Yesterday my Singapore adventure came to an end, just six days shy of two years. After a quick trip to the dentist in the morning for a checkup, it was off to our old home for one last clean up, walk around the neighbourhood and a saying a few final goodbyes.
I’ve been feeling blue about the things I didn’t get to finish during my time in Singapore. But, yesterday I spent some time sitting in our favourite local park (iPhone photo above) putting it all in perspective. I’ve certainly lost a lot of weeks to illness in Singapore (the last two weeks I’ve been struggling with a nasty cold) and there’s been the many migraines and, of course, my minor operation last year.
And, there’s been a lot of travel. OK, that’s a self-imposed problem. But I’ve spent close to 27 weeks “out of station” as they say. Once I realised I’d spent at least a third of my “time” in Singapore either unwell our overseas, I felt better about my modest achievements during the last two years.
The Social Thing
In Singapore, like Hong Kong, we struggled to make friends. Most of the really interesting people I met in Singapore are seldom here. My travel schedule is peanuts compared to the miles covered by many corporates in regional roles or creatives in high profile careers.
And, in Singapore I noticed quite a few people really hunker down and spend more time with their families. Around where I lived families, locals and expats, were happy to spend the bulk of their weekend with their kids, rather than living a faux-single lifestyle while the helpers (cheap domestic staff) raised their kids for them.
The Air Quality Thing
One thing I did not miss from Hong Kong was the rancid air quality. But, Singapore’s recent haze was a painful reminder that Singapore’s environment is fragile and to a large extent, not within its own control.
And, while the air quality in Singapore is good, the sound quality is horrible. Singapore is the nosiest city I’ve ever lived in. Moreover, traffic congestion and taxi availability, is an increasing problem.
But, despite that. We lived a kind of life, in a spacious home with verdant surroundings a short drive from town, which was simply not possible in Hong Kong. Where we lived in Singapore was very expensive, but in Hong Kong, if you could find a similar home, it would have been far, far more costly.
A Word About Creative BS
Both cities style themselves as creative hubs, which is partly true, but mostly BS. Hong Kong brags about its art scene, which is really just a consumer circus, as very little art of any value is made in the city. Singapore brags about anything and everything, but recent punitive internet regulations highlight the skepticism with which one should approach these “nation-building” PR campaigns.
The truth is both city’s best stories are not the ones their respective PR campaigns are trying to sell the world. People are doing great things in food and fashion in Hong Kong and in music and design in Singapore, but all too often these efforts are under-appreciated by the respective local populations, misunderstood by politicians and under-reported by the press-release regurgitating media in both cities.
Both cities need better independent print and online media. Both cities have relatively few good bloggers, or noteworthy online cultural reporting sites (compared to other similarly sized global cities).
The Social Thing Part II
One area where Hong Kong is far ahead of Singapore is in the creative and inclusive use of social media. Singapore’s social media swings violently from mass online hysteria, to cold reluctance. Hong Kong, by contrast, has a welcoming social media community and very savvy social media users – not just pundits and pontificators. Singapore has a few online stars, but for the most part, I never actually got to meet them.
And, I say this as a straight line comparison. Although I was in Hong Kong for five years, I was only active in social media there for my last two years, which was enough time to meet almost all the “movers and shakers” in that town’s online scene.
Food, Fashion & Lifestyle
Both cities are rightly proud of their food culture. I’ll admit when it comes to food, I have no middle ground, I either want street food (and the more local and working class, the better) or I want high end (and I mean high end). I much prefer Singapore’s Hawker scene for the former, partly because it reflects a more diverse range of ethnic cuisine, and I much prefer Hong Kong’s take on the later, thanks mostly to more disciplined service.
When it comes to fashion, Hong Kong clearly wins. I’m not talking about how well dressed people are (something I increasingly care less about), but the experience of shopping for clothes and accessories. Hong Kong is a great city for buying clothes. Singapore, even when you visit the same stores or look for the same brands, is expensive and weighed down by bad service.
That said, fashion mattered less to me in Singapore because the way I lived, out in the sticks, away from the city, with next to no social life and basically one season all year round, meant I really didn’t have to worry about buying new clothes anyway.
Singapore has a better music scene. Both cities draw a small number of major acts for their size compared to major Australian, European and North American cities. Singapore does better with pulling major and upcoming rock acts, though sadly too many of these concerts are outdoors. Hong Kong draws more Jazz and World Music, though mostly in bursts and associated with one or other of the city’s many festivals.
Hong Kong is a far better city for cinema-goers, thanks to an ever growing, world-class film festival and a more liberal approach to film censorship. While, Singapore has the F1 GP (at least for now). Personally, I’d rather see more European films than European racing cars.
Both cities have hard drinking (and seedy) nightlife entertainments. The drinks are cheaper in Hong Kong, for what it’s worth.
Expats in Singapore seem to be more actively involved with their kids. And, expats in Singapore seem to explore the city more and be more familiar with local culture (perhaps because there’s less of a language barrier). But, the “angry” expat seems more prevalent in Singapore and complaining is often louder.
I don’t regret leaving Hong Kong. I felt I couldn’t flourish in Hong Kong and my two years in Singapore confirmed I was right. Singapore was a tough experience for me, full of disappointments, but I don’t regret my time there. On the contrary, I wish I could have had a little longer to work more with the local music scene, especially after I finished my studio.
The Comparison No One Is Asking For
For the two years, many people have asked me to compare Hong Kong and Singapore. It’s like a dysfunctional sibling rivalry. Many people have experiences of living in both places and many more simply want their prejudices confirmed.
But, now I’m moving to Tokyo, no-one is asking me to make comparisons. Everyone says “wow, Tokyo” and then their voice trails off. In way, that’s a fitting final comment on both Hong Kong and Singapore.