April 10, 2012
SingaporeThe flight from Bangkok to Singapore is a quick 2-hours south down the Malay peninsula… though it might as well be 2-years given their differences; Singapore and Thailand are about as distinct as Switzerland and India– it’s yin & yang. Order vs. Chaos. Safety vs. Insanity.
I spend a fair amount of time in both places and tend to get this question a lot– which is better for living in? Which is better for basing a business? It’s a tough question, but I’ll try.
Singapore (like Switzerland) is essentially perfect. Everything works. It’s efficient, clean, and ridiculously safe. Crime rates in Singapore are incredibly low, and violent crime is almost unheard of. This is extraordinary for a place with so much ethnic diversity.
The economy here is perennially strong; I’ve often written that Singapore is ablaze with opportunity for workers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors who are willing to trek across the Pacific.
Best of all, the government runs a very flat, transparent operation. There’s hardly anything you can’t do online, and bureaucracy is minimal. Taxes are also extremely low as Singapore is locked in a never-ending battle with Hong Kong over low-tax bragging rights.
For almost all of the expats I know who live here, Singapore is the -only- place to be. It’s great for families, finance professionals, and entrepreneurs who don’t want to slog it out in the mud with UNICEF in some third world country.
On the other hand, Singapore could also be described as vapid, or even sterile. Nightlife is a bit dull, and nothing terribly exciting happens. People work, earn, and shop. Most of the key areas around town lack character and soul; it’s a bit like new Las Vegas in that way.
On an intellectual level, Singapore definitely ticks all the boxes. There are few other places on the planet, if any, which offer access to so many amazing opportunities, economic vibrance, social stability, and extremely high living standards.
As a friend of mine told me this evening, “I love it with all of my head…” It’s a rational choice. I usually tell people that Singapore makes a great home… for your money.
On a deeper emotional and spiritual level, however, it may fail to resonate. For my personal taste, I need a bit more picante in my life.
In this capacity, Bangkok is the polar opposite of Singapore; it’s a freewheeling, in your face, super-corrupt wild west. In many ways, Bangkok is like the Tangiers of Asia– a place that attracts international arms dealers and beachgoing tourists alike.
Last night while out with some friends, a relative newcomer to Thailand started a question, “Here in Bangkok, can you–”
“– Yes,” we interrupted. In Thailand, the answer is always yes. Anything goes.
The culture is also completely different. Despite Thailand’s reputation for revolution and debauchery, locals are fundamentally peace-loving Buddhists. They’re comfortable in their poverty and find happiness in simple pleasures.
In Singapore, society tends to be dominated by money– making money, investing money, spending money. This entire country is practically designed to promote financial success above anything else. It’s no coincidence they’re among the wealthiest people on earth.
To borrow from Warren Buffet, doing business in Thailand should come with a warning label. I tried it once a few years ago… it’s not pretty. The business environment in Thailand is based on coercion, corruption, and deceit. In Singapore, it’s all about the market.
Bottom line, in Thailand, you’re going to be in for a wild, roller coaster ride… especially when the King finally kicks the bucket. You can expect months of turmoil as the royals, military, and politicians wrestle for control of the country.
In Singapore, you can bet on a very stable, comfortable future where job prospects and other professional opportunities are bound to be plentiful.
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