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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

FUN, FAMILY, WEATHER

Which city is the most livable?


Singapore vs. Hong Kong The competition is heating up again

Comparisons How they rank - from salaries to tourism

The Big Picture How do others stack up?

RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU BELIEVE Hong Kong is a better place to live than Singapore. Now, who favors Asia's other great high-rise city? American Jennifer van Hoften, 27, will have to raise both hands. "I like them for different reasons," says the stock-market analyst, who worked in Hong Kong for nearly five years before moving to Singapore in February. "People here are more friendly and the standard of living is certainly much better," she says of her new home. But van Hoften misses what she calls Hong Kong's "buzz factor." She says: "It has that underlying energy that no other place has. And I miss the seasons, the cool weather this time of year, the mountains and the hiking. Singapore is so flat." And hot and humid.

Calm down, Singapore-lovers. "I could probably make more money in Hong Kong, but it's better for my family here," says public-relations firm owner Eric Chan Chi-ming, 41, who was born in the SAR but moved to the Lion City in 1989. "I like it that my kids can do more than stay at home and play video games. Here they go biking and rollerblading. My son and daughter could be mistaken for Filipino or Malay. Singapore is very multiracial, so it makes them feel very much at home." The businessman's wife is of Chinese, Pakistani and Indian descent. That's all true, says Joseph Tan, a 30-something Singaporean financial consultant who spent seven years in Hong Kong. "But for singles or couples with no kids, Hong Kong is a great place. It is more vibrant, more of a city."

On objective measures, Singapore has the edge over Hong Kong. Asiaweek ranks the island republic as Asia's fourth most livable city, with 70 points. Hong Kong trails at No. 7, with 65 points. They are about equal on many attributes - both have excellent public transport systems, for example - but the SAR is far more polluted with a higher number of vehicles per kilometer of city road, and has twice the unemployment rate. Hong Kong rents and house prices are also dearer. "The Singapore government runs a comprehensive provident-fund scheme and some 95% of Singapore households own their homes, with average flats measuring around 1,000 square feet," says Hong Kong academic Chan Yan-chong. "These are things the people of Hong Kong can never dream of."

Yet, surprisingly, Singapore-born Chan chooses to live in Hong Kong. An associate professor of management science at City University, he has been teaching in the former British colony for more than a decade. "It all depends on your personality," he says. "I have adventurous genes so I didn't find it difficult to adjust. Those who like to take risks should come to Hong Kong. Those who want a quiet life should go to Singapore." He used to write editorials for Hong Kong's iconoclastic - and immensely popular - Chinese-language Apple Daily, but quit after an argument with its founder, the maverick Jimmy Lai. "Winner-takes-all is the rule here," says Chan. "The government seldom intervenes in the economy and almost never in people's lives. So citizens have to take care of their own well-being."

They also like to party. Singaporean Philip Lee, an investment banker who studied and worked in the U.S., first came to Hong Kong in 1988 on a summer internship with Citibank. He returned the next year and stayed until 1993. "For a single person, Hong Kong is a lot more fun [than Singapore]," he says. "I was just out of business school, in my early 30s, making some decent money for a change. Hong Kong offered a great lifestyle, there's a bigger variety of things to do, there's a great expat community." Lee is now married with two children and is back in Singapore. "People are more laid back and more courteous here," he allows. "In Hong Kong, local folks can be really rude. On other stuff, like air quality, Singapore is probably better." But given the chance, he says, he would return to Hong Kong like a shot.

Some are uncomfortable with Singapore's decidedly interventionist bent. The local press is not nearly as free-wheeling and exuberant as Hong Kong's. Theoretically, citizens can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial under the Internal Security Act - the draconian law's most prominent detainee, Chia Thye Poh, was released only last week after 32 years. The state exhorts citizens to be courteous, avoid chewing gum, keep their weight down, flush their toilets, take care of their elderly parents. There's no curfew, but night owls say there might as well be since many bars close at 1 a.m., though the government also grants licenses for 3 a.m. closing. But then you get low crime rates, clean air, order, stability. No triad troubles here, unlike in Hong Kong. "Hong Kong is great, but it is not a place I could live in the rest of my life," sums up Joseph Tan. "Different strokes for different folks," says Philip Lee. Okay, lah.

- By Cesar Bacani. Reported by Andrea Hamilton/Singapore, Law Siu-lan/Hong Kong and Alexandra A. Seno/Hong Kong


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