About Singapore

About Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & Language

This page covers information on culture and language of Singapore. Understanding the culture and heritage of Singapore, the different races and languages like Singlish.

Singapore Culture

Singapore is a cosmopolitan society where people live harmoniously and interaction among different races are commonly seen. The pattern of Singapore stems from the inherent cultural diversity of the island. The immigrants of the past have given the place a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences, all of which have intermingled.

Behind the facade of a modern city, these ethnic races are still evident. The areas for the different races, which were designated to them by Sir Stamford Raffles, still remain although the bulk of Singaporeans do think of themselves as Singaporeans, regardless of race or culture. Each still bears its own unique character.

The old streets of Chinatown can still be seen; the Muslim characteristics are still conspicuous in Arab Street; and Little India along Serangoon Road still has its distinct ambience. Furthermore, there are marks of the British colonial influence in the Neo-Classical buildings all around the city.

Each racial group has its own distinctive religion and there are colorful festivals of special significance all year round. Although the festivals are special to certain races, it is nonetheless enjoyed by all.

In Singapore, food is also readily and widely available. There are lots of cuisines to offer. We have, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and even Fusion. It is very common to savour other culture's food and some of the food can be very intriguing. Indian food are relatively spicier, whereas Chinese food is less spicier and the Chinese enjoy seafood. Malay cooking uses coconut milk as their main ingredient, that makes their food very tasty.

You can refer to our Eating in Singapore section for a list of recommended food outlets in Singapore.

Religion in Singapore

Most Singaporeans celebrate the major festivals associated with their respective religions. The variety of religions is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. The Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism, Taoism, Shenism, Christians, Catholics and some considered as 'free-thinkers' (Those who do not belong to any religion). Malays have the Muslims and Indians are Hindus. There is a sizeable number of Muslims and Sikhs in the Indian population.

Religious tolerance is essential in Singapore. In fact, religions often cross racial boundaries and some even merge in unusual ways in this modern country. Younger Singaporeans tend to combine a little of the mysteries of the older generation with the realistic world that they know of today.

Religion is still an integral part of the cosmopolitan Singapore. Many of its most interesting buildings are religious, be it old temples, modern churches, or exotic mosques. An understanding of these buildings do play a part in contributing to the appreciation of their art.

Chinese Temples

Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and ancestral worship are combined into a versatile mix in Chinese temples.

Followers of the Tao (The Way) adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese legend, Lao Tzu. They are concerned with the balance of the Yin and Yang, which are opposite forces of heaven and earth, male and female. Feng Shui, literally translated as wind and water, also originated from Yin and Yang. Ancestral worship is common and the spirits of the dead, like the gods themselves, are appeased with offerings.

Most Buddhists are of the Mahayana school although there are some from the Theravada school. In Singapore, the Buddhist faith is linked with Taoism and the practical doctrine of Confucianism.


The Malays in Singapore are Muslims. A few of the Indians are also Muslims, but even more uncommon are the Chinese Muslims.

Islam has a fundamental influence in the lives of those who follow the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad. The religion involves praying five times a day, eating only "halal" food, fasting during Ramadan, and going to Mecca on the Haj (pilgrimage). Halal food means food that has been specially prepared as according to the religion's dietary requirements.


As the Indian immigrants migrate to Singapore, they brought with them Hinduism. The early temples are still the central points of rituals and festivals, which are held throughout the year.


One will be able to find Christian churches of all denominations in Singapore. They were actually established with the arrival of various missionaries after the coming of Sir Stamford Raffles. Together with Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, Christianity is considered one of the four main religions today. There is quite a large number of Christians on the island.


Minority faiths are not forgotten. There are at least two synagogues for the Jews and Sikhs. The Zoroastrians and Jains are also represented in Singapore.

Language in Singapore

The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English is the most common language used and is the language which unites the different ethnic groups. Children are taught in English at school but also learn their mother tongue to make sure they don't lose contact with their traditions.

Expatriates and foreigners may encounter language problems in the beginning of their stay in Singapore as many Singaporeans use Singlish to communicate. Singlish is a mix of English with other languages mixed into the English, sometimes phrases can end with funny terms like 'lah', 'leh', mah'. Chinese commonly use their own dialects to communicate, and sometimes, inter-dialect groups don't understand one another's language, as the language is vastly different. Except for Hokkien and Teochew, which have a closer link. The Malays use the language among their fellow races and the Indians speak Tamil. But whatever the race or religion, the country's community unite as one nation, where most religious or racial gaps are being bridged.

