Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Belated Introduction

I recently realized that I had never written a basic introduction to Singapore. If you're anything like me, when you first heard that I was moving here, you probably weren't quite sure where it was. In fact, I spent several days telling people that I was moving to Singapore, in Malaysia. As it turns out, Singapore is not in Malaysia at all. It is located in Southeast Asia, directly below peninsular Malaysia, which is directly below Thailand. Singapore is so small that it doesn't really show up in the map below, but the arrow points to where it is. Singapore is an island nation, and one of the world's few city-states (Monaco and Vatican City are two others).A few quick facts about Singapore- the island itself is about 26 miles wide and 14 miles top to bottom, about 271 square miles total- approximately three and a half times the size of Washington, D.C. In that 271 square miles, there are over 4 and a half million people, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The people of Singapore are from a variety of different backgrounds- the majority (over three-quarters) are Chinese, 14% of the population is Malay, and about 8% Indian.

Because Singapore was previously a British colony, the official language of Singapore is English, and it is used for all business and education purposes. However, the Singaporean version of English isn't quite like the English that Bryan and I are so familiar with- our accents sound different from the ones we're surrounded by everyday, and Singaporeans use some words we don't know- Singaporean English is so distinct that it's often referred to as "Singlish." For example, Singaporeans often use words such as "lah," "lor," and "lai dat" for emphasis, as in, "This food is very good lah." Also, Singaporeans seem to truncate words, especially when they end in consonants. So, if a Singaporean is saying the word "sidewalk," it might sound to me like they are saying "sidewah." This has led to a variety of hilarious interactions for me, in which I say "What? Excuse me? Can you repeat yourself?" about 20 times while people smile and shake their heads. So it goes.

Since English is the offiicial language of business, most people (but not everyone) speak it, and they often speak another language as well. Mandarin is the most common, followed by Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, and Tamil. The abundance of languages results in signs that say the same thing multiple times in different languages, like the one below:Singapore is an established country with a stable economy, and it is still rapidly developing. Construction is going on all over the place- one local comedian jokes "Singapore's a great city- I can't wait to see what it looks like when they finish it!" One perk of living here is that it has one of the lowest crime rates in the entire world, which is likely due in part to its notorious and severe punishments for breaking the law. There are hefty fines for offenses like littering or eating on the MRT. For more serious offenses such as stealing and vandalism, one can be sentenced to a caning. And for drug smuggling, the penalty is death. Singapore's harsh punishments received international attention in 1994 after American teenager Michael P. Fay was sentenced to a caning after vandalizing cars, stealing signs, and generally acting like a spoiled rotten little brat. Everyone freaked out about the sentence, which included jail time in addition to the caning. After many appeals, Michael was excused from his jail time, and the number of cane strokes that he was to receive was reduced from 12 to four. In my opinion, he should have paid the full cost for his crime- if you go to another country, you agree to abide by their rules, regardless of how harsh they are. And as I said, he was being a brat anyway, and making a bad name for Americans abroad. OK, off the soapbox.

Due to the diversity of Singapore's population, there are a number of religions represented here-slightly less than half the population is Buddhist, 15% are Muslim, 9% are Taoist, and 4% Hindu. In fact, our flat is smack in the middle of Singapore's religious panoply- there is a mosque across the street, a Hindu temple in the other direction, and a Tao temple behind our building. Of course, each of the unique cultures represented in Singapore brings along its own food, and we've eaten some delicious meals since we got here- Indian is the favorite of both Bryan and me, but we've also eaten Middle Eastern food (see my tasty meal below, from Al-Hamra in Holland Village), Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Western, and even some attempts at Mexican food (we're pretty hard to please in that department, after having lived an hour from Mexico).A few more random facts- all males in Singapore are required to complete two years in the military. Almost all of the food in Singapore is imported from somewhere else. The temperature doesn't change much throughout the year and hovers right around UNBEARABLY HOT. Haha, just kidding- it's usually in the 80's, but the sun beats down (we're close to the equator), and the humidity is insanely high- often above 90%. There are some areas of primary rainforest remaining in Singapore, but there used to be a lot more before the wheels of progress started turning here. And there are several smaller islands off of Singapore, such as Sentosa and Pulau Ubin, that are part of Singapore.

So that's the overview! Let me know if you have any questions about Singapore- I know more about it than I ever thought I would. It's hard to believe that just a few short months ago, I was so confident that it was in Malaysia!


  1. Hi Crystal,
    I enjoyed the information on Singapore; didn't realize it was so small.
    1. Maybe you should compile a glossary of slinglish. I've read a bit about all the dialects of English abounding around the world owing to the prevalence of English and the past British colonization of so many places.
    2. I've long thought that America needs stiffer penalties, such as public stocks for minor offenses. Put vandals in those stocks and let the public spit and pee on them.
    3. It's a nice cool September day with very low humidity.
    John Whitacre

    Hi C & B

    We always enjoy hearing of your adventures, just be careful near all those animals!! You are making your mom and I CRAZY. Who would have thought of a monkey named Annette, I forgive you, haha. Travel broadens the mind, you impress me so much and are wonderful example for all who know you!!

    Lova Ya.

    Annette, the monkey

  2. Hi Annette and John,

    Thanks for continuing to read the blog! It's nice to hear from both of you. John, I've been thinking about putting at least some common Singlish words/expressions on the blog. I'll work on getting it together, and will post it eventually. Annette, I know I'm driving Mom nuts, haha. I try my best to reassure her, but worrying is just what moms do, I guess. It's great to hear what you guys think of the blog, and Annette, you flatter me :) Love you!