Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Holidays and why I think Singapore is like a pot of stew

Before I start... a little disclaimer. The following is my opinion from what I've observed. I could be wrong. I mean, really, I've only been here 5 months so I'd be awfully foolish to say that I'm an expert, by any means. In other words, don't take what I say as gospel, just my take on things at this point in time.

Singapore is a truly unique place, I feel. The U.S. is unique, as well, but in a different way. You often hear the U.S. referred to as a melting pot. I've never heard that description for Singapore. It's different -- more like a stew pot than a melting pot, if I had to call it a "pot" of any kind. Everyone, from different races, cultures, and religions come together to make a single, wonderful group (the stew) while still maintaining each of their various heritages and identities. (You know how in stew you can still see what the different ingredients are rather than all being blended together so you can no longer recognize them or pick them out.) It's really a very interesting thing to observe: Singaporeans are proud of their nationality and, no matter their heritage, view themselves as "Singaporean" but they are also, still, strongly and, usually, obviously something else, too.

Most Singaporeans are Chinese (about 75%, I think). The largest groups, other than Chinese, are the Malays and Indians. Behind all of them in percentage of population would be everybody else (like me). I'm still not exactly sure what Malay means but I do understand it is necessarily a Muslim; that's part of the definition. And, for the sake of simplicity, a lot of Chinese are Buddhist and most Indians are Hindu, though there are quite a lot that are Muslim. So the largest religious groups in Singapore are Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. To be fair, there are also a large number of Christians and those who practice other various religions such as Sikhism, Taoism, etc. But all in all, Singapore has 3 "big" religious groups. What I think is interesting is how Singaporeans are so culturally and religiously sensitive to all the different groups. It's part of being a Singaporean, apparently. You have to be respectful towards everyone's beliefs and any attempts to create division or animosity can truly get you into trouble with the government. The government here is very strict about all sorts of things, this being one of them. I'm not going to say whether I think this approach is right or wrong but I will say that it makes for a very nice culture (at least as far as I can see so far) and, since people are raised with this attitude since birth, it is genuine.

It's wonderful that we're all free to worship as we believe without fear of being persecuted. The other, less noble and embarrassingly selfish, reason I enjoy this is because the government observes all of the different religious holidays (plus some non-religious, as well). So, since we've arrived in Singapore, we've had holidays for things that I'd never heard of before - Hari Raya Puasa (Muslim), Deepavali (Hindu), and Hari Raya Haji (Muslim). There was the Hungry Ghost Festival (Buddhist) (not really a holiday but it is widely celebrated here, as is that of the whole lunar month as the Ghost month). We, of course, had Christmas (Christian), New Year's Day, and will have several other holidays as this new year continues. Coming up next week is Chinese New Year (a.k.a. Lunar New Year). I wouldn't really say it's a religious holiday, though, more of a cultural one. The girls get a whole week off of school. It's a REALLY big deal here, considering what a large majority of the population is Chinese. There are decorations everywhere (very pretty). I've been meaning to take pictures of some of the decorations but keep forgetting.

I'm not saying I, personally, celebrate all of these holidays, nor would I, but it's nice to get the benefit of having a holiday for the family. It's also interesting learning about the different cultures and religions. The most unexpected, though, is an official holiday for my birthday. I've always known my birthday, May 1, was on May Day. I didn't realize that some places in the world actually still celebrate May Day (called "Labour Day" here). So this year, the whole family will have a holiday for my birthday!! What fun!! :-)


  1. what an interesting post, Starlene. I really enjoyed learning this. Keep it up! And pics would be interesting, too!

  2. Thanks! I guess you're the only one who managed to read through the whole post. (just kidding) I know it was long and not very entertaining so thanks for taking the time to read it and comment. Glad to help you learn about this little teensy, weensy country. Next time someone mentions something about Singapore in conversation, you can amaze them with your knowledge on the topic. Not like me, who before looking it up online when Gander mentioned the possibility of moving here, thought it was part of China. Hmmmm.... social studies and geography aren't really my strengths, are they? At least I knew it was in Asia, right?