This article comes from my ramblings on my own personal Twitter account. After a recent holiday to Singapore, with trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Qatar, I looked at the way life works in these countries, and compared it to back home in the UK, as well as other locations I have lived and worked in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Kuwait, and Spain.
This is a piece not specific to football, but it will be interesting for coaches who have or who would like to work abroad. It's about socio-economics and urban planning. Riveting topics, I know, but for those who think there could be a better way of doing things, who want to escape the British Isles, join me on this dive.
For context, for those who don't know me personally, my wife is from Mexico. I met her while living there. We want to travel the world and live in different countries. For the time being, we're both in England until she gets a British passport, then we'll be off somewhere else. When we go on holiday, we take the time to look at a place and ask if we could live there. Does it suit our wants and needs? And a lot of this research I report back to BFCN with.
I'd like to take a moment to talk about urban planning. It's about four years until the wife and I can leave England. My first choice is Singapore. Hers is probably Dubai. We don't want USA or UK. Here's why.
The above photos are from where we stayed in Singapore. A standard apartment complex, with a pool, roof terrace, and fitness area. Singapore is about twice the size of the Isle of Wight, has around five million people, and is very green despite being densely populated.
The city relies on an excellent public transport system of buses and trains. They are cheap, easy to use, clean, safe, regular, and cover a lot of the island. The metro is one of the best in the world.
It's still possible to drive around. Wide roads, well monitored, good drivers. Car taxes are high, but the most effective way of reducing road users has been excellent public transport and walkable cities. So many Singaporeans are walking distance of their basic needs.
People are able to live healthy, outdoor lifestyles. There are so many walking paths, cycle paths, and parks for residents to enjoy. Jogging and biking are huge. A healthy, happy populace. It's safe to go out at night. Everywhere is well-lit and crime is non-existent.
You've probably noticed that despite being a large city with a lot of people, it's very green. Gardens, parks, shrubbery all contribute to the air being fresh and clean. This, plus the public transport taking cars off the road, also mean that is a very quiet city. No noise.
The diversity of Singapore is a huge strength. Lots of different cultures, religions, ethnicities, all living side by side and getting along fine. They just get on with life and support each other, despite differences.
Shopping malls aren't just places to buy consumer goods. They are community hubs. Think of your local high street in the UK or strip malls in the US. Malls have everything from food, to shops, super markets, dry cleaning, hair dressers, day care, doctors etc.
In Asia, they like to build up. Whereas us in the West build out. And give up way too much space to car parking. America has eight parking spaces for every car. Parking dominates American cities. A Singapore shopping mall takes up less space while offering more services.
In the West, this is kind of the dream home. Multiple bedrooms, lots of space, garage, pool, balcony, deck, barbecue, driveway etc. We want Florida vacation homes. The irony being we want to accommodate better for entertaining guests, while actually spending less time with friends and family.
Our dreams in the west are to own more space and to own more things. I knew plenty of Americans with pools who'd go swimming once or twice a year. They'd have boats they'd pay a fortune to store, and rarely use them. They'd pay millions to live by lakes they'd not use.
I'll refer you back to the first tweet of this thread. This is a standard apartment. A lot of those boxes are ticked, yet you haven't paid a fortune for exclusivity. In one busy week, I used each of these (gym, pool, rooftop) a couple times.
Why work really hard to acquire wealth to pay for home gyms, pools, boats etc. that you'd hardly use? Suppose maybe it's a status thing? We love stuff. We love acquiring things that demonstrate our wealth. Yet the Singaporeans don't appear jealous to not have any of it.
And that's because despite not owning it, they do have access to it. They don't need to pay for extra rooms they're never going to use. If they want to exercise, they join one of the several local gyms within walking distance, or they go for a jog in one of their many local parks.
Americans want to live like the above. Your own house, your own yard. But why? Absolutely nothing you need is within walking distance. You are entirely car dependent. We are the same in much of the UK. True freedom is being able to walk out your front door and go where you like.
These are your typical down town areas in Singapore. Not many American or British places can compare to this scale. Walkable, easily reached from public transport.
The place is so safe and well organised that young kids take themselves, often on the train, to their own schools. American kids are often driven to school until the age they can drive themselves. The education system in Singapore is one of the best in the world.
Homelessness is practically non-existent in Singapore. Most people live in these kind of high-rise residential buildings. Like I said, everything they need is on their door step. And a lot of housing is subsidised. Very few people go without because of government safety nets.
