Asia

Singapore: Small, Prosperous and Stable

With a total land area of less than 700sq km and a population of fewer than five million, Singapore is the smallest nation in South-East Asia. Singapore’s strategic location at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula has ensured its importance throughout history, which is greater than its size might seem to justify. Singapore consists of the island of Singapore and some 62 islets within its territorial waters. The main island, Singapore, is about 42 km from west to east and 23 km from north to south and is  a mostly undulating country with low hills.

But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in monetary muscle. Most Singaporeans enjoy a high standard of living compared to their neighbours – walk through the streets lined with skyscrapers and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in any one of several western capitals. Elegant shopping malls grace the city, spacious and lush parks and carefully planned green areas are scattered throughout, and fine wining and dining options are everywhere.

Singapore has been criticised by many for being almost too perfect. Established as a British trading port in 1819, Singapore attracted workers from across Asia. As a result, distinctly different communities sprouted up and Singapore was full of interesting nooks and crannies. However, many of these were razed by the government after independence in 1965, in a bid to revamp Singapore and turn it into a serious player on the world stage. The strategy worked to a large extent – Singapore is modern and clean, and is one of the world’s most important financial centers.

In just 150 years, Singapore has grown into a thriving centre of commerce and industry. Today, Singapore is rapidly taking its place among the world’s premier global cities, where talents from all around the world gather to share innovative ideas and begin new businesses. Singapore boasts one of the most stable societies in Asia. Its multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual groups are united in a common effort to keep Singapore a prosperous place.

In the crowded streets of Chinatown, fortune tellers, calligraphers and temple worshippers are still a part of everyday Singapore. In Little India, you can buy the best sari material, freshly ground spices or a picture of your favourite Hindu god. In the small shops of Arab Street, the cry of the muezzin can be heard from the nearby Sultan Mosque. At the Esplanade, you enjoy world-class arts performances while the jet-set dance to the latest music at the cosmopolitan clubs.

Singapore may no longer be the rough and ready port of rickshaws, opium dens, pearl luggers and pirates, but you can still recapture the colonial era with a gin sling under the flashing ceiling fans at Raffles. Many other fine reminders of Singapore’s colonial past remain, despite the island’s relentless development.

Did You Know?

  • By the 15th century, the island of Singapore was known as Singapura, the Lion City, from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city). Legend states that a Sumatran prince, Sri Tri Buana, gave it that name when he came to the island in 1299 and saw a strange creature that he thought was a lion. (It is unlikely that there ever were lions in Singapore, though tigers roamed the island until the early twentieth century).
  • Singapore has on-going land reclamation projects with earth obtained from its own hills, the seabed, and neighbouring countries. As a result, Singapore’s land area grew from 224.5 square miles in the 1960s to 271.8 square miles today, and may grow by another 100 38 square miles by 2030.
  • Chewing gum is not allowed in Singapore because of the difficulty of clearing it from streets and pavements.
  • Singapore is the second-most densely populated independent country in the world after Monaco.
  • The daily English newspaper in Singapore is the Straits Times

How to Get Here  

Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) is modern, vast, efficient and well organized. The airport is required to be accessible by public transport to ensure optimal utilisation of its facilities.

Taxis will stop at taxi pick-up points on the Arrivals level. The journey to the city takes approximately 30 minutes. As well, A Limousine Taxi The service uses premium 5 and 7-seater taxis and will take you to any destination in Singapore at a flat rate. The Limousine Taxi Counter is located on the Arrival level.

The Airport Shuttle service uses a 9-seater coaches and serves all hotels in Singapore with the exception of Changi Village Hotel and hotels on the Sentosa Island. The service leaves every 15 minutes from 6:00 AM to Midnight and 30 minutes at other hours. There is an Airport Shuttle Counter on the Arrivals level.

The Changi Airport MRT Station is located under Terminals 2 and 3, and is linked to the Arrivals and Departures levels by escalators and lifts. The MRT operates between 5:30 AM and 11:18 PM.

A public bus service operates between 6:00 AM and Midnight.

The airport takes a great deal of pride and is often announcing many “firsts” such as a Butterfly Garden, a welcoming tropical sanctuary in Terminal 3. The 330 square metre garden, designed as a tropical nature retreat, is home to more than 1,000 free roaming butterflies. One of the fascinating aspects of this garden is the opportunity for passengers to observe the life cycle of butterflies at close range. A variety of 47 butterfly species that are native to Singapore and Malaysia were specially selected for the Butterfly Garden. So if you have time, especially while you are waiting to depart, have a look.