Singapore English has its origins in the schools of colonial Singapore. In the nineteenth century very few children went to school at all, and even fewer were educated in English. The people who spoke English and sent their children to English medium schools were mainly the Europeans, the Eurasians (people of mixed racial ancestry), some of the small minorities, such as the Jews, some of the Indians and Ceylonese, and also a group of Chinese people usually called the Straits Chinese, who had ancestors of long residence in the region, and who spoke a variety of Malay usually called Baba Malay which was influenced by Hokkien Chinese and by Bazaar Malay.

The fact that all these children would have known Malay probably explains why most of the loan words in Singapore Colloquial English are from Malay. The largest group of teachers were Eurasians, and there were also many teachers from Ceylon and India. European teachers were never more than a quarter of the total teaching staff in a school, and they usually taught the senior classes. These Europeans may have been from Britain (which at that time included Ireland) but were also from the USA, Belgium and France. The children in these schools would have been exposed to many varieties of English.

In the first twenty years of the twentieth century, English medium education became popular for all groups. Girls started going to school in larger numbers too. By the 1950s nearly all children went to school, and the majority were educated in English. By the 1980s. all education was in the medium of English (with children learning another language alongside English).

Singapore English grew out of the English of the playground of these children of various linguistic backgrounds who were learning English at school. As more and more of its people experienced learning English at school, English became widely spoken, alongside Singapore's many other languages. Since Singapore became an independent Republic in 1965, the use of English has increased still further. For many Singaporeans, English is the main language. Many families speak English at home and it is one of the the first languages learnt by about half of the current pre-school children.

Nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking three or four. Most children grow up bilingual from infancy and learn more languages as they grow up. Naturally the presence of other languages (especially various varieties of Malay and of Chinese) has influenced the English of Singapore. The influence is especially apparent in the kind of English that is used informally, which is popularly called Singlish. Singlish is a badge of identity for many Singaporeans.



Singapore English usually come from other languages spoken in Singapore, especially Malay and Hokkien. Speakers of Singlish are not necessarily aware of which language they are from however.


  • habis - finished
  • makan - to eat
  • chope - to reserve something
  • cheem - difficult, complicated
  • ang mo - a white person
  • rojak - mixed, a mix of
  • liao - finished, the end
  • kiasu - afraid to lose mentality

Speakers of Singlish will usually end his sentence with a distinctive exclamation. The three most common are ah, lah, ley and what.


  • OK lah, bye bye.
  • Don't like that lah.
  • You are going there ah?
  • No parking lots here, what.
  • The price is too high for me lah.
  • And then how many rooms ah?
  • It is very troublesome ley.
  • Don't be like that ley!
  • I'm not at home lah. That's why ah.
Related Page

Re: In global talent survey, Malaysia races ahead of Asian n


Generally agreed. But I think it is a parsed issue.

Those who attend 1st world universities abroad, either have an epiphany and 'see the light' of opportunity abroad and take it, or they do or don't see it and decide to return to the 'secure fishbowl' that is Singapore.

I've written previously of my first hand encounters with 'Contact Singapore' abroad. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, a generously budgeted government department that operates abroad, tasked with persuading those expat SGns with the skills and cojones to leave , to return home.

The irony is that those with the wherewithal to 'quit', are precisely the kind of people the government need for the future plans of this country.

p.s. Finding other than the highly disparaging and condescending term 'quitter' to pin on them might be a good start, and such a tag points to the cultural basis of precisely why many 'talents' choose to make their lives elsewhere. I mean if you were educated, skilled, and global, why would you opt to return to somewhere where the government and society lable you thus? QED.

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me


EP landlord? I don't believe that's legal. One has to be PR or citizen and even with PR, there are a lot of caveats.

So I don't get this bit from you and SMS. If it is a private property (say condo), a foreigner can own it. Why can't they rent it (or a room) out? Is that explicitly prohibited?

Note that OP never said this was HDB. Later posts make me believe you're right for this case because of shadiness, but your statement here implies that all foreigners just cannot sublet a unit even if they own it.

Yep, it's perfectly legal to own and rent out a condo unit even without any longer term residential status in Singapore.

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me

I am sorry, that isn't true. Source: my battle with my ex-landlord.
I had to terminate a lease early due to a change in circumstances and reduced finances.
My landlord was also adamant that I couldn't break the lease.
I advertised and found a replacement to take over the lease for the remaining duration, then notified the Landlord whose reply was also "I don't want to lease to anybody else". I also pointed out that there was a clause permitting sub-letting (not my preferred route) with her permission, which was also (unreasonably?) denied.
I wrote to the Landlord again, telling her that I had done everything reasonable to ensure that she didn't suffer any financial loss, and that if she tried to recover any unpaid rent from me in a legal process I had the necessary evidence to prove that I had done everything reasonable to mitigate her losses and that *she* had refused to accept the solution.
The next phone call was "Does your new tenant want a 2yr lease?" Haha.
Find a replacement and force the issue. If it gets as far as court and she is being picky, the court won't take kindly to her "losses" is my guess.

