What Makes It Uniquely Singapore
Singapore may be a "Little Red Dot" on the map, but it has a lot to be proud of. Its strategic geographical location in Asia has created lots of good employment and investment opportunities.
Singapore is a small island on the southern Malaysian Peninsula, with a land area of 637.5 km², is slightly smaller than that of New York City. It is one of the few remaining city-states around the world.
Singapore's roots started as a trading city in the Kingdom of Malaysia, which experienced two foreign invasions by the Portuguese and the Dutch before it ultimately succumbed to British colonisation. Singapore has risen through the ranks to become a world economic leader since its independence in 1965.
"Packing and moving were relatively easy since DHL was very reliable. Moving into different houses around Singapore is no joke, but that’s to all the start-up companies (i.e. Gogo Van), moving out and moving in feels a lot easier." - Bowdy Ragas, Expat in Singapore
It prides itself on the excellent sea, air and telecommunication networks. The award-winning Changi International Airport serves over 70 million travellers annually and is one of the world's 20 busiest passenger airports, operating flights to over 180 cities in more than 50 countries. Singapore's seaport, an International Maritime Centre, is poised on major trade and shipping routes, making it one of the busiest ports in the world, serving an average of 140,000 vessel calls annually. The port facilities and services remain unsurpassed regarding quality, efficiency, competitiveness and reliability.
Singapore's strict laws have paid off, making it one of the most peaceful and cleanest city to live in. Its stable currency and multiculturalism make it conducive for expats moving to the country. However, lifestyle can be quite fast-paced.
"Asian Tigers Mobility – really helpful crew, unpacked with no fuss and assembled all the flat packed furniture."- Rowan Gibson, Expat in Singapore
Cosmopolitan & contemporary city
Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-cultural 5.7 million population comprises a majority of Chinese (76%), followed descending by Malays, Indians and Eurasians. Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity are the main religions.
There are four official languages – English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay, which is also the national language. Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese are often used among the older generation.
“Singaporeans are very success driven with a strong entrepreneurial mind which I personally do really like and think that in my home country, they should get a bit more of."- Laura Scheffner, Expat in Singapore
Singapore’s schooling system is internationally recognised and has a laudable literacy rate of 96.5% in its population. Learning English is compulsory and it is the most commonly-used language in the city.
As a result of its multi-culturalism, Singaporeans have adopted a habit of mixing elements of English with elements of other languages in informal settings. It is so widespread that the term “Singlish” was coined and popularised.
"Singapore is a lot like London in that it is a melting pot of different cultures – some of which don’t mix naturally but most of which live harmoniously together. People are in general very friendly if a little reserved."- Morwenna Lawson, Expat in Singapore
Knowing Singlish can be an advantage in breaking down barriers with the locals but expats need not rush into it. There is no official way to learn it - the phrases and usage can only be fully grasped over an extended period of time among the local community.
You may get a better understanding through reports by these media:
Nicknames and their origins
1. Asian Tiger
Singapore, along with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, is named as one of the “Four Asian Tigers” for their rapid economic growth in the 1960s. Today, they are competitive countries with advanced technologies, high standards of living and highly-skilled workforce. In 2016, Singapore is ranked as the third wealthiest country in the world based on its gross domestic product.
2. Fine city
Singapore is known to have one of the strictest laws in the world, but it pays off, considering the country’s reputation for low-crime and cleanliness.
Some of the less-common illegal acts below will land offenders with hefty fines.
- Urinating in public spaces
- Selling or eating chewing gums
- Smoking in non-designated areas
"Singapore government offices are very efficient and most of the transactions can be done online, from application to payment. The results of most government transactions are also usually fast."- Haidee, Expat in Singapore
Corruption, bribery and drug use are viewed seriously in Singapore. Offenders may be sentenced to long jail terms or even death (for drugs).
3. Garden City
It all started with the founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for Singapore to have a clean and green environment in 1963. A series of tree-planting campaigns were launched and they continue even till today.
Every year, up to 2,000 trees are added. In 2014 alone, there were about 38,000 new trees. The National Parks Board has a master plan in place to bring as much diversity as possible in terms of species.
Lots of locals love to hang out or have picnics at the parks during their weekends. There are several parks dotted across the island – it is easy to find one near you. Here is a list to start with:
Parks with historical significance
- Fort Canning Park
- Singapore Botanic Gardens
Hills and hiking trails
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
- Mount Faber Park
- MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Popular tourist attraction
Recommended for activities by the beach
- East Coast Park (chalets, bicycles, barbeque pits and rollerblades rental available)
4. Lion city
The word “Singapore” is derived from the Malay word, “Singa-pura”, which literally means “Lion City”. How did that come about?
