Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

This is not the best time to move from East to West. The thought occurs to me as I sit in a British bank, at its Westminster branch no less, waiting to open my first UK account.

The procedure takes two hours, stretched across two appointments over two days.

In the same period of time, a bank in Singapore - my home for the past 20 years - would not only have set up an account, but offered the customer five credit cards and a housing loan. When international investors like Jim Rogers say Asia is the future because things just move faster there, there's some truth in it.

I've come to London for postgraduate study. It was not the easiest decision to make, hauling myself, mid-career, from Asia to Europe. Especially when so many others are travelling in the other direction. In Singapore, it seemed that every day brought a new planeload of expats, many of them British, all looking for higher bonuses and lower taxes.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing - these are the destinations du jour.

The West, so the story goes, is in terminal decline. The UK and US are deep in debt;

the eurozone is imploding. 'London is way past its prime, ' a Singaporean colleague warned me.

But if we made all our choices based on economic indicators, life would be truly poor. It's not a fashionable thing to say, with the new pride and new money that's sweeping across Asia, but I've come to Britain because I find it one of the most inspiring nations on earth. I like the culture and the way of life, and I find the British sense of humour a national asset like no other. Also, I believe the UK still offers the best higher education on the planet. This has not been achieved through national policy, committee-work or government diktat: it's the glorious culmination of centuries of protecting freedom of thought, speech and debate.

When I say this to my British friends, they look at me blankly. But this is still a novelty to those of us from the booming but not entirely liberal East. Freedom of expression has a long and proud tradition in Britain, and I know this liberty has been hard won.

The newspapers these days are full of stories about rising East vs falling West, as though we were all involved in a huge global zero-sum game. But that's not the whole picture. …

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