This is a continuation of my previous post (New York City vs. Los Angeles). Having lived in Singapore for 18 years, I want to share some of my thoughts and observations about lifestyle differences. Bear in mind that it is drawn from my personal and limited experience of NYC.
Both NYC and Singapore are highly urbanized and have crowded public spaces. They are very fast-paced, which means that you have to move quickly on the streets or risk the ire of other pedestrians. Trying to make your way around Times Square parallels the experience of walking along Orchard Road on a weekend- an absolute nightmare.
Singapore is very efficiently-managed and well-maintained. You won’t find much litter on the streets or in public places, which makes it more pleasant. On the other hand, this hyper-sanitization can be frustrating to a tourist who wants to penetrate the glossy veneer to find the true heart of Singapore. NYC is slightly more grungy and rough around the edges but those imperfections give it character. Its fun to explore the different boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island) and neighbourhoods, which have their own distinct personalities.
One thing both Singapore and NYC have in common is that it’s easy to get around with public transport. The subway in Singapore (called the Mass Rapid Transit or MRT) is vastly cleaner and more reliable. Pretty much all MRT stations are air-conditioned. As hubs of activity, they are connected to bus stops/ interchanges and shopping malls, many of them underground. In fact, Singapore has such an extensive subterranean network that it is possible to make your way around, say Orchard Road, without having to walk on the street. The MRT tracks are separated from platforms by a barrier that only opens to allow passengers into the carriage, so there’s no danger of people jumping or falling onto the tracks.
Subway stations in NYC tend to be old, dingy and hot (not sure about how it gets in the winter). The subway is merely functional, used for commuting to work or getting to one’s destination. Breakdowns, reroutes and delays are pretty common due to train traffic, incidents, technical issues, construction etc. In general though, it offers speedy travel between the different boroughs. Many lines have a Local and an Express option (which skips certain stops) so it’s important to research in advance and check for changes on late nights and during the weekend. Also bear in mind that weekends are when construction and repairs take place.
Food & Dining
NYC boasts plenty of dining options from quaint cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants. You can find pretty much any kind of cuisine and there are certain ethnic enclaves e.g. Chinese food in Flushing and Greek food in Astoria. I love strolling down a street in Greenwich Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Williamsburg etc. and taking in the charming, casual atmosphere of bars, restaurants and cafes. Outdoor dining is more common than in Singapore, where the hot, humid weather is less pleasant.
For an authentic taste of Singapore, brave the heat and head to the hawker centers. Nothing compares to the amazing variety of dishes available at affordable prices, that people from all walks of life can enjoy. Hawker food is our heritage, a delicious blend of the main immigrant cultures in Singapore- Chinese, Malay and Indian. Shopping malls also boast plenty of dining options as well as a food court or town and/ or a food basement. In general, food in Singapore costs less than in NYC (and you don’t have to tip).
For grocery shopping, the two main choices in Singapore are wet markets and supermarkets. The produce in wet markets is often cheaper, fresher and more local. The benefits of shopping at a supermarket are variety, convenience and a nicer, sanitized environment (no fishy water or blood and guts).
In NYC, there’s supermarkets, outdoor Farmers’ Markets/ Greenmarkets and small shops selling fruits and vegetables that you can find in many neighborhoods. Each serves a different need of mine. For my daily fruits and vegetables, I go to the shop near my apartment because it is convenient and offers the lowest price for produce. For things to supplement my meal like tapenade, veggie patties, kelp noodles or chia seeds, I visit supermarkets like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Farmers’ Markets are for trying what’s fresh and seasonal.
For other goods eg. apparel, electronics, home ware etc., they can easily be found in Singapore’s countless shopping malls. NYC tends to have individual shops along the street, each with their own curated selections. NYC also has more thrift stores and flea markets, which I personally enjoy visiting for bargains and unique finds. Mall tenants in Singapore seem homogenous so in terms of apparel shopping, I prefer the experience that NYC offers. I think shops and boutiques in NYC pay more attention to the decor as well, though Singapore is rapidly improving in this aspect.
One thing I really enjoy about NYC is the plethora of outdoor activities. It’s not that there aren’t any in Singapore, but the weather is so hot and humid that it’s uncomfortable to remain outside for extended periods of time (and you risk mosquito bites!). Besides, the grass in NYC is less damp and muddy and more pleasant to sit on (sounds strange to say, but it’s true). Summer in NYC is for picnics in the park, outdoor concerts and movie screenings, kayaking etc. Another thing I look forward to are the street fairs packed with stalls selling all sorts of things including food, drinks, jewelry and clothing. They have an infectious bustling atmosphere, often with live indie music. Many Singaporeans stick to the malls to avoid the heat, doing their shopping and watching movies indoors.
As a lover of art, I relish the fact that NYC has great museums housing amazing collections such as the Met. If you are a patron of the arts, NYC is also the place to be for its lively theater scene that includes Broadway musicals. However, Singapore does have top-notch performing arts venues that draw international groups, so it is possible to watch famous ensembles.
This is simply a slice of my experience of both places. At some point I might want to address the social and cultural differences, but that is a far more subjective and potentially tricky topic.