Who are the people in your neighbourhood?
The Big 3 — Chinese, Malays and Indians — get all the press, but there are plenty of other communities with their own little neighbourhoods or shopping malls in Singapore:
Arabs: Arab Street, of courseBurmese: Peninsula Plaza, on North Bridge RdChinese: Waterloo Street Singapore's 'new Chinatown'Filipinos: Lucky Plaza, on Orchard RdFrench: Serangoon GardensIndonesians: City Plaza, near Paya Lebar MRTJapanese: Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, especially the Liang Court shopping mall, plus Cuppage Plaza, opposite the Somerset MRT and Takashimaya along Orchard RoadKoreans: Tanjong Pagar RdPeranakan Chinese: KatongScandinavians: Pasir PanjangThais: Golden Mile Complex, Beach RdTibetans: Beatty Lane, near Lavender MRT and Pasir RisVietnamese: Joo Chiat Rd
Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the national language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 with varying degrees of fluency. English is spoken much better here than in most Asian neighbours. English is also the medium of instruction in schools, except for mother tongue subjects e.g. Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, which are also required to be learned in school by Singaporeans. In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British spelling.
However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil as well as English words whose pronunciation or meaning have been corrupted. Additionally, it has an odd way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese. Complex consonant clusters are simplified, articles and plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semirandom particles especially the infamous "lah" appear:
Singlish: You wan beer or not? -- Dunwan lah, dring five bottle oreddi.
English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already had five bottles.
It is also inclusive of multilingual references, to events past or current. These can be of the innocuous variety, or they can be satirical or political in nature. An example of the former would be 'mee siam mai hum" Vermicelli in Spicy Gravy without cockles - ostensibly the name of a hawker dish, but given another layer of subtext by popular local blogger mrbrown. Practise caution when ordering this particular dish - it will be sure to draw sniggers from the younger crowd It's a tautology. The dish never contains cockles, and is a malapropism from the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking what the government calls "good English" when necessary. To avoid unintentional offense, it's best to start off with standard English and shift to simplified pidgin only if it becomes evident that the other person cannot follow you. Try to resist the temptation to sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Singlishisms: you'll get a laugh if you do it right, but it sounds patronizing if you do it wrong. Wikipedia's Singlish (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...) article goes into obsessive and occasionally impenetrable grammatical detail, but the sections on vocabulary (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...) and abbreviations (http://en.wikipedia.org/w...) are handy.
Singapore's other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Mandarin is spoken by most younger Singaporean Chinese while Tamil is spoken by most Indians. Like English, the Mandarin spoken in Singapore has also evolved into a distinctive creole and often incorporates words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English, though all Singaporean Chinese are taught standard Mandarin in school. Various Chinese dialects mostly Hokkien, though significant numbers also speak Teochew and Cantonese are also spoken between ethnic Chinese of the same dialect group, though their use has been declining in the younger generation since the 1980s due to government policies discouraging the use of dialects in favour of Mandarin. Other Indian languages, such as Punjabi among the Sikhs, are also spoken.
The official Chinese script used in Singapore is the simplified script used in mainland China. As such, all official publications including local newspapers and signs are in simplified Chinese and all ethnic Chinese are taught to write the simplified script in school. However, the older generations still prefer the traditional style, and the popularity of Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop culture means that even the youth can usually read traditional Chinese.
Singapore is one of the safest major cities in the world by virtually any measure. Most people, including single female travellers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. But as the local police say, "low crime does not mean no crime" — beware of pickpockets in crowded areas and don't forget your common sense entirely. Specifically, the areas around Clarke Quay and Arab Street are known to harbour violent gangs that target generally expatriate men in the early hours of the morning.
