Differences between Hong Kong and Singapore


After another weekend away, I’m reminded again of some of the differences between Singapore and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, nobody cares about what anyone else is doing. You could walk through Central dressed in a chicken suit and nobody would care. You could be on fire, nobody would give a shit. You could walk through Central dressed in a suit made of chicken shit, on fire, and at most you’re going to get honked at by a taxi driver for not crossing the road fast enough.

You could probably parade up and down, wearing a t-shirt reading “I thought the Opium Wars were brilliant and I hate all Chinese people and want them to die” and the most that would happen is somebody tells you they feel your opinion is different to theirs. Or a triad will cut your hand off with a chopper.

Which may point to a literacy problem, but never mind. The point is, in a city choked with overcrowding, Hong Kongers have made a willful absence of empathy into not just a survival trait, but a whole culture. Pregnant and want to sit down on the MTR? Screw you, I was here first and my game of Candy Crush is at least as important as your unborn fetus (which is probably going to turn out ugly anyway). Using a wheelchair? Well, the steps at this station were here before you, Ironside, so start praying for a miracle worker. Annoyed about the constant air pollution and resent me blowing cigarette smoke in your face? Suck it up, loser. Lost all your money in a global meltdown? Enjoy collecting cardboard boxes, Grandma.

Fundamentally, Hong Kong was designed by type-A hyper aggressive chancers, and then bequeathed to the local population who picked up pretty fast on the expected level of cooperation.

Meanwhile, Singaporeans care about you. They put lifts to street level at every subway station. There’s not a flight of stairs without an accompanying ramp. If the air is bad because Indonesians are burning their entire rainforest for a laugh, the government will chastise them on your behalf. If Hong Kong is like staying on the couch of a coke-maddened stockbroker you met in a strip bar, Singapore is when you escape and go to stay at your parents to recover.

But it’s not all good, all of the time.

One obvious advantage of Hong Kong is that if you hail a taxi, it doesn’t matter to him that he has to veer across the street and cut off three lanes of traffic to pick you up – that man is going to get his fare. A Singaporean taxi driver will pretend he hasn’t seen you and trundle past, as if a lack of peripheral vision was a requirement, not a liability.

But more so, the disadvantage of not being somewhere where nobody cares about you, is that people can care a bit too much. If Singapore’s government is like your parents, well, you don’t always want your parents lecturing you about how you should get a job, drink less, go to bed earlier, get some proper hobbies (National Service) instead of hanging out in a casino shaped like a gold eggplant. (Speaking of casinos, Singapore has them, but makes it clear “proper” people shouldn’t hang out there, just those atrocious foreigners. Hong Kong doesn’t have casinos because, well, you have to draw the line somewhere, and they’d interrupt drinking.) Trains run on time in both cities, but they stop earlier in Singapore, because clearly you shouldn’t be out so late.

Hong Kongers think their government is a bunch of chancers and Beijing appointees, Singaporeans just chafe a bit at their “parents” and grumble about them being nicer to the new kids/the “foreign talent”, but since they’re not allowed to protest unless they get permission first, instead of the outbursts of rage Hong Kong has, everyone’s just a bit too passive-aggressive.

Hong Kong’s perfectly rehearsed we-don’t-give-two-shits attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the Walled City Of Kowloon, where for fifty years a band of illegal dentists and manufacturers of tin toys built a vertical slum and completely ignored the government, like a Chinese version of post-war Berlin but with more cut-price dental practitioners. Singaporeans would never tolerate a fortress of Malaysian ne’er-do-wells declaring independence in a block of flats in Katong. (insert racist joke there to taste).

Or there’s the politicians: every one in Singapore seems clean-cut from the same cloth, while Hong Kong has “Longhair” who looks like he sleeps in a hedge and throws paper planes at other MPs.

Still, one could carp about the sterility of Singapore for a very long time, but sterility is a virtue too. (Consider that the next time you undergo major surgery.) There’s certainly something to be said for clean air and blue skies, and it would be the height of ingratitude to just be rude about your semi-adopted country all the time, just because it doesn’t seem to want to adopt you back. Not everywhere can have the cultural benefits of knife crime and years of alcoholism that the UK benefits from, no matter how much we’ve tried to export it.

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