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Singapore marches ahead as Hong Kong goes down the tube

There are few liquids in the history of mankind more palatable than Japanese draft beer, which is why I recently found myself skipping buoyantly off to one of the many Japanese restaurants that dot Causeway Bay.

It was the tail end of the Lunar New Year so most of the mainland factories had been shut down for a few days, delivering a rare blue sky over the town I dig so much.

I was halfway through my first frosty mug of Japanese nirvana with an old friend from Singapore before he launched into his obligatory Manchester United spiel. He brought up their contentious win over Lille in the Champions League the night before and made a reference (again) to manager Sir Alex Ferguson's genius. 'Ferguson's a perpetual whiner,' I told him. 'So what else is going on?'

He quickly changed the topic to exit strategies. 'Whose exit strategy?' I asked. 'Yours,' he replied. 'You would be pleasantly shocked at what they are doing in Singapore these days.'

Although he was born and raised in Singapore, he had been gone for long stretches and often condemned the nanny-state it had become. But he returned home a little less than two years ago to a place, and a government, that he hardly recognised.

'They are hungry and accommodating,' he said. 'It's the antithesis of Hong Kong.'

I knew where he was going with this. Any time I catch up with people who used to work here, they spend the night telling me how messed up Hong Kong is and I spend the night defending this place. Singaporeans, in particular, are acutely insecure when it comes to Hong Kong.

'Look,' he said, 'this place is completely messed up for a couple of reasons. The government is useless. They can't blow their nose without looking north to Beijing for permission. They've been talking about this GST for how long? And the new sports and entertainment facility you've been barking about, they may get around to building it in 20 years or so. While Hong Kong twiddles its thumbs, places like Singapore and Dubai are pounding their foot on the gas pedal.'

True, but places like Singapore need to pound the gas pedal. They have to become inviting because, by geography alone, they are not particularly inviting.

He wasn't done. 'The business elite in Hong Kong put nothing back in to the community either,' he said.

'Yeah, but do they in Singapore?' I asked. 'No,' he replied, 'but the business elite don't run the show in Singapore. They do in Hong Kong, though.'

Well, he had me there. We laughed about this farce of an election coming up soon for Chief Executive and the bow-tied wonder who will win it. Full of vacuous and empty promises, our CE routinely ducks out of public forums because he knows he can. His campaign slogan is hilarious: 'I can get the job done.' Please.

How about: 'I got the job already - now sit back and watch the puppet show for another five years.'

Staggering pollution, ridiculous property prices and deteriorating English and general proficiency skills in the work force were some of the other ailments of Hong Kong that my friend from Singapore mentioned. 'Tell me something I don't know,' I said. 'And all of it is because of lack of leadership and vision.'

We drank a few more mugs before parting ways, me feeling a little less enamoured with my home of the last 16 years.

The next morning, I opened the paper to discover I was becoming an endangered species. According to a new census, the number of Caucasians in Hong Kong has dropped 20 per cent over the last five years. This may have been cause for alarm 15 year ago, but not any more. All the expats and their big housing packages were welcomed because they kept the high end of the property market inflated. But now mainland Chinese are showing up and doing the same thing. Coming from China, they think the air in Hong Kong is pretty damn fresh as well.

Just for the heck of it, I called a friend in Singapore who used to live here. Mike Denzel ran the NBA in Asia before starting his own gig in sports consulting and marketing.

'Singapore is absolutely rolling out the welcome mat trying to attract as much foreign talent as possible,' Mike said. 'On the whole, they have a very long-term outlook. They are building a mammoth sports hub but way beyond that, they have concrete plans for environmental issues and the government of Hong Kong can deny it, but most people who are leaving there are doing it because of the horrible environmental problems.'

Regardless, he told me he relishes visits back and still loves Hong Kong. I told him I love Hong Kong too, and unabashedly so. The problem is, it takes more than love to make a relationship work.

'We laughed about this farce of an election coming up soon for Chief Executive and the bow-tied wonder who will win it'