Culture / Religion
Singapore has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world. Culturally, the use of illicit drugs is viewed as highly undesirable by Singaporeans, unlike many European societies. Singaporeans' disapproval towards drug use has resulted in laws that impose the mandatory death sentence for certain serious drug trafficking offences. Singapore also has a low rate of alcohol consumption per capita and low levels of violent crime, and one of the lowest intentional homicide rates globally. The average alcohol consumption rate is only 2 liters annually per adult, one of the lowest in the world.
Foreigners make up 42% of the population, and have a strong influence on Singaporean culture. The Economist Intelligence Unit, in its 2013 "Where-to-be-born Index", ranks Singapore as having the best quality of life in Asia and sixth overall in the world.
Languages, religions, and cultures
Singapore is a very diverse and young country. It has many languages, religions, and cultures for a country its size.
When Singapore became independent from the United Kingdom in 1963, most of the newly minted Singaporean citizens were uneducated laborers from Malaysia, China and India. Many of them were transient laborers who were seeking to make some money in Singapore and they had no intention of staying permanently. A sizeable minority of middle-class, local-born people, known as the Peranakans, also existed. With the exception of the Peranakans (descendants of late 15th and 16th-century Chinese immigrants) who pledged their loyalties to Singapore, most of the laborers’ loyalties lay with their respective homelands of Malaysia, China and India. After independence, the process of crafting a Singaporean identity and culture began.
Former Prime Ministers of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, have stated that Singapore does not fit the traditional description of a nation, calling it a society-in-transition, pointing out the fact that Singaporeans do not all speak the same language, share the same religion, or have the same customs. Even though English is the first language of the nation, according to the government's 2010 census 20% of Singaporeans, or one in five, are illiterate in English. This is a marked improvement from 1990 where 40% of Singaporeans were illiterate in English.
Languages, religions and cultures among Singaporeans are not delineated according to skin colour or ancestry, unlike many other countries. Among Chinese Singaporeans, one in five is Christian, another one in five is atheist, and the rest are mostly Buddhists or Taoists. One-third speaks English as their home language, while half speak Mandarin Chinese. The rest speak other Chinese varieties at home. Most Malays in Singapore speak Malay as their home language with some speaking English. Singaporean Indians are much more religious. Only 1% of them are atheists. Six in ten are Hindu, two in ten Muslim, and the rest mostly Christian. Four in ten speak English as their home language, three in ten Tamil, one in ten Malay, and the rest other Indian languages as their home language.
Each Singaporean's behaviors and attitudes would therefore be influenced by, among many other things, his or her home language and his religion. Singaporeans who speak English as their native language tend to lean toward Western culture, while those who speak Chinese as their native language tend to lean toward Chinese culture and Confucianism. Malay speaking Singaporeans tend to lean toward the Malay culture, which itself is closely linked to the Islamic culture.
Attitudes and beliefs
At the national level in Singapore, meritocracy, where one is judged based on one's ability, is heavily emphasised.
Racial and religious harmony is regarded by Singaporeans as a crucial part of Singapore's success, and played a part in building a Singaporean identity. Singapore has a reputation as a nanny state. The national flower of Singapore is the hybrid orchid, Vanda 'Miss Joaquim', named in memory of a Singapore-born Armenian woman, who crossbred the flower in her garden at Tanjong Pagarin 1893. Many national symbols such as the Coat of arms of Singapore and the Lion head symbol of Singapore make use of the lion, as Singapore is known as the Lion City. Other monikers by which Singapore is widely known is the Garden City and the Red Dot. Public holidays in Singapore cover major Chinese, Western, Malay and Indian festivals.
Singaporean employees work an average of around 45 hours weekly, relatively long compared to many other nations. Three in four Singaporean employees surveyed stated that they take pride in doing their work well, and that doing so helps their self-confidence.
Since the 1990s, the government has been promoting Singapore as a centre for arts and culture, in particular the performing arts, and to transform the country into a cosmopolitan "gateway between the East and West". One highlight was the construction of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, a performing arts centre opened in October 2002. The national orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, plays at the Esplanade. The annual Singapore Arts Festival is organised by the National Arts Council. The stand-up comedy scene has been growing, with a weekly open mic. Singapore hosted the 2009 Genée International Ballet Competition, a classical ballet competition promoted by London's Royal Academy of Dance.
Sport and recreation
Popular sports include football, basketball, cricket, swimming, sailing, table tennis and badminton. Most Singaporeans live in public residential areas (known as "HDB flats") near amenities such as public swimming pools, outdoor basketball courts and indoor sport complexes. Water sports are popular, including sailing, kayaking and water skiing. Scuba diving is another popular recreational sport. The southern island of Pulau Hantu, particularly, is known for its rich coral reefs.
Singapore's football league, the S-League, launched in 1996, currently comprises 9 clubs, including 2 foreign teams. The Singapore Slingers, formerly the Hunter Pirates in the Australian National Basketball League, is one of the inaugural teams in the ASEAN Basketball League which was founded in October 2009.