The currency in Singapore is the Singapore Dollar. Other than the Singapore dollar, the US and Australian dollar, Yen and British pound are also widely accepted at major shopping centers and restaurants.

Once you arrive in Singapore’s Changi International Airport, take a few moments to change some money before you head down the escalators to the Arrivals Hall. There are several Money Changing booths located throughout the airport and most do not have lines. The easiest way to exchange currency is to use an ATM whenever necessary. ATMs are strategically located throughout the city.

For locations of ATMs you can visit these VISA and MasterCard Web sites. Major credit cards are generally accepted most everywhere.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

Like most of Southeast Asia, Singapore is generally hot and humid. It’s warm and humid year round, with the temperature almost never dropping lower than 20 C, even at night, and usually climbing to 30 C during the day.  November and December is the rainy season. June – August is considered to be the best time to visit, but even then it rains. When it does rain though, it’s generally only for a short period. For those who enjoy the sun and the beach, Singapore is an ideal place for beach lovers.

Getting Around

Singapore has an extensive public transport system that serves all areas of the city / country. Buses are operated by two companies – SBS Transit and SMRT. Fares are based on the distance travelled. There are also several expanding rail options, including regular trains, light rail services and an underground.

Rickshaws are a popular choice with tourists. These three-wheeled bikes are pedalled by a driver up front while you sit in a seat at the back. You’re guaranteed an unforgettable experience if you use one that has a portable sound system on board and is decorated with flashing lights…

Taxis are plentiful in Singapore and relatively inexpensive. You can flag a cab in the street or ask your hotel to call one for you. All taxis are fitted with meters and are required by law to use them. If the driver refuses to use the meter, don’t get in. Only ever use a licensed taxi.

National car rental firms are represented at the airport and in the city. However, renting a car is somewhat expensive. Free city maps are available from most car rental firms or Singapore Tourism, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in an unfamiliar destination.

What Not to Miss 

Despite a lack of natural resources, or perhaps because of it, Singapore has capitalized on the energy, enterprise and skills of its inhabitants to create something approaching a tourism mecca. Although most visitors only stop over for a couple of days, many are beginning to stay longer and Singapore has much to merit a longer visit. This is a city where the first impression is that of man’s achievements; the efficient and aesthetically pleasing Changi Airport, which is repeatedly voted the world’s best. Suntec City boasts the biggest man-made fountain, while the Night Safari is the first night zoo and the world’s highest man-made waterfall, at 30m, is at Jurong BirdPark.

Heat and humidity notwithstanding, the most efficient way to get to know local culture is on foot, especially around Chinatown, Little India and Geylang Serai in the heart of the city. These areas especially illustrate how Singapore’s successful economy is based upon ancient traditions, rituals and beliefs. It is usually this combination that entices people, but for a healthy dose of pure consumerism and entirely modern architecture, Orchard Road is ideal.

Singapore is not all urban landscape as first appears, and in keeping with its ‘Garden City’ label, there are many areas of natural beauty, albeit with a little help from humans. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are all very popular.

Although a small island, Singapore offers a broad range of sightseeing options, thanks to its ethnic and religious diversity. And not all attractions are associated with modern, urban Singapore: Surviving enclaves of the early migrant settlers dot various parts of the island.

The country’s nerve centre during the days of British rule, the Colonial District, still maintains the regal charm of the original British government buildings and living quarters. Sites include the Old Parliament House, which sits back-to-back with the current Parliament House completed in 1999, the National Museum of Singapore (it has a remarkable jade collection) and St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Singapore has begun revitalizing some of its most important landmarks, Empress Place, which now houses the Asian Civilizations Museum, the waterfront’s Clarke Quay and the Raffles Hotel (birthplace of the Singapore Sling) have all been restored to versions of their former glory. Many of the top attractions are best enjoyed on foot in the morning, the coolest part of the day, or in the early evening.

Historical Sites

Istana is the official residence of the elected president of Singapore. Istana means “palace” in the Malay language. Although the president chooses not to live there, the building is still used for state occasions. The grounds are only open to the public at the president’s discretion, generally on five public holidays. Visitors can then stroll the gardens and take a tour of the rooms inside the Istana.

