Serviced apartments: Demographic changes across Asia reflect a new class of mid-level migrant workers

Published by Nikkei Asian Review, August 26, 2015

TOM BENNER, Contributing writer

SINGAPORE — The serviced apartment industry in Southeast Asia — which traditionally serves well-heeled traveling executives with high-end features such as full concierge and butler services — is expanding its business focus to the needs of a less affluent, younger and growing migrant urban workforce.

That’s the finding of a newly released academic study that describes an itinerant class of mid-level workers whose careers demand frequent cross-border relocation and an increasingly permanent need for temporary housing.

Titled “The shifting demographics of the serviced apartment industry in South East Asia,” the paper, published in the “South East Asia Research Journal,” cites a permanent condition of geographic temporariness among a growing proportion of Asia’s middle-class urban workforce. Continue reading …


Singapore’s new generation wants a kinder, chiller country

Published by Global Post, August 12, 2015

By Tom Benner

SINGAPORE — Fifty years after Singapore was accidentally born as an independent country after getting unceremoniously kicked out of Malaysia, it has become one of the most admired and envied countries in the world.

A tiny fishing island with no natural resources, Singapore started off with plenty of disadvantages: malaria, poverty, racial tensions among the ethnic Chinese, Malay and South Indian populations.

Nevertheless, it has since become one of the world’s wealthiest places, with the third-highest percentage of millionaires after Qatar and Switzerland. It places at or near the top of global rankings for safety, cleanliness, ease of doing business, and freedom from corruption. Continue reading …

If you want to try Singapore’s famous street food, you’d best make your trip now

Published by Global Post, July 10, 2015

By Tom Benner

SINGAPORE — When the former British colony of Singapore became a country nearly 50 years ago, its people were sustained by a multiethnic street food culture that would make the island-nation a global food mecca.

This was long before the arrival of celebrity chefs, Michelin-starred restaurants, eye-popping restaurant tabs, and the rise of Singapore as one of most expensive places in the world to live.

Back in the day, food hawkers generally had just one specialty dish, usually served from a rickshaw on the street — often on “opeh,” or banana leaves instead of paper plates. Continue reading …

Halal products draw more Muslim tourists to Japan

Published by Japan Today and the American Chamber of Commerce Journal, July 8, 2015

By Tom Benner

TOKYO — When Rafidah Abd Rahim traveled to Japan from Singapore last year, the recent college graduate was relieved to find a goodly number of lifestyle offerings for Muslim travelers, such as halal food—that is, fare that complies with Islamic dietary guidelines—and easily available prayer rooms.

Rafidah found Sakura House, a Muslim-friendly share house with separate dorms for females and males on different levels, as well as a halal restaurant nearby. And the Tokyo Camii mosque was within walking distance. She also found a variety of eateries serving halal food.

“I was able to broaden my choices,” she says. “Since I was unable to enjoy an authentic ramen [because it sometimes has] pork stock, I was able to enjoy a bowl of the vegetarian version.” Continue reading …

Arduous economic recovery in post-conflict East Timor

Next generation takes the reins of development to move troubled tropical paradise away from its bloody past.

Published by Al Jazeera English, June 23, 2015

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – Following his first 100 days in office, the new prime minister of East Timor marvelled at how the peaceful transition of power from his predecessor stood in stark contrast to the young nation’s turbulent past.

“Since independence, East Timor has come a long way,” said Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo in a speech at the 2015 East Timor Development Partners Meeting.

“We have moved from a fragile country overcoming the ghosts of our traumatic past, to a nation that is consolidating the foundations of our state,” the prime minister said. Continue reading …

War of words heats up over South China Sea conflict

At Singapore summit, critics accuse China of setting a confrontational tone and undermining Asia-Pacific security.

Published by Al Jazeera English, May 31, 2015

By Tom Benner

Singapore – While rival claims over the South China Sea fishing grounds and shipping lanes go back centuries, China’s intensifying land reclamation and island-building in the Spratly archipelago and other contested waters is an escalating global dispute.

China laid out its ambitions for a bigger naval presence far from its coasts last week, prompting concerns that Beijing will back up its claims to new territories by flexing its military muscle in one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

Critics from around the world attending Asia’s top defence summit over the weekend accused China of setting a confrontational tone, undermining security in the Asia-Pacific, and hurting diplomatic efforts to resolve competing claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations surrounding the resource-rich sea. Continue reading …

JFK Legacy Today: How the late president transformed US–Japan relations

Published by The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal, May 2015 issue.

AR6659-A                                  20 June 1961 Meeting with Prime Minister of Japan. Japanese Ambassador to US Koichiro Asakai; President Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Zentaro Kosaka; Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda; US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer; James J. Wickel, interpreter. Oval Office, White House. Credit

20 June 1961
Meeting with Prime Minister of Japan. Japanese Ambassador to US Koichiro Asakai; President Kennedy; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Zentaro Kosaka; Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda; US Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer; James J. Wickel, interpreter. Oval Office, White House.
Credit: White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

By Tom Benner

TOKYO – Robert F. Kennedy stood on the stage of Waseda University’s Okuma Auditorium and looked out on an audience erupting in chaos.

It was February 6, 1962, and President John F. Kennedy’s younger brother—also the attorney general and JFK’s trusted adviser—had been dispatched to Tokyo to smooth over US–Japan relations, at a time when anti-US sentiments were running high.

His mission encompassed laying the groundwork for the president’s much-anticipated trip to Japan in 1964, which would have been the first visit by a sitting US president. Continue reading …