Tomorrow Matters: January 2021

Happy New Year! We hope all our readers had a pleasant holiday season.
The end of 2020 again showed the importance of initiatives like Tomorrow Matters. While global eyeballs were focused on the United States' post-election transition, the UK's struggle with the new COVID-19 strain and the final agreement of Brexit, important things were happening on the ground throughout Asia. From critical regional elections in Indonesia to the launch of massive vaccine production in India, major trends for 2021 will be sparked by developments in East, Southeast and South Asia.
There were also cultural achievements, such as Malaysian squash player Nicol David's nomination for the World Games' Greatest Athlete of All Time list. She is the only Asian (let alone the only Malaysian) included on the list, and has spent an unprecedented nine years as the world's best player of her sport.
In this first edition of Tomorrow Matters for 2021, we cover internet culture in Japan, bonds built by popular culture between India and Pakistan, and the prospects for vertical farming in Singapore. We also examine an underappreciated (and too easily dismissed) COVID-19 success in Southeast Asia, and revisit the feelings around an important anniversary: Bangladesh's War of Independence.
We hope you encourage your friends, contacts and networks to join Tomorrow Matters, and help us achieve our mission to highlight and promote local voices throughout Asia.


The Poikatsu Culture

Despite being the birthplace of numerous technologies useful to digital payments like the QR code, Japan still stubbornly adheres to using cash. Around 80% of the country prefers using cash over debit cards and payment apps for small purchases. A highly-developed banking system means a dense network of ATMs, compared to less developed countries in Southeast Asia where poor access to banks have encouraged people to turn to mobile payments.
Kantaro Komiya and Andrew Deck explore the sudden rise of the poikatsu, or "point activities", subculture. As digital payment companies introduce generous reward programmes to encourage consumer adoption, influencers on social media have started to share their experiences in order to change consumer behaviour. Poikatsu is an example of Japan's internet and digital culture which only sometimes breaks out into global conversations.


An Underappreciated COVID-19 Success

Much of the media attention around COVID-19 successes have focused on places like Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, and others: either relatively wealthy and developed economies or (in the case of China) countries with a large number of resources.
But there is a whole array of smaller and poorer countries that have also controlled the pandemic, putting wealthier and more advanced countries to shame. Randy Mulyanto explores one Southeast Asian example: Timor-Leste, the region’s newest and poorest country. Quick action and close cooperation with international institutions have led to Timor-Leste having the second-smallest outbreak in the region.
This piece is a reminder that wealth and resources are useless without governments willing to put in the work to protect and support their populations. Poor countries should not be dismissed as backward when it comes to public policy.


Deep Cultural Connections

Most discussions of India and Pakistan focus on the conflict and animosity between their two national governments. However, this animosity is balanced by deep historical and cultural connections that survive today.
Sushil Aaron reviews “The Other Side of the Divide” by Sameer Arshad Khatlani, who takes a rare trip through Pakistan and investigates the intertwined history, culture and influence of the two countries. One example: the mutual love and appreciation for each other’s popular culture, such as Bollywood in India and Coke Studio music in Pakistan.
Aaron, in his review, notes that “The book is a reminder that the nation is both fluid and restrictive as a concept – in that individuals can adapt to living under its rubric regardless of their ethnic or religious composition but that it is not expansive enough to transcend the other attachments produced by history.”


An Important Anniversary

December 16th marked the 49th anniversary of Bangladesh’s War of Independence, which gave birth to the country of Bangladesh. The country has pursued a path of sustainable development that has put it on a path to overtake India in terms of GDP per capita in the next few years.
As part of the anniversary, Syed Badrul Ahsan revisits the events of 1971 and his feelings at the time. He calls himself “a teenager with dreams of the rainbow future of my liberated country,” and notes that “in my 60s, those dreams are as alive, as vibrant, as coruscating as they were when liberty shone bright across the villages and towns of this beautiful land.”


The Rise of Vertical Farming

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained global logistics, with many countries experiencing shortages of essential products as supply chains were disrupted by closed factories and travel restrictions. There is now increased interest in local production of essential products, in order to build a stockpile that can be relied upon when global networks fail.
Surekha A. Yadav explores the prospects for local food production in Singapore, especially the idea of "vertical farming", which is increasingly in vogue among those thinking about the cities of future. Vertical farming could be a viable option for Singapore, which hopes to have 30% of its food produced locally yet only has 400 acres of farmland in the country. Yet Yadav also explores some of the less talked-about consequences of vertical farming, such as the potential shift of farming to large corporations (and not necessarily agricultural corporations) away from small and medium-scale producers. The article notes: "If giant corporations set up automated vertical farms, how will this create employment for us?"
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