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Culture of Singapore - Where East Meets West!

Welcome to Singapore - a small, prosperous island nation, curiously known to be both, a city and a country is a part of the world's strongest economies. Singapore has something in store for every kind of tourist. The culture in Singapore is unique - being influenced by Malay, South Asian, Eurasian and East Asian - resulting in harmony between different communities. 

Singapore's Customs & Traditions

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Despite being small sized, its local customs and traditions are a blend of multiple ethnic influences including Chinese, Malay, Indians and others, the reason being the country's history as a trading hub. This diversity is also reflected in terms of spoken languages which include English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. Talking about a few customs that Singaporeans abide by:
  • One cannot put his/her chopsticks in an upright position while having food as doing so can cause him some glares from the people around because the only time Singaporeans put their chopsticks upright is during funerals.
  • Taking off his/her shoes before entering a house including temples and mosques.
  • Not bringing dogs near their Muslim friends as they consider dogs to be unclean.
  • Bringing along food and flowers to Hindu or Buddhist temples as an offering for the gods.

The Architecture of Singapore

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Displaying a range of styles and influences from various regions and periods, one does not have to look far seeking some architectural wonders in Singapore. The city is packed with award-winning architectural wonders- from soaring skyscrapers to unique art-deco style office buildings. The extensive network of high-speed trains enables one to enjoy the charms of train travel besides the stunning architecture of the magnificent buildings, eco-friendly condominiums and some of the coolest modern and contemporary architectural designs. Today, the mixed pot of culture in Singapore blends perfectly with its ever-changing modern landscape.

Singapore's Cuisine

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Offering a diverse cuisine, containing elements from cuisines of China, Indonesia as well as other regions like Thailand, Singapore has something for everyone, food that suits all taste buds. Singaporean cuisine consists of three pillars - Rice, Noodles and Seafood. As a symbol of unifying cultural thread, people from various communities come and eat together being mindful of each other's culture. One can even experience the best recipe for noodles or tofu by eating at hawker centres. Outstanding gastronomy, delicious wines and a wide variety of desserts are all waiting for you once you plan your visit to Singapore. No doubt why, eating is known to be a national pastime and food, an obsession among Singaporeans.

Festivals of Singapore

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With its year-round fun-filled celebrations, Singapore is known to have three most important festivals namely Chinese New Year, Hindu festival Thaipusam and Malay festival Hari Raya Puasa as the majority of this island's population constitute of three ethnic groups- Chinese, Indian and Malay. Chinese community reunites during the initial two months of a year to celebrate one of the most exciting festivals of Singapore - Chinese New Year - alternatively known as the Lunar New Year. One can witness the enthusiasm of the locals as the festival arrives by visiting Chinatown and be a part of this significant celebration. Aidilfitri, otherwise known as Hari Raya Puasa, is celebrated at the end of the Ramadan period. One can have a glimpse of Unity in Singaporeans by visiting Kampong Glam when they gather to breakfast late afternoon, especially when the Muslim community invites non-Muslim friends to join in the festivities.

Singapore's Folk Dance and Music Scene

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The range of dance comprising traditional, as well as contemporary, is a reflection of the diversity of the culture in Singapore. Predominated by the Chinese community, the island population also consists of Indians, Malays and Indonesians highlighting Singapore as a multicultural country. Lion Dance by the Chinese community is performed during various festivities like New Year while the Malay National Dance - Zapin - is popular among Malays. One can even find Indian Bharatanatyam and Kathak been taught in multiple schools in Singapore. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best places to experience western-style performing arts including Opera and Ballet with the courtesy of Symphony Orchestra at Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay which offers free jazz and opera performances occasionally by the water's edge. The island is also known to host a range of music festivals like Mosaic Music Festival and the cutting edge Baybeats every year attracting various international stars and rock bands from overseas.

Arts and Crafts in Singapore

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Art in Singapore today is a blend of contemporary works and traditional crafts, including time-honoured Chinese abstracts with the potential of highlighting itself in any western modern art exhibition held in Singapore from time to time. Starting from the Singapore Art Museum, appreciating what the place has got to offer; one interacts with art signifying the majestic history of Singapore. Carrying on to numerous permanent art galleries showcasing various forms like Italian Art - Japanese Art at Mizuma Gallery and Chinese abstract art at Pearl Lam Galleries - Singapore has no shortage of craft-related or artsy activities for any guest. Art therapy is a favourite activity among Singaporeans and craftworks like T-shirt printing, pottery and Chinese Calligraphy are some unique ways to get acquainted with Singapore's art & culture.

Religion in Singapore

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Being home to more than ten religions and most Christians being Chinese or Eurasian, religion in Singapore is a blend of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism characterised by various religious beliefs and practices. No doubt why Singapore is known to be the world's most religiously diverse nation. Buddhism has maximum followers, followed by the Christian Community. Despite being a multicultural nation, religious harmony is maintained by being mindful of each other's customs, beliefs and practices - Chinese ethnic groups merging their places of worship with other religions such as Hinduism and Islam. When in Singapore, one can even come across people accepting more than one religion.