Crime is extremely low. In part due to some of the authoritarian laws, but I would argue mainly because the country has removed the necessity for crime. The vast majority of criminals turned to crime because that was their only option in life.
Singaporeans are happy, healthy, free, well looked after, have many forms of entertainment nearby, well educated, and have a high level of wealth. See how that's removed many of the ingredients that breed crime?
But this isn't just an Asian phenomenon. It's like this in many European cities too. There was no need for a car in Barcelona. Good public transport, well lit open spaces, most of your necessities within walking distance. I want that.
We have it, in places, in UK and USA, but it's not the norm. We still fetishise cars and the rugged individualism of owning your own house. Millennials have been dealt a very different hand, and thus our paths must be different.
Where I was in Missouri wasn't bad. But we'll draw some comparisons. 18 minutes to walk to the gym.
Compare that to where I was in Barcelona. A four minute walk from my gym to the metro station, and I stayed in between them (the middle star). That walk would pass three super markets, and several restaurants and bars.
And this is where I was in Kuwait. Roof terrace, pool on the roof, gym. Parking in front and underneath. Food and shops on the road just outside. Five minute walk from the beach. Ten minute walk from a high street.
When I was first in Missouri, I stayed with host families. Two in the same neighbourhood. These homes were massive, right on the lake. Properties would cost in the high six figures, to the low seven figures. These people would have plenty of spare bedrooms, boats, swimming pools, and even home gyms. Sounds great, right?
It's an hour walk to the nearest supermarket. Even in the suburbs, there are plenty of parts that don't have pavement for walking. Where that Walmart was would be the gym, pharmacy, and lots of other places for your daily or weekly needs. A car becomes a necessity to live.
Have a look at this from the satellite map.
Notice the 200m scale on the bottom right for reference. Can you see how much space is dedicated to parking? And what separates the residential neighbourhood where I was is the Highway 64 meeting the 364. If you wanted to do your shopping at Walmart, then grab a Starbucks or Taco Bell, you have to drive. It's not just the distance, but also how annoying it is to navigate so many roads as a pedestrian. It's car or nothing. These places are not served by buses or trains. Yet so many wealthy people want to live nearby.
Now for the direct Singapore comparison.
That's the short walk from our apartment to the nearest train station. But we could have biked, due to the safety of the roads. We could also walk that route alone at night. We could even have taken the bus. The train station is part of a decent sized shopping mall. Can you even notice it on the map? Yet it offers the same services as everything at the Walmart site in Missouri. Apart from Lowe's. When you live in apartment blocks, there's little need for farm grade agricultural equipment or materials.
And if you're wondering if the Singapore example is biased, because our apartment was relatively near a train station, if we walked fifteen minutes in the exact opposite direction, we'd be at another station on a different line. The entire city is well served by buses and trains. No need for a car.
In conclusion, we should be doing living and planning a lot better in the West. I feel it's done this way on purpose so that we continue to lock ourselves into debt, and continue to pay obscene prices to own and operate cars.
Everything in life is political. There's no use saying "I don't do politics" because even being neutral or abstaining is a political choice. When the shops close is political. How much the public transport is renovated or subsidised is political. Whether bike lanes are built is political. How well lit neighbourhoods are is political. In each democratic country, there are parties trying to pull us one way along the spectrum, and parties trying to pull us the other way along the spectrum. So it's worth paying attention to politics.
I'm going to try to summarise some of the key differences here, because I know I'm often guilty of waffling.
Shopping Mall Lifestyle
Comparing Singapore to Missouri, the many benefits of Singapore's urban planning are clear to see. They build up, rather than out. A series of lifts and escalators make it easy to navigate and access. Many shopping malls in Singapore are part of the MRT (metro) meaning that you can easily grab food, groceries, or hit the gym on your way home from work, without having to go out of your way. Remember that malls aren't just selling consumer goods, but are hubs of the community. It's where you get your hair cut. It's where you see a physio. There are arcades, kids play centres, coffee shops, banking, insurance, gyms etc. Everything is in one convenient location that is easy to reach for all the neighbourhood's residents.
Access to Outdoors
Humans love being outdoors. In the UK and USA, it's highly sought after to have a garden. If we want to be more efficient with our space, not everybody can have a garden. And how often do you use it anyway? For those readers with gardens, how many times in the last week or month have you sat outside to eat, to play, or to just relax? Rooftop terraces and balconies are all the rage in Singapore. As are parks and play areas at the bottom of high rise buildings.
