"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Travel
July 12, 2013

The Last Singapore Vs Hong Kong Thing

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 […]

Sunset Park
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.

The Expats

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.

Foxlore 11 years ago

I hope the move goes well for you Fernando.

I found your comapirsions quite interesting. Although I’ve not been to Singapore myself, I’ve heard others often use it as a point of comparision for Hong Kong (with Hong Kong being on the negative side of things). It’s nice to see a more balanced take on the two citiy-states.

I am surpised that creatively SG is not quite as developed as I had heard in eiher arts or social media.

I was also quite surpised on the ‘angry expat’ take. I would have thought Hong Kong might have taken that one. But I don’t really follow to many SG bloggers, so I haven’t read too much by way of comparison. For sure Hong Kong has it’s fair share of angry expats and I have tried to avoid becoming another voice among them with the stuff I have done. For sure there is still much that I love about HK, but it has its share of problems too.

I’ve heard that Japan can be a challange for foreigners, particularly those not fluent in Japanese who stay for a longer term. I am guessing Tokyo can be a bit more accomodating than other regions, but I am guessing that it is still a pretty pricey city. I’ve known a few folks who’ve gone there to work but they were Japanese language students. I myself once considered going when I was a fresh grad, but fate brought me to Hong Kong instead (and I’ve since lost most of the Japanese I once knew).

In any event, I am sure your posts will bring in a new perspective and I will look forward to reading.

Mariko 11 years ago

“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. “”
Ar, this is so true. Living in Hong Kong, I am constantly frustrated that Hong Kong lacks arty events and venues which allow people to have an opportunity to be exposed to superb artworks since very young age. As I grew up in Tokyo, my parents would take me to museums a lot when I was little. I’ve seen tons of elderly people enjoying to spend a day going to a museum. Tons of interesting arty events are going on there.

Anyway, Hong Kong or Singapore? I would say Hong Kong for fashion, Singapore for food. Hong Kong for weather. Service…not sure…(Some of my friends say hong kong provides better service at the restaurant.)

For creative activities, Tokyo is far better than those 2 cities. I would enjoy tons of music lives and arty events when I was there…Sadly the door is less open to foreigners in Japan, I do do do want you to cherish the opportunity and make the most of it.
I really look forward to hearing from you on your new adventure in TOkyo..

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Mariko – thank you. Right now I feel a little daunted by Tokyo, but in a good way. There is so much to explore and a new language to try and learn. But, it is all very exciting!

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Paul – Certainly one of the big problems in comparing both cities is how different they are. While both cities have their share of ugly expats, its surprising SG seems to have more who think life there is a hardship, even though many aspects of life there are easier than Hong Kong.

That said, I’m under no illusions some aspects of life in Tokyo will be challenging and maybe difficult to adapt to. But, I am very excited about the prospect, nonetheless.

Mariko 11 years ago

The Best Museums for Kids in Tokyo
I believe you have a kid so think it would be of interest to you.

Tatiana 11 years ago

I came across this page by chance and must say that your insights are spot on. This is the best comparison I came across, as it goes beyond the usual dry set of comparison points, explores more different topics and feels like a well thought out viewpoint from a real person. I have lived in both cities (HK for 4 years, and in SG for 2 years). I also get tired of people asking for comparisons – in Singapore I have learned to give a balanced view, in HK I am just openly honest (hence you can see where my passion lies). If I can add anything to the mix… Travel and having a regional role is essential to enjoying Singapore at all beyond the first few weeks. In HK, I did not mind staying put due to the peaceful hiking or island escapes (which even help with the smog and make the HK experience less commercial) but I actually travelled more out of HK on leisure as there were many more public holidays (just another great HK trait), yet when I was around, social life was better and easier. Others have also said that it is easier to get more done in HK (including going to two parties on the same night), a lot of it is due to the higher energy around. I enjoy seeing that people voice their opinions by protest on the streets of HK and you can learn more honest and critical opinions in online reviews on products and services. HK is more pedestrian friendly, Singapore is not really a walking city, it is conveniently arranged for cars. The expats who have cars and come from places where they lived in suburbs are happy in Singapore. Despite the proclaimed outdoorsiness of Singapore, it is easier to spend a whole day outside in Hong Kong as the climate is more pleasant. It is funny how HK residents complain about the hot summer – that is Singapore all year round. But with children, you are daily confronted with evidence that Singapore “must be” the better choice (the clearly better things are the clean air and choice of schools and they are immensely important). Anyway, this is a subject for hours so I must stop now… Again, thanks for the great article and have fun in Tokyo. A good place to move to next, I reckon, to regain some excitement.

Gingerpants 10 years ago

Fernando, thanks for your post. Myself, I’ve lived in Sg for 3.5 years now and will be moving to HK later this year so was looking for a balanced point of view on the softer elements of living in a city. Your post has really helped, as well as the subsequent comments as well – it’s nice to know there are non crazies out there on the internet, it’s hard to find a comparison post which doesn’t disintegrate into a keyboard war!

Hope your time in Tokyo is going fabulously, I loved Japan when I lived there (In fact, we may have quite a bit in common seeing as I’ve lived in Japan (Nagoya), London and Sydney previously as well! 🙂 Best of luck! 🙂

Pankaj 9 years ago

Hi Guys, It was fascinating to hear from all of you. I believe I am in a tight spot now. Having lived in Hong Kong for 4 years and also the last 4 years in Singapore, I now have an option of continuing in Singapore or relocate to Hong Kong. Despite having invested into a condo in Singapore, the vibrancy and dynamism of Hong Kong is difficult to ignore. Career wise also Singapore seems much better with much wider choices. The ecosystem for entrepreneurial ventures in Singapore is also much better. Lots have already been said about the housing system and the clean and hygienic environment in Singapore. But the lure of the hiking trails and lovely surrounding islands coupled with some great culinary outlets, makes it very difficult to ignore the attraction of Hong Kong. Still thinking through…will let you know of my decision.

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