Singapore's squeaky cleanliness is achieved in part by strict rules against activities that are tolerated in other countries. For example, jay-walking, spitting, littering, and drinking and eating on public transport are prohibited. Locals joke about Singapore being a fine city because heavy fines are levied if one is caught committing an offense. Look around for sign boards detailing the Don'ts and the fines associated with these offenses, and heed them. Avoid littering, as offenders are not only subject to fines, but also to a "Corrective Work Order", in which offenders are made to wear a bright yellow jacket and pick up rubbish in public places. Enforcement is however sporadic at best, and it is not uncommon to see people openly litter, spit, smoke in non-smoking zones, etc. Chewing gum, famously long banned, is now available at pharmacies for medical purposes e.g. nicotine gum if you ask for it directly, show your ID and sign the register. While importing gum is still technically an offense, one can usually bring in a few packs for personal consumption without any problem.
WARNING: Singapore treats drug offenses extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin or 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is all that is needed for you to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption, there is a maximum of 10 years' jail or fine of $20,000, or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged for trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren't yours and regardless of whether you're aware of them - therefore, be vigilant of your possessions.
For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. Other offenses which have caning as a punishment include vandalism just ask Michael P. Fay, robbery, molestation and rape. Do note that having sex with a girl under the age of 16 is considered to be rape under Singapore law, regardless of whether the girl consents to it and would land you a few strokes of the cane. This is no slap on the wrist: strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and scar for life. Corruption is also punishable by caning so under no circumstances should you try to offer a bribe or gratuity to a police officer. Crimes such as murder, kidnapping, unauthorized possession of firearms and drug trafficking are punished with death.
Oral and anal sex, long banned under colonial-era sodomy statutes, were legalised for heterosexuals in October 2007. Homosexual contact, however, remains illegal, with a theoretical punishment two years in prison and/or caning. Though this law is rarely enforced and there is a fairly vibrant gay community, gays should still expect legalized discrimination and unaccepting attitudes from locals and government officials.
Begging is illegal in Singapore, but you'll occasionally see beggars on the streets. Most are not Singaporean — even the "monks" dressed in robes, who occasionally pester tourists for donations, are usually bogus.
Despite its reputation in law enforcement, driving habits are bad, so under no circumstances should you lose your common sense when crossing the street or driving. The use of signals is intermittent, swerving between lines a norm, tailgating and road hogging rampant and bikers are aggressive - sometimes even on pavements. Drivers very rarely give way. Be extremely cautious if you rent a car - frequent traffic collisions across the spectrum of seriousness are a testimony of the recklessness on local roads.
Whilst jaywalking is illegal, it is still a common thing and occurs quite often around the city. Beware though that if a police officer catches you, you might end up with a fine or in prison; even more serious, if you get hit by a bicycle rider or car, it is considered the pedestrian's fault when it isn't their right of way, and they might have to pay damage costs. Put simply, the cars are for the roads and the footpaths are for people.
Note that while Singapore provides a constitutional right to a "freedom of expression", there are many exceptions that act to limit this right, including several exceptions related to speaking against the current government. Nevertheless, the police generally do not arrest people for expressing an anti-government views in casual conversation, and articles critical of certain government policies are sometimes published in the local newspaper forums. Visitors need not be worried unless you plan to hold an anti-government rally or publish opinion pieces critical of the current leaders. Missionaries should also note that insulting other religions is a crime in Singapore, and carries fines and a prison sentence with it, so be sensitive when discussing subjects related to religion.
Politics, especially the immigration policy is a very sensitive subject - although police won't arrest you for discussing those with locals, Singapore has a peculiar political climate in which it's way too easy to step on a slippery slope when engaging in a discourse in those areas. Although locals themselves feel frustrated and displaced by the combination of mass immigration, their liability for the two year long National Service, some institutionalized discrimination and soaring property prices, they may paradoxically still take offense if you criticize any aspect of the country. Politics and social dynamics are a subject best avoided and if you happen to get drafted into it by a taxi driver, it's best to stay neutral and just listen.
