Monday, March 14, 2005

Arrival in Singapore

Yesterday evening, we arrived in Singapore, a city/country about which I’ve always had mixed feelings. It’s a city notorious for its Orwellian and antiseptic vibe, but it has its charms as well. I can only give first impressions at this point, which is that the city is well laid-out and features eye-catching ultra-modern architecture at every turn. Singapore obviously invests quite a bit in aesthetics, given its palm-lined boulevards and the bright, lush vegetation along its medians and bridges.

The weather is Houstonian in its mixture of heat and humidity, but the traffic bears no such resemblance. To limit traffic, the government requires Singaporeans to buy a $10,000 permit for car ownership.

Last night our project team met with our counterparts at the National University of Singapore, whose business school is one of the most selective in Asia. Hong Le and Nagajyothi (“Jyo Thi”) Bathula, respectively from Vietnam and India, seemed affable and highly capable.

Hong’s focus is in marketing and her primary charges will be getting us more detail on a government quota scandal in Vietnam that has so far held up that country’s entry into the World Trade Organization, a timetable for the country’s entry into the WTO and an understanding of what WTO entry will mean for stumbling blocks such as quotas, direct hiring, accounting standards, etc.

Jyo Thi, an operations specialist, will gather comparative operations data between Indian and Vietnamese plants. As previously mentioned, Andrews Sport is happy with its operations in India. But Vietnam’s seemingly imminent WTO entry presents an attractive opportunity, as many of the country's clogged, often corrupt bureaucratic processes (most notoriously, its quota system) would have to be drastically streamlined to meet the WTO accession requirements.

At this point, we’ve gathered much of the data we require for our project and our excursion in Singapore will serve mostly to plug the financing gap in our report. Obviously, wealthy Singapore is no candidate for manufacturing, but banks here could offer objective risk analyses of doing business in the countries we’ve discussed and thus give us some sense of the risk premiums that would be assessed to a project in any of these countries.

Last night we wrapped the evening up at The Raffles Hotel, of whose many claims to fame is the invention of the Singapore Sling. This is probably an amateurish comment, but the only differences I could discern between this fruity gin-based drink and a garden variety Hurricane was about $8, an expense largely due to Singapore’s exorbitant liquor taxes. Both are red, sweet and mixed in large five-gallon buckets. Still, the hotel’s historic Long Bar is an attractive, two-storey bar was inspired by Malayan plantations in the 1920s.

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