From the Rabbit Hole to the Dragon’s Den in Asia: Eight Things to Know
Researchers at the University of Hawaii disclosed this week that the Earth is likely being watched over by not one silvery sentinel, but two. Those of you who have shelved your social lives to read the most anticipated book of the year, Haruki Murakami’s 930 page tome, IQ84, may be feeling a bit on edge after learning this news. If you have yet to check it out, the cagey characters in Murakami’s Orwell-inspired tale (pronounced “Q-teen-eighty-four”) are indeed guided by two moons— one robust and familiar, the other small and sickly green— signifying a sinister parallel universe fraught with psychopathy, compromise, and inexplicable complication. Given the coincidence between our big blue marble and Murakami’s fictional one, perhaps the author’s real genius comes not from his literary prowess, but from his ability to prophesy. After all, how many of us this year have said, “is this for real?” or “what planet am I on?” or even, “stop the world, I want to get off”?
Like some of you, I’ve been preoccupied with figuring out how to escape cosmos A (war, famine, global warming, unemployment, usury, banksters, Newt Gingrich, the Kardashians, and privacy as defined by Facebook) and get to cosmos B (peace, abundance, awareness, fulfillment, jubilee, justice, competence, depth, and privacy as defined by people). This unfortunately left me with little appetite to blog. On a personal level, the Year of the Bunny has been a fast and twisted hop, one that often led me down the rabbit hole and into the unknown- from my first year in Singapore, my first go as a small business owner in the Eastern hemisphere, my first marathon, my first year feeling like a total outsider since the sixth grade and frankly, my first year sensing that nearly everything I’d been taught about the way life is supposed to work belonged in the manure heap (I’ve since concluded that yes, a lot of it was and is crap). So, with 2012 approaching— and taunting our minds with visions of doom thanks to bad movies and ancient rumor mills— I hope that we’ll at least begin to find the tunnel back to a world that’s wiser, saner, and kinder, a world with only one tried and true moon.
Unlike my favorite literary greats (Orwell, Huxley, Shteyngart, Atwood, H.G. Wells and Murakami to name a few), I have little confidence in predicting humanity’s future overall. As a long-time Asia-watcher with fairly strong training in socioeconomics, I am a tad more assured that my insights on opportunities and challenges East of the prime meridian will be worth a bit more than night soil (although an increase in biogas plants puts this assurance at great risk). Hence, in the Year of the Dragon here are eight things you should know:
1. If you’re struggling in the West, you can still head East for a fresh start… but it’s going to be more challenging to find a job and a welcome mat.
According to HSBC’s recent Expat Explorer Survey, Southeast Asia is a highly desirable destination for foreigners, with Singapore coming in as the most ideal expat location. Unigroup Worldwide issued a similar study showing a nearly 50% increase in the number of Americans moving to China. As an expat who has returned to Asia for the second time after eight years at home in New York, I can attest that the number of Westerners living and working in East Asia is staggering compared to what the population was here a decade ago. And, it’s no longer just entrepreneurial cowboys, ESL teachers and social misfits venturing to the other side of the world. Technology wizards and fresh MBAs from top-tier schools are clamoring to gain experience, language skills and spouses thousands of miles away from their roots. With this influx comes increasing pushback from the locals, many of whom shun Western values while complaining that foreign talent jeopardizes their own chances at landing good jobs and affordable housing. This is particularly true in developed urban areas- Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul, and even Bali. Yes, Asia is an incredible place to live as an expat… but if you’re new here in 2012, expect very stiff competition and fewer smiles.
2. “Help Wanted” ads are still abundant in Asia… if you’re in the right field.
Media and technology companies in Asia are desperate for talent in user experience design, creative and analytics. This could be a promising transition for versatile journalists and English grads, as well as for extroverts who are mathematically inclined. Medical technologists, biomedical engineers and molecular biologists should have an easy time landing good gigs, as will health professionals specializing in elder care. A rapidly increasing awareness about mental health and the expanding foreign population also makes Asia a promising destination for psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who have secondary language skills under their belts. No college degree? That will be a problem. More than ever, companies and bureaucrats in Asia seek highly educated professionals from recognized universities and are particularly interested in brain gain via returnees, otherwise known in China as ”sea turtles” (海龟, hǎiguī). And, while many of the expats I’ve met here have taken the traditional route working at MNCs and universities, an increasing number are experimenting with their own small businesses, launching social enterprises, and making their mark as artists.
3. Freaky foods and rising food costs overall will be a big problem in 2012. Learn how to grow and prepare your own- no matter where you are.