Singapore is virtually immune to natural disasters: there are no fault lines nearby, although Indonesia's earthquakes can sometimes be barely felt, and other landmasses shield it from typhoons, tornadoes and tsunamis. Flooding in the November-January monsoon season is an occasional hazard, especially in low-lying parts of the East Coast, but any water usually drains off within a day and life continues as normal.
The Singapore Sports Council (http://www.ssc.gov.sg/) runs a chain of affordable sports facilities, often featuring fantastic outdoor 50 m pools see Swimming for a list. Facilities are somewhat sparse but the prices are unbeatable, with e.g. swimming pools charging $1 for entry and access to ClubFITT gyms only $2.50. The main downside is the inconvenient location of most facilities out in the suburbs, although most are located close to an MRT station and can be reached within 10-20 min from the city centre. The gyms also ban bringing in any reading material aimed at students but enforced blindly, although MP3 players are OK.
Major private gym chains include California Fitness (http://www.californiafitn...), Fitness First (http://www.fitnessfirst.c...) and True Fitness (http://www.truefitness.com.sg/). Facilities are better and locations more central, but the prices are also much higher as non-members have to fork out steep day pass fees around $40.
Some of the parks (http://www.nparks.gov.sg/) offer rental of bicycles and inline skates $3-6/hr, open till 8PM. You can either rent skates, attend a skate class or send the children off to a skate camp at major parks like West Coast and East Coast Park. You can even get skating lessons from popular skate schools like inline fitness (http://www.inlinefitness.org/) or skate with us, a skate school for children (http://www.skate-with-us.com/) Especially rewarding for skaters and cyclists is the 10 km long stretch along East Coast Park with a paved track and lots of rental shops, bars and cafes around the McDonalds. There are toilets and showers along the track. Furthermore every park has a couple of fitness stations.
SingPost (http://www.singpost.com.sg/) has offices throughout the island, generally open 8:30AM-5PM weekdays, 8:30AM-1PM Saturdays, closed Sundays. The Changi Airport T2 transit side office is open 6 AM-midnight daily, while the 1 Killeney Rd branch is open until 9 PM weekdays and 10AM-4PM Sundays. Service is fast and reliable. A postcard to anywhere in the world costs 50 cents, and postage labels can also be purchased from the self-service SAM machines found in many MRT stations.
Small packets up to 2 kg cost $3.50/100g for airmail, or $1/100g for surface mail. For larger packages, DHL (http://www.dhl.com.sg/) may offer competitive rates.
Singaporeans are particular about their hair and there is no shortage of fancy hair salons charging from $20 up for the latest Chinese popstar look. If you are willing to splurge, there is Passion Hair Salon at Palais Renaissance with celebrity hairstylist David Gan hairstylist of Zhang Ziyi and other famous celebrities doing the haircut. Le Salon at Ngee Ann City offers haircuts up to $2000. The middle range hair salons located in town or in the heartlands, offer haircuts with hair wash as well as other frills. Chains include Reds Hairdressing, Supercuts and Toni and Guy salons that are located all over Singapore. For a more backpacker-friendly price, almost every shopping mall in Singapore has a branch of EC House (http://www.ec-house.com.sg/) or one of its many imitators, offering fuss-free 10 min haircuts for $10, although the hairdressers are mostly happy to spend as long as necessary on your hair, within reasonable limits. Most HDB estates have barbershops which charge $5 to $10 for adults and less for students and children.
Singaporeans are punctual, so show up on time. The standard greeting is a firm handshake. However, conservative Muslims avoid touching the opposite sex, so a man meeting a Malay woman should let her offer her hand first and a woman meeting a Malay man should wait for him to offer his hand. If they opt to place their hand on the heart and bow slightly instead, just follow suit. Singaporeans generally do not hug, especially if it is someone they have just met, and doing so would probably make your host feel awkward, though the other person will probably be too polite to say anything as saving face is a major Asian value.
