Singapore was a very interesting place back in the late 80s. I travelled through there frequently working on a project that took me repeatedly from there to Hong Kong and back to San Francisco on a regular basis.
Singapore offered amazing shopping and entertainment for those of us that worked there.
The place was not only very clean, it was safe and peaceful. Expat workers felt very comfortable even strolling the streets in the evening.
Hong Kong on the other hand was crowded, noisy and always active. The city never slept.
The bustle of commerce was constant. Even though it was still a British Colony, we all knew there were unsafe places throughout the city.
Still, Hong Kong had this amazing attraction. The cramped restaurants and tiny shops all packed together made for a very rewarding life.
The diversity and the energy made me feel like I was part of a human movement working together toward some common goal - a goal we probably didn't even recognize.
I would spend some time in Singapore, working and then relaxing before catching the short flight to Hong Kong.
There I was swept away by a flood of human endeavor that more resembled a colony of ants than anything else.
Under Singapore's serenity was a governmental system that tolerated no dissent or wavier from the rules.
There were already video cameras monitoring every street intersection, every public place and even some restrooms.
Signs reminded people of the rules in multiple languages. It was true that spitting out chewing gum could get you arrested.
The peace they offered came at the loss of personal freedoms.
Hong Kong tried to enforce their rules, but the populous outpaced the government's ability to keep tight controls.
The result was a level of chaos and some danger to the mass of humanity that lived there.
Yet it seemed that people in Hong Kong were freer. They could do things that would not have been allowed in Singapore.
With each visit I began to find a direct correlation to a problem I had within the project that brought me to these places.
I had a fellow worker that I just did not get along with. He was a very straight laced engineer that saw life and the project in very direct terms. He saw no points of deviation and no need to build any humanity into the effort.
I felt the project was anything but a straight design.
To me it had the potential to do many things, to engage the unknown and to become some entity beyond its original concept.
We fought a lot about the project and as a result we didn't like each other.
I recently realized the answer to that project was in Singapore and Hong Kong the whole time.
Both gave up something to be the places they wanted to be.
Singapore wanted safety and a peaceful existence. Their people were willing to let go of their freedom to have that.
Hong Kong wanted to be out there building a future, allowing people to work toward tomorrow. Their population gave up some of their security and uniformity to have what they wanted.
Our finished project became an unwieldy compromise. It wasn't what I had envisioned and it wasn't what he wanted. It wasn't perfect, but then neither were we.
Neither Singapore nor Hong Kong are perfect either. Yet, they are both very special places.
My coworker recently passed away. We never patched things up between us.
Today, both Singapore and Hong Kong stand as pillars of Asian economic power. They work in unison while being very different.
It is a lesson I should have realized a long time ago - in unison we can truly make great things happen.