What’s in a name?
While Singapore’s name derives from the Malay words for “lion” and “city”, studies suggest that lions have never lived here. The Malay prince Sang Nila Utama is said to have founded Singapore in the 13th century and given it the name Singapura after seeing an impressive wild animal on the island. In all likelihood, the animal was a Malayan Tiger.
One end to the other
It’s true that you’re never far from anywhere in Singapore. In fact, this is one of the 20 smallest countries in the world, with a total land area of just 683 square kilometres. The main island is 42km long and 23km wide.
Singaporean English (“Singlish”) might officially be discouraged, but there’s no escaping the fact that, as a newly arrived expat, you’ll immediately notice the unique version of English spoken by many of the island’s inhabitants. It might even cause some problems at first, especially in taxis. Singlish reflects the multicultural nature of Singapore society, and includes words from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi and more. You might hear: “lah”, “lor”, “leh”, “meh”, “kena”, “kiasu”, “liao”, and “makan”. The Singlish expression that tends to make the most immediate impact on expats, though, is the persistent use of “can” and “cannot” instead of “yes” and “no”.
An early expat
The name “Raffles” is ubiquitous in Singapore but, no, it’s got nothing to do with winning a prize. In fact, all of those malls, hotels, streets, and MRT stations are named after the British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, who alternately went by Thomas and Stamford – fortunately never by his third name (thus, no Bingley hotel). After first coming to Southeast Asia in 1805, Raffles affirmed the modern foundation of Singapore in 1819, ensuring British control for the following 144 years. Raffles laid the groundwork for an independent Singapore by helping the local people establish schools, businesses, and churches. His statue stands beside the river on the southwest corner of the Asian Civilisations Museum opposite Boat Quay.
10 things you mightn’t know about Singapore
1. Singapore’s main agricultural exports (yes, it has some!) are rubber, copra, fruit, vegetables, poultry, eggs, fish, orchids and ornamental fish
2. There are five “official” Merlion statues in Singapore. In 2009, the main Merlion near Marina Bay was struck by lightning and damaged.
3. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is said to contain more species of trees than the entire North American continent.
4. Apart from Monaco, Singapore is the most densely populated country in the world.
5. Singapore’s oldest bridge that is still in use is Cavenagh Bridge (1869). An original sign next to the bridge warns that horses and cattle are not allowed to cross.
6. The record for the biggest line dance was set in Singapore with 11,967 dancers.
7. The flying fox, the world’s largest bat with a whopping wingspan reaching up to 1.5 metres, can be found on Pulau Ubin, one of the islands off the mainland.
8. Singapore is made up of the island of Singapore itself and 60 smaller islands.
9. Singapore is in the northern hemisphere – but only just. It’s 137km north of the Equator.
10. The most common surnames in Singapore are Tan, Lim and Lee.