New journal article: Property tourism

This arrived in the post today: a special issue on Trans-Asian Human Mobilities and Encounters for the Asian Review, a journal published by the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University. My article “Property Tourism and the Facilitation of Investment-Migration Mobility in Asia” is part of this special issue.

Now, a bit of background on how my article ended up in this special issue.

Some time in 2016, I came across a call for papers for a conference on Trans-Asian Human Mobilities and Encounters: Exchange, Commodification and Sustainability organised by Monash Asia Institute and Chulalongkorn University. The conference seemed like a perfect platform for me to work through some things I have been thinking about. I have been doing research on transnational and cross-border investments into residential real estate in Singapore-Iskandar Malaysia and Brunei-Miri. One of the findings that intrigued me was the innovative ways agents and brokers used to market residential real estate properties as investments to overseas buyers. This interest is also informed by my work on intermediaries of the super-rich.

While the conference might not have seemed to be exactly in my area of migration studies – it was, after all, focused on tourism – I ended up learning a lot from my fellow presenters. I heard about new strands of elderly and retirement migration, medical and health tourism, volunteer tourism, “migrant tourists”, how “tourists” are being othered, and issues arising from student mobilities and the globalisation of higher education.

On hindsight, the conference’s focus on tourism had been instrumental in helping me conceptualise the idea of “property tourism”, which I describe as “exploratory trips combining tourist activities and property acquisition focused activities” (p.35) in the published article. These trips and property tours are “utilised as a kind of subtle marketing strategy to educate, inform, cajole, influence and, ultimately, convince potential clients to commit to a purchase” (p.35).

More importantly, as I argue in the article, we need to look beyond “the empowering possibilities of increased transnational mobility for some” segments of the society that has been enabled by agents, brokers, and intermediaries (p.41). An equal focus, I think, should given to how existing inequalities are entrenched and exacerbated by these agents, brokers, and intermediaries and their work.

You can read the full article here.

A final note on my considerations in deciding to be part of this special issue.

As academics, we have been socialised into automatically going for “good” and “recognised” publication outlets (usually Scopus-indexed or ranked). However, this perpetuates the unevenness and Eurocentric-ness of the academic publication landscape. Choosing to publish with the Asian Review is my own way of supporting and contributing to journals from the Southeast Asian region. You may call this naivety or idealism. But I believe that every choice makes a difference.


Reflections: Things I learnt in 2017

2017 has been a year of major ups and downs. But I suppose this is inevitable – as human beings and mere mortals embedded in a broader society, we have no absolute control of life.

These are some things I’ve learnt:

  • You win some, you lose some. Everything will balance out.
  • Be grateful for all that you have. Things can change at any moment.
  • Focus on the present. The past cannot be undone; the future is yet unknown.
  • Do not compare. Each person has his or her own path and journey.
  • Do not follow blindly. Chart your own path. It will work out.
  • When it feels like it’s the end of the world, step back and pause for a moment. Things may not be as they seem.
  • Don’t hold onto stuff too strongly. Embrace impermanence because everything is in constant flow and motion.
  • Be agile and adaptable.
  • In times of confusion, always go back to the fundamentals.
  • What works for others may not work for you.
  • Forgive and forget.
  • Find the rhythm that works for you. Listen to your body and your inner voice.
  • Always look beyond yourself. Take the long perspective. It’s not (always) about you.

Journal article accepted: Intermediaries of the super-rich

I am very pleased to share that a journal article Bart Wissink and I worked on (and waited patiently) for the past 1.5 years has been accepted for publication. The article will be part of a special issue on ‘New Directions in Exploring the Migration Industries’ for the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

In this article, we bring two bodies of work together: (1) the literature on the super-rich; and (2) the literature on the migration industries (or the migration infrastructures). The empirical material draws from our research conducted in Hong Kong in 2014-2015.

While we wait for the article to be published (estimated end April 2017), here’s an early preview of it.

Enabling, Structuring and Creating Elite Transnational Lifestyles: Intermediaries of the Super-Rich and the Elite Mobilities Industry

Sin Yee Koh & Bart Wissink

This article considers how the migration industries lens can be usefully employed in understanding how professional intermediaries enable, structure and create transnational migration lifestyles of the super-rich. In particular, we examine how intermediaries and their services (1) enable the continued sustenance of transnational migration lifestyles for this group of elites; and (2) structure and create elite transnational lifestyles. This article primarily draws on interviews with professional intermediaries who service the super-rich, and content analysis of their websites and brochures. Inspired by insights from the new mobilities paradigm (and in particular the politics of mobility), we argue for an expanded conceptualisation of the migration industries beyond the literature’s current focus on labour recruitment and migration management. Specifically, we suggest thinking of the migration industries as a collection of actors and services that enable, structure and create different types of ‘migrants’, their spaces and their highly uneven transnational mobilities – including that of the super-rich and their elite transnational lifestyles. We conclude with suggestions for a research agenda that may help to better understand the role of intermediaries in the creation of differentiated mobilities.