For men, standard business attire is a long-sleeved shirt and a tie, although the tie is often omitted, the shirt's collar button opened instead. Jackets are rarely worn because it is too hot most of the time. Women usually wear Western business attire, but a few prefer Malay-style kebaya and sarong.
Business cards are always exchanged when people meet for business for the first time: hold yours with both hands by the top corners, so the text faces the recipient, while simultaneously receiving theirs. This sounds more complicated than it is. Study the cards you receive and feel free to ask questions; when you are finished, place them on the table in front of you, not in a shirt pocket or wallet, and do not write on them or otherwise show disrespect.
Business gifts are generally frowned on as they smell of bribery. Small talk and bringing up the subject indirectly are neither necessary nor expected. Most meetings get straight down to business.
Tap water is safe for drinking, and sanitation standards are very high. As a tropical country, Singapore is hot and humid so drink a lot of water. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was way back in 1934, when it hit a low of 19.4Â°C 66.9Â°F.
Malaria is not an issue, but dengue fever is endemic to the region. Singapore maintains strict mosquito control leaving standing water around will get you fined, but the government's reach does not extend into the island's nature reserves, so if you're planning on hiking bring along mosquito repellent.
Internet cafes charging around $2/hr are scattered about the island, but are not particularly common since almost all locals have Internet access at home, work, and/or school. Head to Chinatown or Little India if you need get online, or check out the top floors of many suburban malls, which feature Internet cafes doubling as online gaming parlors. Alternatively, all public libraries (http://www.nlb.gov.sg/) offer cheap Internet access $0.03/min or $1.80/hr, but you need to jump through registration hoops to get access.
The first phase of the nationwide free Wireless@SG system is now operating and visitors are free to use the system, although you must register and receive a password via e-mail or a mobile phone first. See the Infocomm Development Authority website (http://www.ida.gov.sg/) for a current list of hotspots. Commercial alternatives include McDonalds, which offers free wifi at most outlets; StarHub, a member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance with hotspots at Coffee Bean cafes; and SingTel, which has hotspots at most Starbucks cafes. Roaming or prepaid rates are on the order of $0.10/min.
There are several options for prepaid 3G/HSPA internet. Starhub MaxMobile (http://www.starhub.com/br...) has different plans from S$2/hour to S$25 for 5 days unlimited 7.2mbps internet. SIM costs S$12. M1 Prepaid Broadband offers unlimited Internet access for three days/five days at S$18/S$30 (http://m1.com.sg/M1/site/...).
Mobile internet access is also available from the different telecoms which offer hundreds of megabytes good for several days. However do try using the free WiFi access if possible; not only will it save you money but also precious battery life.
What's in a name?
- Chinese place their family name first, so Phua Chu Kang is Mr. Phua for business and Chu Kang or just CK to his friends. Many have Western names, so he may also be known as Terry Phua.- Malay names are given name + bin or binti son/daughter + father's name. Mohammed bin Abdullah would usually be called Mr. Mohammed. Sometimes, the person's given name appears after the Mohammed example: Mohammed Faizal bin Mohammed Nasser so, in such a case, he would usually be addressed as Mr. Faizal.- Indian names are complex, but the south Indian Tamil names usually found in Singapore have two patterns: either given name + s/o or d/o son of/daughter of + father's name, or father's initial + given name. Given names are often long and may be abbreviated, so Ramanathan s/o Sellapan uses the name S.R. Nathan and would addressed as Mr. Nathan. The foolproof method is to ask how the person wants to be addressed.
Singaporeans care little about formal politeness. What would be decent behavior at home, wherever home might be, is unlikely to offend anyone in Singapore. In Singapore, unlike much of southeast Asia, women wearing revealing clothing or men wearing shorts and slippers are perfectly acceptable. That said, upmarket bars and restaurants may enforce dress codes and Singaporeans tend to be more socially conservative than Westerners, meaning that public display of affection is still frowned upon and toplessness for women is not acceptable anywhere, even on the beach.
