.S. dollar sometime this year.

I believe the fighting in Ukraine will remain a contained border dispute rather than a full-fledged Russian invasion. I traveled to Ukraine in July and sensed that western Ukraine would just as soon see the eastern part of the country go. "They're all drunks and drug addicts over there," a wild-eyed local told me, referring to Russians in eastern Ukraine. If Russia should try to annex eastern Ukraine I doubt Ukraine will do much about it. The world might slap more sanctions on Russia, which will create incentives to get around them. Like someone said, gatekeepers only keep out those who don't know where the holes in the fence are.

In Latin America, Venezuela might default on its debt in 2015. Lower oil prices have hit Venezuela's leftist government hard. Meanwhile Argentina might finally cure its default. Both the default (Venezuela) and cure (Argentina) could slip into 2016.

FATCA—capital controls on U.S. citizens and foreign banks—will hurt Latin America especially. Americans wanting to move to the region will have an even tougher time getting banks to transfer money to buy a house, develop real estate, or invest. The U.S. Treasury has finally begun to profess concern about the problem. Still, I doubt the U.S. government will act. I detect a distinct lack of empathy in Washington, D.C. The notion seems to be, if Americans move out, we don't deserve banking services. Ridiculous.

I think Asia will outperform the rest of the world, and China will grow at 6% or so. Obama and Xi Jinping just agreed on a new visa deal, providing for 10-year visas in both countries. Vicki and I picked up the new visas last month. Assuming the United States follows through, larger numbers of Chinese will travel and invest in the United States, especially California.

India should improve growth in 2015 as Modi pushes through market reforms. As always the bureaucracy will resist. Five decades of socialist rule tends to destroy the spirit. But small, steady progress there should unleash buried talent.

China and Europe will have to do their part to get the world economy cranking. Leftists will continue to plague South America; I think growth there will stall.

Finally, I think the Chicken Littles will be proven wrong again. The United States will do fine. Fighting in Ukraine, the Islamic State, and Ebola should have little market impact.

I plan to have a fun-filled 2015, and I hope you do, too. I offer these predictions to promote discussion and perhaps even action. Good luck.

Paul Terhorst

Editor's Note: Global investor and perpetual traveler Paul Terhorst writes a regular retirement-planning and investment column for our Overseas Retirement Letter. Get on board here to read Paul's insights, predictions, and recommendations each month.

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We forget now whether this was Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but it hardly matters. When we went downstairs and out onto the street we found to our surprise that all of Paris had been taken over by...oysters.

Across the street from our apartment, where transvestites usually solicited on the sidewalk, a vendor sat behind a folding table covered with oysters. In the Place des Abbesses just up the hill, instead of boys playing soccer, we ran into pickup trucks filled with oysters.

We hadn't heard anything about oysters and Paris and Christmas, but those oysters looked good to us. We bought a couple dozen and took them home.

We had only a tiny refrigerator in our tiny apartment, no place for oysters. And we worried about the smell. Voila. We put the oysters outside on the window sill. We thought this a terribly clever idea, as I recall, but later discovered the French do the same thing, routinely, every Christmas.

That afternoon we went to the Eiffel Tower and climbed up. The Eiffel Tower stays open every day of the year, and we figured few tourists would choose to gather there on Christmas. Sure enough the place was practically deserted. We had a lovely view of Paris on a crisp December day.

Finally we returned home, opened a bottle of champagne, and ate oysters.

A new tradition was born. We were French, if only a little bit, and only for Christmas.

We later discovered that Paris's best bar, the Red Baron (Baron Rouge in French), offers up oysters every Saturday and Sunday morning during winter. On Friday evenings, a guy from Bordeaux loads his pickup with oysters from his farm. He then makes the long drive to Paris and serves up his oysters on the sidewalk outside the Red Baron, bright and early Saturday morning. He then returns to Bordeaux on Saturday night, reloads, and shows up again on Sunday. If you're in Paris this winter, be sure to check out the Red Baron some weekend. You'll find it just off the Place d'Aligre in the 12th. Let me know if the oyster guy still works there.

One final point about oysters: My favorite French king, Henri IV, loved the things. Every day during the winter oyster season he had three-dozen oysters brought to him on a wagon from Brittany. Henri IV deserves fame for signing the Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious freedom. But he's also famous for his love of life and life of love.

Over the years, many people have put Henri IV's love life and his love of oysters together.

So that was Christmas in Paris: Eiffel Tower, oysters, a nod to Henri IV and the Baron Rouge, and champagne. Perfect.

