Culture and Language

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.
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Sim Lim Square - Good, bad and ugly - READ BEFORE VISITING

Hello guys and gals,

So you may have heard of this wonderful place that has almost all of your IT needs, Sim Lim Square (SLS).

Well, it really is a place where you can get almost everything you need about computers and gadgets, it's a heaven for those that are familiar with it, while it can also be a nightmare where tourists and people that are unfamiliar with it pay much more for what they thought was a good deal:

- Previously Owned/Used gadgets which was sold as New, seal wrapped/ official merchandise tape, all are possible to be faked

- Paying for a 'One time offer' or 'last piece', where stocks are actually abundant.

- Success negotiation, actually SLS is highly syndicated as in, you may think that you're going around negotiating with different shops for a same item and eventually got a nice deal where, behind the scenes, they are actually working for the same boss.

- Signed something seemingly harmless/paid before you checked the goods, there are many unscrupulous merchants that prey on the unknowing victims

YES so please do take note of what you're getting into before heading to Sim Lim Square. It is not a place for the faint hearted.


- of what you intend to buy:
Make a online research, check out with a Tech Savy friend, Amazon, Qoo10, Lazada. Online Price Guides or Pricelists of previous IT Shows. There are forums filled with friendly people more than willing to share such as Hardware Zone of VR-Zone Forums. They do sell 2nd hand goods too. If you choose to be educated by the information provided by the shop sales person, do take them with a pinch of salt. DO NOT TRUST blindly even if they seemed really nice.

Go to Google: Enter Pricelist Singapore <RAM/SSD>/<ITshow>/<PCshow>/YEAR

If you bought something, REMEMBER, WHO dealt with you, WHAT did they say, WHERE did they go off to when taking your money or items, WHEN did they return and in what state did they bring it out to you, HOW did they show you your item. After you paid, they can pretend that they have never met you. Inspect the box and items. Seal wraps can be faked. Brand tapes can be bought. E.g. Lenovo Taped box, they tear it open in front of you, but really the contents are not exactly new.

In a place as such, I could say you can even consider wearing a microphone for evidence.

- 1st and 2nd Level, but still applies to all levels as long as you are not familiar:
Most of the time the first 2 Level are full of pretty lady, polite gentleman. They offer a discount/package "just for you". No really it's just a sales pitch. Don't feel bad that you have to buy from them just because they seemed nice. They are after your wallet's contents. They have a laugh about it behind your back with their colleagues.

While the first 2 levels may look all bright and sleek. It's usually a pretense.

- Another annoying method of sales
So you've seen the pricelist, seen the huge promotion XX% off what you needed. Great deal, Ima get it. "Sorry this item is currently sold out as it is so popular. But we do have an alternative which is also a great deal!" Yes, while it may be true that some items do run out. DO NOT be distracted by their offers. Check out for what you came for. If else compare their offer with everywhere else. There can easily be a $20-30 difference from personal experience.

- Ask about everything and confirm the details before paying:
Is it a local unit, is it brand new unused, is it unlocked and usable overseas, where to claim the warranty, is there GST rebate, is the price GST inclusive etc literally ask all you want. And make sure of everything before you hand over your money. If you were asked to sign any documents, DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING.

- Not an ideal place to get from
iPhones, Samsung Galaxy whatnot, you should not need to get them from SLS because the prices should be the same everywhere else. Laptops, well prices should be the same as well, though they may offer different freebies. But REMEMBER, the freebies are most of the time a bunch of items you don't need.

They should know what you need and what to watch for, in the event that, the sales person tries something funny. They pull a quick one pretending even if they don't know what you need and they are good at it. You end up buying something completely useless to you.

So you are familiar with the above 7 points. You are fearless. Now you want to strike a bargain on what you intend to buy. Here's how you bargain:
ii. Buy everything (or almost all on your list) you want from 1 store
iii. Mention you are paying by cash
iv. I don't need the freebies, is there more discount if I don't take them?
v. For Tourists: Ask for GST rebate

Ask for your discount, mention that it's a friend's budget, they only have this much. Ask them to round down the figure to the next 5 or 0.

Depending on the purchase amount it's possible to shave off savings of $50-100

Example Cases: ... s-example/

Personal (6 months working experience):
1. I have worked at a laptop shop with 5 different named outlets. A customer buys a NEW Laptop at outlet A. Sales person goes to outlet B to pack one of the display units into the original box, tapes it up with the Branded Tape to make it look like a sealed unit when they open it up in front of the customer. The laptop doesn't even boot into what a total brand new Laptop should. No setup etc. Just into Windows. I do warn customers that I engage if there's no one around.

2. Friendly gentleman D sitting on a booth selling phones. Sells 4 ' Original iPhone's to a tourist A. Ensures to A that it is the real iPhone, original, sealed, warranty unregistered. What Tourist A actually bought is a fake iPhone usually sold to tourists or others at $150-200. Tourist A paid $700+ for each of them, total $2800 of garbage they paid for. After completing the transaction, gentleman D packs up his booth for the day, disappears for at least a week before showing up again.

Other sites to read: ... apore/2611 ... quare.html

Thank you very much for your time and patience, I hope the post is useful for you should you decide to venture to Sim Lim Square. Please do use the contents as you please but do not claim credit as your own. At least credit Singapore Expats as the source for hosting.

I visit the place as and when I need items or family members need my help with certain things. Do feel free to ask if you have any questions! I will try to answer to the best of my abilities.

