Saturday, March 1, 2014

Singing the Praises of Singapore

Written by Adam
Our most recent trip to Asia began with a very brief layover in Hong Kong before we boarded another Cathay Pacific jet that took us on to Singapore.  Paying attention to the financial news, I know that there are a couple of places on the planet where business is conducted on a scale that rocks markets and reverberates globally.  Singapore is one of those places.

Sure, there’s the great food available in the hawker stands, but that guy - who does mega-deals - would he ever be caught dead having lunch in a simple food stall like that?  Sure, business-types get hungry like the rest of us, but there’s Waku Ghin at Marina Bay Sands, the local wine bar, the oh-so private and snooty chi-chi clubs...  

You find yourself constantly walking by the gleaming lobbies of buildings that presumably house the one-percenters of this region.  Inside are hardened business people, the lawyers, the media consultants, the true moguls, the accountants, the vain and the traditional class of people (burning new and old money) who generate the precious capital - The Capitalists, now fully capitalized.  There’s the manicured lawns of the downtown government district, the beautiful palm-lined business parks where you can light one up when the deal is in jeopardy or just curse the loss of the profit and thus call it a day.  Or, you can stop by the Rolex dealer downtown and spend some quality time buying a little something special to celebrate yourself or to impress a client whose gaze happens to fall around your cuff.  

When you look at a map of Southeast Asia, you will see at the very southern tip of the Malay Peninsula where the Republic of Singapore is located. That’s where it was decided at some point that commerce was to be a top priority.  That’s the place where you are allowed to go toe-to-toe with Hong Kong, London, or New York City in a financial fight club.  It’s where the Australians come to get into the game.  It's East and West, all cooking together near the Equator.  It’s luxury German sedans and real bling.  It’s custom-made shirts and some chicken rice sauce accidentally spilled on your really expensive tie.  

For me, the jury is still out on Singapore.  I am not so sure that you can rent a soul for a place.  Little India seemed a bit rough, with the possible charm being tarnished by shopkeepers trying to overcharge for a simple camera strap.  Maybe I was supposed to haggle, but that seemed a bit uncouth; do you dare haggle for a membership to The Club?  

But, lots of cultures and people come together in Singapore.  The talking heads say it’s the epicenter of global money, often giving Hong Kong the jitters.  I never really saw where the people actually lived; it was more how you were supposed to live that was emphasized.  I saw bubblegum on the sidewalks, and smelled what must have been a very ripe durian as we walked by an alley.  Beyond the hotel staff that we encountered, barely anyone spoke to us while we were in Singapore.  An exception was that Australian guy and his girlfriend in line with us to try chicken rice for the first time.  They were nice enough, but they were leaving to return to Sydney in a couple of days.  Singapore seems like the kind of place where you might feel that you don’t have to talk to anyone - just keeping your focus on the latest deal and the associated numbers seems to be the alternative to getting to know you better.  Which one of those palm-lined boulevards goes to the airport again?

Yes, it's colorful - but boring.  Test your computer monitor here.
Yes, it's colorful, but more interesting as the cultures collide in Singapore.
Chinese Lunar New Year was in full swing in Singapore as elsewhere in Asia.
Manicured downtown scene, but nobody was around.
Orange represents prosperity (imagine it being gold) - now that's a Singapore value!
Inadvertent editorial:  Do not cross this line - and nobody fills the shoes.

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