Keywords: elite transnational lifestyles; intermediaries; migration industries; mobile elites; mobilities industries; super-rich

You can read the pre-proof version of the article on my or ResearchGate pages. Once published, the article will be available here.

Check out the complete list of my publications here.

What I learnt from writing my first academic monograph

After many months and multiple rounds of re-thinking and re-writing, my first book is out. It feels scary – not knowing how it will be received; not knowing if it is good enough.

Here are some of the things I learnt during this book project.

  • It will take much longer than you think it would.
  • At some point, you have to switch your perspective from ‘writing what (or all that) you know’, to ‘writing for the reader so he/she understands your point’.
  • It will always be better; but at some point you need to let it go.
  • Less is more; depth rather than breadth.
  • Be yourself. Own it. Develop your authentic voice.
  • Believe in your original idea – it is instinctively right, and it will carry you through from start to end.
  • It will evolve; you will evolve.
  • It only reflects what you understand about human life and the world at a certain point in time. See above.
  • You will be a better writer after this.
  • Enjoy the journey.
  • Write it to share; write it to start conversations.
  • Make space for the practice of writing-thinking-editing. Sometimes the moment comes, sometimes it doesn’t. But work consistently at it and you will capture the moments when they come unannounced.
  • Talk it through, read it aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t read right.
  • It’s only the first. There will be more. It will be better.

CFP RC43: Foreign Real Estate Investments: Agents, Networks and Strategies

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 30 Mar 2017 (updated conference details here)

Foreign Real Estate Investments: Agents, Networks and Strategies

‘Unreal Estate? Rethinking Housing, Class and Identity’, ISA – RC43 Housing and the Built Environment Conference, 18-21 June 2017, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Organiser: Sin Yee Koh, Universiti Brunei Darussalam

Discussant: Dallas Rogers, University of Sydney

The phenomenon of real estate investments by foreign investor-buyers in major global cities has been well reported in the mainstream mass media. In London, there is increasing academic and policy attention on the impacts of absentee super-rich and middle-class foreign real estate investments on housing inequality and urban social life (Atkinson, 2016). In New York, luxury real estate developments have been linked to illicit foreign capital flows and housing affordability concerns (Madden and Marcuse, 2016). In Sydney, the influx of Mainland Chinese real estate investor-migrants, especially from China, has sparked parochial, perhaps even racist, protests and contestations (Rogers, 2016a), a reminder of similar discussions in Vancouver two decades earlier (Ley, 2017).

Recent scholarship has critically reflected on the new manifestations of foreign real estate investment. Empirically, the key global cities of the world continue to attract the attention of global real estate scholars (Atkinson, 2016; Ley, 2017). However, an emerging group of scholars is looking far beyond the cities of London, New York and Vancouver to consider so-called second- and third-tier global cities. Others have turned their attention to the problematic East/West divide to critically reflect on inter-Asia foreign real estate practices (Kan, 2017; Kim, 2017; Pow, 2017). Meanwhile, global real estate scholarship has entered an exciting phase of conceptual cross-pollination. Conceptual developments are emerging across: digital global real estate (Rogers, 2016b); the geopolitics of global real estate (Büdenbender & Golubchikov, 2017); the new middle-class and super-rich (Koh et al., 2016); the financialisation of housing (Fields, 2015); the brokerage of familial, migratory, and education considerations (Robertson and Rogers, in press); affect and belonging (Atkinson, 2016); assemblage theories (Büdenbender & Golubchikov, 2017; Rogers, 2016a); historical injustice and colonialism (Madden & Marcuse, 2016; Rogers, 2016a);  and youth and gender considerations (Knowles, 2016).

Within this context, investor-buyers are increasingly positioned by local media in the key investment cities as the new architects of housing discrimination.  Local discontent is often structured around housing, class, cultural and identity concerns. Indeed, the tendency has been to blame foreign real estate investor-buyers, be they super-rich or middle-class, and this diverts attention away from the more pressing task of engaging with broader cultural, historical, structural and other forms of socio-economic critique (Forrest et al., 2017; Koh et al., 2016). What are the structural capitalist forces that are central to contemporary urban political economies and thereby facilitate the flow of foreign capital? Who are the agents and intermediaries, and are they as equally complicit in any negative social consequences of global real estate? What are the networks and strategies that make up the complex foreign real estate assemblages?

