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Thread: Asia's permanent advantage in infrastructure.

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    Asia's permanent advantage in infrastructure.

    Asia's permanent advantage
    By Chan Akya

    For the frequent traveler, there is a stark dichotomy across the world. Almost without exception, traveling with an Asian carrier to any Asian airport is a pleasure. In contrast, using any airline domiciled in Europe or North America with passage through airports in that part of the world is stunningly inconvenient.

    Your plane for one - the Asian carriers' jet, like its European counterpart, was assembled either in Seattle or in Toulouse, France, but it is a million miles away from the aircraft you are used to flying within Europe or North America. Plonk yourself down on a suspiciously comfortable seat and there is the large television panel with an array of entertainment. Great food, courteous service. And then you remember, this is the "economy" class, which beats the "business" class on any European or American airline.

    Deplane and walk past the immigration without much fuss; as you reach the baggage belts you are shocked to find your checked-in baggage already there. Then you look up and see rows of baggage belts in either direction, all quietly whirring away and depositing their contents with an almost sinister efficiency.

    Recovering from the shock, you recall the last time you traveled through an airport in Europe or North America: how long it took to go past the immigration counter; baggage that turned up an hour after you arrived at the belt, if it did at all; and the airlines that almost inevitably go on strike at the most inconvenient moments.

    When you leave the airport in Shanghai and can get to the main city 30 kilometers away within eight minutes on the superfast magnetic levitation train, you cannot help but notice that the actual technology for this wonder comes from Germany. Yet, there are no such trains in operation anywhere in Europe, let alone Germany.

    Surely this is because, here in Asia, we are in the biggest cities you say. Then you go and land at one of the smaller airports - say Guangzhou, just north of Hong Kong. At a cinch, it is double the size of Munich's airport, and when you get out to the city it is not very different in the quality of infrastructure compared to Shanghai. What about the rural areas? Well, drive from Shanghai in virtually any direction and the first time you see roads that are any worse than those around the city you are a good 200 kilometers away. And even there, the roads are better than many American motorways.

    Yeah alright, so the Chinese truck driver barreling towards you looks like he hasn't slept in three days (very likely), and there is the occasional car wrapped into the milestone on the side of the road; but none of that detracts from the sheer robustness of the infrastructure.

    It isn't just the airports and highways. Walk into a hotel in any Asian city and you are likely to be greeted by a bewildering array of the latest electronic gadgets and equipment all seamlessly integrated into the controls next to your bedside. Check into a hotel in New York or Paris (and much worse, London), and for the privilege of paying 200% more than your Asian room rate you will likely be greeted by an old hotel room housing a cathode-ray television and archaic room controls.

    Wait a minute, you say, cathode-ray TV? When is the last time you have even seen one of those anywhere in Asia - be it the local coffee shop or your friends' homes?

    Step out from your hotel and your cab or the local underground will be no less impressive in terms of either newness or the scale of technology. A friend told me recently that after 10 years of living in Hong Kong he remembers the local subway (underground/tube or whatever else you want to call it) network (in this case the MTR) being delayed only once; in his native London, he said, he'd be lucky not to have a delay at least three times every week. So the Asians have mastered the ability to combine reliability and low prices with good performance. Ouch, that sure hurts your ego.

    In an Asian city, if your cab driver doesn't speak a word of English there is no reason to panic - whether in Seoul or in Hong Kong, all you need to do is to press a button and presto there is a chap on the wireless doing all your translations for you to the driver. Free, of course.

    "Translations", you say. That would be a nice feature to have when you want to speak in English in New York, for example.

    Then you duck into a tailor's shop to see whether a new suit can be made. Sure, says the shopkeeper, a mere US$200 and two days for a bespoke suit; against $500 and more for an off-the-peg European brand that uses lower-quality material. Walk into any shop across Asia and two things immediately hit you square in the eyes - the quality of service and the sheer promptness with which you get everything.

    Two days for a suit? You could be waiting longer for your creme brule in a Paris cafe, and then end up paying $30 for the privilege.

    As you walk around what looks like a social housing project in Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore or Hong Kong you glimpse a few food stalls. "Surely these must be dangerous," you say, until you spot the queue of customers patiently waiting for their turn. What is more, the queue has more than a few "expats" who couldn't live without their daily visit to these stalls selling succulent local cuisine.

    And then the last observation sinks in. Every single Asian city is heaving at the edges, with millions of people. Yet, crime rates are negligible and social tensions appear well under control. A far cry from the banlieu of Paris or the Turkish quarter of Berlin, for example, not to mention the public housing nightmares of Chicago or Detroit.

    By the time you have done a tour across the Pacific Rim, a manner of despondency sets in. How on earth are these countries still considered "developing" when their standards of living and technology are barely available in the Western world?

