I’m sitting in a comfortable, overstuffed leather chair this morning typing away at this letter while a team of local women give me a traditional Thai foot massage. 30 minutes in the chair will set me back about $4, and I can’t think of a better way to part with my money.
It is with great hesitation that I’m even sitting in this chair– not because I don’t like massage, but because this particular chair happens to be at the airport. You see, I’m waiting for my departure to Europe, and if it weren’t for an important meeting in Spain that I’m looking forward to, I would be staying right here in Asia.
It’s not that I don’t like Europe– I love it, actually… the scenery, the people, the history, the architecture. It’s hard to not feel alive on a summer day in Krakow, racing down a ski slope in the Italian Alps, or driving a Porsche down the Croatian coastline.
In terms of value for the money, however, Asia has Europe beat hands down.
Take this simple, $4 massage; it would be difficult, and entirely cost prohibitive, to find a team of European professionals who would be willing to provide this level of attention; Europeans feel that ‘serving’ another human being is elitist, which is part of their egalitarian socialist dogma. The session would be courteous, at best.
Many cultures in Southeast Asia, on the other hand, are happy to go the extra mile, especially when there is a gratuity attached. The ladies who staff this airport location, for example, wouldn’t even let me remove my own shoes and socks– they did it for me.
Having another person do that honestly makes me feel a bit uncomfortable… but providing this level of service is what they are accustomed to, if nothing else than for the gratuity at the end.
The motivation to earn more by providing excellent service is clearly more prevalent in the Orient than in Europe. Neither mentality is right or wrong, just different. Naturally, though, as a consumer, I prefer a greater level of service.
Price is also a major factor. In Asia, with few exceptions like Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, you have to put up with some level of squalor– trash in the streets, gratuitous displays of poverty, etc. While these indications are not completely lost on Europe, it’s safe to say that cityscapes in the west, in general, are cleaner.
That being said, however, the price difference is enormous. The cost of living very well in Europe is easily five times the cost of living very well in Asia. Is Europe five times as nice? Depending on what you are looking for, most likely not.
As I look around the world and price compare, I wholeheartedly believe that Asia and Latin America still provide the most value for the money. My top picks for those regions are:
– Latin America –
1) Chile: Strong economy, beautiful landscape, modern and developed infrastructure. Living costs are low, and the cleanliness makes it feel like you are in Europe. The biggest concern with Chile is that it is growing too quickly; the Chilean peso is one of the best performing currencies in the world, so costs for foreigners are going up.
2) Panama: Also a strong economy with developing infrastructure and increasing local standard of living; costs in Panama City are going up, but if you get out of the city, you’ll find that you can still live incredibly well for very little.
3) Colombia: Clean, modern, and home to some of the best weather on the planet (especially in Medellin). You have to be willing to look past the “Colombia stigma,” but I guarantee it’s well worth the exercise in intellectual independence.
– Asia –
1) Malaysia: Home to a growing influx of Islamic funding, the country is on solid economic footing while maintaining very low living costs. Medical care is strong, and the “My Second Home” program provides an easy route to permanent residency.
2) Philippines: Stable economy, cheap real estate, and excellent English proficiency. Manila and Quezon can be tough, but just outside of the cities you can find inexpensive, pristine coastal property. I know many expats who are happily living out their years being fed grapes on a hammock with just a meager retirement pension.
3) China: Lack of English proficiency can be very frustrating… but China is becoming nicer and more livable by the day. In terms of its modernity, it will be the first developing nation in Asia to match the west, and it will happen in the next 5 to 10 years.
Naturally, I will provide more about these locations in future letters, but I wanted to give you a quick overview today; if you have any specific questions or your own additions, please let me know.