Singlish: Language and Common Phrases

Standard English is considered as one of Singapore’s official languages but the locals and commoners alike like to use Singlish, the Singaporean version of English even though it is heavily discouraged by the government, the government even going as far as creating a movement called Speak Good English to stop people from conversing using Singlish. Singlish came into existence due to the British occupation of Singapore until 1965 and then English took a life of its own. The working class who learned English without formal schooling gave birth to modern-day Singlish. The Singlish vocabulary has words borrowed from other languages like Malay, Cantonese, Tamil, Hokkien, Teochew and much more. In more recent times, American and Australian slang also have crept into the Singlish vocabulary.

Common Phrases

Chope: To reserve something.

Example: “I’ve choped a table at Forty Hands Cafe for next Tuesday.”

Lah, Lor, Leh, Meh: These are usually used at the ending of sentences and meanings vary according to tone, syntax, and context.

Example: “That’s how its done lah.” (Lah is the word of finality here)

               “I just did it lor.” (Lor is used when nothing else can be done)

               “I didn’t know that’s where we have to go leh.” (Leh is used for uncertainty here)

               “Is that a cafe, meh?” (Meh is usually used for rhetorical questions or to emphasize)


Shiok: To describe something, usually food as delicious.

Example: “This Rosti is so flavorful, so shiok.”

Onz: Another way of agreeing to something. Giving consent.

Example: “Onz, I will come.”

Ulu: Out of the way, anything that takes more than an hour to reach.

Example: “That’s too ulu for me, find someone else lah.”

Kiasu: A term for someone who is afraid of missing out or for someone selfish usually.

Example: “That guy was so kiasu he ran ahead of everyone else.”

Fine City: General Offences

Discipline: Singaporeans give a lot of importance to discipline and if someone is found to be not adhering to the norms, corporal punishment is actually widely accepted and this is usually done through the use of canes. So, be sure to respect the rules and customs to avoid caning.

Chewing Gum: Chewing Gum is totally banned in Singapore so when you’re leaving for Singapore, leave it behind. Importing chewing gum even if its personal use is illegal. Improper disposal of gums and trying to import it can get you fines of up to 1000 dollars.

Littering: Singapore prides itself on being one of the few really clean countries in the world with active campaigns against littering in place. First-time offenders are fined up to 300 dollars even if it’s something as small as a cigarette butt. Those who throw away larger stuff are considered to be defiant and are required to appear before the court.

Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in some areas of the country and it includes indoor spaces where people come together. The smoking act was put together to ensure a safe, healthy environment that safeguards the people from inhaling second-hand smoke.

Jaywalking: This refers to the reckless or illegal crossing of roads, in Singapore, there are designated areas from where you can cross the road. So, always make sure you cross the roads only at designated areas.

Vandalism: This is a very serious offense in Singapore and can get you up to 2 to 8 canings with hefty fines. Vandalism is considered as destroying and damaging property if it's done without the owner’s consent and is considered illegal. Putting up posters, placards, stickers are also prohibited.

Drugs: The Singapore Police is authorized to conduct random drug tests anytime they wish to make sure you’re cleared of every substance before you enter the country to avoid any kind of problems.

Not flushing the toilet: It is actually illegal if you don’t flush the toilet after using it in Singapore and if you’re caught, just get ready to pay a fine as it comes under breach of property according to Singaporean laws.  

Cleanliness

Singapore prides itself on being a clean and green city. The Keep Singapore Clean Campaign launched on the first of October 1968 by the then Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, the month-long campaign aimed to make Singapore the cleanest country in the region. The campaign went after Singaporeans and educated them on the benefits of not littering and a cleaner Singapore. The government believed that being clean and green would increase foreign investors and travelers. The campaign was a resounding success with Singapore now considered to be one of the cleanest countries in the world. Now, Singapore has some of the strictest littering laws in the world with fines of up to 300 dollars for first-time offenders who throw small articles and people who throw away larger things are considered to be defiant and have to appear before the court.

Queuing in Singapore

Singaporeans value discipline more than anything. The people are actually obsessed with being orderly and precise. They have no issue with standing in a queue for something that is good. Everywhere else we tend not to queue because as humans we have the need to get that something before someone else gets it, but Singaporeans know that it’s a waste of time and a hassle to not be in a queue and so, in Singapore you get to see some of the most orderly queues you can find.

With the rich and diverse culture of Singapore, choosing this place as your holiday destination for adventure, culture, festivals, architecture and landscape, nightlife, shopping or just food, is a decision you'll be glad you made.

This post was published by Neha Nagpal


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