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Tuesday, December 3, 2013


The primary countries of Southeast Asia (SEA) are:
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
Add Brunei, East Timor and Christmas Island.  Click to read a quick summary of all these countries.

The region has a population about twice the size of the USA (620 million versus 314 million), with Indonesia the largest at 244 million.  Unfortunately, this is where the two deadliest volcanic eruptions occurred:
  • Tambora in 1815 with 92,000 deaths (right)
  • Krakatoa in 1883 with 36,000 deaths 
An even greater disaster was the Great Sumatra Earthquake and tsunami of 26December2004, with nearly 300,000 killed, most in Indonesia.

On the other end of the natural disaster spectrum, Singapore never has had a volcanic eruption, tsunami, earthquake or typhoon.  The coldest temperature ever was 66 F, with hottest 97 F.  Many think Hawaii is ideal, but our highest was 100 F and coldest 12 F (20 F below freezing).  Singapore might be the safest place on Earth.  The country will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2015.  Being mostly a benevolent dictatorship, but called a constitutional republic, its GDP/capita is $61,000.  Note that the GDP/capita for the USA is $52,800/capita (income/person/year is $43,000).  However, while Singapore ranks 19th on the Human Development Index, the USA is #3 (Norway is #1 and Australia #2).  This is a photo of Lee Kuan Yew, perhaps the reason why Singapore has been so successful.  He just celebrated his 90th birthday in September.

Let me stop my summarization here and go right into the basic character of the SEA nations (to enhance this presentation, I'm showing the four Miss Universes from this region, starting with someone who in 1965 looked like Pearl):
  • Religion and economy (1965, Apasra Hongsakula of Thailand):  
    • 85% are Muslim in Indonesia, 67% in Brunei, and 61% in Malaysia.
    • Buddhism dominates in most of the other countries, with the exception of the Philippines and East Timor, which are 80% Roman Catholic.  Singapore has only 33% Buddhists and 15% Muslims, but, while there is complete religious freedom, there is a sense that the economy transcends.
    • The more truly religious a country, the less economically successful.  A WIN-Gallup International Religiosity and Atheism Index indicated that countries with 85% or more identified as religious had a per capita annual income less than $14,100.  
    • Except for Brunei  (which has oil) and Singapore, all the SEA countries have low income/capita.
    • Vietnam is an anomaly.  Because of communism, 82% are non-religious.  The GDP/capita is $4,000.  You might say that politics trump the absence of religion.
  • Reputation (1969, Gloria Diaz of the Philippines):
    • Singapore:  enterprising but lacking humanity
    • Thailand:  friendly, but sometimes misguided
    • Malaysia:  blatant racial discrimination against local Chinese, but government officials call this affirmative action to assist the underperforming majority
    • Vietnam:  enterprising and upcoming, if government corruption can be overcome
    • Indonesia:  can't get their act together because of corruption and...
    • Myanmar:  beginning to test democracy, long way to go
    • Cambodia:  gentle people, with an early attempt to fight corruption
    • Philippines:  too many typhoons, plus,  corruption and nepotism continue
    • Laos:  not sure, never been there, but somewhat described below
  • Here is a quote from one of my earlier postings (1973, Margarita Moran of the Philippines):
Our local tour guide provided an interesting perspective comparing the three countries of this region. He said that the French, when they colonized Indochine, felt that:

1. The Vietnamese were hard workers.

2. Cambodians were hard watchers.

3. Laotians were hard sleepers.

  • Language (1988, Porntip Nakirunkanok of Thailand):  you can get by on English just about anywhere, but, save for Singapore, all the other countries have their own language.
  • Tipping:  not necessary.
  • Status of world powers in this region:
    • The USA is most respected, even in Vietnam and Cambodia.
    • China is feared.
    • Japan still suffers from what they wrought during the Second World War, although their financial support and industries are welcomed.
    • Russia is a non-entity (at some point over the next half century, Vietnam will have more people than Russia).
  • The SouthEast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) only includes the Philippines and Thailand, plus Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom and U.S.  The real alliance of SEA countries is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was formed in 1967.  They last month had a summit in Brunei.


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