What you don’t know can only hurt you… whether it’s tomorrow’s weather, or investing in the world’s biggest economic block.
And there’s a lot that westerners might not know about Asia.
I’m not picking on westerners here… people here in Asia have at least as many misconceptions about the west.
But in order to invest in a place… it helps to know what you don’t know.
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1. There’s no such thing as “Asia”
Well, of course there is. It’s a continent.
But beyond that, there’s little that unifies the idea of “Asia”. There’s no common language, history, traditions, religion, culture or economy in the 48 countries of Asia. There are 121 languages (each spoken by a minimum of 10,000 people) in India alone.
My favourite example of how silly “Asia” is focuses on cuisine. “Asian food” is everything from pad thai to sashimi to chicken feet to fish balls to paneer curry. So to call such a vast range of foods, styles, ingredients and flavours “Asian” doesn’t mean anything. It’s about as silly as, say, “western food”… which you can get here in Singapore.
A hawker centre stall with “western food”
The photo above is of a local hawker centre stall (a hawker centre is kind of like a public food court with lots of little stalls… only it’s about ten times better than that sounds). “Western food” (presumably) includes everything from pasta to steak to French fries. It’s ridiculous to condense the entire kaleidoscope of western food – from Cajun to Italian to Argentine to Norwegian – under a single umbrella.
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In short, Asia isn’t homogenous. It’s about as un-homogenous as “the west”. That goes for food, culture, economies and the investment environment.
2. There are lots of people
This is one of the most powerful and illustrative graphics I’ve ever seen…
Where half of the earth’s population lives
Source: Washington Post
More than half of the earth’s population lives inside the circle… but the land mass of that circle accounts for only about one-sixth of the earth’s land mass. That highlights just how many people live in Asia
The population of Asia (a useful geographical term) is nearly 14 times bigger than that of the U.S. The U.S. is the world’s third most-populous country (followed by Indonesia)… but China’s population is more than four times bigger.
3. Parts of Asia are poor… and parts are very rich
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been met with astonishment when I’ve told someone in the west that Singapore is as rich as – and far more efficient, clean, and safe than – the U.S.
Of course, Singapore isn’t the real Asia… it’s a rich Disney version of “Asia lite”. But even China is (on a GDP per capita basis) as rich as Mexico.
A poor country that’s moving in the right direction means that the economy could easily double in size over the next decade. Investing in a developed market where 2 percent economic growth is a cause for celebration is a whole lot less interesting as an investment opportunity. Asia has lots of those countries, as shown in the graph above.
4. It’s actually not that far away
Visit the U.S. and tell people that you just flew in from Singapore – about 24 hours of traveling, depending on which way you go, where you’re going, layovers and connections – and you’ll be greeted by shock and awe.
“I could never sit in an airplane that long!”… “The furthest I’ve ever flown was to Los Angeles… and that’s only six hours!”… “You must be exhausted!”
This is from people who (willingly) work in the same office, day after day, for years… sit in a car to commute to work two hours a day… display infinite patience for children and colleagues and spouses… and otherwise are heroes of their own worlds.
If you have the willpower and the strength of mind to do that, flying to Asia isn’t a big deal. (Jet lag is a bummer… but like anything, it passes.)
The best way to get here? Far and away the world’s best airline, in my experience, is Qatar Airways. Never (ever, if you can avoid it) fly an American airline. The experience and service is the difference between a hamburger at McDonald’s, and one from some place on this list.
Publisher, Stansberry Pacific Research