The absence of any form of technology and communication always puts me in a contemplative mood, and on a recent flight out of Manila I began thinking about what I'd witnessed rolling down the expressway en route to the airport.
Peering out of a grimy window from the back seat of a taxi earlier that day, I found myself staring into the guts of endless rows of vacant apartments. These desolate, often incomplete shells have for the most part, I suspect, been snapped up by Manila's legions of property-happy overseas foreign workers who want to own a small patch in their own country, to which they can return after grafting hard in some foreign land.
Small, cheap, indistinctive and often themed-usually with an out-of-place mock Greek statue, or water feature-these kennel-sized condominiums continue to mount by the day, inhabiting post-economic crisis Asia. In so many cases, these towering prized possessions of the region's rising middle class rarely welcome rays of sunlight and are often far away from parks, playgrounds, or even pure and simple space. Sure there might be a retail mall or condotel within the complex, but where will the children play?
Be it Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam, these stark cold statures are reminiscent of those instantly antiquated Soviet attempts at epic design. Don't try to find a pulse, as their hearts are a s cold as the en casing concrete.
I was in fact reading the other day about the struggle many eastern European countries are having with the dilemma of what to do with these concrete behemoths. We need the anti-hero Howard Roark from Ayn Rand's tome The Fountainhead to deal with these non-functioning disasters.
My quandary, however, is not with cheap real estate or even small, minimalistic condominiums, which in many cases work. I have lived in Hong Kong in days past and indeed luxuriated in 400 square metres, which cost me half my salary. So yes, I get the size issue. But what's concerning is that these are not places in which people live, but pure and simple speculation at its most abject.
Doomed from the off, I shudder to imagine whether anyone will ever even occupy many of these empty spaces. If they are vacant now when times are good, what happens when hard times emerge?
The fact that there is an oversupply, a lack of renters and also that these developments are often constructed on cheaper land, so the location has no lasting appeal, does not bode well for the flocks of out-of-town investors.