Singapore: 5 things I learned about Singaporean culture during my summer trip

Nandita Radhakrishnan/Staff

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Last summer, I took a trip to Singapore with my family just before my first semester at UC Berkeley started. We discovered and experienced tons of different aspects of Singaporean culture that are unique and central to Singapore’s personality. Read on to get a feel for some of the foods, phrases and facts of Singapore from wherever you are currently reading this article.

Chope/Choping

On our very first day, while dining at a public food court, we were politely interrupted by another family because we had accidentally taken its table. It then dawned on us that in Singapore, you can reserve your seat by leaving anything on the table, be it a piece of paper or a tissue! We’d simply ignored the paper towel on our table. The practice of securing your seat before getting your food is called “choping” and is an integral part of Singaporean culture. We even found ourselves falling into this habit over the next few days! So, if you’re ever planning to visit Singapore, don’t make the same mistake we did.

Lah

“Let’s go for lunch lah.”

“No lah.”

“Sorry lah, I don’t have what you’re looking for.”

I think you get the idea! “Lah” is the characteristic slang word added to the end of every sentence in colloquial, casual conversations in Singapore. This saying is heard across all of Singapore, and it wouldn’t take more than a five-minute conversation with a local for you to also start saying “lah.”

Kaya toast

No trip to Singapore is complete without kaya toast. This isn’t just your regular bread-butter toast. Kaya toast, as its name suggests, includes kaya, which is a combination of special jam made with eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves, and a generous serving of melting butter. Usually paired with soft-boiled eggs and soy sauce, it is a breakfast staple. We loved the kaya jam so much that we bought two jars to bring back home. If you want to eat breakfast like a true Singaporean, be sure to try kaya toast.

There are no seasons

Located near the equator, Singapore doesn’t have the traditional four seasons. Moreover, there is no fixed weather pattern. It fluctuates between being hot, humid and rainy throughout the year. If you’re a tourist, this has serious implications on your plans for the day. We learned our lesson when we turned up at Universal Studios and it proceeded to rain for the next three hours, causing the park to halt all outdoor rides. Learn from my mistake, and look at the weather forecast prior to formulating your day’s itinerary.

Multicultural hub

The fact that Singapore has four official languages – English, Tamil, Malay and Mandarin Chinese – bears testimony to the varied heritage of locals. In Singapore, you can get a taste of the individual cultures of Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street and Haji Lane, just to name a few.

So, there you have it! These were some of the things in Singapore that stood out to me during the course of my trip. There was so much more about the city that awed me, from the efficient public transport system to the tourist attractions that promoted sustainability, but I’ll save that for an entirely different post.

Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].