Singapore has lots of parks everywhere. Whether it's a small area outside some big buildings, or a massive nature reserve, Singaporeans are never far from trees and grass. The parks are beautiful, safe, and well kept. Perfect for jogging, picnics, or playing with your kids. You'll regularly see yoga, martial arts, and fitness classes. Green spaces are essential for healthy living, helping citizens with their mind, body, and soul.
Government Support and Welfare
Supposedly there are around one thousand homeless people in Singapore. It's estimated there are around 227,000 homeless people in the UK. Both of these stats are from 2021. The UK population is around 67.2 million, with 5.6 million in Singapore. If you need help with the maths, the UK has 227 times the total amount of homeless that Singapore does, despite the UK having twelve times the population of Singapore. How has this happened?
The Singapore government provides lots of subsidies for residents. This keeps homes affordable. It means that nobody goes without. Similar to the transport, in that it is cheap, easily accessible, and everywhere. Everyone in Singapore has a place to live and a way to get around. That makes you wealthier. Not in money or material possessions, but in freedom. With all the parks, marinas, and waterfronts, there is always a place to enjoy yourself for free. It costs around 50p for one train ride, regardless of where you go. For all you drivers, imagine how much you'd save on petrol and parking if it cost just a quid to get to work.
How many of us have been in situations where it feels like we're going to work to earn money for the petrol we need to go to work?
Consider the impact this has on crime. Crime is bred from a necessity. People are not inherently bad. Crime becomes a last resort for the desperate and the down trodden. People who resort to crime are often in terrible situations, where other options have been exhausted. They're doing it to survive. So what if a government just decided that everyone's survival was taken care of, no matter what? And yes, Singapore has universal healthcare. Living, getting places, staying healthy, three necessities for life, are taken care of. Many view the UK and USA as two of the best countries in the world, but unless you're in London or New York, getting around without a car is very difficult. House prices are rising so much that the age people move out from their parents' homes is rising higher and higher, with more people living with parents than ever before. In the USA, people will not see a doctor for treatment because of how fatally expensive it is. They resort to pills, or simply adapting and learning to live with their ailments. And in the UK, we're heading closer to that direction, rather than away from it.
Public Transport Takes You There
In countries with great metro systems, it takes you exactly where you need to go. The Metro in Doha was clean and organised, but the stations were often a couple blocks away from where you needed to be. There would still be some road crossing with a few minutes of walking, exposed in the hot sun. In Singapore and Barcelona, two of the best metros going, it has the Ronseal effect. It does exactly what it says on the tin. You want to go to this place? Great! You'll be there in fifteen minutes, and when you ascend the escalator, you'll be right inside it!
Smaller Apartments - Less Stuff
My middle class American friends seem to own every kitchen appliance known to man. Any kind of food you want, they have a machine that cooks it or prepares it. The same with tools. The average American dad will act like their hero is Stone Cold Steve Austin, but in reality, it's Hank Hill. They own every tool imaginable. As a man born somewhen between 1981 and 1996, I've grown accustomed to seeing weekly boomer-bait articles, intended to provoke foaming at the mouth, which regularly state how Millennials are ruining this or that industry. One of them was that we are ruining the tool industry, which made several assumptions regarding our genitals, because millennial men own less tools, and can fix less things. The purpose of this rage was to cover up the new enterprises growing in many cities around the world, where men were simply renting tools, rather than buying them. How dare they!
Think about it. How many times in your life have you needed a chainsaw? Disregarding parents who want a chat about playing time in the car park, I can't say I've ever actually needed one. How about a hammer or a screwdriver? How many times per month do you require the use of one of these tools?
In Barcelona and in Singapore, people own less stuff. The apartments are smaller. Therefore, there's less need for fixing. Most accommodation is rented, so if anything breaks, someone is brought in especially to do it. In the densely packed cities, the plumbers, carpenters, electricians etc. are very close by. And they own their own things too!
In England, many of us embark on the weekly shop. It's a pilgrimage to the supermarket where we acquire a week or more's worth of goods and supplies. We spend an hour selecting it, and pack it in the car, drive it home, and then store it in our many cupboards. I continued like this when living in Canada and the USA. The behave in such a manner fitted the structure of society and urban planning. When I lived in other places and was less car dependent, I found it hard to behave like this, and the weekly shop became difficult. I couldn't carry ten bags by myself on foot. I thought these places were stupid and wrong!
