Monday, 26 April 2010

Hong Kong or Singapore ?

An old stale subject, but since I happened to read an article in the Financial Times on this, why not add to the zillion words already written on this comparison.

Both are financial centres; both are dynamic and vibrant city states. They are the usual two choices for any company’s Asian headquarters. As a financial centre, after London and New York, Hong Kong is ranked third; Singapore fourth. They are wonderfully connected to the rest of the world. HKIA and Changi frequently trade places as the best airport in the world. They are two of the biggest seaports. Both are ex British colonies and truly international. Great places to live in. At a superficial glance, they seem to be clones of each other.

So what are the differences ?

Hong Kong is obviously numero uno for China. Singapore is a much more comfortable location for India. The standard of English is much better in Singapore than in Hong Kong – there are parts of Hong Kong where you could be totally lost without Cantonese. Hong Kong is much more polluted than Singapore, a consequence of being just a stone’s throw from the Guangdong province in China which is the factory to the world. There are a myriad of such differences obviously, but there are three main differences that might have a bearing on business, I believe.

Firstly the rentals in Hong Kong are three times more expensive than Singapore. Whether residential or office. Tiny cubby holes as homes in Hong Kong are legendary, Property prices in Hong Kong are simply crazy. Not that they are not crazy in Singapore, but in Hong Kong they are crazy crazy. It makes doing business in Hong Kong prohibitively expensive, unless you are Goldman Sachs !

Secondly its much more difficult to get work permits and immigrant visas into Hong Kong than into Singapore. This simple fact makes it much more difficult to get a multinational team into Hong Kong – its much much easier to do so in Singapore. But I love the fact that Indians don't need a visa at all for business travel to Hong Kong.

Surprisingly Hong Kong is a lot freer than Singapore. Despite being a part of China, albeit a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong enjoys a free press and all the trappings of a vigorous democratic society. Singapore is free too, but you just have to read the Straits Times versus the South China Morning Post to understand what I am talking about. Singapore is a nanny state; period. Hong Kong, despite being on the edge of the biggest nanny state of them all, is itself not a nanny – she’s actually a curvaceous Suzy Wong ! And you have to live in a nanny state to appreciate the benefit of escaping from her clutches.

Where would I go ?? Well, I’ve been to both many more times than I would care to count. Actually I would rather not go to either of them. Warts and all, the choice is really between Shanghai and Bangalore. There in lies the dilemma for both Hong Kong and Singapore. They are the past. The future belongs to the dragon and the elephant. If only these two giants would care to put on a little makeup, dress up a bit and perhaps exhibit a few more curves …….


  1. Ha Ha Ha. That was a humorously worded statement, curves et al. :-) :-) Sir, you rock (the teenagers' lingo uses rock, cool (kewl), OMG and SMS transformations of nice words that look like a virus attack ate all the vowels in most of their sentences).

    I cannot really comment as I have never 'lived' there or been a regular visitor. I have been to Singapore as a conference delegate (mighty impressed with the infrastructure there) and HK is only as transit via HKIA (as the saying in Tamizh goes, oru paanai sohtrukku oru sohru padham, impressive airport)

    Is the SAR status giving HK more freedom than the mainland in all aspects? And I presume that will be there for another 30 years or so.

  2. Excellent comparison,loved it.And Singapore is more of indians is true,hongkong is polluted is pretty true.I feel HK is pretty costly in everything,right from taxis,hotels,restaurants and bus,MTR,ferry fares.Taxis are real real costly,i was thinking London is costliest until i entered HK.But add to the point that HK has got some scenic beauty than Singapore,i loved the merging of mountian and sea in Lantau island.

  3. @RamMmm - Oooohh - thats the best compliment I have received and that too in teenage lingo. Now I can safely show my head to uber cool people like zeno !!

    HK is totally free. You can stand on a street corner and yell that a certain Mr Hu is a carrot top. (This is a parody of the stupid net nanny which often blocks searching for the word carrot because that has the same character as in the aforesaid gentleman's name)

    @ambulisamma - Hong Kong is pretty in places , has a vibrant culture and as you say wildly wildly expensive.

  4. I skim through your post, my eye lands on Bangalore and my mind says "Bangalore it should be"!!!

    Nice comparison, could relate to all the Singapore bits :). The most apt of them all was the thing abt Straits Times!

  5. To be more frank, most of my frens with whom i interact a lot in SMS leave me puzzled most of the time with acronyms![Note: they are much more younger to me!]

    Having spent a nite at singapore airport, and comparing to few other airports[say tokyo,LA heathrow]I would say singapore is best. Tokyo airport is cool [or shld i say kewl?]cause it gives free wifi!

  6. on second thoughts, ram could have phrased it much better ;)

    Dudee U rock! rather than sir you rock :P :D[u shld use this kind of smileys very often,even if it doesnt makes sense and even if you don't know what xactly they mean]

  7. @AJCL - Oh yes, Straits Times is truly awful. I once remember aq front page lead story , virtually whole page, of how the youth of Singapore were highly excited about Lee Hsien Loong's birthday. Various young people were interviewed of how this was a marvelous moment in their life. Pathetic.

