Category Archives: Asia

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?


China: Group of individuals or individual group?

Hello readers! I recently came back from my exchange in Hong Kong. I’ve had the chance to travel through Asia and feel the east culture first hand.

What most shocked me about Asia was their “group culture”. They do everything in groups and the tendency to group thinking is much higher than in Europe. You could see it in many occasions, for example when you asked a question to some of them rarely did they just directly answer, they normally called some other people nearby and expose the question (in Chinese) so they could speak about it before answering. One could feel how they were much more comfortable this way. This is something I could also observe in Japan, when I attended the 55th edition of the International Student Conference in Tokyo last year. In our debate table about environmental issues there was an approximate 50-50 mix between westerners and Japanese and when we were planning the final presentation we openly started discussing how to organize it. The Japanese students were not really taking active part of the discussion and when we reached what looked like an agreement on the content and the structure the chief of the table said something like: “Ok, that sounds good, but let us [the Japanese] have some time to discuss it”. So then they spent about 10 minutes discussing in Japanese and when they reached a consensus the chief expressed all their doubts and ideas. No individual opinion expression again, we were quite shocked with the situation then.

In my opinion, this collective thinking and acting could help explain how can an authoritarian government still successfully rule a country which has the second biggest GDP in the world (in nominal and PPP) and how such a big country with such population can stay united (not that it hasn’t struggled of course). Other countries like Russia and Canada have more than 17 times less density, so it is not quite comparable (see the territories and countries population density list by the United Nations).

Moreover, focusing on China: How dangerous can a mass of 1.3 billion group-thinking people led by an authoritarian, strongly influencing and highly keen on censorship government be? However focused they are at the moment on inner growth and on boosting their exports there will be a time when priorities change and they will probably look for more power. This makes me think about how there has been leaders through history that have arrived to the power by democratic means and then have turned crazy and led their country/empire to disaster, dragging the world together with them. I don’t want to imagine what some future leader of the Communist Party in China could manage to do with such a powerful country under his command, with no opposition parties and with no media criticism. Who will get to power in China in the future without this big filter of democracy and without freedom of speech is a huge concern that the world should have.

Am I exaggerating my fears? Debate is open!