Even though we ended up leaving Singapore earlier than expected, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to have a few final words about two remarkable years in the island city-state before we move on. So, emotional aspects aside, I put together some facts about living in Singapore that hopefully are valuable for anyone considering relocating or moving to the city-state in South-East-Asia. And if you are not planning to do so, I hope you still enjoy my little journey of reminiscence.
By the way, if you are looking for general information about the city-state, head over to 10 facts about Singapore, where I have summed up the basics before.
Size: 281,3 mi²/ 728.6 km² (Singapore is one of the 20 smallest countries in the world)
Population 5.5 million, with 20-25% being foreigners
Languages: English, Tamil, Malay, Mandarin Chinese
Currency: $ Singapore Dollar (SGD), 1 SGD ~ 0.74 USD, ~ 0.64 EUR
Other names: Singapura, Little Red Dot, Lion City
Living in Singapore is something that many people dream of as the island city-state ranks among the best countries for expats to live, due to favorable working conditions, a thriving economy, and a stable political system. This is to take with a grain of salt, however, since Singapore has massively changed during Covid-19 – in my opinion anyway.
The pandemic and its restrictions aside, Singapore is widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index, with consistently low crime rates, a transparent legal system, and a reliable police force supported by proactive citizens.
It is also a place with a strong economy, which is an important factor, especially if you are a foreigner. And, last but not least, it is incredibly clean and (p)lush. There is a reason Lee Kuan Yew, aka LKY, Singapore’s first and longest prime minister, introduced the concept of the “garden city” in 1967. Ever since then, the city development has worked on making Singapore even cleaner and greener, with buildings covered in walls of plants and streets and highways shaded with umbrella-like rain trees.
Singapore is well-known for being a multi-radical and multicultural country. The majority of its citizen population is Chinese with 76.2%, while 15% is Malay and 7.4% is Indian. With that comes a great variety in religion too, with the majority being Buddhist or Taoist. This also reflects on the city-state federal holidays, which are a potpourri of international, and multi-religious holidays, such as Chinese New Year, Christmas (Christian), Deepawali (Hindu) Eid al-Fitr (Islam), and Vesak (Buddhist).
Collectivism vs Individualism
Unlike Western countries where an individual usually strives for themselves and gets recognition, Asian countries are generally considered collectivistic, meaning, the collective is preferred over the individual. Collectivism is more concerned about a group’s needs and interests, whereas individualism is more oriented towards one’s own concerns. Hence, in Singapore, the majority prioritizes the goal of society over personal needs and desires and values group harmony and modesty. This fundamental difference to individualistic cultures has an extensive impact on many aspects of life. It governs not only how people perceive themselves, but also how people interact with each other. Because collectivism values personal relationships more than individual characteristics, any behavior to highlight individual freedom and desire is inappropriate, which we would experience very well during the peaks of the pandemic.
While people would demonstrate for their personal rights and demand the end of lockdowns in Western countries, people in Singapore would laugh about “those egoistic westerners”. (Note: I am not cheering, nor solidifying for or against demonstrations during the pandemic but found this to be a great example to highlight the great differences in culture. In any way, public demonstrations are basically illegal in Singapore which speaks for itself, doesn’t it?). And concomitant, Singaporeans positively predict mask-wearing by mandate because they are willing to tolerate their personal inconvenience (if felt, anyway) for the good of many, while people from individualistic cultures may view mask-wearing as something that violates their freedom, personal choice, and autonomy.
Furthermore, the value of collectivism translates into many more aspects of life and social interaction. For example, children are expected to continue living with their parents at least until they start their own family, mostly even further. Or, in other words: You are only supposed to move in with your significant other once you are officially considered family, which leads to many people getting engaged in order to get an apartment. Even after moving out, children are always expected to care for their parents and grandparents and there is generally great respect for the elderly generation and seniors.
The work culture
I personally was never employed at a Singapore-based company, as rules and authorization have changed during our stay. however, from what I learned from working friends and my husband, the work culture in Singapore is very Asian-oriented and therefore quite different to what we are used to from Western countries. It follows a very hierarchical working system, with many rules and regulations, where it’s not favorable for staff to openly exchange ideas or ask questions. People usually establish some working pattern for others to follow. It is also not very common to go out for a lunch break with your colleagues or have dinner plans with your coworkers. As for the culture in general, there is huge respect for the elderly in workplaces and since Singaporean’s love to work until a high age, there are actually quite a lot of seniors working in public places like grocery stores, which always genuinely touched me.
THe Language & Communication
While English is claimed as one of the state’s official languages, people in Singapore actually speak Singlish, a creole language that originated with the arrival of the British in Singapore but was influenced by Chinese and other spoken languages in Singapore (Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, and Punjabi to name them all). You will hear the difference in the choice of words, the grammatical structure, and the sound of it: While English is stress-timed, Singlish is syllable-timed, which gives the sound of Singlish a staccato feel.
Some words used only exist in the Singlish language, although a total of 27 of them has made it to the Oxford Dictionary. I have talked about hawker centres and wet markets, but do you know what gahmen or Sinseh are?
Singlish also features suffixes that emphasize the word or sentence before, such as lah, leh, lor, or even ah. A typical Singlish expression would be “Don’t worry ah”.
Speaking of language, Singapore loves to use abbreviations, and that is not only in writing. Initialism is extremely common in the language. Many have become better known and more widely used than the complete form of the words they represent, with the most important category for government departments and public institutions. You better know the meaning behind CBD, HDB, and SHN to get along. This escalated a bit during Covid-19 and the various implemented phases and tiers, that started as abbreviations and received extensions and suffixes as the pandemic went on. I am just saying CBP2HA – no, it’s not a chemical formula, but the abbreviation of ‘Singapore’s Circuit Breaker Phase 2 Heightened Alert’ phase.
The city of Singapore is run like a business. Even though I did have my remarks about many things, rules, restrictions, and news that came up, I respect how they are communicated. Whatever the administration wants to emphasize, they usually do it in a pretty unique and clear way that is always on brand, if you can say that for a city-state. A hilarious but good example is this advertisement that the government would broadcast to convince everyone to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Cute ahhh??