Sunday 29th July, 2007

 

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Flying low cost out of Bangkok we landed at a no-frills airport next to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia. Avis online delivered, and we drove to Shah Alam, the emerging knowledge capital of Federal Selangor. Next morning we headed to KL city, the spectacle of Petronas Towers and the skyway.

The stainless steel and glass facade and the suspended bridge 42 floors up are testimony to the legacy of oil and natural gas. Completed in 1998, for US$1.6 billion and built by the National Oil Company, it lifted tourism 88 floors above street level, as economic policy sought to diversify away from commodities: tin and rubber.

The towers are home to the 1999 movie: Entrapment; Bollywood movie: Don; and the video game Hitman 2. In 1997, a French urban climber made his way up the outside of the building using bare hands and feet, Spiderman Robert, as he was called, was arrested on the 60th floor for the illegal act. Tower One is fully occupied by the National Oil Company.

The journey

At sunset we drove to Port Klang, on the Straits of Malacca. Malaysia is one of the largest exporters of semi conductors, electrical gadgets and appliances, and is keeping rapid pace in the race for supremacy in the manufacture of high tech products and software for export.

But even more mind-boggling was the agriculture sector. The massive highways and well-articulated service plazas that spread over Malaysia, offered stark companionship to the miles upon miles of palm plantations. They are huge manufacturers of palm kernel oil, and exotic fruits.

So I sat in my seat belt and wondered!

How is all this relevant in the financial plans of the average citizen? It is certainly evidence of a well-diversified economic plan. Malaysia’s development since its independence to current status is the result of what they called the NEP, or New Economic Policy.

Economics at work

Malaysia’s banking sector is a developed mix of old systems and innovative systems that cater to the socio-religious paradigms of a global population. Developed on the banking systems of the western hemisphere’s economic models, it has grown beyond those boundaries to cater for all the idiosyncrasies of a working and industrious population.

In addition, I was told that the Arab sheiks and their families now find KL a shelter from the arid desert during the summer months. No doubt the banking sector was innovating to hold some of that wealth.

Malaysia’s insurance sector has aggressive billboards that loudly brand innovative products not yet available in the west. The sector seems to focus on lower profitability, and user-friendly models to grab international market share. Such innovative products are now entering the UK.

I was beginning to think that somehow we Trinis had been left behind. This was a world of innovation!

But I needed to double check—return to the Petronas Towers! It hosts the Suria Shopping Mall. I watched to see what shoppers were buying. Native street sense hints that mall activity is a good visible indicator of affluence.

What is the difference?

The mall was six or seven stories high and too long. All of the global brand name stores were upfront, and large. Almost everyone held brand name shopping bags. The mall was crowded; a TV show was being filmed live, fashionable young women walked briskly, busy with the shopping...

So we took the scenic route home along the Straits of Malacca. The sunset offered a sombre rainbow, of no interest to the youth who sat on a boat on the waters edge. And I sat in my seat belt and wondered!

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