Then I slowly began to realise. You simply walk past one of the many supermarkets or corner shops on your way home, pick up a few items, and easily carry them to your apartment. No petrol or parking costs, no time lost for having to drive out of your way. And no evening per week dedicated to the weekly shop. over time, it works out as money back in your pocket.
To further blow your mind, the guy I stayed with in Barcelona, never ate at home. I couldn't believe it. His fridge would be empty for weeks on end. Occasionally an apple or a yoghurt would appear in there. He was often eating out three meals per day. He would walk and take the train to work, meaning no petrol or parking costs, putting money back in his pocket. There would be plenty of options to sit and eat, or takeaway, on his route, so he's not losing time by deviating his route to work. And the food would be relatively cheap too. It's a way of life, rather than an experience, like how we Brits or Americans treat going to a restaurant.
Smaller apartments and less possessions means less cleaning, less maintenance, and more open space. And if you feel claustrophobic, go to your balcony, the rooftop terrace, or the gym or pool downstairs. And if that's not enough, take a short walk to one of the many parks or plazas.
Americans love cars, boats, barbecues, extra bedrooms, rumpus rooms, driveways, decks, back yards etc. Is it a status symbol? Is it part of that rugged individualism that they need to own all their own things? It now appears to me to be completely backwards and counter productive. I'm not saying don't treat yourself or buy cool things. It just seems like the underpinning philosophy of western lifestyle is to accumulate rather than to experience.
Bar and Restaurant Culture
As mentioned above, the people in Singapore or Barcelona would get cheap food on the walk home. Their favourite pastime in Barcelona is simply to hang out with their friends. You know how in the UK we may stay up watching TV until ten, eleven, twelve at night? Imagine if instead of that, you were sat in a bar talking to your friends or family. But not just any bar. It's warm, and you're outdoors under an umbrella. You can see your apartment from your seat. It would take you between 45-90 seconds to get from that seat to your bed. While you're at the bar, relaxing and unwinding with your acquaintances, you're not paying for gas and electric use. You don't need food or drink in your fridge, because you're eating and drinking here at the bar or restaurant across the street from where you live.
International cities have food from all over the world. On our walk from the train to our apartment in Singapore, we'd go past Thai, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, fast food like Burger King or KFC, and there would be places for dessert too. If this is all affordable relative to your wage, the need for keeping stuff at home diminishes.
Americans Love the College Lifestyle
I read an observation on Twitter a while back. It stated that Americans love living the college lifestyle, but then when they are adults, they'll pick a lifestyle that is completely different to what they had in college. Then they'll spend most of their adulthood reminiscing about how great college was. When in reality, they'd actually lived a lifestyle similar to what is experienced in places like Singapore and Barcelona.
"I've never been fitter than since I was at college. I used to walk everywhere!"
"I had so much free time at college, because everything was so close!"
"It was great being in college because al my buddies lived like two minutes away!"
"It was great because I could walk to class and then quickly get to work, and then meet my buddies at the bar after!"
All their entertainment, social, physical, and work/education needs were right there on their doorstep. It's ideal. It helps being young and free from responsibility, of course, but the rest of it shouldn't change as we get older. Many adults complain about not seeing friends or family regularly enough. That's because they're a twenty or thirty minute drive away! It makes me question if we're being tricked. Why is it that the narrative of our suburban lifestyles are constantly pushed? A house in the suburbs with two or three bedrooms, a bunch of kids, a nice car. But why? I've encountered millions of people who are more happy, more healthy, and more free, who haven't gone that route. The nature of our car dependent cities has had many negative effects, with another being pollution and noise. Despite being a massive city of five and a half million, Singapore was very quiet, and seemed to be absent of the kind of traffic jams spotted in London, Los Angeles, or Mexico City.
Wanted Down Under
There's a television show on British TV that shows British families looking at the possibility of moving to Australia. The show is fascinating, with a hint of cruelty thrown in for good measure. The family are given a week in a city of their choosing in Australia, and stay in a house, living as normal. They check out the local landscape, investigate jobs, schools, and talk to other Brits who have moved to the area. After each stage of investigation, members of the family talk about about their current feelings, and whether they are pro move. They then hold up a UK or Australian flag to demonstrate those feelings to the viewers. Like this.
House - Yeah, it's great! For the same kind of money, we can afford a slightly bigger house than back home. But it's also close to the beach. There's plenty of sports clubs nearby too for the kids. And a decent sized garden too.
Job - Turns out my qualifications from home translate well here. Not only that, but the same kind of job would pay me about twenty grand more per year! The working environments I've seen are a little more relaxed too. There's quite a lot of opportunities, as this is a growing city, and they want more people to move here.
