South-East Asian development: Is it gonna happen?

Hello again people! Again, I’m in Asia. it definitely looks like my 4 months in Hong Kong and all the travelling wasn’t enough.

However, I am having some insight in the Asian culture by now and my perceptions are changing quite a lot. This post is about the South Asian countries like Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. The first impression one normally gets in these places is that they are totally underdeveloped. Frequently with a pity feeling for a side dish.

I’ve spoken to dozens of travellers and what normally comes after is a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before they develop to where we are now. We usually perceive that globalization is also helping them to reach exportation markets and that they will eventually develop the technology to become importers of raw materials and low-added value manufactures, just as we’ve done in the past. The case of China is normally exposed because they ARE getting out of poverty and increasing at two digit growth rates. However, I totally think that China is a totally different story from the one of the countries mentioned above.

After some deeper thought and analysis I came to a third level of conclusions. Ones that of course can change as the others did but that looks more right and it’s a bit more open-ended, which normally fits reality more (or at least increases your safety margin incredibly). I have tried to know some local people wherever I went and at no moment did I have the feeling that they were unhappier than European people. Actually, I found them –  in average – much happier. That made me think. I analyzed their way of life and they seem to be much much more entrepreneurs than us. There are an uncountable number of businessmen here: the guy with the pancake-trolley, the guy with the 10 bungalow resort, the guy with the 2-3 boats that gives you a ride through the floating market or the Thai islands, the woman who cooks you some tiny chicken/pork/strange-stuff brochettes in her small BBQ for 10 bahts (.25€…) and a long etcetera. They are micro-business owners, but they do own their business and assume the risk implied.

To fully understand why they do what they do we have to understand what their (job) options are. I will try to extremely simplify it in two possibilities: when a Thai wants to work they can either 1. try to get hired by a company or 2. start their own (micro) business. For the first one to happen, in general basis, the company has to have ambition to grow, otherwise you wouldn’t hire more and more people absorbing the new population entering the labour market. But! That ambition does not exist here, not at least in the way it does in Europe. And that in my opinion, has to do with their level of happiness with their current life. In order to be ambitious you have to want to improve, otherwise it’s not worth the risk. But the combination of having a pleasant and relaxed life and not really knowing the opportunities that exist out there make local people here not ambitious (generally speaking). So, coming back to the point: They don’t get hired because the companies are not ambitious to grow. They are then frequently only left with the second option, which is starting their own business.

Finally, as a conclusion of all the arguments exposed above, I believe it is only natural to think that they are never going to develop “our way” not because they can’t, but because they don’t want to. And, honestly people, I don’t know how many Thai people you see in Europe, but this is full of Europeans and Americans who have decided to spend their lives here, not to speak about all of us who decide to escape here when we have the chance.

Comment your ideas on the subject! What are your experiences and opinions about this?


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