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Safety vs. Insanity

April 10, 2012

IMG 0441 300x225 Safety vs. Insanity

View of Marina Bay, Singapore from my 39th floor hotel room

The 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 beach-going 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.

About the author: Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, permanent traveler, free man, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter and crash course is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Owen K.

    We used to call Bangkok and all of Southeast Asia, the wild, wild, East (same as in the movie Air America). That was during my time in Vietnam serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

  • Benjamin Dunphy

    Anything goes in Thailand…just don’t get caught with a joint. 

  • amerikanka

    Since I’m not a fan of Switzerland, don’t think Singapore is for me – on a personal level, that is. I need excitement.

    • Gavin

      What reasons would you give for *not* being a full time resident of Switzerland?

  • Julian

    Atleast in Switzerland you don’t get the death penalty for lighting up a blunt. I’d rather have a nickel to my name than live in a nation with no social freedom. Simon is full of contradictions, he whines on and on about the police state rising in the U.S but says nothing about this. Singapore is more than vapid, its an authoritarian nightmare. Economic and social freedom can not be seperated. When a government decides it has the right to control one it is only a matter of time before the other dissapears.

  • Trclaggett

    Simeon since you like Pattaya, while in Singapore check out the Geylang area.. there is a seedy section to every seaport city

  • Gavin

    Mr. Black, does the huge government debt of Singapore (compared to Chile or Estonia, not compared with Japan) frighten you a bit about the next 25 years of Singapore’s economy?

  • DoesNotMatter

    The convenience and lack of fear in dealing with the Government in Singapore is just priceless. No amount of money can buy you this sort of peace of mind in another country. I’m beginning to think that the way to make countries like India prosperous is to break them up into smaller manageable pieces. Preferably singapore sized pieces.   

  • Roger Beck

    Hi, great comparison! Anything to say about Taiwan?

    • Amber Ooi

      TW is much vibrant. People are friendly and warm. Top notch healthcare quality and services, though language could be some challenging for foreigners. 

  • julito

    Actually, Singapore has improved a lot in excitement in the past years. New museums, more vibrant art scene with tons of festivals, F1 night Grand Prix… Stick around Clarke Quay or Orchard Towers at night and you won’t find the night life so dull!

  • Ozawa

    “In Singapore, society tends to be dominated by money– making money, investing money, spending money.”

    No truer words are likely to be found. But this is far from meaning that it is a free society. The oligarchs want well-educated workers, and a society that functions well. Part of “functioning well” is to have a populace that goes along with things. So, for example, alternative medicine/health has problems. The oligarchs want to promote Singapore as a high-tech location for Western medicine, with all its costs and drugs.

  • Shahnawaz

    As a Singaporean (born and raised, not one of those shifty foreign imports), I really don’t think Singapore is as what you’ve described. Here are some of my reasons why.

    1. Our trains have had trouble having to cope with the huge deluge of foreigners in recent years. Breakdowns late last year and a month ago are taking the shine off what was once an ever-reliable system. 

    The problem is compounded by the fact that the signalling systems for some of our train lines are more than 2 decades old and result in train operators having to stagger trains more than 2 minutes apart, leading to overcrowded train cabins.

    I dare say our trains these days are no better than neighbouring Malaysia’s or Taiwan’s, certainly not as good as Hong Kong’s.

    2. Singapore isn’t as clean as it used to be, as citizens like these have rightly pointed out. 

    3. Govt transparency? Perhaps you might have missed the angst of a dissatisfied electorate during the last general elections in 2011, where the ruling party garnered only 60 percent of votes, the lowest since independence. 

    The young in Singapore, including myself, are realising that the country is not moving in the right direction, with all the focus on wealth. We want more balance to the Singapore story, like maintaining places of heritage such as the Bt Brown cemetery, instead of forcing down plans on digging it up just so the rich can have smoother roads when they drive in their Bentleys and BMWs. 

    Call us naive, but what we really want, is for Singapore to be more like Thailand.

  • KJQ

    Simon. Thanks for the comparison between the two cities. If I were trying to choose a place to live based upon the current (or maybe I should say past) way the world worked, it would be a help. However, I am trying to figure out where is the best place to live (be living) when the world economy inevitably collapses. All the old rules are going to be thrown out the window. I don’t think either Singapore or Bangkok will be ‘pleasant’ places to live when this happens. Since you’ve recently purchased in Chile, I don’t think you think so either. I’d really appreciate it if your future reviews of countries/cities included a “prospects when TSHTF” perspective or at least a few comments to that effect.

  • Hiday_happy

    if we buy gold then our country will improve and control inflation…right?

  • Hiday_happy

    i want matt to reply my message

  • Dan

    Don’t you have to be very careful of what you say in Singapore, lest you be accused of illegally insulting some religious, racial, or political group?  Then again, in Thailand you also have to be careful not to insult the King.

  • Chuck B.

    I was just in Bangkok…if you need a extra helping of crazy in your diet, go to Bangkok!

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