The D&O Diary is on assignment in Asia this week, with the first stop in Singapore. I was very happy to be in Singapore this past week and not just because the Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) Regional Professional Liability Symposium I attended there was so very successful, as described below. I was glad to find myself in Singapore because, after my first visit to Singapore two years ago, I wanted a do-over. A bout of tendinitis in my knee during my prior visit had prevented me from really exploring the city. I was able to take much greater advantage this time around. As I discovered on this visit, Singapore is a very walkable city and tremendously rewarding to explore.
The prosperous city-state of Singapore is located about 60 miles north of the equator, with a warm, humid climate, and this time of year, frequent rain showers. The country is about the size of three District of Columbias and with a population of about 5.3 million (roughly the same as Colorado). The downtown business district is full of sleek steel and glass office towers, but the rest of the city has a leafy, upscale suburban feel. Singapore is a regional entrepôt and a something of a cross-roads, with a diverse population to match. Although I did meet several Singapore natives, so many others I met had come to Singapore from elsewhere.
The view across Marina Bay from the central business district where I stayed is dominated by the Marina Bay Sands Casino, which sort of looks like an enormous skateboard resting atop three giant clothes pins. Behind the casino, away from the central city, is a huge green space in the Marina City Park called the Gardens by the Bay, which is built on reclaimed land and former parking lots. The Gardens are dominated by groves of enormous steel and concrete tree sculptures covered with vines and flowers, called “Supertrees.”
The Singapore River flows into Marina Bay. In the past, the river was a gritty channel for industry and commerce, but following a massive reclamation project in the 70s and 80s, the river is now flanked with pleasant walkways. Just upstream from the mouth of the river on the southern shore is Boat Quay (pictured left), which has an incredible diversity of ethic restaurants, as well as pubs and bars, all built in preserved shop houses. A little further upstream on the opposite bank is Clarke Quay, another nightlife district lodged in restored warehouses re-built through a separate reclamation project that was only completed in the early 90s. On a warm evening (and I don’t think there is any other kind of evening in Singapore), Clarke Quay is hopping. However, anyone attempting a pub crawl there had better bring lots of cash. A pint of beer will set you back 17 Singapore Dollars (about $13.50).
Just a few block south of the river is Singapore’s Chinatown, which is a densely populated area full of shops selling an astonishing variety of trinkets, cloth and garments, herbal medicines and ointments, spices and herbs, as well as books, shoes, paintings, picture frames and much else besides. There are also many tailor shops, each with a talkative proprietor out front trying to lure passersby into their shops. For some reason, the various tailors seemed to assume I was British; they addressed me as a “fine looking chap” whose life would be immeasurably improved with the benefit of a hand sewn shirt or a bespoke suit.
The pedestrianized streets are also lined with restaurants. I visited Chinatown at lunch time and I actually was kind of hungry, but just the same I didn’t have the courage to attempt the more authentic looking eateries, which had the look of places where you would have to wonder what you were actually eating. I settled for a tofu stir fried at a more modern establishment on the main road.
Along the main road adjacent to Chinatown is Sri Mariamann Temple, a colorful Hindu temple with a history dating back to the early nineteenth century. I arrived while a devotional service was underway. A drummer and another musician playing a long woodwind instrument played fast-paced rhythmic music while another attendant rang a bell. In the front of the hall, others lit incense and chanted. I stood in the back of the hall, along with other tourists and passersby who looked on with expressions of curiosity mingled with confusion. I stayed for a while as it was cool inside the temple and sheltered from the hot sun.
One evening while I was my dinner plans changed unexpectedly, and I found myself with a little bit of unscheduled time, so I went out to Holland Village, a quiet neighborhood of restaurants and bars about a 15 minute cab ride from my hotel. I was there relatively early in the evening, so the bars were just starting to fill. Sitting at a sidewalk café and watching the crowd stroll by, it was very easy to forget that this place was located deep in Southeast Asia. It had more of a feel of an American college town during summer break.
While I was visiting Singapore, I had a chance to meet with many industry friends who are now based in Singapore. These friends come from very different backgrounds — one is Chinese who studied law in the U.S., another is a former Lloyd’s broker who came out from London for a career redirection, while another is a U.S. lawyer who came out because his wife had an interesting career opportunity in the city. However, they were all in agreement that Singapore is a remarkably pleasant place to live and work. The city’s compact size makes life manageable and comfortable. They all find the eternal summer of the equatorial climate agreeable. They all mentioned how much they appreciated living in a clean, orderly safe place. They also all mentioned the interesting opportunities they all had to be able to do business in interesting places; not just Malaysia, Indonesia and India, but places like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
I have to say that on a warm evening as I sat at the sidewalk café in Holland Village drinking a locally brewed Tiger Beer while darkness gathered, I could certainly see the appeal of living in a place like Singapore, which has all the comforts of a Western city but the diversity and exotic cultural richness of an Asian city. I have heard it said that Singapore is Asia for beginners; there may be some truth to that. All I know is that for the second visit to Singapore in a row, I found myself regretting that I had not brought one or more of my kids with me to see what’s going on there. It is a place where things are happening, in a way that things are not happening in many other places.
The PLUS event, which was held on Thursday at the Singapore Cricket Club (pictured left), was a great success. The local event committee, chaired by my good friend Aruno Rajaratnam, did an excellent job planning and organizing the event. The overflow crowd of more than 100 industry professionals who attended the event was very convivial and it was a tremendous treat to me to find out that so many of them read The D&O Diary. The great success of an event like this one will help ensure that there will be many future events in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, and that PLUS will continue to expand its international footprint. I know that for myself, I feel tremendously enriched by meeting so many industry colleagues and making so many new friends. I was also honored to be a part of this very successful event.
Here is a picture of me with the local Singapore committee. From left to right: Kevin Leung of Swiss Re; Bill Wharton of Catlin; Arati Varma of Chubb; me; Aruno Rajaratnam of Ince & Co.; Ronak Shak of JLT Asia; and David Ackerman of AAI Consulting.
One of the highlights of the evening for me took place when Ernest Heng, a financial lines underwriter with AIG, came up and introduced himself.. Ernest had brought his D&O Diary mug to the event, and so he was able to take a mug shot that featured both the mug and The D&O Diary guy (that, I learned, is how I am known there.) We also got another great picture with the mug and a number of younger brokers and underwriters from Singapore.
Loyal reader Jenny Wilhelm of Chubb (now of Singapore, previously fron Australia) wanted to take this picture with me, to send back to her former colleagues in Australia.
More pictures of Singapore:
Boat Quay on Friday Evening
Fort Canning Park