Yes CG, the was the best course of action, and from the LLs position unassailable :)

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me


True, my understanding is that lack of stamping simply prohibits the TA being introduced as evidence in any later legal proceedings. I.e. in the eyes of the law the TA doesn't exist.

(Just my experience/understanding)

Re: Singapore IT recruiters and jobhunting

Another thing I've noticed with multiple recruiters is that they get some key things wrong while describing the role. For example they will say things like there are x amount of existing staff in the team/company or these are the up and coming projects but once you get an interview its clear that this is not the case. I don't know if it is shoddy work or talking rubbish but they are not helping themselves. Either way an interviewer started off with 'what did the recruiter tell you about the role' which can't be good for them if its not accurate. The above example is from a recruitment company that was awarded preferred recruitment firm 2013. Seems that they are all the same from my experience.

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me

I have recently lost my job. I have informed my landlord around 75 days (more than 2 months) about my situation, and that I will be breaking the lease. I have requested that she should use my deposit as my last month's rent, but she has refused unless I find a replacement for my lease. What rights do I have as a tenant?

There are no diplomatic clauses in my contract. I can send a copy to anyone who is interested to take a look and help. I cannot ask my agent because they are friends (I even once caught the agent taking a shower in my unit's common bathroom). Thank you very much.

Your deposit is against damages/dilapidations above and beyond . These are gauged upon your check-out.

So you cannot take it upon yourself to imagine that the deposit can be offset against final rent. You have to , and then at the end of any agreed term, expect to receive back your deposit, less any agreed deductions. Suggesting otherwise will have already set alarm bells ringing...

Your obligations are set out in your tenancy agreement. I'd suggest not trying to modify them for your own personal convenience.

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me


Currently on EP. Landlord is the same.

What status the LL is on is irrelevant. The issue rests on you and your TA. I'd suggest you focus on that.

Re: Ear infections


My local GP referred me to a specialist. The simplest way of giving a summary is Copy/Pasting an anonymised version of a recap of the experience I wrote to my wife when I got home :
'In brief he used a sucker/vacuum probe thing to vacuum ‘white goo’ off my eardrums. There was a screen on the wall so I got to watch the action up real close!

I then went back into the waiting room where he treated my ears with H2O2/peroxide. Bit weird as this was in front of others. So first one ear, and I had to sit with my head tilted to the side looking like a spazzer, and then he came back after 10-15mins and did the same to the other ear. So for 20-30mins no one wanted to sit next to spazzer-matsal...

Then I went back in and he inspected my ears again and did some more ‘vacuuming’. Then he said I have a middle ear infection and that he wanted to put the camera probe up there (via my eustachian tube/throat I imagine) to check and that would be an additional $3-400. And could I wait 2 hours until he had a time slot for that? I replied that I was referred to him for external ear-cleaning, and that I have no health insurance for any of these works, I’m paying 100% from my own account, and asked if it was *really* necessary.

So he relented, and said that he would put me on medicine and that should relieve it, and that if it didn’t to return to him again. He faxed a ‘letting of findings’ to ). He applied some triple component cream (steroid, anti-fungal, and antibiotic) cream to my ear canals and that was me done. He said he would prescribe the medicine required but volunteered that it would be cheaper to get them from my neighborhood GP, he would charge $90 for them. He also gave me a discount on one line on his bill of something like 50% off $150, so about $75, and kept repeating I mustn’t tell anyone. So that was me in total $315 lighter, but better than the suggested ... circa $800 it was heading for...

He wanted me to make a follow-up appointment in 2 weeks right then. I suggested that if the treatment doesn’t work *then* I’ll make an appointment. I.e. I’m not going to book now to go back and pay maybe $500 to tell him I’m fine... I left feeling I’d received good advice and immediate treatment, but was, well, like at , being treated like a cash-cow to be milked to the max.

So on the way home I dropped in on will *certainly* be cheaper from me’, so that was that, in and out in five minutes. Cost $42 (i.e. under half what the specialist would have charged).

Ouch still, but $350 is better than the $850 it would have been!'

So I'd like to raise a few cautionary points from this experience:
- I was referred to this specialist by my local doctor. I would have been quite happy seeing a 'local' specialist, but it turned out to be the Presidents ENT specialist (no less), with fees to match.
- It felt like there was an automatic presumption that I'd be billing any fees, and so would agree to any proposed treatment, ad hoc, whether they were a part of the original scope or not.

