I just returned from a four-day
trip to Singapore. I have been to Singapore quite frequently in recent years
not only for educational exchanges but also because my sister’s family had moved
to Singapore in early 1990s. More importantly, I have a very good Singaporean
friend whom I crown as the Ambassador of Hospitality. He takes leave every time
I visit and insists that he pays for all expenses. In his words, he is “reciprocating”
for what I do for him when he is in Hong Kong. But for sure I have not been
generous as he is in terms of money and time. I have never taken any leave
driving him around. Nor have I put him up in world-class hotels. That is how
this friendship of close to three decades has sustained.
While I was enjoying my holiday
savouring local cuisines and fresh air, I couldn’t help comparing Singapore
with Hong Kong.
If the ethnic composition of a
country can reflect the degree of its globalization, then the city-country of
Singapore is intrinsically more cosmopolitan than Hong Kong. According to 2014
figures, of the 5.5 million people living in Singapore, 2.1 million people are foreign
nationals. One-third of the 3.4 million citizens are foreign-born naturalized
citizens. Ethnic Chinese predominate (74.1%) followed by significant minorities
of Malays (13.4%), Indians (9.2%), and Eurasians. There are four official languages:
English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. English is the lingua franca of the country and you hear it spoken even at street
Hong Kong is predominantly a
Chinese society. According to 2011 figures, ethnic minorities made up only 6.4%
of the 7 million population. Our official languages are English and Chinese.
Unlike Singapore, rarely do we hear English being spoken. Cantonese is everyday
spoken dialect with the use of Putonghua or Mandarin catching up due to the
increase of mainland tourists.
So which government has a tougher
task to unify the people? Singapore for sure! And yet, scenes of confrontations
between pro- and anti- government fronts have become quite a common sight in this
demographically homogeneous city of Hong Kong. We can cheer that this is
democracy in manifestation and despise Singapore for the lack of it. But at
what cost and for what cause? We seem to have forgotten that conflicts can be
resolved and differences can be tolerated for benefits and successes to be
shared. Meanwhile with the government faltering and councillors filibustering,
Hong Kong stagnates!
Look at our West Kowloon Cultural
District project first proposed in 1996. Almost 10 years have gone. On this wedge-shaped
development site of 40 hectares, only a temporary promenade has been developed.
If software is to be counted, then there was the West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre, a
combination of traditional Cantonese opera, contemporary visual art
installations and film shows in collaboration with the Chinese Artist
Association of Hong Kong and various renowned visual artists held for 7 days at
the future site of Xiqu Centre in 2012.
In Singapore, the Marina Bay
district built on reclaimed land, a concept similar to our West Kowloon
Cultural District Project, is now complete with a 101-hectare Gardens by the
Bay, the giant Singapore Flyer, and Marina Bay Sands etc. To name but a few,
this resort complex features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000-square-foot
convention-exhibition centre topped by a 340m-long SkyPark with a capacity of
3,900 people and a 150m Infinity Pool.
As Hong Kongers applaud Singapore
for her many successes, maybe it is high time we examined the “why”!
Happy 50th anniversary, Singapore! May you stay united and prosperous!