Both Singapore and Hong Kong are tiny, densely populated , and yet so much full of life; Both of these cities are only three hours away from each by flight time other; are well connected with at least 25 daily flights each way; are home to two of the best International airlines in the world, Cathay Pacific Airways, and Singapore International Airlines; are chosen by many Multinationals as the Headquarters for their Asia Pacific Region operations; and both cities are the financial hubs for many banks and equity firms in the Asia Pacific Region.
For any new western business start up or any business leader, the question is almost always, will it be Singapore or Hong Kong? (Of course, the other major option people have is to set up in mainland China or in Hong Kong- but we'll discuss that some other time!).
I personally believe, and I still stand to this point, that Singapore is somewhat like an “Asia for dummies”.
My experience of living and working in both of these Asian cities as an expat has provided me with a privileged insight into their culture, lifestyle and general nature of doing business or travelling in these cities. Both are unique in their own ways. Hong Kong, with an area of around 1,105 km2 and a population of around 8 million, goes by the slogan "Asia's World City" because of its diverse mix cultures from all around the world. While Singapore, with an area of only 710.2 sq km and a population just under 5 million is equally diverse in terms of cultures, but more concentrated towards Asian cultures (Especially India, China and Malaysia). There are some people who may argue that it is indeed Singapore which should hold the title of "Asia's World City" because of its rich combination of Indian, Chinese and Malay population living side-by-side in harmony with each other. This argument is understandable when one observes that in Hong Kong you won't get a national holiday for Diwali (Hindu festival), Hari Raya (Islamic Festival), or even Vesak Day (Buddhist Festival); but in Singapore you will.
I personally believe, and I still stand to this point, that Singapore is somewhat like an “Asia for dummies”. This is not a criticism about the country but rather an observation. Let me explain: If someone is flying from Europe to, say as an example, Australia or New Zealand, they are more than likely to stop over in either Hong Kong or Singapore (not discounting other Asian destinations of course). Now say that person has never been to other parts of Asia, and if Singapore is their first destination in Asia, they will get to experience some of the places of interests in Singapore, such as Little India, Arab Street and China Town (all of which have the strong ambiance of their respective cultures…so when you are in Little India- it actually feels as if you are in India and not Singapore, and so on). So it will give the visitors a taste of Asian cultures and cities. Singapore (or Singaporeans in general) actually thinks of itself as an island of modernity in a backward part of Asia. This may be true, but it is one of the most modern cities in Asia, and one of the fastest transformations that happened from being a developing country to a developed country all within a space of around 40 years.
There are number of things which single out Singapore from Hong Kong. Singapore is one of the cleanest countries in the world (Chewing gum, smoking, spitting and shouting loudly are just some of the “habits” that are illegal in public places), plus the air is so much cleaner than in Hong Kong (sorry Hong Kongers…its true); its modern and its multi-cultural ambiance where, as an example, Malays happily celebrate Chinese and Indian festivals; and vice-versa. So if you ever want to experience true racial harmony, Singapore is the place for you!
Equally well, there are a number of things which single out Hong Kong from Singapore, such as its vibrant fast pace and strong fusion of Chinese (Cantonese) and English cultures that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Singapore's strong Chinese culture speaks Mandarin (like elsewhere in the world) with a Hokkien dialect (Fújiànhuà), unlike in Hong Kong where Cantonese is the primary language.
If I was to pick out something unique about Hong Kong, it would most certainly be that Hong Kong seems to have an edge for the manufacturing industry because of its close proximity to China. Most foreign business persons also find the advantage of living in the “International” environment of Hong Kong while having their manufacturing base in Mainland China. There are a number of companies which have moved to Singapore because they see it being cheaper than Hong Kong, but the harsh reality is that Singapore is not a large country, so space is a big problem.
On the whole both Singapore and Hong Kong are beautiful, diverse, full of rich culture, and energetic. If it came to a personal choice, I would say that Hong Kong is a great city to visit, do business in and explore; but it would be Singapore that I would choose to live in. This is because of two reasons: Less Pollution in Singapore (you are bound to see a clear blue sky in Singapore around 80% of the year according to my personal experience, but in Hong Kong that figure may be like 40% of the year); and Singapore is slightly cheaper than Hong Kong in terms of the cost of living.
It comes down to personal choice. In terms of tourism, both Singapore and Hong Kong are incredibly great, and can easily be explored within three to four days (maybe a little longer for Hong Kong). I still miss those days when I used to commute on business between Singapore and Hong Kong on a regular basis. If there was a direct comparison between the two cities to those in the west, I would say that Singapore would the Los Angeles, while Hong Kong would resemble Manhattan, New York. Since 2008 Singapore has been one of the newest venues for the FORMULA 1, with the “SingTel Singapore Grand Prix” being heldat the new Marina Bay Street Circuit, and was also the first night-time event in Formula One history. It would be great fun to see if Hong Kong can also host the Formula 1 championship race. Punters would get the best of both cities. :-)
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