The Five Misconceptions about Singapore

Mar 11, 2011
*Special to asia!
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Do they speak English in that part of China called Singapore? A Singaporean writer gets down to the five misconceptions about her country, from noodles to nerds.

As inspired by Japanese-American blogger Lisa Shoreland, this faithful island-city dweller has decided, likewise, that misconceptions about her people should reach their end.

(Note: If you’ve come here to see if the outlawing of chewing gum is a misconception, you’ve clicked the wrong link. I’m sorry. No Wrigley’s here.)

Allow me, as I aim to enable world harmony, mutual understanding, and to remind people that Singapore really isn’t a part of China.

No not ten misconceptions. (It was too much work for a writer up at 5.30 in the morning and on a no-coffee regimen. Note your misconception that all Singaporeans are industrious. It’s one of the first things you’ve been proved wrong on today.)




Misconception 1: Singapore is a part of China. False. Yep, we know we’re saying it for the second time, but if you’ve been asked by more than one sweet old American lady you meet while holidaying overseas just what part of China Singapore is in, you’d be repeating yourself too. But okay, the misconception is forgivable. Singapore has a 70% population majority of Chinese, and if you saw an international news segment about how Singaporeans generally don’t chew on the thing that is, oh, also used to make cling film - it probably featured a swathe of unhappy-looking Chinese chewing their own molars in despair. But the next time someone asks, we’re one degree north of the Equator, and pandas don’t roam our bamboo thickets. We don’t even have bamboo thickets.

The next time someone asks, we’re one degree north of the Equator. And pandas don’t roam our bamboo thickets.


Misconception 2: Singapore Noodles actually exist. An enterprising restaurateur looking to combine the twin joys of grease-laden food and exotic-sounding menu items must have thought - hey let’s call this fried noodle-curry-powder thing Singapore Noodles! (This was probably all before the media circus on caning and the ban on chewable plastic - when people may still have associated Singapore with pleasant Far East tropics and mild, exotic natives.) So that stubborn item you’ve seen in your neighbourhood restaurant menu - or the Women’s Weekly recipe segment - is no proud culinary export of this island city, thankyouverymuch.


Misconception 3: We’re boring. As much as I sometimes bemoan our skyscraper-saturated landscape, the reality is we have our own irresistible je ne sais quoi - but only if you forget the tourism board itinerary. Throw out the guidebook that tells you about all the gaudy, souvenir-shop-spotted attractions and leaves out all the cool stuff hiding in our alley ways and back streets. Find yourself a good Singaporean, and tell him or her to take you to the little coffeeshops and culture-rich nooks and crannies of our island nation.

Or grab yourself a TimeOut - it tells you how the locals live it up. Forget the soul-sucking malls; we have much more to offer.


Misconception 4: We just aren’t cool. Okay okay, I can hear the Singaporeans groaning as I try to fight this one. One of the oddest facts about our people is that we never say we’re cool. We’d deny it. But I put it down to self-deprecation. We’d be cool simply because: a. We live on an island. b. We get sun 365 days of the year. We get a tan just walking down the street (a very long street, admittedly. but still.) c. Eating is a national past-time. And we don’t get guilt about it. d. Speaking of eating - we’re a real ethnic mix. Indian coffee houses are packed to the brim with Chinese. I have a personal weakness for Malay desserts. Awesome cultural integration? It starts at our table. e. And about us being a nation of nerds with the highest levels of Internet penetration in the world? (i.e. we’re all Facebook and Maple Story addicts?) Well, CNN notes geek is cool, anyway. And we make the list.


Misconception 5: We don’t speak English. Friends about to visit sometimes ask, “So do most Singaporeans speak English well?” and they’re a little anxious. They’re worried they’ll have to feverishly ask for the nearest public toilet in Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. But - thanks to Queen Victoria and her penchant for colonial expansion, our street names are in English. Our official reports are in English. And our educational curriculum is - you guessed it - in the Queen’s very best. But if you really want to know how we speak it, you’ll have to get to know Singlish. (Did I mention we have an inventive colloquial adaptation of the English language that is understood and used across multiple ethnic groups? We don’t even think that’s cool. Which shows just how cool we are.)


Singapore writer Simone Erasmus - Lam admits a love hate relationship with her country of birth, though she doesn’t quite miss chewing gum.

Simone ErasmusWhen she isn't writing children's storybooks or expounding on food, Simone can be found in the kitchen, concocting fiery curries or bravely attempting layers of genoise. She has written for The Business Times Singapore, and also contributed to research in arts and culture across the region at the National University of Singapore. She is currently writing a series of books for preschoolers, to be published soon to the iPhone and iPad.

Contact Simone

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