Cultural Arbitrage and Bobblehead dolls – The Singapore Advantage

JoelEast vs West, Social MediaLeave a Comment


I have often spoken of Singapore as being in the confluence of cultures.

We are possibly the single most bilingual nation in the world, we are also bi-cultural. Being a mere 3 generations out of China or India, we are still very much in touch with our cultural roots. We are raised in an MTV MickeyDs g generation but are  still in touch with our roots , traditions and the behavioral nuances of our culture.

Looking towards China, it is common knowledge that there has been unprecedented economic growth in China. So much so that most of the Fortune 500 companies have moved into China  to tap on the large market as well as to take advantage of the manufacturing industry.  The first wave of MNCs have already gone in, now we are seeing more and more SMEs looking to get a piece of the China pie.

Unlike MNCs, these SMEs are generally not equipped to build the infrastructure from scratch and wait out the 12-24 month incubation period before knowing whether the investment pays off. They need to plan the investments and hit the ground running.

This is where Singaporeans fit in. In these scenarios, Singaporeans are natural force multipliers. Straddling the cultures, a Singaporean can understand the capatalist western mindset while still paying homage to the 关系 based culture of China.

I used to run an online shop bringing in goods from some US suppliers and reselling in Singapore, it was doing very well. In one of my conversations with my supplier, he mentioned that baseball season was coming up and he wanted to manufacture bobble head dolls. He had already gotten a few quotes from a ‘contact’ in China. I asked him to let me take a look.

–       I went direct to the manufacturer and dropped him an email in english.

–       He replied and I immediately called him and started speaking to him in English and , then switched to mandarin

–       I bargained for awhile and we agreed on a price which he then quoted me.  This price was  immediately 10% lower than the price my American contact had.

–       I pulled the ‘老外的价钱’  and played the ‘同乡’ card and the price  came down 2% more.

–       After some communication, I decided to fly down to meet him and have a few drinks with the supplier, the final price was 18% lower than the original price.

–       The final price  we agreed upon was 18% lower than the original quotation to my American  supplier.

–       In the end, I took 5%  and the American was very happy to save 13 % on the cost of his bobble head dolls.

I call this cultural arbitrage because the only reason why the deal went through is because of the cultural currency  one possess being Singaporean and being able to operate with different languages in different cultures.

As Singaporeans, these opportunities  will only grow. We live in exciting times .


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JoelCultural Arbitrage and Bobblehead dolls – The Singapore Advantage