=> I'd suggest if you are not on medical insurance here, and get referred to a private specialist, that right at the outset you politely explain that all costs are coming from your own pocket. Resolving this 'simple ear infection' has already cost me about $500, and it is no better yet! :?

==> Oh, and *don't* use cotton ear-buds to 'clean' your ear-canals!

Importing personal belongings to Singapore

I've searched the forums a bit but felt I needed to post the question and see how others have dealt with this.

We have recently moved here from The Netherlands, and settled in to our new apartment in the Joo Chiat area and we're loving it!

In the weeks prior to moving our family to Singapore, we have shipped one pallet of moving boxes containing precious personal belongings to arrive early December. We recently received the update that the ship has arrived and our stuff can be picked up and cleared on Dec 2nd. (yay!). However, we still need to arrange our own forwarder to take care of the customs clearance, documents and delivery to our door. For this we've asked one forwarder for a quote and were stunned by the amount they are quoting (over 1200 SGD for 1 pallet).

Not knowing the least bit about this, I asked for quotes from 2 other companies. One is Astro, found in a sticky topic here viewtopic.php?t=97630. The other is a contact my wife got from a Facebook group for Expats.

Can anyone here share their experience shipping their stuff to Singapore, and perhaps tip us on a good company to go with? We'll need to arrange it this week, not to get charged the storage costs after the goods have been unloaded from the container.

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me

I think we've established beyond a doubt that OP's landlord is definitely shady and and very likely doing something illegal. I will do some research and perhaps email MOM to see if I can determine if a legitimate EP holder is allowed to own a second private property and derive rental income from it.

Re: In global talent survey, Malaysia races ahead of Asian n


Taking up permanent residence in a foreign country then moving back to Singapore is a drastic decision. I doubt it has anything to do with they being used to be coddled by Singapore gov.
In fact, people in western countries are much more coddled by their governments. At least there is no one living on the dole in Singapore. On equal economic conditions, getting a job or running a business in Singapore is not at all easier than in any other western countries.
I personally know a person in Australia. She owns a couple cheap apartments renting out to poor migrants, students (those people who cannot get a proper rent because of lacking reference). She only receives rent in cash to avoid tax. Her net worth is at least 2 millions. Yet she still lives on the dole!
I would call that exploiting the system instead of being able to think for oneself.

Western and westernized countries have a stronger sense of social responsibility than Singapore, hence dole systems and such. Now, of course you got bludgers who exploit and abuse the system. I agree that that behavior should be discouraged, sanctioned or punished but I think that's a different issue altogether. A safety net is a must for any modern state but implementing ways of preventing abuses is NOT out of the question.

NB: I'm not a "bleeding-heart" liberal but I do lean left of center.

Back to topic, Singapore indeed does not coddle people like Western countries do but they do "coddle" businesses (and by extension people who run those businesses). The whole economy of Singapore is based upon aggressive investments by Temasek and implementing all sorts of incentives to encourage to do business on the island.

Re: BEST Pizza in Singapore!!

A recent discovery of mine is Bistroquet at ARC in Alexandra Road. Their pizzas are pretty good and they have a small but good selection of craft beers to wash 'em down. https://www.facebook.com/Bistroquet#!/B ... b=overview#!/Bistroquet/info

Re: [need advice] I lost my job and my landlord is kicking me

I don't really know, but it might be enough for the errant "LL" to have second thoughts about pushing the issue regarding the use of deposit and the lack of stamp duties having been paid. But I do know that offshore owners have to pay 15% offshore tax rates on Singapore generated income. The problem, I suppose, would be in the definition. If one does not own the property, then it's not investment income if you rent and then sublet. Then it looks like a means of doing a sideline income (especially if the rental is more than the "percentage" of occupancy vrs percentage of "rent" being paid to offset the main lessors rent, e.g., making a profit).

Re: 26 / M / Looking for friends

Hi everyone,
I'm newbie in this forum and in this country, Andy 29/M/Indonesia.. interested to join hang out together, having coffee chat, etc. My Number +6597740742.


Re: The first few days

We're sticking with public transport, thank you very much! Ha..! It is an absolute pleasure to go by public transport once you've experienced Australian's transport system. Routes, times and fees are a disgrace.

A quick update here. Research seems to be progressing well. I am finding . to be extremely handy and comprehensive. Gumtree looks fairly alright but looks slightly dodgy. I've shortlisted a few choice listings on .. My husband will stay in a hostel for 2 weeks or so and hopefully by then, sort out the accomodation.

Good plan, public transport is very good here. When looking for accommodation don't forget that the bus system is extensive and (generally) efficient. It's not always necessary to be close to the MRT, also look at the bus routes.