Things About Singapore We Hate to Love

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We celebrate our nation’s birthday this month and even though we have so much to be proud of, like Singapore’s consistently high rankings in economic development and various innovations, clearly this is not enough for the “little red dot”. There are people who still think our country is part of China and a certain “Mrs Bieber” even thinks Singapore is in Europe. Why is that so? Perhaps as a nation with a melting pot of cultures, we lack a “uniquely Singapore” flavour. Or maybe we are too ashamed of some of the following things, and refuse to share them with the rest of the world.

Reserved Seats

Implemented in 2009, there are special seats in our public transportation slapped with the magical words, “Reserved Seat”. Like stepping on a snail, the magic lies in its ability to induce intense guilt on anyone in these seats, other than the four stipulated individuals: the injured, the pregnant, those with an infant and the elderly. As if to make it even more obvious, these seats are of contrasting colour to the regular ones. Previously labelled “Priority Seating”, the change to “Reserved Seat” is quite unappreciated. Singaporeans should be able to sit anywhere they want, guilt-free. At the same time, we should also be gracious enough to not need labels to dictate our behaviour.  However, tussle for the “Reserved Seats”, like the recent “Most Polite Ah-Lian” YouTube , which sparked off several amusing memes, has provided significant and entertaining fodder for the more light-hearted. We all fear the golden seat but we sure enjoy others suffering its wrath.

Electronic Road Pricing (ERP)

Driving your own vehicle in Singapore is an uphill task, from the exorbitant cost of car ownership to skilfully navigating the roads without passing through an ERP gantry. Going to Orchard Road on a weekday evening will typically set you back at least S$4. Nobody wants to pay extra money, period.

Some have criticised the ERPs’ efficiency of regulating traffic. Private car-owners aside, even taxi commuters incur ERP charges if they wish to take the quickest route to their destination as gantries are placed at the strategic locations that lead to fast-moving roads. As we groan from having to suffer the cost, foreign countries plagued with traffic congestions continue to applaud the system. We too, should love it because if we are late for that 9 AM lecture, grabbing a cab at 8 45 AM is still a viable option – we know we are not going to be stuck on the expressway for the next two hours.


Singlish, our very own brand of colloquialism, is essentially English, but spiced up by a tinge of Chinese and Malay. The signature “lah” and ”leh” that usually decorate the end of our spoken conversation have often been ridiculed by non-Singaporeans. Some of them have gone as far as to brand it broken English and have criticised us for destroying the beautiful language. Perhaps these people might have forgotten that the English language had Latin origins. Languages evolve over time and Singlish is our way of changing and personalizing the language, but it does not mean we are incapable and uncomfortable with using the Queen’s English. Singlish is, in fact, the common denominator for a city-state that is multi-racial and multicultural. Heck, we even have a “national hero” who epitomises the use of Singlish – Mr Phua Chu Kang. Before Singlish was on lockdown on national television, Singaporeans enjoyed Phua Chu Kang because he entertained us with a tongue so close to our heart. We may look at Singlish with disdain, like the outsiders, but wherever you may be in the world, you know the person sitting next to you is a fellow Singaporean when he or she lets loose the first lah.


Living in such a fast paced society, Singaporeans tend to be wary of losing out, or in vernacular Chinese, Kiasu. We go all out for the best –  using tissue paper packets to reserve seats at the crowded food court during lunch time and paying idle teenagers to stand in queue to grab the best picks for Lady Gaga’s concert. Bring on the judgmental glances but guess who does not need to carry a bowl of steaming fish ball noodles, trawling the entire food court for a seat? Singaporeans downplay our pride for being Kiasu because they do not see the fine line distinguishing “being astute” and “inconveniencing others”. Rushing into the train before other passengers alight is plain ungracious behaviour but being able to shake Mother Monster’s hand during the concert is a whole different ball game. Perhaps it is the case of sour grapes as people scoff at our shrewdness but guess which little red dot is one of the leading nations in the world?

Reserved Seats, ERP, Singlish and Kiasu-ism

These are some of the things, including our “love” for durians that make us truly Singaporean. Hopefully, these light-hearted snippets can help us laugh a little at ourselves and appreciate each other more. The day that Singlish is officially declared our national language will most probably never come but we should not be afraid to share this love with our fellow citizens. Who else can better understand why you had to have seven tuition classes for each of your “O” Level subject, hor?