Singapore began hosting a round of the Formula One World Championship, the Singapore Grand Prix, in 2008. The race takes place on the Marina Bay Street Circuit and was the inaugural F1 night race, and the first F1 street race in Asia. The Singapore Grand Prix will remain on the F1 calendar through at least 2017, after race organisers signed a contract extension with Formula One Group on the eve of the 2012 event.
Kranji Racecourse is run by the Singapore Turf Club and hosts multiple weekly meetings and many important local and international races, notably the prestigious Singapore Airlines International Cup.
Singapore also hosted the inaugural 2010 Summer Youth Olympics.
Companies linked to the government control much of the domestic media in Singapore. MediaCorp operates most free-to-air television channels and free-to-air radio stations in Singapore. There are a total of seven free-to-air TV channels offered by Mediacorp. The channels are Channel 5 (English channel), Channel News Asia (English channel), Okto (English channel), Channel 8 (Chinese channel), Channel U (Chinese channel), Suria (Malay channel) and Vasantham (Indian channel). Starhub Cable Vision (SCV) also offers cable television with channels from all around the world and Singtel's Mio TV provides an IPTV service. Singapore Press Holdings, a body with close links to the government, controls most of the newspaper industry in Singapore.
Singapore's media industry has sometimes been criticised for being too regulated and lacking in freedom by human rights groups such as Freedom House. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders, a France-based international non-governmental organisation, ranked Singapore 153rd out of 180 nations in its Press Freedom Index. This was the lowest ranking for Singapore since the inception of this index in 2002. The Media Development Authority regulates Singaporean media, claiming to balance the demand for choice and protection against offensive and harmful material.
Private ownership of TV satellite dishes is banned. There are 3.4 million users of the internet in Singapore, one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world. The Singapore government does not engage in widespread censoring of the internet, but it maintains a list of one hundred websites (mostly pornographic) that it blocks as a 'symbolic statement of the Singaporean community's stand on harmful and undesirable content on the Internet'. As the block covers only home internet access, users may still visit the blocked websites from their office computers.
Singapore has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil. English is the common language, and is the language of business, government, and the medium of instruction in schools. Public bodies in Singapore, such as the Singapore Public Service, (which includes the Singapore Civil Service and other agencies), conduct their business in English, and official documents written in a non-English official language such as Malay, Chinese or Tamil typically have to be translated into English to be accepted for submission.
The Constitution of Singapore and all laws are written in English, and interpreters are required if one wishes to address the Singaporean Courts in a language other than English. English is the native tongue for only one-third of all Singaporeans, with roughly a quarter of all Singaporean Malays, a third of all Singaporean Chinese, and half of all Singaporean Indians speaking it as their native tongue. Twenty percent of Singaporeans cannot read or write in English.
Singaporeans are mostly bilingual, with English as their common language and usually the mother-tongue as a second language taught in schools, in order to preserve each individual's ethnic identity and values. The official languages amongst Singaporeans are English (80% literacy), Mandarin (65% literacy), Malay (17% literacy), and Tamil (4% literacy).
Singapore English is based on British English, and forms of English spoken in Singapore range from Standard Singapore English to a pidgin known as "Singlish". Singlish is discouraged by the government.
Mandarin is the language that is spoken as the native tongue by the greatest number of Singaporeans, half of them. Singaporean Mandarin is the most common version of Chinese in the country, with 1.2 million using it as their home language. Nearly half a million speak other varieties of Chinese, mainly Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese, as their home language, although the use of these is declining in favour of Mandarin and English.
Malay was chosen as a national language by the Singaporean government after independence from Britain in the 1960s to avoid friction with Singapore's Malay-speaking neighbours—Malaysia and Indonesia. It has a symbolic, rather than functional purpose. It is used in the national anthem "Majulah Singapura", in citations of Singaporean orders and decorations, and in military commands. In general, Malay is spoken mainly within the Singaporean Malay community, with only 17% of all Singaporeans literate in Malay and only 12% using it as their native language.
Around 100,000, or 3%, of Singaporeans speak Tamil as their native language. Tamil has official status in Singapore and there have been no attempts to discourage the use of other Indian languages.
Religion of Singapore
Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Singapore, with 33% of the resident population declaring themselves adherent’s at the most recent census. The next-most practiced religion is Christianity, followed by Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. 17% of the population did not have a religious affiliation. The proportion of Christians, Taoists, and non-religious people increased between 2000 and 2010 by about 3% each, whilst the proportion of Buddhists decreased. Other faiths remained largely stable in their share of the population. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found Singapore to be the world's most religiously diverse nation.
There are monasteries and Dharma centers from all three major traditions of Buddhism in Singapore: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Most Buddhists in Singapore are Chinese and are of the Mahayana tradition, with missionaries having come into the country from Taiwan and China for several decades. However, Thailand's Theravada Buddhism has seen growing popularity among the populace (not only the Chinese) during the past decade. Soka Gakkai International, a Japanese Buddhist organisation, is practiced by many people in Singapore, but mostly by those of Chinese descent. Tibetan Buddhism has also made slow inroads into the country in recent years.