Yalei Zhai – CSEAS Newsletter

Yalei Zhai

Newsletter No.81 2023-11-08

Research Division & Affiliation: Political & Economic Coexistence, Associate Professor
Degree: PhD in Economics (Kyoto University)
Research Areas: Area Studies, Development Economics

After obtaining my Master’s degree and PhD in Economics from Kyoto University, I worked as a special research fellow (PD) at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), a specific assistant professor at the Graduate School of Economics at Kyoto University, and a lecturer and associate professor at the Faculty of Economics and Law at Shinshu University.

I am very excited to be back to Kyoto University this September! It is an intellectually invigorating journey, and I look forward to immersing myself in the pursuit of Southeast Asian Studies through approaches that combine economics and area studies.

Originating from Yunnan, I see myself as a Southeast Asian. I am intrigued by how social norms, cultures, and values shape the ever-evolving landscape of Southeast Asia. My research mission is dual-fold—I examine Southeast Asia from both an insider’s perspective, as a native, and an outsider’s perspective, as a researcher affiliated with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Kyoto University.

Over the past 13 years, I have been immersed in ongoing field research in Myanmar, situated in the historically renowned Golden Triangle, famed for its high-yield opium products. Employing methods from both development economics and area studies, my goal is to shed light on the intricacies of the poverty problem in post-opium and post-conflict Myanmar. The crux of my findings reveals a paradoxical scenario—despite the provision of equal opportunities, impoverished households grapple with their utilization. Altruistic tendencies and present bias come to the forefront, resulting in overconsumption and a subsequent widening of income disparities. In essence, when opportunities arise or shocks reverberate, it is the economically fragile households that disproportionately bear the consequences, underscoring their inherent vulnerability.

“Water tobacco” was provided for my interviewees in Myanmar, not only showing respect for local customs but also creating a more relaxed and comfortable environment for conversation. Such thoughtful gestures can contribute to building rapport and fostering open communication during the interviews.

I am excited about embarking on more rigorous and insightful research undertakings. My commitment extends to making substantial contributions that deepen our comprehension of the socio-economic landscape in Southeast Asia, with a specific focus on the multifaceted aspects that define the region. This involves not only scrutinizing prevalent issues but also unraveling the underlying complexities through meticulous investigation and analysis. I hope my association with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies provides an invaluable platform to engage with experienced field researchers, collectively unraveling new trends and disseminating our research findings on a global scale.

This article is also available in Japanese. »