Asia's permanent advantage

http://atimes.com/atimes/images/skullduggery-small.gif**CHAN AKYA**
Asia's permanent advantage
Traveling around Asia quickly teaches that "growth" is more than economic statistics - it increasingly means efficient airports, good roads and quality service that mock "developed-world" counterparts. Asia, with the financial muscle and determination to continue this trend, is developing an apparently permanent advantage, leaving Europe and North America ever further behind.

For the frequent traveler, there is a stark dichotomy across the world. Almost without exception, traveling with an Asian carrier to any Asian airport is a pleasure. In contrast, using any airline domiciled in Europe or North America with passage through airports in that part of the world is stunningly inconvenient.

Your plane for one - the Asian carriers' jet, like its European counterpart, was assembled either in Seattle or in Toulouse, France, but it is a million miles away from the aircraft you are used to flying within Europe or North America. Plonk yourself down on a suspiciously comfortable seat and there is the large television panel with an array of entertainment. Great food, courteous service. And then you remember, this is the "economy" class, which beats the "business" class on any European or American airline.

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Deplane and walk past the immigration without much fuss; as you reach the baggage belts you are shocked to find your checked-in baggage already there. Then you look up and see rows of baggage belts in either direction, all quietly whirring away and depositing their contents with an almost sinister efficiency.

Recovering from the shock, you recall the last time you traveled through an airport in Europe or North America: how long it took to go past the immigration counter; baggage that turned up an hour after you arrived at the belt, if it did at all; and the airlines that almost inevitably go on strike at the most inconvenient moments.

Having traveled to 90% of Asia's big cities, most of what Chan’s said are correct. The efficiency, infrastructure, services, foods, nightlife, etc. of those cities are second to none. I felt safe walking anywhere from Bangkok to Hong Kong to Yokohama. You can expect the same services and friendliness even from less developed cities like Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City and Manila’s. I’ve travelled worldwide, but my heart is still belonged to Asia, Bahrain, Dubai, and Australia. Yes, the locals can’t all speak English, but they will go out of their way to help you.

I lived in Bangkok for three years on an accompanied tour with my wife when I was in the AF. We both learned to speak Thai. I certainly agree with you about Bangkok, and the same about Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. We loved Bangkok, lived on the economy, and made a lot of Thai friends. Easy to do there. Excellent hotels and restaurants, and all rather inexpensive given the level of quality.

I think the article is woefully incomplete. The author seems unaware of the fact that these countries are making economic and development gains largely through leveraging cheap labor prices on value-added activities. Making an efficient, comfortable and hassle-free experience for Western businessmen / investors is part of the plan.

Things get a little messier off the tourist and investor track. Go out and see how the masses live. What is the availability of decent sanitation? What is the availability of electricity and communications for THEM? What is the country's overall fertility rate?

There is no question that they've seized the crux of Western capitalism with a fierce determination, but I wonder if they have expended enough energy examining it closely enough to see the evils as well as the benefits. They may have caught on so fast that the dark side of unbridled corporate capitalism will destroy them faster than it destroys us.

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