The HSR spin-off

By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

A piece of business news caught my attention several days ago: Air France is to launch direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Paris.

I do not have any immediate plans of flying to Paris, but will make a trip to London a few months down the road.

What interested me was that the report said London-bound passengers could choose to stop over in the French capital, indulging in shopping spree at the fabulous Galeries Lafayette, or savouring a cup of latte at an alfresco café along Champs Élysées.

And on your way back, the report said, you could stop in Amsterdam, trying the local cheeses and sightseeing before heading home.

Wait a minute. After alighting at the Paris airport, would it be easy to travel overland to London or Amsterdam?

A painful experience many years ago keeps coming back to me. I once met a massive traffic jam aboard a bus from London to Amsterdam, spending a night on the bus and missing my flight.

But things are no longer the same today.

The Eurostar has physically linked the British Isles with continental Europe, making a leisurely café stop in Paris a mere two hours from London. On the way back, whiz your way to Amsterdam via Brussels as legendary cheeses and tulips beckon.

During the years when the Channel Tunnel was non-existent, sipping a cup of café au lait or tasting the cheeses across the English Channel could entail a hard day's travel.

What I'm trying to say is that the high-speed rail link has brought the UK and continental Europe much closer together.

Talking about the EU, the single currency and political union would immediately spring to mind, but in the absence of high-speed rail link, travelling from country to country could still be a mounting task.

Now back to the proposed KL-Singapore high-speed rail link. I believe the project will not only effectively shorten the physical distance between the two cities, but also close up the economic gap as well as cultural and psychological distances between our two countries.

It doesn't matter whether you like Singapore or not, but we cannot overrule the fact that it is by far the most progressive city-state and economic powerhouse in this region.

If Kuala Lumpur were to be compared alongside Shenzhen in southern China, then Singapore is the equivalent of Hong Kong in the equation.

Shenzhen was not as thriving back in those years, its policies rigidly conservative and its thinking uncosmopolitan.

When the Chinese opened up the border, what made its way into Shenzhen was not merely capital and technology, but also a dramatic shift in people's thinking.

The highly cosmopolitan spirit of Hong Kong, along with the values of free market and rule of law, have seeped into Shenzhen and onward to the whole of China following the accelerated human movements between the two sides of the divide.

While Kuala Lumpur today is way more sophisticated than Shenzhen back in early 1980s, that does not mean we do not require additional capital, human resources or technology input.

In addition, we are in urgent need to boost our meritocracy spirit and develop a more transparent and accountable governance as well as competitive edge, a domain Singapore definitely excels.

The high-speed rail link not only brings on massive human movements, but also instills changes in people's mindset and government policies.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of the high-speed train.