A lot people that I’ve met have either heard of or been to the little red dot, also known as Singapore. With a total land area of merely approximately 710 sq kilometres (274 sq miles), it is safe to say that one can drive from the western part of the sunny island to the east in just about 30-40 minutes. Assuming that the roads are traffic free. At this point, most people go “That’s freaking small!”
As part of the package of a Singaporean living overseas, foreign friends often ask me about Singapore. Here are the top 5 facts about my home I’ve gathered over the years which MANY foreigners don’t know.
1. We speak English
I first visited Daniel in Oxford in the summer of 2007. Those were the days when the pound was strong and mighty compared to the Singapore dollar. I felt the pinch but I was really excited to land in Heathrow, the third busiest airport in the world. Being served for 12 hours on British Airways by someone who spoke with a British accent was enough to make my heart skip a beat. The accent sounded really pleasing to my ears. I wasn’t exposed to cryptic Welsh, Scottish and Northern accents yet.
I joined the non-EU passport holders queue blindly since people were towering over me, but thankfully I got it right. After a long wait, I finally handed my passport over to immigration with a smile and said,
He took a glance at me and looked down at my passport.
“You’re from Singapore?” he asked with what I thought was more of a London accent.
“Yes!” I replied with pride.
“So why is it that you speak English?” he asked with a puzzled look.
Thanks to motion sickness pills, I had sufficient beauty sleep on the plane and was able to hold back my words of shock.
I replied patiently, “I’m from Singapore. We speak English.”
“Oh yeah? I didn’t know that. Did you study it at school?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s our official language and it is my first language too,” I said with a “duh” look.
I thought to myself – that guy must know what languages we speak in Singapore! I was dumbfounded.
Many Brits I meet are aware that Singapore was founded by an Englishman known as Sir Stamford Raffles and that Singapore was a huge trading port. However, many are shocked to know that Singaporeans (my generation) speak English. Ok, not just Brits. A lot of people that I meet who don’t live in Asia are equally surprised. As we’re quite a multi-racial country, you will notice that Malay, Mandarin and Tamil are also used in Singapore.
Point to take away: We do speak English. We may not speak it with an American, British, Australian or New Zealand accent, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still English.
2. Singapore is NOT in China
Note: There is no need for anyone to say that Singapore is China because there are many Chinese people living and working there now.
Geographically speaking, Singapore is nowhere near being in China. Have a good look at the map above! Perhaps I could put the blame on Chinese takeaway shops in Britain for misusing the word “Singapore”. When you see “Singapore noodles” on a Chinese menu in the UK, it simply means “spicy”. This has led to some confusion for the less geographically-inclined Brits to think that Singapore is in China. This isn’t unique to Britain. Many other nationalities aren’t aware where Singapore is located on the world map either.
When we were studying in Japan, a Taiwanese classmate did a presentation on a stir-fried noodles dish that is very popular in Singapore. Mid-way through her presentation, she mentioned that Singapore was IN Malaysia. I had to correct her. Yes, we’re connected by a bridge, but saying that we’re IN Malaysia was pushing it a little too far. The poor girl quickly drew the map of Malaysia and conveniently used a coloured chalk to point out where Singapore was located IN Malaysia. I nearly broke down (drama!). I thought I was going crazy.
Singapore is an island. We are an independent country. We’re not part of China and Malaysia. We’re simply just a small, red dot known as Singapore.
3. We don’t have four seasons
Any Singaporean (99.999%) will tell you that they love winter. They love the white, fluffy, cold snow. They will tell you that it’s just so fun to be running out there, building snowmen. Girls will shriek with excitement whenever they have the chance to wear boots. Yes, you’ve heard me right. Extra sharp squeals of delight will be guaranteed if it’s a pair of knee-high boots. Before you think they’re crazy, you need to know this fact – we are a tropical island. We don’t have any of the four seasons whatsoever.
I never checked weather forecasts in Singapore. It’s either rain or shine. Oh, with guaranteed humidity. Straight forward, eh?
The only season we have is the monsoon season which lasts between November and January. Did you realise that I referred to the other Singaporeans as “they” and not “we”? That’s because winter has lost its charm for me. I DON’T look forward to snow. I love boots but that’s just me being a shoe fanatic.
4. Non-existent agricultural sector
Update: A kind soul mentioned that this is wrong because we have chicken farms in Singapore. Well…on top of that we even have fisheries! Let’s just say, it’s so small and insignificant to the point that it’s almost non-existent.
My Australian and British friends found me amusing when I got all hyped up over milking a cow. In Japan, I developed a marriage idea which I went through with. Well, 99% accomplished and that was to have my wedding on a farm. Hence, we hired out a beautifully converted barn and held our simple reception there.
Daniel convinced me that it would constitute animal abuse if I had little yellow chicks walk down the aisle with me. My husband is very tactful. He didn’t call me crazy even if that forbidden thought crossed his mind. Hence, it didn’t go 100% as planned.
Not having a significant agricultural sector means that Singapore relies heavily on exports and refining imported goods. We simply do not have the land space to invest in agriculture. If houses are built taller these days to accommodate more people, we will also need to resort to vertical farming to plant more crops! Not joking!
To escape the hustle and bustle of city life and to ensure that children know what it’s like to live with animals and where food comes from, Australia has done a good job in promoting itself to Singaporeans. Farm stays are excellent down under! That was where I got my first hand experience with a cow. I was 20 but did I care about 5 and 6 year olds wanting to milk the very one cow on show? Nope. I raised both arms in the air enthusiastically to volunteer myself while parents shoved their shy kids forward, muttering under their breaths “Go boy! Go milk the cow! Faster! Faster.”
5. Everyone’s related
We marry our siblings and cousins. OF COURSE NOT!!!
We address people older than us as “aunty” or “uncle”. For example, I could be shopping in town and if I wanted the shop assistant who’s older than me (let’s say near mummy’s age) to help me, I would call her “aunty”. Similarly when buying food at a food court or hawker centre, I would address the stall owners as “aunty” or “uncle”. This is just polite. Initially it was strange for Daniel. He addresses his aunts and uncles on his dad’s side of the family by their first names. Awkward for me to begin with, but they didn’t seem to mind and are pretty casual.
So, don’t be surprised if you hear people shouting “aunty” or “uncle” everywhere you go in Singapore. We aren’t related to everyone on the island!
Hope you enjoyed this little write-up about Singapore with a little bit of fun thrown in. I don’t know so much about other cultures and countries either, so I’ve probably asked ridiculous questions when I’ve first met people!
Anyway, Happy Monday, people! Have a great fulfilling week ahead! I’ll have some different things to blog about in the first week of September (fingers crossed), but I’m so not letting the cat out of the bag now. Take care!
P.S – If you’ve not read my post on Beijing, you can check it out here. Don’t forget to participate in the “What type of traveller are you?” Poll at the end of the post!
- How to piss off a Singaporean (matadornetwork.com)
- Many Stories, One Singapore (thepencake.wordpress.com)
- Fun facts about Singapore (thethaisthatbind.wordpress.com)
- Singapore: Asia’s Switzerland? (blogdowntheborders.wordpress.com)