Colonial architect Sir George Coleman designed this neo-Palladian Old Parliament House in 1827 as a private home for a well-known merchant, but it was sequestered shortly after for government duty to house parliament. Parliament has since moved to the large granite structure next door, and in 2003 the old structure reopened as a space for arts events, socials and lectures.

Raffles Hotel Built in 1887 and declared a National Monument a century later, the hotel is Singapore’s most famous landmark. This Grande Dame is a must-see. An extensive renovation has restored its grandeur to reflect the days when writers Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham, along with other members of the colonial elite, frequented the establishment. The spacious courtyards, ballroom, old cake and pastry store, and Jewelry  shops help recall the past, and art galleries keep the vibe alive. On the third floor, a museum details the history of the hotel.

Built in 1861, St. Andrew’s Cathedral was constructed by Indian convict laborers using chunam, a plaster made of lime from seashells, egg whites and coarse sugar mixed with the hulls of coconuts. Especially noted for its fine, classical lines and an impressive stained-glass window, the cathedral was converted into a temporary hospital before the city was occupied by the Japanese early in 1942. Today, Anglicans again worship at this site, and the cathedral offers visitors a tranquil respite from city life.

Dating from 1939, the Supreme Court is one of the finest buildings from British Rule in Singapore, with Corinthian columns and impressive Italian murals. The adjacent City Hall, built in 1929, was the site of the Japanese surrender to Lord Mountbatten in 1945 and also where Singapore’s Independence from Malaysia was declared. Visitors are permitted to attend most court hearings, and tour the building in organised groups. You are required to wear respectful attire.

 Museums

Reopened in December 2006, the original 1887 structure of the National Museum of Singapore has been expanded, with larger exhibition spaces and a theater. Galleries include exhibits of local history the everyday life of Singaporeans since independence.

Asian Civilizations Museum The museum is split into two wings. The newer, housed in the restored Empress Place Building, exhibits a perspective of pan-Asian culture and civilizations. The museum features eleven galleries of some 1,300 artifacts from civilisations of China, South East Asia, South Asia and the Islamic societies of West Asia. The museum’s older wing re-opened as the new Peranakan Museum in 2008 in the former Tao Nan school building following extensive restoration.

Changi Chapel and Museum is a harrowing monument to more than 50,000 soldiers and civilians who were killed during the Japanese occupation (1942-45). Changi Chapel, a replica of many built at this time, is located within the courtyard of a new museum. The museum contains letters, drawings and personal effects of the prisoners of war, with a replica of the Changi Murals.

Red Dot Museum A creative hub housed in the former Singapore Traffic Police headquarters, this museum showcases commercial design excellence from around the world. The museum also bestows the annual Red Dot Award for innovative design concepts. It is also the venue for MAAD (Market for Artists and Designers), a recurring Sunday market for original creative works.

 Arts

Situated in a beautifully restored building, which began as the first Catholic school in Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum showcases 20th-century art from Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. Transformed from a 19th-century boys’ school built by Irish Catholic monks, this is one of Singapore’s most striking structures. Frequent live performances, lectures and arts-related events are held in the galleries.

Attractions

Once the lifeline of Singapore, and first port of call for its first immigrants, the Singapore River takes in many sights. Boat Quay and Clarke Quay have buzzing nightlife with lively waterfront bars and restaurants, while Robertson Quay is more classy and tranquil. Parliament House, originally a colonial mansion built in 1827 and now The Arts House, has been a venue for contemporary arts since 2004. Places of worship include Tan Si Chong Su Temple, an ancestral Hokkien temple built in 1876, and Omar Kampong Melaka Mosque.

Spanning over 1,750m and rising up to 93m above sea level, the Singapore Cable Car is South East Asia’s first ever cable car. It stops at three stations (visitors can board at all three) each with beautiful, and very different, views: Mount Faber is the second highest hill in Singapore and an equatorial rainforest; Cable Car Towers is the rooftop of a skyscraper above the busy harbour and the third station is on the island of Sentosa. Some cars are glass-bottomed, making the trip even more spectacular.

As a perfect respite from the city’s urban landscape, the Singapore Botanic Gardens epitomise the island’s luxuriant parks with a combination of primary jungle and elegantly laid-out flowerbeds and shrubs. Also in the gardens you will find the National Orchid Garden. With over 3,000 species spread over 52 hectares the orchid garden is the world’s largest orchid display.