Remember China’s melamine-tainted milk which sickened an estimated 300,000 babies in 2008 alone? Well, now the Mainland has glow in the dark meat, Japan’s got irradiated baby food, Malaysia’s dealing with e-coli flavored milk, and in Borneo I recently dined on the strangest genetically-modified corn I’d ever seen. Add to this, food poisoning is on the rise worldwide, sending millions to the hospital every single week. On the other hand, food prices have been steadily increasing— at 10% inflation in developing Asian nations at the first half of 2011— and have a very good chance of spiking again next year. More natural disasters makes food shortages another very real risk, as do viruses like bird flu and regional instability. Rather than relying on unknown sources for your nutrition, why not learn how to grow and prepare at least some of your own? Urban farming, locavorism and a return to cooking at home will become hot trends throughout Asia as more people on this side of the planet gain awareness on nutrition and socially-conscious living while being directly impacted by the threat of food insecurity. Additionally, farmers and scientists will continue to experiment with alternative growth methods like hydroponics and unusual food sources like bugs, worms, and tissue-cultured meat.
4. Consciousness about what and how Asia consumes will take center stage.
Consider GIFT founder Chandran Nair’s dire warning about development and supply in East Asia: “If 500 million Chinese people are lifted out of poverty in the next twenty years, what will they do? They want seafood… If 500 million Chinese start consuming one meal of fish like you and I do, the oceans will be empty. There is no technological fix. There is no social network that will fix this problem.” As the whole of East Asia’s economies gradually begin to improve, rapid depletion of resources and other related problems like increased production of methane gas from rising beef demand will become the most pressing global challenge of the decade. But of course, the West cannot just tell the East, “we had our cake. Sorry, you won’t get to eat yours.” Thankfully, more socially responsible diets like veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise. Additionally, less Asian consumers crave wasteful dishes like shark fin soup. In fact, Peninsula Hotels, Asia’s longest running luxury hotel chain, has just taken shark fin off their menus. Will moneyed Singaporeans, Middle East royalty and nouveau riche Chinese stop shopping at the malls just because the Earth is in peril? Probably not… without government intervention…and I don’t think that’s something we should rule out.
5. Beijing is going to have difficulty attracting and retaining global talent because of pollution. Increasing ire about this issue is expected.
Just a few weeks ago, the US Embassy issued a new warning about Beijing’s air. Air quality no longer hovered in the familiar realm of “poor,” but had instead reached “poisonous” status. Expats from global companies were given gas masks and many just chose to stay home, while locals found themselves blindly wading through the soupy air. I was in Beijing a few months ago and can attest to the validity of these dire warnings; the city no longer feels like a safe place to live, work and raise a family simply because it’s so difficult to breathe. If you must spend time in China’s capital, invest in a good pollution mask and make sure you can telecommute if need be. Better yet, tell the government that you won’t be going to Beijing anymore until it cleans up its act (you may want to add that you’re not talking about quick fixes like cloud seeding…)
6. Massive uprises against corruption will continue in both the East and the West. Ditto with income inequality and corporate greed…expect wide scale protest.
While Occupy Wall Street protesters in America were busy fighting off the
paramilitary police and defending themselves from the wrath of mainstream media, millions in East Asia blockaded villages, let loose poisonous snakes in government offices, fired off homemade rockets at barricades and security troops, and set fire to structures of significance- including themselves. In China, Nepal, India, Mongolia, Russia, the Philippines, the Middle East, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and pretty much everywhere else in Asia (except Singapore), people are fed up with oppression and are now willing to put their own lives on the line in order to create a better future. Given that the conditions spawning these protests will remain unchanged barring some alien intervention or massive altered collective consciousness among the 1%, I expect that 2012 will be a year marked by incredible unrest as the majority fights for fairness… and it will be a bloody, ugly fight.
7. We’re going to act like it’s the end of the world…
Thanks to Hollywood and mainstream media, our global population is either freaking out or going Zen as we count down to December 21, 2012, otherwise known as “the end of the world,” according to Mayan prophesy. The I-Ching, Asia’s most well-known book of divination and an ancient classic Chinese text, is also said to indicate a similar doomsday date, although neither of these predictions specifically explain what the end of the world would look like. How will this declared expiration date impact our societies and daily lives? Although I anticipate far less hysteria here in Asia than I do in the West, expect increases in violence, impulsive behavior and anxiety as well as decreases in work productivity on account of the entertainment industry, which is thankfully a lesser provocateur in this neck of the woods.
8. … and that might not be such a bad idea.
While I don’t advocate selling all of your personal belongings and living in the woods, it’s no secret that humanity has reached a boiling point. We’ll be forced to make massive changes in the near future if we wish to ensure our survival. Asia represents 4 billion people- nearly 60 percent of the global population- and is home to the fastest growing economies in the world. As the West struggles to stay afloat, Asia’s people are hard at work building families, cities, armies, companies, and innovations that will greatly influence the international community over the next decade. With 7 billion bodies on the planet, rapidly depleting finite resources and a majority of people unhappy and hungering for change— not stuff— 2012 could be our last ditch effort. Think of it as a time not only for reflection and alterations in our daily habits, but as a season of fearlessness and unrestrained creativity to build a new and better society for all. What can we accomplish in 364 days… and counting?
I wish you all a wonderful holiday and an auspicious, brave New Year. Thanks for reading!