Phew, I reminded myself as we made our way through the airport arrivals hall in the direction of immigration…
They speak English here!
After two weeks in China and a quick detour to Thailand, I’m happy now to find myself in a land where I’m able to understand at least some of what’s going on around me.
Here in Singapore, the language is English and the agenda, as far as I can tell, is money—making it, storing it (in one of the city-state’s nearly 200 banks), and spending it.
Singapore is all business. Our hotel room comes with a cell phone we can use during our stay to communicate free with anyone in 20 countries.
“So you can call your business associates in China, for example,” the porter offered as he pointed out the features of our room.
Our hotel connects directly to one of the city’s many ultra-modern luxury malls… meaning you don’t have to step out into the bright Asian sunshine to access these five stories of shops.
“So convenient,” our porter assured us as he continued our orientation.
In Panama, where we’ve been based for the last 10 years, we’ve watched as that country has pushed forward with its stated agenda of becoming the world’s next Singapore.
Now we see their point.
If Panama continues along the path it’s on (as I believe it will), in another 25 years or so, it could give Singapore a real run for the money. In another 25 years, Panama the global business hub should be less a work-in-process and more an efficiently operating finished product—more, that is, like Singapore is today.
Remember, it took Singapore only a matter of decades to reinvent itself from a newly minted and very-rough-around-the-edges developing nation into one of the most prosperous and envied places on Earth.
Here in Singapore, the streets and sidewalks are clean and even. Indeed, everywhere in Singapore is clean… and orderly.
Standing in line waiting for a taxi with us, our banker apologized.
“I’m sorry for the wait,” she said. “You’ll have to get used to it… here in Singapore you queue for everything.”
“We don’t have any problem waiting in line,” Lief replied. “We spend a lot of time in the developing world… where nobody understands what it means to line up and wait your turn.”
In Singapore, everyone seems to respect… well, everything… from queuing and holding the door open for the next one coming along behind you to waiting for the pedestrian sign to turn green before crossing the street and signaling to other drivers when you intend to change lanes.
Here in Singapore the traditionally Asian high regard for good manners meets the British appreciation for civility to create an exceedingly well-bred society.
Money is a driving force but the results of that reality are in no way obnoxious or distasteful. Here the capitalist’s agenda seems washed with a heavy veneer of decorum and politesse.
Back in 2007, when I told Lief I wanted to start the Live and Invest Overseas business, he responded without hesitation to say: “So we’ll have to leave Paris.”
“Right,” I said. France is no place for the would-be entrepreneur.
“Where will we go?” Lief wondered.
“Panama?” we suggested in unison.
We knew that, while France does everything it can to make the business-starter’s work even harder than it is already… Panama, then and now, rolls out the welcome mat.
“If we were starting the business today,” Lief asked this morning, “would you consider basing it here in Singapore rather than in Panama?”
“If not for the time difference, yes,” I replied… “I think I would.”
Don’t underestimate the time difference, though. If your clients, customers, or vendors are in North America, you’ll struggle to stay in real-time touch with them from this side of the world.
If not for the time difference… and the cost of living.
“That glass of prosecco you just ordered costs more than a bottle of prosecco,” Lief couldn’t help but point out when we stopped at a café at the foot of Emerald Hill Road for a drink yesterday afternoon.
“More than an entire bottle anywhere in the world we’ve ever purchased a bottle of prosecco,” he continued, “and twice as much as a glass of champagne on the Champs-Élysées.”
He had a point. It’s not only indulgences like a glass of bubbly in the afternoon… but everything. Simple meals in non-descript hole-in-the-wall kinds of places can be the equivalent of U$25 per person.
And the real estate? We haven’t made a study… but we did so enjoy our (non-budget) night out on Emerald Hill Road that we decided to see what one of the charming colonial-style townhouses in that neighborhood might cost… just for fun.
Two of these shuttered little houses currently for sale are listed for 6.8 million Singapore dollars… and 9 million Singapore dollars.
That works out to something like 40,000 Singapore dollars per square meter.
We bemoan the high and rising cost of living in Panama City… but our experience this week in Singapore is reminding us that the Panama City property market has a lot of potential upside to be realized.