World-Class Cities: Singapore and Hong Kong

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Flag of Hong Kong  ,
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Despite having Canadian flags prominently emblazoned on our bags, we seem to continually meet people who are skeptical or surprised about us being Canadians. What they see, an Asian, is in contrast to their perception of a Canadian as a white person. In Africa and the Middle East, most people thought we were Japanese, but then when we arrived in Southeast Asia, people assumed we were from Singapore! When we told a guy in Syria that we were from Canada, he actually said "I don't believe you", and a guy from Nepal only believed that we were Canadian because we spoke English "fast"! It became such a hassle that we decided it was just easier to tell people we were from Singapore. No one questioned us, and we later found out it's because Singaporeans are 75% Chinese people while the remaining are Malay and Indian, and English is widely spoken, probably more than in any other Southeast Asian country. Intrigued by all of this, we went to see what Singapore was all about.

Singapore has a bad rap for being sterile and boring. While the city is very clean, neat and orderly (it almost makes Toronto look like a dump), there were enough things to see and do. After all, how could the birthplace of the 'Singapore Sling' and Tiger Beer be boring?

We discovered very quickly that the number one past-time in Singapore is SHOPPING! There are malls everywhere you look, and it's a world-class shopping destination. You can tell just by looking one dresses like a slob!

The most interesting thing we did was probably sitting in the bar at the infamous Raffles Hotel (where the Singapore Sling was created) drinking and eating peanuts, with peanut shells freely dumped all over the floor. It's probably the only place in Singapore where you can "litter" without breaking the law!

The less-than-thrilling sight we saw was the 'Merlion' - a half mermaid, half lion fountain on the waterfront, created by the tourism industry as the mascot and symbol of Singapore. It's as cheesy as it sounds.

From Singapore we flew to Hong Kong. It had been 26 years since I (Ed) last visited, so I was looking forward to checking out the childhood home of my parents. We planned it so that our visit coincided with my parents' vacation in Hong Kong. We were treated to many family dinners, and while this could be considered a chore in Toronto, it was a welcome change to be eating in restaurants instead of hawker stalls.

We really liked Hong Kong. Like Singapore, it's a world-class city that's clean, modern, and efficient. The weather was great too (while it was unbearably humid in Singapore), but the downside is that the city is almost suffocating because there are so many people and buildings crammed into a small area. To maximize on space, they've even built up the hillside of Victoria Peak with shops and restaurants, accessible by a series of outdoor escalators!

Hong Kong's Kowloon district has a great waterfront area where we spent one entire afternoon just enjoying the sun and the sights, including Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Looking across Victoria Harbour we could see Chinese junkboats with red sails as well as numerous skyscrapers in the distance, many covered in company logos. It's a beautiful city that really comes alive at night as the skyscrapers are lit up. For the best night view, we took a tram up the very steep hill to Victoria Peak which overlooks the city and Victoria Harbour. At night, it's a scene of crazy skyscrapers competing for your attention with dancing lights and flashing colours.

After seeing the hustle and bustle of life in Hong Kong, we wanted to see how people relax. Although it's not one of the first things that comes to mind about Hong Kong, it actually has beaches that aren't bad. There are pretty bays and beaches, with fancy condo buildings looming above them, but I'm not so sure about the swimming. All the beaches are surrounded by shark netting and there are many shark warnings. Any place that requires shark netting is definitely not a place we'd want to swim!
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