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The Ghost in the Machine

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Property Report SEA. Posted: 1st Sep 2012

The markets are becoming about as unpredictable as destiny itself and even the people you thought were in control are less than sure what the future holds.

Religious zealots are often quick to point out that God works in mysterious ways. For my own often shallow self, women and Asia's developing countries usually fall into this ethereal category.

Divine intervention typically seems to be the Kool-Aid crew's simplified notion of bench warming. Sitting in a doctor's waiting room, waiting for what could be a fatal prognosis is no way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Digging deep to get to life's great truths looks to be a remnant of a bygone era. Maugham's tortured soul in The Razor's Edge. Perhaps Kesey had it right with the Magic Bus. Of course, hallucinogenics are making a comeback with a certain crowd (I can almost see the nervous twitch of my suffering editor at yet another drug reference in what is purportedly a property piece).

Sadly for him, our trip into the world of the bizarre and the arcane is set to take a nose dive. Living in the Land of Smiles, as I have over the past decade, and in Southeast Asia for some 28 years, has provided a certain level of insight that has broken out of the dark prison cell of the standard glossy guidebook prose.

My business life lately has taught me that the pathway to true cultural understanding, spiritual bliss and higher learning is completely and absolutely a dead end. In fact it's a back ally complete with a sleeping drunk in a dumpster, with only shards of occasional light giving way to the soft white underbelly of despair. Sure, you may find this horrific, but truthfully it's oddly comforting erasing that large question mark which has been all consuming for longer than I can remember.

Thailand's current state of political and economic play has been on a bender for something like 5 years now. Talk about an epic night out. Here in Phuket the regular appearance of property land scandals, stalled infrastructure improvement and amped up business incentives come and go like Bigfoot.

Instead, we remain content to crack open a warm oversized bottle of Beer Singh, and pass the bottle to our friend from the dumpster who has gained consciousness for the moment. Misery loves company.

What's disturbing is talking to Thai politicians, business leaders or those in the know. For a long time I've always thought a small circle of those insiders had some insight into what would happen next. An Asian styled manifest destiny? I've always loved the movie The Great Escape, those guys had a plan.

Ultimately the realisation has hit home that all of us seem to be stuck in the same crowded lifeboat. At times those I've looked up to, have even turned to me, in a strangely broken light and asked what do I think will happen? As I look around Asia's other developing economic storylines - Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and others, a strange pattern has evolved.

A shift to democracy, away from strongmen frontrunners means parental controls have been removed from the X Box, which has created a vacuum of people on the same page. Things are fluid, and while a strange belief in Confucianism simply has most of us living in the present, and realising things could go either way, this is not comforting, but the reality is as dear as a policemen's flashlight down the alley.

My best advice for the moment is throw away those business plans, buckle up for a monsoon of uncertainty and just try to make it to Wednesday.

Why Wednesday you may ask? That's because it's tomorrow and 24 hours is all the planning I can cope with for the moment.

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C9 Hotelworks Founder and Managing Director Bill Barnett is a noted columnist, author and leading authority on travel trend, hotels and property.

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