Questions about Singapore

singapore flag

Here are the top 5 questions I get about Singapore in no particular order


1-What language do they speak?

Short answer–English

Longer answer–There are four official languages—English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil, but English is the language of government and it the primary language taught in the schools.

Singapore was a British colony for hundreds of years. It only became an independent country after World War II. The elites classes all spoke English, and the first Prime Minister and Father of the Country, Lee Kuan Yew was educated at the London School of Economics and studied law at the University of Cambridge. He didn’t speak Mandarin until his adulthood. His son, the current Prime Minister, went to University of Cambridge and Harvard.

That said, Singaporeans speak English with a distinct accent. There is also a local patois called Singlish.


The only Singlish I use is can/cannot because it is efficient. As for the rest, white people sound like asses when we try to use it and inevitably fuck it up. That said, my older daughter, who has lived here her whole life and goes to local schools, is fully fluent in Singlish. However, she code-switches–with her friends and at school she sounds like a true-blue Singaporean, but at home her accent lightens dramatically and she sounds American. This is totally unconscious on her part, and fascinating to watch in action.


2-Is chewing gum really banned?

Short answer—yes

Longer answer–it’s banned for sale, but you can bring it in for personal use, you can get the stop-smoking gum by prescription, and my dentist office will sell you some kind of gum. We generally bring back gum when we go on vacation to the US.

So here’s the true story of why gum is banned in Singapore.

The trains here have sensors that tell them if anything is blocking the doors. They won’t close the doors/run the trains until whatever is blocking them is moved. The government is really into the trains running on time. People kept sticking gum on the doors and it messed with the sensors so the trains weren’t running on time so the government banned gum.




3-Do they cane people?

Yes, they do. The picture above is from my daughter’s school handbook. You’ll notice that Caning is the 8th level of punishment. However, caning is reserved for boys/men only.

Caning children as a disciplinary technique is very common, and very controversial. Within my local friends, there’s a mixture of caners and not. Some of my friends were caned and think it was fine, others think it was awful. It seems pretty analagous to the spanking debate in the US. It’s frightening how normal it seems after being immersed in the culture for six years. I’m told at the secondary school level, the caning is carried out during an assembly in front of the entire school.

Caning is also used as a government punishment. That cane, though,can strip away skin and cause bleeding. This is no joke.



4–Where in China is Singapore?

It’s not. Singapore is a country at the extreme southern tip of Continental Asia. While many Singaporeans have Chinese heritage, it is not, nor has it ever been part of China.


5—Now it’s your turn. What questions do you want to ask me about Singapore?

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