    @zeno - Free Wifi is pretty much common in all Asian airports. Its only horrible Europe, and of course the US, where they charge a bomb for it.

    Thanks for all the very valued education of how to look kewl. I am totally transformed after I started following your blog :D :P :) :-D :-P

  8. :D:D:D Men and their penchant for curves!

    Of all the places you've mentioned, Bangalore is what I know! One very potent USP it has is the weather! But there were loads of house repairs to be done, from what I had seen last!

  9. Saket26/4/10

    I have been for quite a while now toying with the idea of relocating to Singapore. Obviously for the reasons that you mentioned and what others have commented but for me (as an Indian) Singapore rules over HK primarily because of the following: close to India (4 hour flight), its like India (in terms of the population, availability of Indian food, some indian products that you dont get in super markets here is avaialable in Mustafa), personal taxes are low, safe city and brilliant infrastucture.

  10. !!!! epdi iruntha tiru kung fu....ipdi aaitaaray!!! :D :D:D

  11. Its always Bangalore for me but Singapore sounds good too, I'd never want to be in Hong Kong..thanks for sharing ur exp.

  12. @Saket - Singapore is safe, comfortable, bland, with easy access to masala dosai, but with little to make your heart race. Hong Kong is "exotic", masala dosa free, but with enough to make your pulse race all the time. Take your pick !!

    @gilsu - poora postla kadaisi line thaan padikkanuma ???

    @Rads - Why wouldn't you want to go to Hong Kong ? Its truly magnificent, throbbing, full of life, vibrant ....

  13. @Deepa - Of course men will be men :):)

    Not just house repairs - whole scale demolition and rebuilding ...

  14. I've never been to Singapore but HK seemed so alive when I visited that I don't know why you are writing it off as a has been... So, why Shanghai? Why does that capture your imagination? What's the criterion for evaluating these? Best places to visit? places to do business in? future financial centers? good food? Or just cities you love?

  15. how daft of me - the contest among cities was all about the curves!

  16. Having been to either of them, so difficult to kinda relate. Loved the pun in curves. Rightly said, men will be men :)

  17. As always a wonderful post Ramesh. With curves and all, you ensure readership from all gens!! An absolutely wonderful comparison and at the end a superb ode to our very own Blore. I still stand by my original statement that you are a modern O Henry in the making.

  18. @J - This was purely from a "working and living in the city" perspective. These days you can see the buzz deflate from HK and Singapore. It feels a little bit like the New York of the 90s. Great cities for sure, but you can palpably feel that the "action" is elsewhere. That is surely in Shanghai and Bangalore - symbols for India and China. Shanghai is a fascinating place.Fantastic dynamism. And to tease you ladies even further - the most feared women as wives are Shanghainese women as they have a fearsome reputation for completely dominating their husbands (with due apologies to a certain reader of this blog !!)

    As you see it has nothing to do with curves !!

    @Anu - Welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting. Just being a little naughty; that's all and I am amazed at all the reaction from the gals :):)

    @Priya - Awww- you are at your kindest self. Come sometime to this part of the world - I promise to show HK to you.

  19. the only thing i know is both of are tough places for a Indian vegetarian with Hongkong being 10 times more tougher...

    the HK and the SGs have worked on not just their looks and makeup but also consciously tried to make it a better experience - a high cost - but superb quality living.

    I dont know about Shanghai but bangalore is still a ok cost mediocore quality decent talent hub. which is why it has attracted huge opportunities in broad bottom of the value creation pyramid, they are yet to create an experience worth enough for up the pyramid.

    Like many married Indian woman (self included), i guess bangalore is content with her looks and learnt to look beyond her (well ahem ---slightly inflated) curves.

    PS: Given that you have successfully stamped as a cool dude by some of the most authentic authorities in this space like ram and zeno... i guess now you can disclose your real (teen)age to Ambuli's amma

  20. @Sandhya - I marvel at your dexterity with the pen. Lovely comment in inimitable Sandhya style. Bangalore was a lovely city some decades ago. Shanghai was a dump. Both have moved, but in opposite directions (with due apologies to AJCL).

    ambuli's amma - Yes I am a teenager masquerading as a wise guy - need that image to write on business !!

  21. Anonymous28/4/10

    HKG/SIN? Well nothin beats good ol AKL or CCH. Possibly WLG next
    no prizes for guessing who this is pumping in for Aotearoa and using the IATA airport codes

  22. Everyone who has been to Bangalore kind of likes this place (in its current state). I wonder what would happen if this elephant exhibits a few more curves. Interesting! :-P

    Personally speaking, my brief stay at Bangalore was awesome. Given a chance, definitely would love to go back!

    P.S. - How about Kiwi's suggestions of AKL, CCG or WLG!

  23. @Ravi - Which planet are these cities in ??? Thalassa ????

    @Vishal - I thought you never were in Bangalore during the time you were there :):) Maybe you are confusing those cities you visited while globe trotting with gridlocked Bangalore of Marathahalli Bridge fame.


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