Paul Terhorst

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Besides the basic stuff (passport, photo, fee, application), we needed a round-trip plane ticket, at least one hotel reservation, and an itinerary. We're traveling over land, via Laos, so we presented a detailed itinerary instead of plane tickets. For the hotel reservation, I emailed hotels where we plan to stay. The hotels confirmed right back, no deposit or credit card required. See more visa details here.

Vicki and I like Yunnan province in southwest China. I've written about the area before, suggesting that the capital city Kunming or old Dali would make fine retirement choices. 

"Start with weather," I wrote. "Central Yunnan comes close to eternal spring. The area suffers none of the hot and sticky farther south or the cold and icy farther north.

"Move on to cost of living. Central Yunnan offers real bargains. Vicki and I routinely eat a Chinese breakfast for a buck or two, and a full splurge dinner for two with beer in a family-run restaurant is US$4 to US$7. A cab across town costs a dollar or two.

"You can spend less if you work at it. You can also spend more, as the boom here offers more and more high-end choice."

If you choose to spend time in the area you face, or faced, two problems: visa and language. Now the visa problem has largely disappeared, at least for Americans. Just pop over to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Mongolia, or even Hong Kong or Macao for a week or two. Every now and again you might fly to Europe or the United States for longer stays. Return to China and you're good to go for another two months. China offers competitive airfares, including low-cost Air Asia flights to many cities in the region. 

The second problem, language, remained a challenge last time we were in Yunnan. Desk clerks in Chinese hotels (as opposed to international hotels), cab drivers, bus drivers, waiters, and sales clerks spoke no English at all. But, increasingly, students approached us to chat. And big wigs around town often spoke English perfectly. We met them at construction sites—engineers, I'd guess, or the developers themselves—or in the international hotels or on airplanes.

Do more Chinese speak English today? I'll let you know. We plan to be there by the end of the month. 

Paul Terhorst

Editor's Note: This is the best time in our lifetimes to consider Asia. This beautiful and exotic region is more open today than ever, and it's possible for Westerners to travel almost anywhere they'd want to go. Our newDiscover Asia Kit is 12 components in total, including audio recordings and illustrated country guides, as well as an over-100-page full-color guide to the region in general. Click here to learn more about some of the world's most exotic and affordable places.

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Recently Black Friday ceded its top retail spot to Singles Day in China. 
Singles Day started in the 1990s, rather than 400 years ago. China has a huge population, and Alibaba promotes Singles Day as a way for Chinese singles to buy something special for themselves. They do, to the tune of US$9 billion this year.

I had another memorable Thanksgiving in London. In 1992 I came into a small amount of extra money and on a lark headed off to London to spend Thanksgiving with friends there. I stuck around into the Christmas season and went to hear the Messiah sung at St. Paul's Cathedral.

In the old days in Chiang Mai, before huge numbers of Westerners moved here, Americans celebrated at least some holidays at the American consulate. But as more and more Westerners poured in, the consulate grounds became too small to handle the crowds. The last holiday fete celebrated there was Independence Day six years ago.

These days Halloween and Christmas have caught on big time in Thailand. But Thanksgiving gets some play, too, and many restaurants offer traditional turkey dinners for US$10 or so. Although a handful of Thais celebrate Thanksgiving, for the most part Americans and other Westerners jam into these places on turkey day.

We often skip the turkey specials but always choose to celebrate and give thanks for the good things that happened during the year. For our Thanksgiving in Penang we chose an Indian feast. In Argentina we usually had lavish asados, or barbecues, with five or six meat courses. One year we invited a young Argentine couple that was moving to Texas. Now, in Houston, they report that Thanksgiving has become their favorite American holiday. And they stick with the menu, a big asado with friends.

This year in Chiang Mai Vicki and I will celebrate Thanksgiving at our favorite French restaurant, La Fourchette. We'll go with new friends, just the four of us. I'll have duck instead of turkey.

Vicki and I tend to downplay holidays that merely mark the passage of time—birthdays, for example, or anniversaries or New Years. We prefer holidays organized around a theme, like Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, or Labor Day. In recent years we've gone a step further and for Thanksgiving try to celebrate with new friends. After all, on Thanksgiving we celebrate the good things that happened during the year. And one of the best things that happens to us, or anyone, ever, is to make new friends.

So that's it: Our favorite French restaurant, new friends, and thanks. What a simple way to celebrate.

Paul Terhorst

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Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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