This panel will address these questions by examining the agents, networks and strategies that constitute the global and local landscapes of foreign real estate investments around the world. The panel will consist of a suite of papers examining themes such as but not limited to:

  • Discourses: Racism, inter-cultural relations, neoliberalism
  • Policies: Housing, foreign investments, immigration
  • Agents: State and non-state institutions, intermediaries, mass media
  • Networks: Investment associations, social media groups
  • Strategies: Knowledge production and dissemination, investment product and tools
  • Consequences: Temporal and spatial inequalities, access to housing
  • Alternatives: Contestations, injustices, social movements

If you are interested in presenting in this panel, please send the following to by 30 Mar 2017.

  • Title of paper
  • Paper abstract (up to 300 words)
  • Your full name, email address, title/position, and institutional affiliation


  • Atkinson R. (2016) Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London. Environment and Planning A 48: 1302-1317.
  • Büdenbender M & Golubchikov O. (2017) The geopolitics of real estate: assembling soft power via property markets. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 75-96.
  • Fields D. (2015) Contesting the financialisation of urban space: Community orgainsations and the struggle to preserve affordable rental housing in New York City. Journal of Urban Affairs 37: 144-165.
  • Forrest R, Koh SY & Wissink B. (2017) Hyper-Divided Cities and the ‘Immoral’ Super-Rich – Five Parting Questions. In Forrest R, Koh SY & Wissink B (eds) Cities and the Super-Rich: Real Estate, Elite Practices, and Urban Political Economics (pp. 273–287). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kan K. (2017) The shifting (geo)politics of foreign real estate investment in China: A study of Hong Kong FDI. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 35-55.
  • Kim HM. (2017) Ethnic connections, foreign housing investment and locality: a case study of Seoul. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 120-144.
  • Knowles C. (2016) Young Chinese Migrants in London. Available at:
  • Koh SY, Wissink B and Forrest R. (2016) Reconsidering the Super-Rich: Variations, Structural Conditions and Urban Consequences. In: Hay I and Beaverstock J (eds) Handbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich. Cheltenham; Northampton: Edward Elgar, 18-40.
  • Ley D. (2017) Global China and the making of Vancouver’s residential property market. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 15-34.
  • Madden D and Marcuse P. (2016) In Defense of Housing, New York: Verso.
  • Pow CP (2017) Courting the ‘rich and restless’: globalisation of real estate and the new spatial fixities of the super-rich in Singapore. International Journal of Housing Policy, 17(1), 56-74.
  • Robertson S and Rogers D. (in press) Education, Real Estate, Immigration: Brokerage Assemblages and Asian Mobilities. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
  • Rogers D. (2016a) The geopolitics of real estate: Reconfiguring property, capital and rights, London: Rowman & Littlefield International.
  • Rogers D. (2016b) Uploading real estate: Home as a digital, global commodity. In: Cook N, Davison A & Crabtree L (eds) Housing and Home Unbound: Intersections in Economics, Environment and Politics in Australia (pp. 23-38). London: Routledge.

Seeking Interview Participants: Past & Present Expatriates in Brunei

Principal Investigator: Dr. Koh Sin Yee, Assistant Professor (Geography), Institute of Asian Studies (IAS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD)

This academic research investigates the relocation motivations, experiences, and future plans of past and present expatriates in Brunei (i.e. foreigners who are employed and/or residing in Brunei). The research procedures have been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee. This project does not receive any funding from any institution or organisation.

I am currently seeking interview respondents for this project.

Am I eligible to participate?

I am looking for participants who fit EITHER of the following descriptions:

  1. Expatriate/foreigner (including accompanying spouse/partner) who is currently employed and/or residing in Brunei; OR
  2. Expatriate/foreigner (including accompanying spouse/partner) who has relocated from Brunei after a period of working and/or living in Brunei

What does participation entail?

The interview will take about 30-40 minutes, and can be conducted in person (preferred), over Skype, or via email. The date, time, and venue can be arranged to suit your availability and convenience. The interview can be conducted in English and Mandarin.

The interview will focus on the following:

  1. Reasons for relocating to/from Brunei
  2. Relocation experiences
  3. Work and family life in Brunei
  4. Future relocation plans, if any

How will the data be used?

All data collected for the project will be used for the purpose of academic research only. Responses will be kept strictly confidential and anonymous. The data will be represented in a way so that no individual can be identified. The research findings may be published in academic journal articles, books and book chapters, working papers, reports, and/or blogs.

Sounds great. I am interested!

Please email me at to arrange for an interview, or if you have any questions.

You can also fill up this contact form.

I can’t participate. How can I help?

Please forward this invitation to other past and present expatriates in Brunei.

Urban Vignettes: Launch of new season

Urban Vignettes is a collaborative visual-based blog capturing the different ways people experience, negotiate and engage with city life as the world undergoes the largest wave of urban growth in history.

We have just launched our new season, “Urban Observers”. We invite you to submit your observations of cities and urban life. Each submission should consist of one visual accompanied by a short vignette of 200 words. See details of the call for contributions here.