The Singapore Zoo is known as one of the most beautiful zoos in Asia. Natural barriers instead of iron cages house some 3,050 animals. The zoo’s Night Safari is a chance to observe nocturnal animals from more than 100 species. You can strike out on your own along the walking trail or take a 50-minute tram ride. The zoo is one of the most unusual and interesting visitor experiences in Singapore.

Chinatown was once the heart of the traditional Chinese community. In the early days, many of the townsfolk who lived here worked in the ports and godowns (warehouses) by the Singapore River. You will find several old gold shops still operated by Cantonese families. You will also encounter grocers selling abalone, dried seahorses, fish, birds’ nests, shark fins and fruit, and you can meet calligraphers, fortune-tellers and makers of Chinese lanterns, screens, big-headed dolls and masks. Indian and Muslim temples and a mosque are interspersed among the Chinese surroundings, evoking the harmonious mix of peoples that stretches back into Singapore’s early history. The Sri Mariamman Temple, Hindu but open to respectful visitors of all faiths, is a most impressive structure.

Little India is the place to go for Hindu temples, fortune-tellers with parrots, backroom goldsmiths, colorful sari shops and grinders of aromatic spices. An attraction in the area is Serangoon Plaza, which houses the famous department store known as Mustafa Centre. Dubbed the Jewel of Little India, the plaza is a modern, air-conditioned complex with plenty to offer shoppers and gourmets. You’ll find everything from exotic Indian imports to luxurious pashmina shawls.

For the kids 

Singapore is touted as an ideal family vacation destination and the island nation has a number of enthralling and enchanting attractions which provide entertainment for adults and children alike.

The Jurong Bird Park features some 8000 birds which are displayed in four interactive walk-in aviaries – The Water Fall Aviary features the tallest man-made waterfall in the world, the South East Asian Bird Aviary is where a thunderstorm is stimulated everyday at noon and The Jungle Aviary and the Royal Ramble all showcase exotic birds in their natural habitat. Apart from these aviaries the park also has a number of bird shows where these birds sing, play and dance as they entertain their audience.

The Singapore Flyer is the world’s tallest observation wheel that towers 165 meters above the ground and  affords panoramic views of Singapore and the neighbouring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo Conducted in a wildlife park located adjacent to the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari will provide you and the kids with a fascinating glimpse into the nocturnal activities of nearly 1200 different animals which come from different parts of the globe. Many of the animals belong to endangered species. The Night Safari also features an interactive’Creatures of the Night show’ as well as a Tribal cultural show where the Thumbuakar Tribals, who hail from the rain forests of Boreneo, perform dances and display their fireeating skills.

Underwater World, on Sentosa Island, is a world renowned oceanarium which features more than 2500 species of fish, many of which are showcased in an 83 meter acrylic tunnel that moves on a travleator. This tunnel provides a deep sea experience displaying fish like sharks, slimy eels, giant stingrays and groupers in their natural habitat. Underwater World also has a Touch Pool and features interactive scuba diving programs which are conducted for both adults and children. Sentosa has plenty to keep the kids entertained for hours. This tiny island attached to the mainland by a causeway and cable car service has several attractions, including Dolphin Lagoon where you can get up close and personal with all manner of marine life. The Images of Singapore exhibit and Fort Siloso relate the history of Singapore with interesting displays featuring life-size figures. There are also plenty of beaches and other recreational activities.

Singapore Science Centre Housing more than 850 exhibits, mostly interactive, this is Singapore’s largest collection devoted to science. Exhibition halls include the Discovery Zone for young children, the Human Body, Space Science, the Hall of Aviation, and the Web of Life. Outside are the Ecogarden and the Kinetic Garden, which is the first of its kind in Asia, with interactive sculptures and science displays. Snow City, located in the Singapore Science Centre, is an indoor winter wonderland where temperatures are maintained at -5 C. Here children from the tropics who have never before experienced sub zero temperatures enjoy activities like, snowboarding, skiing a 60m-long ski slope, exploring an igloo, building snowmen and having snowball fights.

Not to be confused with the Science Centre, the Singapore Discovery Centre houses fascinating, kid-friendly exhibits, some permanent, others changing. It features high-tech exhibits such as virtual parachuting, a motion simulator and an interactive display showing the development of military technology. Exhibits also showcase some of Singapore’s milestones and achievements.

