Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Singapore v/s Dubai - My Initial Impressions

‘What can we do together?’ An initial remark by Sheikh Mohammed – ruler of Dubai during his meeting with senior minister of Singapore summed up the extent to which Dubai’s aspiration of emulating Singapore have come true. Dubai in a short span of time is galloping fast to catch up with Singapore or may even surpass it.

In recent issue, TIME magazine compared New York, London and Hong Kong on various benchmarks and found all three cities have remarkable character resemblance. Being an expatriate in Dubai and Singapore I would love to compare both cities that have a lot in common and yet are strikingly different. However my involvement with Dubai is much longer to Singapore and hence ‘initial impressions’ would be more appropriate while comparing these two vibrant cities.

Singapore is efficient. There is no doubt about it. It is also remarkable that Singapore has made its development uniform and made it accessible to every precinct. No matter where one resides, one has uniform comfort in terms of public utilities. Dubai has large gap between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ and that gap is growing at menacing pace. Dubai houses lush green golf courses, branded shops and expensive restaurants while its expensive real estate pushes working middle and lower class to neighboring emirates of Sharjah and Ajman. Dubai is developing metro railway but I did not understand the logic of making it go through elite areas of Jumeriah while bulk of Dubai traffic that descends from Sharjah would have no access to it. I doubt Dubai’s rich and elite armed with expensive cars would opt to walk to a railway station in the sultry and torrid heat of Dubai. UAE may be one country but when it comes to internal infrastructure development, all the emirates are self-centered. Singapore has no such problems and is homogenous in that aspect.

Ask any homemaker who has stayed in both cities, which is better, Singapore or Dubai? She would give thumbs up to Dubai and there is tangible reason for this. They can have their groceries summoned up within minutes, laundry man knocks on the door to collect clothes and have it delivered within few hours, house cleaners are available on hourly basis, and mall is round the corner and she can indulge in what she knows the best. However, for older people, Singapore is more considerate and gentle while Dubai is ruthless. For senior citizens visa procurement, public transport, amenities and hostile climate all go against Dubai. For me as a middle-aged working Indian expatriate, Dubai is more like a slice of Mumbai with cleanliness and western comforts while Singapore is a neighbor with a foreign touch. Had it not been for Mustafa shopping stores and Little India, Singapore would have made me feel like being in Hong Kong or Shanghai. Dubai despite being heavily dominated by Keralites – has its balance in store for the rest of Indians with sizable presence of Pakistanis.

Public library is magnificent in Singapore. Dubai has started putting up public library buildings but I am not so sure about its facilities. Dubai is unfortunate to be at the receiving end with high summer temperature while Singapore in summer is bearable. However, Dubai’s biggest advantage is being closer to Indian Subcontinent, North Africa and Europe. This makes Dubai far more international cosmopolitan city than Singapore. Singapore has its disposal bulk of educated local population while Dubai with miniscule local population relies on expensive labor, this easily can make difference in quality of service and competitiveness.

Singapore is still way above to Dubai in terms of Public Infrastructure, Punctuality, Efficiency, Greenery and Water Drainage while Dubai scores in Nightlife, Restaurants and an ownership of private car. Dubai with Knowledge village and ambitious project of Health Care City is keen to nullify the advantage of Singapore in areas of Education and Healthcare.

Singapore water drainage system is impeccable. I am amazed to see the grid of drainage pipes emanating from buildings and streets that link to canals and in turn pour into a water reservoir. Dubai has no such issues. They just do not have any drainage system. In fact, they do not need it as it rains just for 2 days in a year. However, when it does rain - accident rates soar, nightmarish traffic becomes standstill. In Dubai, green carpet and seasonal flowers arrive overnight from nursery and so are the flowers imported from Amsterdam for all five star hotels. For Singapore, city is synonymous with greenery. It would be interesting to check if Singapore Govt has ministry of gardening.

Singapore sleeps by 10pm, Dubai wakes up at 10pm. Dubai nightlife is unmatched, at 2 am on weekend, there is traffic everywhere, restaurants, discotheques and dance bars are overflowing. Singapore would undoubtedly score in terms of food courts and small joints but in terms of restaurants, I think Dubai is better. For Indian and Lebanese cuisine, Dubai is a treat. However, in Singapore McDonald is omnipresent. Singapore may have more McDonald joints than in USA if we consider population density.

Dubai has long way to go to catch up with Singapore in terms of Punctuality and efficiency. In recent years, most of the lawlessness is as result of rash driving and exploitation of labor. Both cities on the face of it appear safe. Singapore comparatively appears less hostile but when I look at huge Changi Prison complex, I feel it could be otherwise. In Dubai, illegal immigration is rampant and with this comes lawlessness.

Easy card – convenient cash less instrument is a nice concept in Singapore that can throw paper currency out of business. This card is a defacto currency at Bus, Train, Utility Bills, public library and even at ubiquitous McDonald food joints. To own a car in Singapore is a luxury, unless company provides one. Petrol and Road tax is another punishing act. For car freaks, Dubai is the place. One can buy second hand Jaguar or BMW at affordable price but then it comes with a risk of being in a country that has notoriety for road accidents. Dubai malls are swanky but there is no other recreation other than malls. Singapore malls are compact. In terms of commodity goods, I think clothing is cheaper in Singapore while electronic goods have better price tag in Dubai.

Overall, both cities are great to live and enjoy as long as one works for a good company that backs up to face the high cost of accommodation and medical insurance. Rain and natural greenery make me opt for Singapore over Dubai But I would be happy to see Dubai in a league of other global cities that have attained high standard of living purely based on global investment.

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