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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Life in Asia

I recently spent three weeks in Asia. It is fascinating to learn about the cultural differences among various countries. Most of the time, I was in Japan, Singapore, and China. All three countries are very unique. Following are a few random observations from the three countries:


Japan is the most advanced country in wireless communication (South Korea may disagree). All the new cool stuff, mobile wallet, mobile audio/video streaming, etc., I have been reading, writing, and talking about for last 11 years, I saw it first hand. Did you know that nobody uses SMS in Japan? They all send emails to each other using iMode or similar services. What impressed me the most was the humility and humbleness of the Japanese. Japan is the second biggest economy in the world and they rose from nothing after the second world war. Gadgets are a basic need in Japan. The electronic market Akihabara is like a flee market selling games, laptops, phones, etc. However, the stuff sold is world class and costs accordingly. Sushi is my favorite food so I had a few feasts. However, it is not an everyday Japanese food. First time in my life, I had Japanese food cooked by Indians. It was at Gonpacci where the Japanese prime minister, Koizumi, took George Bush when he was visiting. Most locals don't know about the place. However, it is very popular among the tourists.

There are no street signs on most roads. For a tourist it is difficult to get around but locals have no problem. Traffic jams are a norm and people don't seem to get stressed about it. People work hard and play hard. The story is that if men go home early, the wifes thinks that they don't have an important job. So, the men go drinking/dinner with colleagues. I am not sure how much of this story is still true. Teenagers have more freedom to express themselves in Japan than in the US. Everyone loves branded products in Japan.


Singapore is an amazing place and probably has the most effective government in the world. Things related to government get done. I had one of the fastest and easiest immigration clearance at the airport. Lee Kuan Yew is considered father of the nation and is highly respected. I listened to his recorded speech at the Singapore national museum. He is an excellent speaker. The rise of Singapore to become a developed country is another inspiring story. After the plan to be integrated with Malaysia did not materialize, it became an independent state in 1965 with no natural resources. Lee Kuan Yew led the nation to become one of the most advanced nations in the world with long term planning and motivating the citizens. Another point of view some intellectuals hold is that government has too much control and some laws are draconian e.g. capital punishment for certain drug related offenses. What amazed me the most in Singapore is the religious and racial harmony. Due to the interesting history of the country, it has people from India, China, Malaysia, and expats who follow different religions. However, I did not get a feeling of any segregation. Everyone seems to get along and respect each other. Most popular local dish is chili crab. Shopping is the favorite past time. You can go in any direction in Singapore and you will see a mall.

Something made me sad in Singapore. Most middle class Singapore people have a full time maid at home. These maids are mainly from Philippines and speak fluent English. They make almost nothing and get only two days off in a month. Furthermore, they are in the country alone with kids back home. I could not figure out how they would get out of this cycle. Does it have to take a generation? There must be another way. I will try to apply Complex System principles to see if a solution could be developed.


Hong Kong is a cool city. Very vibrant and cosmopolitan! It is under the Special Administrative Region of China so it is a little different than the rest of China. This is the place with cool bars and clubs, fancy restaurants, packed public transport, scores of entertainment venues, a lot of tourists, etc. Things one would expect in a big city. On a clear day, the views of the high rise buildings and water are amazing. Hong Kong has a lot of investment banking expats so there is a lot of money in the city. Also, people work hard and play hard. If you speak Mandarin, it is much easier for you to get a high paying job in Hong Kong because most of the new business is coming from China. People are energized and excited to be in Hong Kong.

In general, people in Asia work very hard and they are very humble. No wonder their economies are growing, now that they have the right environment to grow enabled by cheap & smart labor, big internal markets, openness, and the Internet. I will apply the concept of evolution (Complex System) to see if the trajectory of their growth could be projected.

On this trip I realized that over the years I have been connecting with the past cultures of the visited countries instead of the present cultures. I do local things when I visit a new place e.g. go to a local coffee shop and eat local cuisine. However, the younger generation in these countries drinks coffee at Starbucks and eats international cuisine. Like everywhere else, balance is important here. It is important to understand the past and the present to learn about evolution:-)