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.

Islam

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.

Hinduism

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.

Christianity

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.

Others

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.

 

Singlish

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.

Example:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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: Is it legal for Saxo to requote price many times higher

PNGMK:
They do the same on CFD's as well where they have been caught short and the investor has done well.

I trade with Saxo and so far they're ok but I only buy equities and no CFD or Forex.

Re: Australia Day Celebrations

PNGMK:


I keep seeing "boatpeople" as one word - "refugees"!

Re: Is life in Singapore more relaxing than in London?

Addadude:
I lived in London (Streatham Hill) for 3 years prior to coming to Singapore. And I have to say that I found Singapore far more friendly and easier to live in than London. Commute times were much less (for one particular job in London I used to spend 4 hours a day commuting), prices were then (mid-nineties) much lower, Singapore was of course much warmer and I felt a lot safer when out 'gallivanting' at night. I was single so the issues of children's education was not a factor for me.

Typical working hours depend on the industry and company you are in. Going by the rush hour crowds most people here work from 9 - 6. But long working hours (not necessarily terribly productive hours) are far from uncommon. (If you are working in advertising, marketing, PR or events, good luck to you...)

The local schools - if you can get a place for your child - are very stressful exam/homework/additional tuition-wise. The international schools are less so (although as others have observed, pretty demanding all the same) but the fees are bordering on the extortionate.

The next consideration for 'relaxing' comes from what you like to do in your spare time. If you are into shopping and eating Asian food, you are in luck. If your idea of a good time is a spot of gardening and walks in the countryside, maybe not so much. If you like the odd glass of wine in the evening, make sure it's only the odd glass. Alcohol is expensive here.

For most Western expats, Singapore is a place to build your resume. It's a 2 - 3 year stopover on a journey to bigger and better things. If you want to build a life here, you certainly can and it can be very good life indeed. But very different from the life you would live back home.

Re: Is life in Singapore more relaxing than in London?

Primrose Hill:
It seems rather good to me too. Well paid jobs that finish at 5pm, that has me scratching my head as to the industry.

I appreciate that European winters are mostly a PITA, and feel like a trial to endure. There is of course the flipside here of the almost unchanging climate that you can seemingly only escape for brief periods.

Would you still be still be knocking off at 5pm over here? Expats are hired into SG to significantly add value, and they are expected to put in the hours. What is your holiday allowance in the UK, 30 days/+? Would you get that here? You might end up a couple of hours ‘closer to home’ but less able to visit it.

What kind of housing might you be able to afford here? Could you afford a similar size home? Greater London (and similar) offers flexibility and the choice of being farther away from the centre, and allowing you to have more space. The possibility of ‘farther away’ is more limited here, and so therefore is that flexibility.

There are more things that could be suggested, but knowing so little of your circumstances it isn’t possible.

I don’t think that taken alone ‘being a few hours closer to home’, compensates for the challenges and potential compromises that you would face here. The net case to consider such a major relo should be able to stand on it's own two feet, without having to give it a huge amount of thought. Furthermore the fact it's you considering initiating the relo, rather than you being transferred or headhunted, puts you on a back-foot too.

Beware of the grass appearing greener, esp. during the depths of British winter. Just my 2c.

Wah! I want a job that clocks in at 9 and clocks out at 5 and 30days off. No conference calls no emails catching you at home etc.
Living further away aka Greater London or beyond the M25 or outside of Watford? Yes, its called JB

Re: Is life in Singapore more relaxing than in London?

singapore eagle:
As someone who is (currently) choosing to raise a family in Singapore rather than London, the factors that keep us here are broadly:

- better average quality of schools in Singapore. The local maxim is that all schools are good schools, which I think is generally true.
- the lower levels of 'social pressure' that I think my kids will encounter as they grow up.
- the opportunity that they have to learn Mandarin.
- the melting pot of cultures that I think you are exposed to here in Singapore.

Set against this, I am very worried that the local education system won't equip my kids with the skills and the qualities that they need to be successful in their working lives. We are willing to give the system a try, but we won't hesitate to go back to London if we think that the kids' education is closing rather than opening their minds.

Were it not for the kids, and were we looking at this purely as adults, I've always thought that Singapore is the easier place to live if you're poor or rich, but that London is the better choice if you're in the middle classes. I especially wouldn't want to work here as a junior 20-something who's just starting out in his/her career.

Re: Is life in Singapore more relaxing than in London?

JR8:
It seems rather good to me too. Well paid jobs that finish at 5pm, that has me scratching my head as to the industry.

I appreciate that European winters are mostly a PITA, and feel like a trial to endure. There is of course the flipside here of the almost unchanging climate that you can seemingly only escape for brief periods.

Would you still be still be knocking off at 5pm over here? Expats are hired into SG to significantly add value, and they are expected to put in the hours. What is your holiday allowance in the UK, 30 days/+? Would you get that here? You might end up a couple of hours ‘closer to home’ but less able to visit it.

What kind of housing might you be able to afford here? Could you afford a similar size home? Greater London (and similar) offers flexibility and the choice of being farther away from the centre, and allowing you to have more space. The possibility of ‘farther away’ is more limited here, and so therefore is that flexibility.

There are more things that could be suggested, but knowing so little of your circumstances it isn’t possible.

