Hong Kong vs. Singapore

July 02, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

I think we can all agree that for a few standard questions we’ve been asked countless times, we’ve formulated and rehearsed routine answers to spew out with utmost clarity. When we were young, it was “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. But today, we’re questioned about how university is, how our classes are treating us, or what our post-graduation plans are. We’ve gotten mutually accustomed to having a few set responses to set questions, tailored to sound sharp, yet ambiguous. And in reality, we often fail to give these questions the thorough answers they merit.

“Between Hong Kong and Singapore, which do you like better?” is an example of such a question. I’ve been asked so many times over the last year that I too, have developed a fixed answer.

I moved to Hong Kong a year ago, before which I spent the last 16 years in Singapore. My conventional answer circles around how the two cities are very different, and although Hong Kong is vibrant, animated and never leaves me bored, Singapore has always been my nest, warranting a different sentiment altogether. What I really mean by that is that the two can’t be compared. In their veins, the two cities differ from each other far more than people expect. I suppose what makes the two comparable is their “Asian Tiger” status – both Singapore and Hong Kong have highly developed economies that facilitate their burgeoning success, also making them exceptional Asian financial hubs. That, and the fact that the two have very similar cursory infrastructural facets. But once you move beyond the “MTR vs. MRT” and “Octopus Card vs. Ez-Link” parallels, you’ll find that the two are poles apart in more ways than one.

Personally, I’ve always felt a far more accurate comparison would be between Hong Kong and Mumbai. Hong Kong is perhaps an oriental version of Mumbai,  and at times I’m taken aback by just how similar the two places are.

But undeniably, there are several similarities between the two: historically, Hong Kong and Singapore were colonised by the British, and have similar accounts of the Second World War. Politically speaking, both countries harbour some kind of anti-foreigner sentiment – Hong Kong locals to a recent influx of Mainlanders, and Singaporeans to expats taking up job opportunities. Both cities  also boast the two biggest trading hubs in Asia, and enjoy their developed economic statuses. The proximity of the two cities also make for a likely comparison.

But there are also distinct differences.

First, there’s the language barrier. Singapore’s main language is English. It’s spoken largely by the entire island, so foreigners usually have no communication issues. The same cannot be said for Hong Kong: the primary language spoken there is Cantonese, though Mandarin can also get you by. And though Singapore also has a significant Chinese population, the basic culture of the two cities vary significantly. Moreover, in addition to Singapore’s large Chinese population, two other prominent races of Singaporeans include Malays and Indians. This blend of cultures, beliefs, and traditions make the mindset of Singaporeans especially unique. And from my observations, a crucial part of Hong Kong’s culture stems from its unyielding perspective on politics: fighting for freedom, no matter what it takes, is a facet of Hong Kong’s culture that cannot be overlooked. Essentially, the primary ways of thinking, behaviours, and culture differ significantly.

Another assumption is that Hong Kong is more “fun”. Crucially, however, one cannot overlook the consideration of size. Singapore is far, FAR smaller than Hong Kong. It also cannot boast a blend of unparalleled natural beauty with cosmopolitan craziness. Hong Kong is big enough to host Disneyland, Ocean Park, hills and mountains for treks, cliffs to dive from, beaches with water that isn’t grey-green in colour. Singapore strikes the balance between its much smaller population density, and entertainment. Hong Kong has entertaining condiments, but ultimately, it doesn’t make the overall dish necessarily better. So when people get “bored” of Singapore quickly, or argue that Hong Kong might be more “fun”, they are expecting a great deal more out of Singapore.

Environment-wise, the disparity between Hong Kong and Singapore is also colossal. Because Singapore isn’t plagued by pollution (or even if it is, it’s not that bad), you can wake up almost every day to a blue sky,  or clouds with silver linings (literally). But that said, Shek-O’s crystal waters and Hong Kong’s renowned harbours are unmatchable. Hong Kong is also host to incredible natural sights…the New Territories, mountains as backyards…if you’re a nature-buff, or are just looking for a sight for sore eyes, Hong Kong is ideal. Yet an ordinary walk in Singapore is like strolling through a garden: streets are adorned with array of trees, bushes, and brightly coloured flowers.

I love Hong Kong…the vibrancy it embodies, the sheer rush of living in a fast paced cosmopolitan city, and a backyard of mountains and beautiful blue seas. For university students, fresh graduates, and younglings in the work force, Hong Kong is the model city. Shopping, drinking and travelling are far more affordable, and the excitement of living in a convenient but ever-bustling city is a real thrill. But it can be overwhelming, both to its locals and its guests, which is where Singapore steps forward. People in Singapore are as nimble as they are unflustered; their accelerated lifestyle is a more subtle one. Back to Singapore for the summer, I’ve returned to a structured serenity – a much needed change after a year of total speed.

Coming back full circle, I expect I haven’t provided a clear answer to the question on which city I prefer. But as I hope you’ve gathered from the article, it simply isn’t fair to choose. Different places demand different things – and right now, Hong Kong fits the “student life” bill perfectly. But I’ve grown up in Singapore, a bubble of comfort I’ve always called home. It’s the kind of place people should come back to to settle down in someplace resembling a utopia. I guess I want to dispel the assumption that the two are easily comparable.

With that said, I’d love to know what you think. Are the two cities comparable? And if they are, which do you like better and why? Share your ideas in the comments section below!

Lastly – I’m relishing the tropical, summery weather in Singapore right now…which is pretty much what it’s like 365 days a year. Humidity aside, blue skies and flowers everywhere embody the summer vibe. If you’re in the mood for a spontaneous trip, definitely consider SG…it’s only 4 hours away from Hong Kong! (And you can tell us which city tugs your heart strings more after the trip.)

Image Credits:
Singapore  Hong Kong