A Guide to Living in Singapore
A Brief History
The earliest known mention of Singapore was a 3rd-century Chinese account describing Singapore as “Pu-luo-chung” (“island at the end of a peninsula”). By the 14th century, Singapore had become part of the mighty Sri Vijayan Empire and was known as Temasek (“Sea Town”).
During the 14th century, it earned a new name – “Singa Pura”, or “Lion City”. According to legend, a visiting Sri Vijayan prince saw an animal he mistook for a lion and Singapore’s modern day name was born.
The British provided the next notable chapter in the Singapore story. During the 18th century, they saw the need for a strategic “half way house” to support their growing empire. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles, the British administrator who founded modern Singapore, quickly established Singapore as a trading station. By 1824, the population had grown from a mere 150 to 10,000.
Years later, during World War II, Singapore was captured by the Japanese in 1942. After the war, Singapore became a Crown Colony. The growth of nationalism led to self-government in 1959 and on 9 August 1965, Singapore became an independent republic.
Singapore is made up of not just one island but a main island with 63 surrounding islets. The main island has a total land area of 710.3 square km. It is located 136.8 km north of the equator, between latitudes 103 degrees 38’E and 104 degrees 06’E. Singapore is closely situated to Malaysia and Indonesia.
In just 150 years, Singapore has grown into a thriving centre of commerce and industry. Though its former role as an entrepôt has diminished, it remains the busiest port in the world with over 600 shipping lines. In addition, Singapore has developed a strong manufacturing base that was developed primarily in the 1960s and has evolved into one geared towards the production of high value-added goods today. It is also one of the world’s major oil refining and distribution centres and a leader in shipbuilding and repairing.
In recent years, Singapore has become one of the most important financial centres of Asia with more than 130 banks. Business dealings are facilitated by Singapore’s superb communications network which links the nation with the rest of the world.
Local Ethnic and Religious Festivals
For Muslims, the ‘Haj’ or pilgrimage to Mecca is the most important journey of their lives. Hari Raya Haji is a day to commemorate the religious occasion and to celebrate the return of the pilgims. Muslims spend a day in prayer and after the morning session at the mosques, sheep and goats are ritually slaughtered as sacrifices. The meat is then distributed among the worshippers and the poor.
After a month of fasting during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, Muslims celebrate Hari Raya Puasa. Weeks before the event, Geylang Serai transforms into a lively bazaar with roadside stalls selling various snacks, accessories and costumes. On the actual day of celebration, male members of households rise early to attend special prayers at the mosque. Past wrongs are forgiven and families visit the graves of those who departed as a sign of remembrance. In the homes, traditional delicacies are prepared for visiting friends and relatives.
This is the most important event in the Chinese Lunar calender. It is a time for much rejoicing. On New Year’s eve, Chinese families gather around the dining table to enjoy a sumptuous dinner known as the Reunion Dinner. The next 15 days are spent visiting friends, relatives and feasting. Parents and other married relatives will give “hong baos” to the unmarried children in the family. Giving “hong baos” (gifts of money in red packets) is a gesture of good fortune. Entertaining cultural shows are put up by performers from China at Marina Bay and you can also shop for more goodies at the Singapore River Hong Bao extravaganza. The Chingay Parade of Dreams is a colourful finale finale to the Lunar New Year celebrations. With eye-catching floats and costumed performers, there is little wonder as to why it is considered Southeast Asia’s grandest street and float parade.
This festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. According to popular legend, the event commemorates the overthrow of the tyrannical Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century which was brought about with the aid of secret messages placed in mooncakes. It is marked by much feasting and celebration in Chinatown and in gardens and parks around Singapore. Children show off bright and colourful lanterns while adults enjoy pamelo (a local citrus fruit) and delicious mooncakes filled with lotus paste, melon seeds, red lotus paste, nuts and yam. Nowadays, we even have new local flavours of durian and green tea mooncakes.
The Hindus celebrate Deepavali, the Festival of 1,000 Lights. It symbolises the triumph of good over evil and is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi. During the period Hindu homes around Singapore are decked with flickering oil lamps and Little India in particular is festively decorated and bustling with activity. As a form of self-cleansing, Hindus take a ritual oil bath before daybreak. Social visits and sweet treats are part of the celebration.
A dramatic festival, whereby Hindu penitents and worshippers carry kavadi (structures that hold fruits, flowers and pots of milk) in a procession that stretches from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road. This festival is an awesome display of mind over matter as the entranced devotees walk the 3 kilometre route with their heavy loads, some of which have skewers and hooks that are pierced through their tongues, cheeks and bodies.
This annual fire-walking ceremony honours the Goddess Draupadi, a heroine of the epic poem Mahabharata. Hindu devotees cross a red hot coal pit barefoot at the Sri Mariamman Temple. Devotees make the four metre walk across the fire path, cheered on by an excited crowd.
Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day, which commemorates Buddha’s entry into Nirvana after attaining spiritual enlightenment. Devotees usually go to the temple for a day of prayer and worship. Monks chant holy sutras and devotees release captive birds as a mark of respect to all living creatures and to gain merit.
Christians and Catholics commemorate the day Jesus Christ sacrificed himself on the cross to exonerate the sins of all mankind. Worshippers attend special prayer services and other events to demonstrate their gratification to the Lord.
Christians and Catholics celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. Christmas carols reverberate in malls as the season approaches. Be amazed by the beautifully decorated streets, shopping malls and hotels as they are all dazzled with fairy lights. Join the crowds at buoyant events that pop up across the island. In all churches, special services are held on Christmas eve and morning to mark this special day.
Accommodation is an important service for students living away from home. There is a wide variety of accommodation types in Singapore to suit different budgets and needs. Students should make prior arrangements for accommodation before arrival in Singapore. Temporary accommodation can be arranged before you leave home, giving you time to plan your living arrangements when you arrive. Most educational institutions have an International Student Office specialising in the needs of international students. The staff at these centres offer advice on accommodation procedures, contacts for private rental offers, room-mate matching services, handy tips about renting student homes, as well as help in selecting an accommodation type which best suit students’ needs.
Boarding schools are normally open to Secondary and Junior College students aged between 13 and 19 years. Selection is normally preceded by an interview of both the parents and the students. Boarding services include lodging, meals, laundry services, 24-hour security, pastoral guidance, tuition, supervision, sports & recreational facilities. A spirit of camaraderie often exists in boarding schools due to the bonding and friendships that are forged among boarders.
Private hostels are run by educational institutions or independent agencies. Options of single or sharing are normally available. For more information and listing of Boarding Schools, School Hostels and Private Hostels, please refer to the respective school websites or contact the school administrators for further details.
Some households in Singapore open up their homes and offer full boarding to international students. Homestay programme seeks to provide a conducive environment where the student gets to enjoy a homely environment, receive attentive care and emotional support from the guardians in the absence of his / her parents.
Those pursuing a short-term course like an executive training programme, will have a wide range of hotels to choose from. Hotel rates depend on location and class of hotels.
For those who are staying for a slightly longer period or accompanied by family members, serviced apartments are the next best option. Serviced apartments offer all the comforts of home with the housekeeping convenience of a hotel.