People are generally friendlier in the heartlands, and it is not uncommon to see shopkeepers and customers of multiple races bantering. However, Singaporeans, while not hostile towards foreigners, are generally not overly receptive to any overbearing friendliness from them. Furthermore, the local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude, but saying "You want beer or not?" is in fact more polite in Chinese than asking if you want beer; after all, the person asking you the question is offering you a choice, not making a demand.
If invited to somebody's house, always remove your shoes before you enter as most Singaporeans do not wear their shoes at home. Socks are perfectly acceptable though, as long as they are not excessively soiled. Many places of worship also require you to remove your shoes before you enter.
At rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing on the MRT even just to get off and everyone racing for the empty seat, though in a somewhat orderly manner. This is normal, despite signs asking people to be a little more courteous. Just go with the flow.
Beware of taboos if bringing gifts. Any products food or otherwise involving animals may cause offence and are best avoided, as are white flowers usually reserved for funerals. Knives and clocks are also symbols of cutting ties and death, respectively, and some Chinese are superstitious about the number four. Also note that in Singapore, it is considered rude to open a gift in front of the person who gave it to you. Instead, wait till the person has left and open it in private. Many Singaporean Muslims and some Hindus abstain from alcohol.
Swastikas are commonly seen in Buddhist and Hindu temples, as well as among the possessions of Buddhists and Hindus. It is regarded as a religious symbol and does not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism. As such, Western visitors should not feel offended on seeing a swastika in the homes of their hosts, and many locals will wonder what the fuss is all about.
Take dietary restrictions into account when inviting Singaporean friends for a meal. Many Indians and a few Chinese are vegetarian. Most Malays, being Muslims, eat only halal food, while most Indians, being Hindu, abstain from beef.
The international telephone country code for Singapore is 65. There are three main telecommunication providers in Singapore: SingTel (http://www.singtel.com/), StarHub (http://www.starhub.com/) and MobileOne M1 (http://www.m1.com.sg/).
Mobile phones are carried by almost everyone in Singapore, including many young children, and coverage is generally excellent throughout the country. All 3 service providers have both GSM 900/1800 and 3G W-CDMA networks, and international roaming onto them may be possible; check with your operator before you leave to be sure. Prepaid SIM cards are sold in 7-Eleven convenience stores, phone shops and currency exchange counters, just bring your own GSM/3G phone or buy a cheap used handset in Singapore. You will need to show an international passport or Singapore ID to sign up.
A local phone call costs between $0.05-$0.25 per min, whereas each local text message SMS costs about $0.05, with international SMS about $0.15-$0.25 but a few dozen local SMS are usually thrown in for free when you top up. You may also be charged for incoming calls. Most prepaid cards expire within 6 mth unless you top-up which can be done outside Singapore. The carriers also offer special top up cards that will give a higher number of minutes for the price at the downside of expiring more quickly.As in many places, mobile data with on prepaid voice SIM cards can be ridiculously expensive.StarHub offers a 1GB package valid for 30 days. It costs $25 and is aimed at BlackBerries but works with any phone. Using the StarHub SIM, call *122# and follow the menu to activate.Data-only SIMs can be more affordable.For short stays, StarHub has 2Mbps unlimited service at S$15 per week. For longer stays, bring a MicroSIM adapter and you can get StarHub's 2GB package good for 60 days for $37.
Public phones are an increasingly endangered species, but you can find them in most MRT stations. They are either coin-operated pay phones 10 cents for a three-minute local call, card phones operated by phone cards in denominations of $3, $5, $10, $20 and $50, or credit card phones. Phone cards are available at all post offices and from phonecard agents. Most coin-operated pay phones are for local calls only, there are some which accept coins of larger denominations and can be used for overseas calls. Credit card phones are usually found at the airport or in some major hotels.
