Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hong Kong Versus Singapore

Typical Hong Kong street
I love Hong Kong. It's a great travel destination, with something for everyone: amazing food, fascinating street life, good museums, hiking, beaches, possibly the world's best shopping, unique local culture...

It presents an interesting contrast to Singapore. Both places are city-states, made up of densely populated urban centers interspersed with a significant amount of parkland; both are new cities, founded in the 19th century by the British as a money-making enterprise; their populations, while primarily ethnically Chinese, are extremely diverse and cosmopolitan. British cultural influence remains strong in both--the legal system, the driving rules, the colonial outlook, the architecture, even some of the eating habits (morning coffee and toast, for example). A variety of religions is present in both, but their real religion is capitalism, in its purest form.

The funny thing is, even though they are mirror images of each other, the two places are completely different. Hong Kong is like New York: a cultural capital, famous for its style, its media (the movie industry, for instance), its thriving art scene. Basically, Hong Kong is cool. Singapore (despite the government's periodic efforts), is not at all cool. Think of Hong Kong as the intensely sophisticated wealthy businessman (who's made his fortune on acting as an intermediary between the West and China), who collects Ming pottery in his spare time. Singapore is more like the highly educated, intensely competitive, socially awkward quant geek, who's paid an immensely large salary to do complex math, all for the goal of making rich people more money.
Downtown Singapore
Downtown Hong Kong
Typical Singapore street
Singapore is clean and orderly, Hong Kong is chaotic and dirty. Singapore is pastel skyscraper apartment blocks, separated by meticulously groomed gardened areas, and carefully renovated historic buildings now housing restaurants. Hong Kong looks pretty much like the city in Blade Runner, but surrounded by extensive parkland and funky islands full of fishermen and hippie expats. Singapore has almost no crime; Hong Kong is famous for its gangs (the triads) and role as a smuggling center (though violent crime is very low). Both do have really excellent food (guess it's the Chinese heritage, as British cuisine is truly dreadful).

My parents had never been to either place before their visit, so naturally I wanted to take them to both! We spent the last third of their trip there, which I will describe in some following posts.


  1. It's so interesting to hear about the difference between the two, and I love your wealthy businessman/geek metaphor!! I hope to make it to both someday.

    1. One of my travel fantasies is to take a tour of all the old British trading outposts in Asia: it's so interesting to compare/contrast!