It all started when Sang Nila Utama, a prince of the Srivijaya Empire, landed on the island of Temasek (meaning “Sea Town”) while on a hunting trip. It was there where he spotted a never-seen-before beast, which he later learned was a lion. Seeing it as a good sign, he stayed on and founded the Temasek city in 1323. He later renamed it to Singapura.
It inspired the creation of Singapore’s national mascot, Merlion (meaning “Sea Lion”). Shaped like a lion with the body of a fish, the Merlion statues can be found in five official locations in Singapore – the most popular being Merlion Park and Sentosa.
What to know about this food paradise
1. “Coffee shops” has a different meaning
There are five main types of dining spots in Singapore:
- Fast food chains & restaurants
These are places where you can get your cuppa, pastries and desserts. Yes, Starbucks go to this category.
- Food courts
Every shopping mall in Singapore will have at least one of these. It is usually on the top floor or the basement level. Air-conditioned, the food court consists of many different stalls, which you can buy from individually.
- Coffee shops
This is the same as food courts except that they are not air-conditioned and are located outside of shopping malls. An economical option for those living in the heartlands, there is usually one in every residential estate.
- Hawker centres
This is where the most delicious and affordable dishes reside. You will be spoilt for choice in this multi-storey hawker centres. Some “famous” stalls have racked up decades of history and food lovers continue to queue for hours to have a taste of their food. To find out where, just do your research online or ask a local. No, it is also not air-conditioned and it is always crowded but hey, this is where Singapore’ food culture blooms!
2. Almost everything comes with chilli
Singaporeans love their condiments, so much that it is usually offered at the counters, where you can help yourself to it. They include the likes of light or dark soya sauce, vinegar, tomato sauce, and especially, chilli. In fact, Singaporeans are so particular that a specific type of chilli is paired with different dishes.
That is why when you order dry noodles, fried rice or other non-soup items, the owner will usually ask if you want chilli. If you are not one for spice, it is safer for you to state so even if they do not ask because sometimes, it is set as the default.
Oh, don’t forget to try the garlic chilli sauce and curry sauce at their Mcdonald’s! Mandatory, almost.
3. There is no need for tips
Tipping is not a common practice in Singapore and it is only accepted in restaurants and cafes. This is because a 10% service charge and 7% GST is already accounted for in the bills.
4. Understand the “chope” system
If you are fighting the lunchtime crowd in the central business district, you will most likely encounter random items placed on vacant tables in the food courts or hawker centres. It can be name cards, umbrellas, water bottles or packets of tissue paper.
Do not remove or throw those items and take the seat! This is the locals’ way of “chope’ing” or reserving the seats while they queue up for food. In the event of doubt, do remember to clarify. You will get the hang of it in no time.
5. Must-try multicultural local delights
- Indian ‘Rojak’
- Indonesian Satay
- Malay Nasi Lemak rice
- Penang Laksa
- ‘Popiah’ (soft spring rolls)
- Hainanese chicken rice
- Hokkien mee (noodles)
- Fried carrot cake
Warning: This is not the western dessert you are used to. It is neither a cake nor a dish containing carrots. It is a savoury side dish comprising of rice cakes, soya sauce, egg and other accompaniments.
- Chilli or pepper crabs
- Ice Kacang (shaved ice dessert)
"There is not one culture or one kind of locals. It is a multi-cultural society, complex and divers."- Anja van der Vorst, Expat in Singapore
To find out more iconic dishes and where to get them, check out this list by a Singaporean food blogger.
Valuable tips for expats
Singapore is a hot and humid city, with occasional rain showers. December is the coolest month of the year while May is the warmest. Normal temperature ranges between 25.2°C and 32° C, or 77 °F to 89.6° F.
The trendiest haunts for night-outs are around Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, where clubs and pubs galore. For high-end shopping, head to The Shoppes mall at Marina Bay Sands and the entire stretch of Orchard Road.
Though eating out and public transportation are relatively cheap, Singapore’s cost of living is still considered high. Learn more about other costs through these links:
- Renting an apartment
- Buying a property
- Choosing where to live
- Tuition services
- Getting domestic help
- Having a baby
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