Shopping

Be you a resident or a visitor, shopping is one of the greatest pastimes in Singapore. Part of the fun is the excellent buys and great variety of shops all over the island. You can delight in a bargain at a little neighbourhood shop, pick up a quaint item or two as you stroll through colourful ethnic quarters, or spend a serious amount of time in modern malls or be enthralled by the “bigness”
of entire shopping “cities”, where you can find just about anything and everything.

And designer brands from the fashion runways of the world can be affordable – if you know where to look. (Hint at the growing number of discount shops around the city).

Rather than shop “helter skelter” at wherever you may be at the moment, it is best advised to plan shopping excursions, so you can be ‘efficient’. So here is a brief summary of where to plan some time.

Central Shopping Belt

Singapore’s Central Shopping Belt, extending from Tanglin Road all the way down Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road to Marina Bay, has been called Fifth Avenue, Regent Street, Champs-Elysees, Via Veneto and Ginza, and for obvious reasons. This is where world-class shopping abounds. A day spent browsing and buying turns into an unforgettable experience as theme designer boutiques, local and international department stores, speciality shops and bargain counters compete with outdoor cafes and gourmet restaurants.

City and Fringe Shopping

Great shopping in Singapore isn’t confined to just Orchard Road and its surrounds. Quality goods at prices that won’t burn a hole in your pocket can be found in many places around the city centre. The Riverside area by River Valley Road is home to both some of the newest as well as the oldest shops in Singapore. Look in the heart of the financial district around Raffles Place and Shenton Way where the office crowd throngs the shops. You’ll find a surprising variety of goodies.

Suburban Shopping

If you’re prepared to venture further afield, you can combine shopping with a little off-the-beaten track sightseeing as well. In fact, you’ll discover some of the best bargains where most Singaporeans live, eat and shop –in the heartlands of Singapore. These suburban shopping centres offer a surprisingly comprehensive range of items at prices to satisfy the value-conscious. Town centres in the larger areas of Tampines and Bishan are easily accessible by MRT. Shopping at these bustling town centres is a fascinating experience, providing insight into the local lifestyle and a chance to mingle with Singaporeans at their most comfortable.

District Shopping

Just behind the soaring skyscrapers of Singapore’s financial district lies Chinatown – the cultural hub of the Chinese migrants. Bound by Upper Pickering Street, Cantonment Road, New Bridge Road and South Bridge Road, the crowded and colourful network of streets and alleyways is the signature look of this area. Here, Chinese merchants hawk their wares from the ground floor of quaint pre-war shophouses, from delicate bales of silk and gold jewellry to traditional crafts.

Lots of little shops selling everything from electronic items to clothes, knick-knacks and accessories can be found in Parco Bugis Junction. Singapore’s first glass-covered air-conditioned shopping street boasts a delightful mix of clusters of shophouses, modern retail outlets and Seiyu, a sprawling Japanese department store. Bugis Village, opposite Parco Bugis Junction, area is possibly one of the best known areas of Singapore. This enclave has undergone a fair amount of transformation since the days of alleyways and sailors’ haunts. It is now highly urbanised and sophisticated, with restored shophouses and shopping complexes. Care has been taken to preserve hints of this area’s old-world charm. Don’t miss the ‘pasar malam’.

The little streets in and around Kampong Glam and Arab Street form the historical focal point of Muslim life in Singapore. Nothing beats the surroundings for bazaar-style shopping with true ethnic character. Here you can browse in hole-in-the-wall shops, haggle to your heart’s content and come away with delightful purchases at bargain prices. Arab traders settled here to be near their Muslim brothers, the Malays, Javanese and Buginese. Many shops still reflect the Muslim influence, selling prayer rugs, skull caps and anything needed for an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. But perhaps the real glory of Kampong Glam and Arab Street is the textiles. Bales of chiffon, silk, cotton georgette and other luxurious fabrics crowd the pavements, waiting to be sold at unbeatable prices. The area is also renowned for batiks from Indonesia and Malaysia, exquisitely hand-made and sold in sarong lengths.

