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: international calling from US

You can even have it integrated with your home telephone line (i.e. DECT) and everything will be completely transparent.

I use this one:

Unfortunately they don't manufacture this Philips voip841 any longer (still possible to buy a brand new but they are like twice its original price: ~USD400 at amazon). This is a really good phone. Mine is 7 or 8 yo at this point and still works without any major issues.

There are some other, similar dect phones, but people complain about them.

I was looking for a backup for the Philips phone (7yo is a lot for electronics, esp. in Singapore) and recently I bought this:
http://freetalk.me/featured-skype-acces ... skype.html

I don't have it extensively tested but It seems to work fine and is dirty cheap.

Re: PR rejected 2013

Strong Eagle:
Shared on facebook by an Indian friend living in Melbourne:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/bradesposito/me ... .uuN54Dv12

Dang expensive apples!

Re: PR rejected 2013

Shared on facebook by an Indian friend living in Melbourne:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/bradesposito/me ... .uuN54Dv12

Re: Tenancy agreements/leases and your rights as a tenant


So asked the LL on these points. Revert as below:

1. Ok with any other reputed co. for air conditioning contract but prior approval from LL

2. Not willing to reduce below 200

3. Not willing to remove 'tenant also pays brokerage on renewal'

4. Not willing to remove 'reporting for all visitors' clause

1 and 2 im ok with. For 3 i'll simply look at the economics and decide if its worth renewing at all

4 i almost find offensive/ big brother

Any thoughts?
For "3": Clearly the LL wants you to share the cost of renewal, but the point is that there is no obligation of any kind for you to do it. I never seen anything like this before. Also many TAs don't have this specific clause at all. I would even say the clause, in your TA is illegal if this is about a single agent (the LL's agent).
Now, there are some cases, where this may be justified (e.g. my LL lives abroad so he always needs an agent to be available), but this is not the case for me and I had it removed.

I agree with your above assessment and if it was me, and I was not desperate about this particular apartment, I would walk away. Such unreasonable inflexibility may indicate the LL is a difficult person so anything in future, repairs, recovering deposit, showing the flat to new tenants/owner (if it happens oneday) etc, could mean big fuss and trouble.

If you decide to walk away, wait till the LOI expires. LOI is typically not a legally binding document but to make the situation clear (what would help to recover your good faith deposit) simply make it void based on time-out and the fact that you were not able to reach the agreement regarding the TA.

Privacy protection is an issue in Singapore and you will find this kind of clauses pretty common, but my experience is, if somebody is reasonable and do not blindly follows silly templates (s)he would agree to have such clauses removed or modified. What is sort of funny, many of such LLs are aware that this is your privacy violation but they are so used to the attitude of local (in broader, regional sense) tenants, meek and accepting everything without giving it too much consideration, they would just insist to have it.

Re: international calling from US

Yep. Been doing that for the last 8 years with Skype. I have a Maryland number and it works like a champ. Never saw any reason to jump to the others.

Re: Golf Society

Steve S:

I have created the Singapore Golf Society group on The Social Golfer dot com. Please join, I'd like to get an active group going around Singapore. As a bonus, I know the owner of TSG and he has offered my contacts 12 months free PRO membership to get all the benefits of the site. Message me and I'll give you a the code.

Kind regards,
Steve Sharpley

Re: smart phone-- purchase in US or singapore?

Strong Eagle:
First, the only company you can buy the phone from is ATandT. Maybe T-Mobile. These are the only companies that are compatible with the GSM voice protocols used in Singapore. However, these phones are locked to the carrier and you will have to pay cash price, then wait about 30 days to get them unlocked.

But you still may not want to buy a US phone and that is because LTE and 3G data transmission differs all over the world. If you buy a model specific to US frequencies it probably won't work in Singapore.

Therefore, you would be better off buying an international model from Amazon... but most offer no warranty.

Summary: It will cost a bit more but buy your smartphone in Singapore. If you do, it will run on ATandT networks in the USA, probably work with USA LTE (check the model numbers on the internet), and Singapore phones must be sold unlocked by law.

UPDATE: I just checked LTE frequencies. It looks like Singapore and USA LTE frequencies are not compatible. All Singapore carriers operate at 1800/2600Mhz for LTE. ATandT in the USA operates at 700/1700/1900/2100Mhz. 3G is not compatible, either.

Re: international calling from US

Strong Eagle:
You could open a Skype account. Get a US phone number from Skype (inward Skype). Then, friends and family can call your local US number for free if you got it in the same area code, and it will ring on your computer, or mobile phone if you have the Skype app on it.

You can also dial out from Skype to any mobile or landline in the USA for just a couple of cents a minute.


international calling from US

moving to singapore soon. what is best way to receive international calls from the US if US caller does not have high-speed internet. just use calling cards? anyone have advice on using magic jack?

smart phone-- purchase in US or singapore?

moving to singpore soon. was planning to buy an smart phone. wondering if I buy one in the US if local companies will allow me to transfer it to their service or if it is better to wait until I get there to buy one.

Re: Tenancy agreements/leases and your rights as a tenant

Just found these 4 clauses that require some thought. Any pointers?

(m) To take up an air con service contract with GAIN CITY (http://www.gaincity.com) to service once every THREE (3) months. The Landlord shall pay for all necessary repairs and/or replacement of the air-conditioning units or parts subject to paragraph (n). However, the Landlord shall not be responsible for repairs and/or replacement of the air-conditioning units or parts if the Tenants failed to show proof of regular maintenance contract as stipulated. Under such circumstances, the Tenant shall be fully responsible for the repair and/or replacement of the air-conditioning unit or parts.

(n) To be responsible for all minor repairs / replacements and routine maintenance of the fixtures, fittings, equipment and premises not exceeding S$200.00 per job/repair, per item throughout the term of the said lease. In the event any repair and/or maintenance exceeds S$200.00 per job/repair, per item, then the initial S$200.00 shall be borne by the Tenant and any excess to be borne by the Landlord.

In the event that the Landlord should grant the Tenant an extension of the said term herein then the Landlord and the Tenant shall pay the agency renewal commission

The Tenant and Occupants are required to inform the Landlord of any visitors staying in the house from time to time.

So asked the LL on these points. Revert as below:

1. Ok with any other reputed co. for air conditioning contract but prior approval from LL

2. Not willing to reduce below 200

3. Not willing to remove 'tenant also pays brokerage on renewal'

4. Not willing to remove 'reporting for all visitors' clause

1 and 2 im ok with. For 3 i'll simply look at the economics and decide if its worth renewing at all

4 i almost find offensive/ big brother

Any thoughts?


I'm 30yr old European looking to make new friends in a new place:)
Drinks tomorrow would be great, it's been a long week...

Re: Question about Fiber installation


^ This.

I've also entered the second phase of the endless nightmare that is Fibre - what an effort it is.... :shock:

Anyway, now that I'm entering for the "3 to 5 day wait on activation" which, mind you, took numerous calls to discover, will eventually 'work', I guess.

Back to the OP; OpenNet will determine the most suitable location that in all likelihood will result in plastic pipes along the walls of your house, so challenge them on their initial "expert" judgement and see what Plan B they can offer. You'll be surprised what you can get out of the installers.

Also, is your closet reinforced with concrete? If so, you'll kill the signal. Get a good router and you can feed your home with a decent signal from almost anywhere in standard size apartment.

Re: Question about Fiber installation

Raj, you're on a roll today! :lol:

Re: Where can I buy affordable organic meat in Singapore?

Why does the butcher have to be organic? Can't he just sell organic meat? :cool: