Sunday, November 05, 2006

Singapore Culture -- Simplified Overview

A fellow blogger asked me about the culture of Singapore. I'd started an e-mail, but decided I should post instead. I hope you find it interesting......... :-D

Singapore is a very cosmopolitan place. There are about 4 million people here. Where we live is a lot like New York City. I've never lived in Manhattan, but I've been there more than a few times having lived an hour north of "The City" (as it's referred to by "upstate" people) several years ago.

There are about 30,000 cabs here, mass transit (buses and trains), so we do not own a car here. Since we're in the Orchard district we walk most places or walk out to the street to hail a cab. If it's raining or rush-hours, it is nearly impossible to get one. It took me a while to get used to shopping without having a car. After a couple of weeks, I discovered that most merchants will deliver for free if you spend S$150 or more. That helps, a lot, but requires some planning before a shopping expedition.

The national past-time is shopping.....I've never seen so many shopping malls in my life. I don't have any idea how many there are on Orchard Road alone. It's amazing! They're almost always busy too, even later in the evenings. Same thing goes with restaurants. A lot of nightclubs have live entertainment through the entire week, not just weekends. I find that amazing, and I think most foreigners do too.

The work hours are a bit different here than in the U.S. A lot of people don't start work until 8:30 or 9:00, but will work much later in the evening. Daylight hours are almost 12 hours year-round, from 7 am to 7 pm. "No worries" (a favorite saying here) about Daylight Savings Time.

It is always the same here; same as the weather: hot, humid, sunny, or rainy. I must say, though, that summers here are much better than in the U.S. The temperature remains rather constant, unlike what was experienced this past summer with the heat waves back home.

Singapore is also famous for their food, and rightfully so. The population is very diverse and so are the foods: Chinese (various provinces), Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan, etc. There are others, but I haven't experienced them yet. Some Singaporean favorites are: chicken rice, chili crab, black pepper crab, char kwae teow, laksa, etc.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, of the New York Times, has an excellent article on Singapore here.

Here's a snippet:

"One of the joys of my life is that I am published in Singapore and televised there. This requires me to make frequent visits. The first time, I went for business. By the second time, I’d made friends. Now? I go for the food. Since I’m known as the American guy who likes to eat both the everyday food of Asia and some of its more extreme varieties, people there like to show me a good time. I’m fortunate that one of the first people I met was KF Seetoh, the editor and founder of Makansutra, a guide to the city’s street food and restaurants. Experience has taught me that when Seetoh, an enthusiastic Chinese Singaporean with a weathered face and a Gilligan hat, says that a place is good, it is in fact great. He has fed me some of the best meals of my life — and I rely on him and his guidebook without question. Not that I need the guy. Everyone in Singapore is an expert on food."

I'd say that one of the extreme varieties Mr. Bourdain refers to is Durian. I'm not the most well-traveled person, however, that has got to be one of the stinkiest fruits on earth. Yes, I've tried it; it's not bad, but I still have trouble getting past the smell. I never would've known such a stinky fruit existed if I hadn't been willing to leave my "comfort zone" in the U.S.

The majority of Singaporeans live in HDB flats that they purchase from the government. It is rare for Singaporeans to use aircons or clothes dryers because electricity is very costly. We have a subsidy, as ex-pats, to cover the cost of our utilities, but electricity is a huge chunk of our budget here. We are very careful about conserving energy. Americans need to learn a thing or two from Singaporeans about conservation.

I will try to do another post about things that I find interesting about Singaporean culture in the future. In the meantime, check out this video from Tartansuitcase


SteelJaw said...

Awesome! It sounds like food plys a big role there. You say its pretty hot? What about storms? We are expecting a Part Two of course!



SteelJaw said...

Oh, and the video was very informative. Definitly diverse place!