Singapore After Dark

So what to do tonight? Do you want to go out for a cultural experience and find a traditional dance or music performance or a Chinese opera, or do you want to put on your finery and rub elbows with society at the symphony? If it’s a live performance you’re looking for, you have your choice not only of the local dance and theatre troupes but of the many West End and Broadway shows that come through Singapore. Or you may want to try a local performance. Singapore has been transforming itself into a centre for the arts and is striving to achieve the level of sophistication you would come to expect of a Western city.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall and Victoria Concert Hall. Founded in 1979, the SSO bridges Asian and Western music and has a respectable reputation helped by the occasional international tour. The Singapore Chinese Opera performs Chinese opera at the Singapore Conference Hall. The National Arts Council stages alfresco concerts by local arts companies in parks. For a local experience, tray seeing a Wayang, which is a Chinese Opera, most often performed in Mandarin. These highly elaborate performances are most often held during August and September.

Local groups are extremely energetic in producing contemporary theatre with an Asian flavour, reflecting Singapore’s ethnic diversity. The newest and largest venue for performing arts, The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, is a waterfront complex consisting of a concert hall, recital studio, two theatres and an art gallery. Plays are often performed in Mandarin, with English subtitles. Some of the more professional and popular theatre companies include Singapore Repertory Theatre, TheatreWorks, and Wild Rice.

Singaporeans love to go out at night, whether it’s to lounge in a wine bar or to move around a dance floor until the early hours. This city has become pretty eclectic in its entertainment choices, so you’ll find everything from live jazz to cover bands to internationally acclaimed guest DJs. Local celebrities and the young, wealthy, and beautiful are the heroes of the scene, and their quest for the “coolest” spot keeps the club scene on its toes.

Increasingly, Singapore’s nightlife has been clustering around nightlife hubs. One of the earliest hubs, Boat Quay, is a strip of renovated shophouses along the Singapore River that is a veritable parade of small bars, karaoke lounges, discos, and cafes. As you stroll along the river, you can hear the hip-hop, reggae, jazz, blues, rap, techno, disco – you name it –from each door.

Then there’s Orchard Road. The area around Scotts and Orchard Road has a tremendous number of nightclubs, each with its own clientele and all with high admission prices. Also fun, and with a high concentration of nightlife options, is CHIJMES.

Sports / Outdoor Adventure

Singapore has several outlying islands that are less developed and less crowded. They’re great places to swim, sunbathe or even set up camp amid peaceful and natural surroundings.

If you feel you need a little ‘green’, you can visit a Rainforest very close to Singapore. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, situated just 12 km from the centre of Singapore, is a small nature reserve, measuring only 1.64 square km. It is on the slopes of Bukit Timah Hill and parts of the surrounding area. Despite its small size, it is considered one of the most “productive” areas of nature. Together with the neighbouring Central Catchment Nature Reserve, it features some 840 species of flowering plants and over 500 species of fauna. Today, it is one of the largest patches of primary rainforest left in Singapore. The forest is home to all kinds of animals. The most commonly encountered are the Long-tailed Macaques or monkeys. Other special treats are the Flying lemur (Colugo) and squirrels. Forest birds include the Striped tit-babbler, the Fairy bluebird, drongos and bulbuls.Kusu Island According to legend, this island was once a giant turtle that transformed itself into a large rock to help save shipwrecked sailors. Today, the island is still embedded in various beliefs and rituals.

Taoists make their annual pilgrimage to the Toa Pekong Temple during the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Malays visit Kramat Kusu, which is located on the top of a hill. The kramat, or shrine, is dedicated to Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother Nenek Ghalib and his sister Puteri Fatimah. It is common for childless couples hoping to have children to visit this shrine, where they leave white cloths tied to the nearby trees as a token of the sincerity of their prayers. If you’re neither Taoist nor wishing to have kids, you can always relax on a beach. St John’s Island as well has several good beaches for swimming. Pulau Ubin is a mangrove island that has become highly popular as a weekend retreat and offers an interesting variety of activities and sights. You can rent a bike and go mountain-biking on the rocky trails all over the island, go swimming, or camp the night. You can also see traditional fishing villages, prawn and fish farms, Chinese temples and limestone quarries. Sisters Island is good for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.

Singapore’s a great place to play golf. It’s sunny all year round, with lush greenery and world-class golfing facilities. Take your pick from large and well-equipped public courses, or enjoy the more intimate atmosphere of the golf courses at country clubs and hotels. Despite its small size, Singapore is has several world-class golf courses, many that date back to colonial days when the British brought the game over with them. Most allow non-members to play.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has attempted to develop a national identity in its land of immigrants.  As part of this effort, Singapore has four national languages: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English is the language of choice. Singapore is a multi-ethnic society where Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions coexist beneath the veneer of a western cosmopolitan metropolis. The three main ethnic groups are religiously and culturally diverse.