I don’t think that taken alone ‘being a few hours closer to home’, compensates for the challenges and potential compromises that you would face here. The net case to consider such a major relo should be able to stand on it's own two feet, without having to give it a huge amount of thought. Furthermore the fact it's you considering initiating the relo, rather than you being transferred or headhunted, puts you on a back-foot too.

Beware of the grass appearing greener, esp. during the depths of British winter. Just my 2c.

Re: Is 4k sufficient for a couple to survive in SG

ecureilx:
$4k is not enough in the long run.

Initially, you can rent a room instead of a flat. And manage. But over time, you will feel that your needs and expectations will rise. Unless you are able to raise your salary or your wife gets a job, you will start to feel the pain over time.

Take the chance and see if it works. You will never know unless u try.
Then again OP has decided to move .. so ... I will say hope for the best and plan for the worst

You can make it , I am sure

Re: New Passport, do I need to inform MoM/ICA ?

bgd:
Yep that's all you need to do. You only need to notify MOM, not ICA.

Having been through this recently I did get conflicting info from ICA officers at the airport but following the MOM process you outlined was all that was needed in the end.

Re: Some interesting currency moves today

Addadude:


Alas no. He is indeed in the Irish parliament now... From Wikipedia:



The Irish people really have very little choice in GEs. Fine Gael (FG) (in power now, supported by the Irish Labour party)is basically a conservative party. But so is the other traditionally big contender, Fianna Fáil (FF). And the so-called Labour party is so central it is practically to the right. The electorate are so disillusioned with these parties that they are now turning in increasing numbers to more "outlier" parties like the Green Party and Sinn Féin (SF). All opinion polls show that in the event of a new GE, Labour will almost be completely eliminated from parliament with their seats taken by Sinn Féin. Which means either FG or FF will have to make some kind of Faustian pact with SF to govern the country.

Better get used to the idea of the bearded one being at the very least Tánaiste (Deputy PM) of Ireland.

Re: Some interesting currency moves today

JR8:
@Addadude
That's interesting, it reminds me of how little news I get to hear of 'Ireland' (as a whole) at all!

I hope your last line is in jest. I mean how could he sit (or not, as is his habit) in the British parliament and get elected in the Republic of Ireland?

Re: Is life in Singapore more relaxing than in London?

Primrose Hill:
We lived in Central London, worked in the City (financial centre) before moving to SG 3years or so ago. Do I find the SG pace of life slower? Most definitely, even the walk is languid. However, in London both my husband and I have never clocked in at 9am and clocked out at 5pm. However, we do live in Zone 2, about 2km from Oxford St and paid GBP15k pa for private school in London.
School wise - even in the most laidback SG international school, I have found after speaking to friends, schools here; not talking about state schools (that's worse), I'm talking about international schools which is similar to private schools in UK - the standards are higher and the teachers push much harder as well. I am guessing that's due to the IB programme but even TTS and they run a UK based curiculum pushes their students quite hard.
Working in London I am used to working a 10-13hours per day. I have to admit, I deliberately joined a smaller (well, smaller in London) outfit, so that I no longer worked those crazy hours but even then I used to be at my desk by 7.30am and clocked out at 5.30/6pm. Lunch is always in front of the computer.
So, for me, there's a drastic change now that I am here. I still come in early, but have breakkie out, lunch out and clock out at 5pm. The biggest pain here is the timezones, whenever we have to take conference calls.
Even housing wise, there's not much different. A decent size not shoebox 2bed 1 bath apartment where I lived in London will easily set you back GBP850k and that's a mere 700sq feet.

Re: Sundry humour

rajagainstthemachine:
Slogans from various Indian Army outposts

http://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/b ... ype=fbandb=0

Re: Some interesting currency moves today

Wd40:
SGD is a pegged currency against a basket of trade weighted currencies. The USD strength pulls it up a bit and the weakness of others pulls it down a lot. Current MAS stance is gradual appreciation against this whole basket. But if their stance changes in the next policy meeting in Apr, which is quite possible, then you can expect it to underperform other currencies as well.

In the years after the GFC, SGD appreciated a lot against most currencies, because MAS was letting it strengthen to counter inflation.

Re: Some interesting currency moves today

Primrose Hill:
USD is still the currency of last resort.
Hotel Currencyfornia? And I thought being a member of the LME is similar- you can join but can't leave.
My guess is that new PM will get his way - the loan will be so far extended into the sunset we may as well call it a silent default. They will stay in the euro, no way can they reinstate the dharma. If they do that the people that have remain in Greece will see 50% of their savings (if there's any left) wiped off overnight, that's not going to make Mr Troika is well liked newly minted PM.
However, I can't see latest QE by ECB will have an effect though.

My question is why is the USD rising against SGD whilst other currencies are tanking against SGD? Its MYR2.7 to SGD and SGD is doing well against the GBP and EURO

Re: Some interesting currency moves today

Addadude:
@SE
So where next? The rest of the 'PIIGS'.

Oh believe me. There is a of discontent. In fact the recent anti-water charges marches (which though they were not really so much about water charges as they were objections about being told what to do by faceless, unelected European bureaucrats, did force the government to backtrack quite significantly and revealed how little thought was actually put into the water charge process) scared the living bejeezus out of the Irish government. And with a GE in the offing, who knows what will happen? Gerry Adams might suddenly find himself Taoiseach (prime minister).