In mid/late February I had the chance to join a 9-day study trip organized by my university to go to Japan. It was my first visit to the country and here are some thoughts on the economic prospects of Japan:
When I was a child (that was at the turn of the 80s and 90s), people in Germany (and I guess elsewhere) used to smile over the weird Japanese tourists who traveled 8 European cities in 6 days. Today the Japanese tourists are hardly realized among increasing shopping tourism from China. But China is not only flooding European shopping streets with its newly-rich, it has also become a point of attraction for ambitious young students as a destination for internships, studies and a possible career. In the meantime Japan appears to have disappeared somewhere in the Asian nirvana. I guess its image (if there is any) is to be some sort of a rich and friendly country. But it is not really known as the place to be (like China) nor for anything else really. The slightly more informed person will know that Japan’s prime minister changes every few months (making it even harder to remember anything about the country) and it somehow manages to get credit even though it has had higher debt levels than Greece or Italy. While China is rising, Japan simply does not seem to take place in Europe anymore. For those few public policy Continue reading
Spiegel Online is featuring this short article about a new global index on the quality of cycling in global cities. The index was prepared by a Danish blogger and cycling expert who runs the blog Copenhagenize.eu. No surprise, Amsterdam and Copenhagen top the ranking of 20 cities. Sadly though only one Asian city makes it into the index: Tokyo (a very positive top 4). Unfortunately, it is not clear if other Asian cities are excluded because they have not been considered for assessment or because of their low quality of cycling infrastructure. Of all the big Asian cities I have seen, none struck me with any kind of an impressive cycling environment (Taipeh possibly having the biggest chances though).
Singapore (for once) trailing global cities in life quality?
After having spent a bit of time in Singapore, I wonder why this city is not investing far more attention and infrastructure to cycling. Surely, the all-year humid climate and temperatures for 30 degress during the day are not permitting a cool 10-minute bike-ride to university as relaxed as in Berlin. But then again, the government is very keen to emphasise health issues and constraining car traffic with some of the highest obstacles (i.e. prices) to car driving in the world. Would it not make more sense to start providing bike lanes on at least the big roads? Nowadays, you do not even know where to go as a cyclist in Singapore because roads are crowded and dangerous – and pavements are often too narrow even to walk.
Just like Continue reading
The Open Budget Index (OBI) for the year 2010 assessed 94 countries from around the world in terms of their budget openness and accountability. The drive was coordinated by the International Budget Partnership, a Washington DC based independent think-tank.
Of the 94 countries reviewed, only 24 yielded satisfactory results when it came to maintaining a transparency in their budgets. Despite some notable improvements, many of the countries surveyed have numerous milestones to achieve. The situation in Southeast Asia is even more worrying as none of the seven countries surveyed achieved a satisfactory score (i.e. at least 60 out of a possible 100 points). Singapore was, however, not included in the recent survey.
The importance of budget transparency for democratic, economic and social development
Transparency is a central theme of the good governance discourse. For economic and social development, in particular in a transitional/developing region like Southeast Asia, access to and information about budgets can make a real difference to citizens’ lives Continue reading
Some say Singaporeans are greedy, some say they are bureaucratic and some that they are uber-honest. I think this is all crap stereotyping (as if the Germans would be orderly… or the Indians talkative…). But here is a warning from the Singapore university library of what happens if you do not settle your fines (no matter what amount!):
Ok. Today is a special day. I could write a comment about some Florida idiots who wanted to burn books some consider holy – or the reactions to this. But all these crazies on either side really deserve no further attention. It is time to start writing about Singapore. And what could be more important than religious debates? – Something that is more visible in Singapore than politics. Something that is big story in Singapore. Food.
One of the first things you read in any travel guide about Singapore is its focus on food. Or should I say obsession? Given the lack of what us westerners would regard as classical or traditional culture, this special place Singapore is surely building some of its culture around food. And food comes in many particular ways here. Lesson one: food (like so many other products here) is not big here because it is grown in Singapore but because locals (and probably even more immigrants) have been skilled to make the best of varieties of influence from all around the south east asian region (and beyond). Thanks to these diverse cultural influences food is big here. And it is diverse. You can probably generalise and say that the Singaporean kitchen is composed of the same ethnic influence as its society overall: Chinese, Malaysian and Indian. On top of that you have the hard-to-avoid American Continue reading