Singaporeans rely on facial expression, tone of voice and posture to tell them what someone feels. They often trust non-verbal messages more than the spoken word. They tend to be subtle and indirect in their communications. They hint at a point rather than making a direct statement, since that might cause the other person to lose face. Rather than say ‘no’, they might say, ‘I will try’, or ‘I’ll see what I can do’. This allows the person making the request, and the person turning it down, to save face and maintain harmony in their relationship. Silence is an important element of Singaporean communication. Pausing before responding to a question indicates that they have given the question appropriate thought and considered their response carefully. They do not understand western cultures ability to respond to a question hastily and think this indicates thoughtlessness and rude behaviour.

Meeting and Greeting

Greetings will follow a strict protocol often based on both the ethnic origin and age of the person. Younger people or those who work in multi-national companies may have adopted the western concept of shaking hands with everyone, but this is not the case with older or more reserved Singaporeans.

Ethnic Chinese shake hands. Men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first. Introductions are always done in order of age or status. Between men, ethnic Malays shake hands. Men and women do not traditionally shake hands, since Muslim men do not touch women in public. Younger Malays may shake hands with foreign women, but it is more appropriate to use the ‘salaam’ (bowing the head) greeting. This is also the greeting to be used when two women meet. Ethnic Indians shake hands with members of the same sex. When being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually sufficient. As with the other groups, the elderly or the person with the most status is introduced first.

Titles / Names

Chinese traditionally have 3 names. The surname or family name is first and is followed by two personal names. Address the person by an honorific title and their surname. If they want to move to a first name basis, they will advise you which of their two personal names to use.

Many Malays do not have surnames. Instead, men add the father’s name to their own name with the connector bin. So Noor bin Isa, would be Noor, the son of Isa. Women use the connector binti, so Zarina binti Isa would be Zarina the daughter of Isa. The title Haji (male) or Hajjah (female) before the name indicates the person has made their pilgrimage to Mecca. The name Sayyed (male) or Sharifah (female) indicates that the person is considered to be a descendent of the prophet Mohammed.

Many Indians in Singapore do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name. The man’s formal name is their name ‘s/o’ (son of) and the father’s name. Women use ‘d/o’ to refer to themselves as the daughter of their father. Since many Indian names are extremely long, they commonly use a shortened version of their name as a sort of nickname. At marriage, women drop their father’s name and use their first name with their husband’s first name as a sort of surname. Sikh Indians all use the name Singh to denote themselves as Sikhs.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Chinese

A gift may be refused three times before it is accepted. This demonstrates that the recipient is not greedy. Do not give scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate that you want to sever the relationship. Do not give clocks, handkerchiefs or straw sandals as they are associated with funerals and death. Do not wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper as these are mourning colours. Wrap gifts in red, pink, or yellow since these are happy colors. Elaborate gift wrapping is imperative.

Never wrap a gift for a baby or decorate the gift in any way with a stork as birds are the harbinger of death.

Do not give odd numbers as they are unlucky.

Do not bring food if invited to a formal dinner party as it insinuates you do not think the host will provide sufficient hospitality.

Bring a small gift of fruit, sweets, or cakes, saying that it is for the children.

Gifts are not opened when received.

Flowers do not make good gifts as they are given to the sick and are used at funerals.

Malays

Never give alcohol.

Do not give toy dogs to children.

Do not give anything made of pigskin as Malays are Muslim.

Give the gift when you are departing, rather than when you arrive. Avoid white wrapping paper as it symbolizes death and mourning. Wrap gifts in red or green paper.

If you give food, make sure it is halal.

Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.

Gifts are not opened when received.

Indians

If you give flowers, avoid frangipani as they are used in funeral wreaths.

Money should be given in odd numbers, so give S$11 rather than S$10.

Offer gifts with the right hand only or both hands if the item is large.

Do not wrap gifts in white or black. Wrap gifts in red, yellow or green paper or other bright colours as these bring good fortune.

Do not give leather products to a Hindu.

Do not give alcohol unless you are certain the recipient imbibes.

Gifts are not opened when received. 

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