Aside from adjusting to a new environment and lifestyle when living away from Singapore, overseas Singaporeans would also have to adjust to being asked questions or given remarks about Singapore. Speaking English, the chewing gum ban, and even the dreaded ‘Singapore noodles’ – we’ve heard them all, whether asked out of genuine curiosity, ignorance, or even a lack of geographical knowledge (no, we’re not in China).
Here’s how these impressions could become much more informed – and you'll have a part to play in that shift!
“Hey, Singapore! A ‘fine’ city, right?”
Some say we are mighty ‘fine’ indeed. Most commonly found on t-shirts and souvenirs at Chinatown or Mustafa Centre, the ‘Fine City’ moniker is one that particularly older folks may associate us with.
‘Fine city’ memorabilia a common sight at tourist spots in Singapore
We can’t blame them though; from spitting to vandalism, and even feeding pigeons – it seems like we have a fine for even the strangest of things! However, it may be helpful for them to note that our clean streets, low crime rate and overall standard of excellence can be attributed to having many of these rules put in place years ago.
And hey, there’s actually much more to our ‘fine’ selves than just imposing monetary penalties – being a fine city also refers to our beautiful ‘garden city’ side, which is now referred to as City in a Garden. So, we’re fine, thank you – and you?
“I heard that you could go to jail for chewing gum…”
Or receive the death penalty, which some may also mistakenly believe. However, it’s not so much the chewing that’s illegal, but the sale and import of it.
These colourful bubble gums remain a sweet childhood memory.
The ban was imposed in 1992 after a rise in numerous ‘sticky’ situations, particularly when operations of our public transit system were affected because of chewed gum stuck on MRT train doors. While the ban was partially lifted in 2004 to permit the sale of dental chewing gum, it is still illegal to import gum into Singapore.
So, let the other party chew on the facts above, and also on this memorable quote from then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew in a BBC interview back in 2000, “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.”
“Is Singlish your native language?”
It’s natural for people to equate the English that Singaporeans speak as ‘Singlish’ (Singapore English, right?). But guess what – they are actually two kinds of Singapore English: Standard Singapore English (which follows the rules of British English) and Standard Colloquial English – affectionately known as Singlish. That aside, it would also be helpful for them to know too that we have four official languages – English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. Although all four official languages are given equal regard under our constitution, Malay is accorded “national language” status.
Consider getting the Singlish notebook to ‘school’ your friends or to brush up on your own Singlish vocabulary!
But back to Singlish. Those who have travelled to Singapore or have Singaporean friends may know a little bit about it, but they’d probably not know how intuitive it really is until they spend a considerable length of time living here! Because lah can’t be added to just anything (for example, “Hello, lah!”), ending a sentence with leh and lor would give it completely different meanings, and don’t even get us started on explaining words like ‘fly kite’, ‘gostan’ and ‘catch no ball’. For those who are really keen to learn a little more about Singapore’s unofficial lingua franca, they could pick up a handy Singlish guide from a local bookstore when they’re in town or borrow one from the National Library!
“I heard that Singapore has some pretty funky looking trees!”
Ah, news of our Supertrees has certainly travelled far and wide! These vertical gardens at Gardens by the Bay – which stands at 25-50 metres tall – have come to be one of Singapore’s most iconic representations, alongside other attractions like the Singapore Flyer, Esplanade Theatres by the Bay, and of course, Marina Bay Sands.
The fantastical Supertrees have come to be an iconic part of the Singapore skyline
The Supertrees’ futuristic aesthetics and design often draws parallels to James Cameron’s rain forest in the movie, Avatar. However, these are just one of the many engineering and horticultural achievements found at Gardens by the Bay – and there’s more to see there too! But let’s also not forget some of our other horticultural highlights and nature attractions here in Singapore – like the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Coney Island Park, Hort Park, Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin. Our City in a Garden is a mighty fine one indeed!
“Is shopping all you can do on Orchard Road?”
While Orchard Road could almost be viewed as a microcosm of Singapore, since its development has largely kept pace with that of the country’s, it is more than just a haven for shoppers! Film competitions, a skate park, a retail incubator and the upcoming Design Orchard are just some initiatives to inject diversity and cultural attractions for locals and tourists.
It’s hard to imagine that Orchard Road once housed outdoor hawker centres, wet markets, cemeteries, temples and even an open-air laundry basin. Its evolution has been a conscious effort by the government to stay updated with the times and a newer generation of wants. Last year, a lecture series on “Reimagining Orchard Road” brought about conversations around the development of Orchard Road, which posited having more mixed development projects as a vital part of the street, to offer greater fluidity between work and play. It’s no surprise that co-working spaces have started popping up along Orchard Road with the likes of Impact Hub, SmartSpaces, Spacemob and Trehaus offering younger bloods and start-ups the benefits of being in the vibrant city center at a lower cost.
Oh, and the next time anyone asks you if ‘Singapore Noodles’ are actually available in Singapore – let them know that the noodle dishes in Singapore are a whole lot better than so-called ‘Singapore Noodles’. They’ll need to make a trip here to try them for themselves! We’d only be more than happy to welcome them – or in other words, just come lah.
By knowing more about Singapore, we hope that our overseas friends will be intrigued by what we have to offer. Once they arrive on our sunny island via the best airport in the world, we’re sure there is much that will surprise them – from travelling from one end of the island to other in one of the best transportation systems, to savouring our many culinary delights. Just make sure they keep things fine, or they might just run into one of our new state-of-the-art police robots!