To make an international call from Singapore, dial the access code 001 for SingTel, 002 for M1, and 008 for StarHub, followed by the country code, area code and party's number. Recently the providers have started offering cheaper rates for calls using Internet telephony routes. The access codes for this cheaper service are 019 and 013 for SingTel and 018 for StarHub, make sure you input these codes instead of the "+" sign at the beginning of the number if you wish to use these services.
Calling cards are also available for specific international destinations and are usually cheaper. Hello Card from Singtel offers a very cheap rate to 8 countries Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Nearly all shopping centers, hotels, MRT stations, bus interchanges, and hawker centers are likely to have public restrooms/toilet facilities available. Being clean, McDonald's restrooms are popular too, and the staff do not make a fuss. Public facilities may charge 10 to 20 cents per entry, and a packet of tissue may come in handy if the toilet paper has run out. Most toilets have bowls, but there is usually one squatting cubicle in every public toilet.
Laundromats are few and far between in Singapore, but full-service laundry and dry cleaning shops can be found in every shopping mall. Unfortunately turnaround times are usually upwards of three days unless you opt for express service. Hotels can provide one-day laundry at a price, whereas hostels often have communal self-service washing machines.
Laundry service with 16 outlets around Singapore. $6 for 4 kg of laundry, either self-service or returned the next day depending on the outlet. Central branches include Centrepoint Orchard MRT Somerset and Robertson Walk near Gallery Hotel.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates
Bangladesh High Commission
Canada High Commission
India High Commission
Warning: Only issues visas to residents of Singapore, and all visa applications are handled by Serangoon Travel in Tekka Mall, Little India.
Australia High Commission
Pakistan High Commission
South Africa High Commission
Sri Lanka High Commission
Royal Thai Embassy
Singapore is a good place to collect visas for the region. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://www.mfa.gov.sg) maintains a complete searchable database of diplomatic institutions.
Republic of Korea (South Korea) Embassy
People's Republic of China Embassy
Also handles Hong Kong/Macau visas.
Malaysia High Commission
Maldives High Commission
New Zealand High Commission
Saudi Arabia Embassy
Taipei Representative Office
United Arab Emirates Embassy
United States of America Embassy
The standard of medical care in Singapore is uniformly excellent and Singapore is a popular destination for medical tourism and medical evacuations in the region. Despite the lower prices, standards are often as good as those in the West at both public and private clinics, making this a good place to get your jabs and tabs if heading off into the jungle elsewhere. You'll still want to make sure your insurance is in order before a prolonged hospitalization and/or major surgery.
For minor ailments, head down to the nearest suburban shopping mall or HDB shopping district and look for a general practitioner GP. They usually receive patients without appointment and can prescribe drugs on the spot, and the total cost of a consultation, medicine included, rarely exceeds $30. For larger problems, head to a hospital.
Mount Elizabeth Hospital
Singapore's largest private hospital and a popular destination for medical tourists. Consultations with specialists start from $100.
Singapore General Hospital
Singapore's oldest and largest public hospital. Outram Polyclinic (http://polyclinic.singhea...) offers doctor's consultations for $20.30 and can refer patients to specialists at the hospital, although waiting times can be long; afternoons are better than mornings. Open Mon-Fri 8 AM to 4:30 PM.
Tan Tock Seng Hospital
One of Singapore's largest public hospitals, fully equipped to handle most anything. Specialist departments here include a one-stop Travellers' Health & Vaccination Centre for immunizations, malaria prophylaxis, pre-trip and post-trip evaluations and general advice. Flat $80 fee for doctor's consultation, vaccines for $10 plus cost consultation unnecessary, tel. +65 63572222, open 8AM-1PM and 2PM-5PM weekdays, 8AM-noon Sa, no appointment needed.
Alternatively, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine TCM are widespread in Singapore. Eu Yan Sang (http://www.euyansang.com/) runs a chain of over 20 clinics, while the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association (http://www.singaporetcm.edu.sg) offers a directory of TCM physicians.