School - We just had a look around the local state schools, and wow! The facilities are so much better than where our kids go back home. What's even better is this is a really safe neighbourhood. The kids could bike or walk there no problem.
Lifestyle - We talked to some Brits who moved here five years ago, and they love the place. Said they're never going back. They say we'll never get bored of going to the beach after school or work, and watching the sunset with a cool drink. Not only does it sound really fun around here, but they also told me that it's the kind of neighbourhood you can leave your doors unlocked. The weekly shopping list is a bit higher than back home, but I'd be earning more money, and our standard of living would be higher too, so I guess it works out.
It's at this point each member of the family presents a resounding, enthusiastic YES! regarding moving to Australia. It would seem it's now a foregone conclusion. Educational and inspirational. Who wouldn't want to swap their UK lifestyle for an Australian one?
And then comes the cruelty. The TV producers pull out the ace from up their sleeve. It wouldn't be a TV show worth watching if we didn't see suffering.
To dampen their spirits and sow the seeds of doubt, the producers force the family to sit down and watch video messages from their mediocre friends and family back home.
"Alright Dave! It's Baz! I'd miss you mate. Who would I go to the pub to on Saturdays and neck pints with during Soccer Saturday? Who would take shots with me every time good old Merse gets someone's name wrong?"
"Hi Sharon. It's Michelle. I'm sure you're having a great time in Australia right now. I just wanted to let you know that... *sniff* I promised myself I wouldn't cry... If you went to Australia... I'd have no one to get my nails done with. You go... if it's your dream... but think about me... stuck here alone... *sobs*"
"David, it's Mum. [Dad is looking away from the camera, arms folded in a strop] I love you, son, and want you to know I'd miss you so much. Your father is pretending he's tough, but he told me he doesn't want you to go, because he'd miss going to the races with you, and getting fish and chips on a Tuesday. You have to do what's right for you, Sharon, and the kids. Just think of the people you'll be leaving behind."
"Sharon, it's me, Nikki. Your niece and nephew are already in bits thinking about not being able to see their Auntie Sharon on a Monday after school. I know you're thinking of your family, but we're your family too!"
When the videos stop, the dad is often pictured with his head in his hands, in a mild state of shock, like he's just reversed over his own dog in the driveway. He sees his Australia dream slipping away. The mum will be outside having a flap, tears and snot pouring out her her orifices. She's in panic mode, after seeing the extent of the hole the move will leave in their nearest and dearest back home in the UK. She now views their potential move for a better life as a selfish and destructive decision.
I jest and exaggerate slightly for comedic effect, however the point remains true. Of course there are barriers to moving abroad, but your loved ones missing you shouldn't be one. The mindset of many of the friends and family displayed on Wanted Down Under are quite selfish. Perhaps the producers have encouraged them to speak about how much they'd miss them for dramatic effect and to create the kind of tension viewers like to see. Maybe I'm just being sour because there were never any montages from my friends and family. They wanted me to leave!
As displayed in the show, it can be more expensive in Australia, but that is offset against higher wage and higher standard of living. It seems to be to be a fair trade. I read an article that stated living in Singapore was like being at a Center Parcs, being on a constant vacation, rather than living there. What it meant was that the government is more like a private business, and the residents are like customers. Is that a trade-off you'd be happy with? The Middle East may be the best example of this. Depending upon which country you're working in, you may lose certain rights or privileges afforded to you in the West, but you'll make more money, and have a higher standard of living.
What's right for you?
There's the old cliché about how Germans don't do charity, they pay taxes. Belgians are happy to pay higher taxes because they see the worth in their public services and utilities. Would you be happy paying higher taxes if it meant better schools, hospitals, and transport? Would you swap your house with a garden if you gained a balcony with a city view, a pool, a rooftop terrace, and a fitness suite? Would you give up your car for excellent public transport? You could save a lot on cost, still get everywhere you want to go very quickly, but the last train is at half eleven.
Coaching abroad has given myself and so many other coaches a plethora of interesting life experiences. My advice to you is travel as much as you can while you're able to. Learn about the world. Put yourself in different situations, with not all of them being comfortable. Talk to as many people as you can who have been there and done it. Source a wide range of opinions. Perform a cost benefit analysis. Learn, discover, reflect.
I have a far better idea of what I want now. I can justify why I want what I want. And I can plan a way on how to get it. I hope these ramblings have been somewhat useful for you.