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Singaporean Chinese culture


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Last Updated:
20 Dec 1999

Getting to know you.
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Pasir Ris Seaside Park"I love you to the trees, mummy!" said the happy blond-haired child on the swing. 

"I love you too sweetheart......." replied mum as she pushed his swing. 

Such public expressions are part of the Caucasian culture and not found in the majority of the conservative Chinese population in Singapore.  English-educated wives may give terms of endearment to their husbands.  Some older husbands do but it is uncommon, I believe.

Kisses on both sides of the cheek when greeting each other or saying goodbye are common amongst European friends.  Some Americans do practise this too.

Hugging your Italian male expat on successful closing of a house can be alien to a male Singaporean realtor but it is much appreciated.

Couples holding hands in public are more common nowadays.

Learning Mandarin to be better at business and networking is China is a smart move by the younger ambitious Caucasians in charge of business development in the Asia Pacific area.   In this way, you don't just rely on interpreters or on the China or Hongkong nationals to expand your business.

Private individual tuition in Orchard Road school costs around S$70 per hour.    Many Chinese Singaporean children have to take one-to-one Mandarin tuition at S$25 to S$30 per hour as they show no interest or motivation at school to learn more about their mother tongue.

Sarong Party Girls (SPG), described in a book,  are a different breed of Singaporean ladies who may prefer Caucasian expatriates to the locals. The sarong is a wrap around skirt worn by the traditional Malays. 

The Peranakan girl has a father who is Chinese but the parents may be of Chinese or mixed Chinese origin and she is brought up in a Malay speaking environment.  Her surname will be a Chinese surname but the girl will be usually fluent in the  Malay language and does not know a word of the Chinese language.  Some don't even know how to write their own name in Chinese. 

The Eurasian is a product of a European-Asian marriage.  If good looking, the Eurasian is a stunner.  Several of them has migrated to countries with Western English speaking cultures, but so have many Chinese Singaporeans.

A true test of being assimilated into the local culture may be the ability to eat the durian, a fruit with a pungent smell.  Many Europeans and Americans will avoid this fruit.  Not as bad smelling as the Blue Danish cheese but it takes time to get used to it.  The Thai durians are not as strong in flavour as the Malaysian strains.

What is then an Ang Mo?  It is a Hokkien term for Caucasians and literally means "red hair".  Hokkien is one of the dialects of the Chinese people.    

Is it possible for the ordinary Singaporean Chinese to get to know more about the Ang Mo in view of the great difference in cultures and the conservative nature of the Singaporean Chinese?  A large number of the older ordinary Chinese speak mainly Mandarin.  So, it will be like ducks talking to the goose.

The best place will be the playground such as the one shown in the photo above, since Caucasian families will usually send their children to the international schools and they will not get to know the locals. The photo (click to see bigger picture) shows the Pasir Ris Park, a place where you don't see expat children as it is not in the expat enclave.   The little boy on the left asked him mother to "help me push" his swing in Mandarin.  It will be difficult to communicate. 

Will expats be a threat to Singaporeans looking for jobs?  The answer is no, according to the politicians.  Singaporeans need to be more dynamic.

Like this dynamic young American banker who rented a house from me.

He takes Mandarin tuition on the 10th day of arriving in Singapore and a house in 2 days.  

Even though the Bank puts him in the 6-star Ritz Carlton for the next 3 months.  He gets the latest IBM hand recognition writing notebook pad, the wireless mobile phone gadget connection to the Internet, the perpetual scribbling into his Palm Pilot V and the incessant mobile phone calls on his neck as he writes down the contact numbers while he answers the phone.  He demands replies to his housing queries promptly, leading to the co-broking realtor representing the Owner to call him a "pain in the butt".  

At 27 years of age, he leaves New York city and his parents to take up the challenge of business development in the  Asia Pacific region including China. 

Younger Singaporeans and baby boomers will have to be very energetic, hard working and interested in the information technology if they want to compete with the best of the best in this Internet era.

Many career and graduate women and men stop working to smell the roses, leaving one spouse to be the bread winner.  Enjoying life with a maid doing all the house hold chores and looking after the children.  

More pay for less hours worked and more holidays.  Living off the Central Provident Fund savings with early retirement at 40 - 50 years of age.   The numbers involved are not known.   The younger generation apes the older generation but prefers to retire at 30.  Better not to work, after graduation. 

If this trend continues, the Singaporean standard of living will decline.  Other cities in South East Asia will then replace Singapore, a red dot on the world map as a place to be in Asia Pacific to do business. 

For the expatriate surfer, welcome to Singapore.  I hope you will remember your stay here as a pleasant experience.  Singaporeans speak a "Chinese translated English", now termed Singlish. 

It will take some time to get to know you.

Do try to meet the ordinary Singaporeans at the Pasir Ris Park, enjoy cycling and jogging at the park, catch fish in the sea, admire the mangrove swamp and get lost in the maze in Pasir Ris Park.  Perhaps one day, our children will get to know your children and your cultures.  If they are given the opportunity to do so since they are not allowed to attend international schools to meet your young ones.


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