TOKYO -> SINGAPORE -> PHNOM PENH
Funny enough, now that I’ve done it, I think the only way to really see Cambodia is to come via Tokyo & Singapore. The vastness and modernity associated with both cities gave me a better sense of perspective once I set foot in Phnom Penh.
For example, in Tokyo I was walking down a dark, clean street at about 11PM looking for a restaurant on the very accurate map given to me by my hotel. I wondered why there were no cars about and assumed it was due to the fact that it was 11PM on a Tuesday evening. After turning the corner and seeing plenty of people and cars, I realized that I must have just been walking down the immaculately spotless Japenese version of an alleyway.
Three days later I found myself in Phnom Penh and the opposite occurred: walking down a main road, I had to do a double take to make sure I hadn’t gotten caught in an alleyway. On any given road (which are numbered in no particular order), you may see four car repair shops in a row, five hybrid breeds of dog running back and forth with no collars, a small and shirtless child keeping his father company at a ‘gasoline’ stand (a cart selling petrol out of recycled Coca Cola bottles), and a few piles of what may be trash or may just be the plastic and paper used to start a fire for outdoor cookstoves.
WHAT DOES A SCULPTURE HAVE TO DO WITH ECONOMIC PROGRESS?
<- This public sculpture caught my eye along the river in Singapore because it seemed to perfectly capture the growth of Asian cities. Some, like Singapore or Tokyo, are standing carefully on a ledge of wealth, unsure whether to focus on their own rapid growth and let their neighbors continue to fall or to reach out and pull them back up.
Singapore seems to survive on a model of ex-patriotism that attracts a group of people who come more and more from geographically diverse yet economically invariable backgrounds. According to the Wall Street Journal, today Singapore houses more “average millionaire” than anywhere else in the world and in 2011 1/6 households had a disposable private wealth of at least $1 million.
Despite being the only nation in Southeast Asia without natural resources, Singapore’s economy expanded three times faster than Malaysia in the 45 years following their 1965 independence (Source: Bloomberg).
As we have all been told, “money can’t buy happiness,” so then what is the fate of Singapore? For now, it seems to be contentedness. They are sitting along the river, perched on a dangerous ledge of exciting money, wondering what else money can buy if not happiness.