    That's when you remember India. "Ah!," you say, believing that here is a country that will perpetually disappoint on its infrastructure. Abysmal roads, gridlocked traffic, poor sanitation and those positively lethal curries.

    Really? As you approach the airport at Mumbai and if you somehow tear your eyes away from the slums that seem to have crept straight onto the runway, the first thing you notice is the mass of flyovers that appear, quite literally, to have cropped out of the blue. Your journey to downtown in an air-conditioned cab takes an hour, not the three hours it used in a rickety old Fiat cab on the last trip.

    "Surely Mumbai must be the exception," you say. "Other Indian cities will be worse." Well, no luck on that account. Whether it is the national capital Delhi or the southern city of Chennai, the improvements over the past 10 years are significant, and almost to a fault, efficient.

    Even the famously lackadaisical government appears to be in a tearing hurry. From a target of 4km of new roads every day barely three years ago the target was reset at 20km per day in the middle of last year. According to independent reports, the actual progress is over 30km per day. Okay, it's a big country, but it looks to be getting an awful lot faster to go from one end to another.

    Sanitation seems like a worry until your roadside food vendor proffers a bottle of mineral water with the just-cooked delicacy. The food waste behind the stall seems to disappear quietly and efficiently into a new drainage system.

    As for those lethal curries, forget it. Indians still eat the most inhumanly spicy food on earth (IMHO), but the inevitable trips to the bathroom and/or the doctor for your episode of Delhi-belly appear to have been banished almost magically. The cuisine map is now richer and food quality has improved dramatically alongside.

    It is not the gargantuan dams of China or the super-efficient underground in Singapore that impresses you, but rather the fact that even the most economically backward parts of Asia have taken growth to be their mantra. What's more, they have the financial muscle to push it through.

    With that, your despondency turns to depression. How, you ask, can the "developed" world ever regain its luster?

    For a start, all American and European cities will have to reinvest hundreds of billions into their cities to rejuvenate the existing infrastructure. Then the states/smaller countries will have to connect the cities to the rest of the region, install new technology infrastructure, focus on customer service and improve productivity to new heights to compete with the Asians.

    Ah, but a minor detail intervenes. Who has got the money to do all that? Well, let us raise taxes you say. Problem is, no one in your country is making much money in the first place so raising taxes will simply drive consumption down and drive the deficit wider. Well, let us borrow the lot you say. Trouble is, no one has the money to lend to you at your abysmally low rates. Except the Asians - who you then recall can play tough once in a while.

    And that's about when you reconcile to the inevitable future - Asia with its apparently permanent advantage on infrastructure and operating efficiency leaving Europe and North America ever further behind. Nothing appears to have the ability to reverse this trend.
    Asia Times Online :: Global Economy


    Is this an exaggeration or a real picture?

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    Quote Originally Posted by andrew View Post
    Asia Times Online :: Global Economy


    Is this an exaggeration or a real picture?

    Total hype. Is he honestly comparing India's infrastructure to Europe's?

    Hong Kong is a hell hole, not on the same level as Mumbai, but still overcrowded. Same goes to other huge Asian countries. Asia times has a pretty low standard in terms of journalism.

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    Armchair Worrier Senior Contributor bolo121's Avatar
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    About India I can say its a load of crap. Pretty much the only city with actual improvements is Delhi, thanks to the metro.
    I lived in chennai and the only difference is the width of the roads have increased and the length of the traffic jams also.
    Bangalore is still (and probably will always be) in gridlock hell.
    Dont know much on mumbai's current status, but bandra worli sea link is said to be already jammed.
    The only thing i can say that has really improved is the national highway system. Reasonably good four lane highways between most big cities now. However be aware that just because you are in the left hand side lane separated by a road divider, doesn't mean there isnt a bus on the same side coming directly at you.
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    I would say the article is partly right.

    There is no point comparing Indian infrastructure with the Chinese marvel but it has improved substantially. Most major airports are far better, many train stations are getting swanky, roads are getting better too at least the national highways.

    I would agree with the service levels though. The quality and promptness of service is far better in Asia (even India) than you get in the West.
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    Armchair Worrier Senior Contributor bolo121's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vinod2070 View Post
    I would agree with the service levels though. The quality and promptness of service is far better in Asia (even India) than you get in the West.
    Vinod, thats only towards VIPs and Goras. As aam middle class aadmi we still get shitty service.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bolo121 View Post
    Vinod, thats only towards VIPs and Goras. As aam middle class aadmi we still get shitty service.
    Well, just compare the checkout time at the local supermarket with that at Walmart. Try ordering groceries at home in India and in the West. You can open a bank account sitting at home. Just give a call and the car dealer will send the car for test driving at your doorstep and so on.

    You can't get this kind of service in the West.