Re: Inspirations For Today

"Farmers are the cornerstone of America". Our honest and down-to-earth American farmers :love: ... hark-tank/

Re: Letter of Consent Issues

If the reason of the unstable relationship does not lie with her. She should check if she has fulfilled the requirements to be able to stay here even after divorce. Or what else does she need in order to stay here.

It's unfair for her if she has to bear the consequences for falling in love with the wrong person who seemed like the right choice at the point of time.

We might have a couple of people here in the forums that are familiar with the legal aspects of that.

Re: Existing Salary for new Job

Pretty interesting sharing!

It's always been an annoyance for me when I see the blank for "Last drawn salary" .

Honestly because I worked in kitchens, the pay was really crappy. We're looking at amounts of under $1500. Even with 3 years experience. Food and beverage industry in Singapore is about quite as bad as many places.

1. Expected Salary - It's hard to ask for even 1800
2. Working Hours - Worse scenarios will be split shifts essentially you're not able to rest properly and usually OT are unpaid. Bosses take advantage of Food and Beverage staff, especially the ones in the kitchen as they deem that we need to learn their skills therefore should make a compensation in things as such.
3. Prospect - Don't really even need to think about it if you're working in small establishments.

Those are like kind of the reasons I ended up going to Sales for F and B. And juggling a few other side lines.

Expected Salary, most people don't want to pay for a kitchen staff. It's in a way more beneficial to work as a part-time staff where you have to be paid hourly.

But still it depends on the industry you're in! Good luck!

PR Approval Chances

Like everything else, it will vary from from person to person, or in this case, landlord to landlord so youve got to look around.

My EP got approved after 4 months

I cant let go.. I just cant. Anyway still lots to do. Still waiting on that land. Chris, how is that land looking my dear?

Re: Questions about tax and EP

EP, S pass or Work Permit (WP) makes no difference. All will take approximately the time length of time. How long is that? How long is a piece of string. If you have been here before, you already have a FIN number and aside from the salary level shouldn't be any difference. I'm not sure why your employer applied for Work Permits previously as you can get an EP for 3 or 6 months as well. No need to stay until the end of the permit, it just gets cancelled when your job is done, no problem.

Having said that, working on a Work Permit has disadvantages as you might not get one if the employer's quota is filled up. Same with an S pass. EP, currently, are not subject to any quotas or levies like WP and S passes are. Generally it only takes a week or two unless you cannot be vetted very easily in your home country.

Re: Public transport fare

There was a fare cut in bus fares in Jan or Feb of 2015 as well. So this is the 2nd time they have cut fares.

Looking for tennis buddy

To play at bedok residences private tennis court, weekdays 8.30pm. Just looking to have fun and burn some fats

Re: Mid 30s male (UK) fancying several beers

Tony Hayer's Aeriel:

Great, I'll send you a PM with my number!

Re: Working in Singapore: Obtaining an EntrePass

Strong Eagle:
These days, almost nobody wanting to open a small business or operate as a single professional... financial planner, consultant, project manager, etc... can get an Entrepass. The rules are too onerous.

Many threads exist in the business forum of alternative ways to setting up a business in Singapore.

Re: Mobile app/platform (similar to uber)

Strong Eagle:
So the reality is that you need to find someone you trust who is a PR or a singaporean citizen to be a nominee director...?

I.e. by friends girlfriend is singaporean so she could potentially be the nominee director.

Yes - she could be a director. There is no such thing as a "nominee" director. You are either a director or you are not.

You cannot give up duties and responsibilities of a director as specified in the companies act. Therefore, your friend's girlfriend is legally accountable for anything you do or don't do in the company.

Fail to file annual reports on time? She is responsible. Fail to file tax returns? She is responsible. Fail to keep proper minutes and records of directors resolutions? She is responsible. Violate any provisions of the companies act? She is responsible. You commit a criminal act? She is responsible. Company is sued for fraud? She is personally liable.

This is why most people refuse to be a director of a company for which they are not personally involved. Companies that will rent you a director will insist on seeing monthly bank statements. They will handle all your accounting. They will handle all your EP applications. They want to protect themselves.

Re: RE: Questions about tax & EP

Hey guys,
I have the oppurtunity from my company to go for one year to SG - my European company has a foreign branch there and I'd get a local contract by beginning of Jan'17.
Until now I worked always with a work permit in SG (1-2-3 months, then back to my country). Now my company has to apply for an EP. What happens if it needs 3-4 months to get it (like some other members here mentioned) but I have to start already in January with my work there? Can I get such a work permit in the meantime also with a local contract?

So far I have no details yet about my new contract but I expect that I'll get at least 1:1 the same salary just in SGD, instead of Euro.
How high is the tax? Do I have to pay any other social contributions? For this one year I prefer a travel health insurance..

thanks in advance for your answers!
Firstly, do read up on past posts in this subject.

Anyway, tax rates can be calculated using the calculator provided at

Only permanent residents and citizens need to pay for Social security, locally known as CPF.

And welcome to Singapore!!

Questions about tax and EP

Hey guys,
I have the oppurtunity from my company to go for one year to SG - my European company has a foreign branch there and I'd get a local contract by beginning of Jan'17.
Until now I worked always with a work permit in SG (1-2-3 months, then back to my country). Now my company has to apply for an EP. What happens if it needs 3-4 months to get it (like some other members here mentioned) but I have to start already in January with my work there? Can I get such a work permit in the meantime also with a local contract?

So far I have no details yet about my new contract but I expect that I'll get at least 1:1 the same salary just in SGD, instead of Euro.
How high is the tax? Do I have to pay any other social contributions? For this one year I prefer a travel health insurance..

thanks in advance for your answers!