    The services are cheaper and more easily available in India just because there is a lot of manpower available at less wages.
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    Armchair Worrier Senior Contributor bolo121's Avatar
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    Actually I was thinking of things like rudeness of staff at airports , hotels and so on.
    But yes banking and shopping in India is a more pleasant experience (except for ICICI where they chat and ignore you unless you shout Excuse me! very loudly). But I dont know of any company that sends groceries ordered from home. Which company have you had this service from?
    Was also not aware of the car dealer sending vehicles round, metro ford where we bought our last car had none of this.
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    Ehhh, the airline thing is kinda real, my folks said their worst experience ever was when they took Air France.

    A lot of the more major infrastructure in Asia is new, which would obviously explain their better quality to some of the really old stuff in the US/Euro

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    Quote Originally Posted by bolo121 View Post
    Actually I was thinking of things like rudeness of staff at airports , hotels and so on.
    But yes banking and shopping in India is a more pleasant experience (except for ICICI where they chat and ignore you unless you shout Excuse me! very loudly). But I dont know of any company that sends groceries ordered from home. Which company have you had this service from?
    Was also not aware of the car dealer sending vehicles round, metro ford where we bought our last car had none of this.
    There are a lot of local grocery stores almost everywhere that can make home delivery of grocery. I have used it in Delhi and Hyderabad.

    I am staying in Hyderabad now and I called 5-6 car dealers of different companies for test drive before I decided my car. They all came home with their cars and explained the features and comparison with the competitors and gave me test drive, all at no cost.

    I think it is the same in pretty much any city in India.
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    Armchair Worrier Senior Contributor bolo121's Avatar
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    I have been to dealerships in bangalore for Hyundai, Maruti and Ford and nobody offered to send cars round for test drive. I guess its all in how you negotiate.
    The local supermarket where i live wont deliver spoilables like veg or fruit but will deliver stuff like rice, dal, oil etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RollingWave View Post
    Ehhh, the airline thing is kinda real, my folks said their worst experience ever was when they took Air France.

    A lot of the more major infrastructure in Asia is new, which would obviously explain their better quality to some of the really old stuff in the US/Euro
    The building boom in China is beyond anything dreamed of ten years ago. And this boom is seemingly spreading throughout South East Asia as well as the sub continent.

    So yes all this new infrastructure is going to appear glossy against aging western cities. But there are a few negatives here. The faster you build infrastructure increases the risks of shoddy workmanship, poor materials and risky shortcuts.

    Secondly the costs of maintaining this new infrastucture will increase dramatically year by year, with all it's inherent problems. So technically the marvels we are seeing now could become a nightmare in the future.

    Of course many western cities are now facing infrastructure nightmares. Here in Sydney there are huge developments at risk due to crumbling infrastructure over 100 years old.

    So the economic miracle, the consequent rise in living standards and infrastructure will come at a cost, eventually.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vinod2070 View Post
    Well, just compare the checkout time at the local supermarket with that at Walmart. Try ordering groceries at home in India and in the West. You can open a bank account sitting at home. Just give a call and the car dealer will send the car for test driving at your doorstep and so on.

    You can't get this kind of service in the West.

    The services are cheaper and more easily available in India just because there is a lot of manpower available at less wages.
    I remember my mom once ordered flowers for her friend's anniversary in Mumbai, whilst sitting in Delhi. Payment was arranged later via bank transfer. Only in India. :D

    Quote Originally Posted by RollingWave View Post
    Ehhh, the airline thing is kinda real, my folks said their worst experience ever was when they took Air France.
    Yup. That's totally right. Comparing Indian and American carriers, service and comfort in airlines over here are far..faaar superior. I flew on Continental and American Airlines when I was in America, and I have to say, airlines in India are miles ahead.


    The rest of it is BS though. You can't compare general infrastructure in India and America/other western countries.

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    Heh...

    American carriers are not operated by the government with unlimited tax dollars. Most Asian carriers are.

    I've been to Shanghai, let's just say the motorways ain't exactly like how he described them.

    The immigration in Beijing was not the highest in efficiency.

    Visit any public restroom in China and tell me you'd rather be there than in America.

    I will give him this, Japanese are very neat, orderly, clean, and efficient. The only nation that might be more organized is Switzerland.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vinod2070 View Post
    Well, just compare the checkout time at the local supermarket with that at Walmart. Try ordering groceries at home in India and in the West. You can open a bank account sitting at home. Just give a call and the car dealer will send the car for test driving at your doorstep and so on.

    You can't get this kind of service in the West.
    Yes I can

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    Asia will be a economic powerhouse, and center in the future. Not sure about India, but the potential for growth in major Asian economies in mainland Asia is immense in my eyes. South East Asia included. The west will continue to deteriorate because of socialism, and Keynesianism.

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