| Religion and culture
retain entwined in Singapore, much more than in the West. All year
round, a steady stream of festivals and celebrations
in the streets and temples are testament to the various beliefs
and backgrounds of this multicultural society, consisting of Buddhists,
Taoists, Muslims, Christians
Hindus, and Sikhs. Many of the Buddhist,
Muslim and Hindu festivals are declared public holidays and Christmas
is just another holiday – for which shops remain open. The
Chinese calendar is closely adhered to and the Chinese
New Year is the biggest
festival of all, where everything closes for several days.
The city’s art scene, while for the most
part conventional, reflects the flavours of the
region: Malay, Indian and Chinese
performances, music and art are all on offer. Mainstream performing
arts represented, culminating in the Singapore Arts Festival,
which is held annually in June, and attracts theatre, dance, and
music groups from all over the world.
Andrew Lloyd Webber productions are very popular.
Annual performances from abroad tend to be heavily oversubscribed
and tickets should be purchased well in advance. Local performers
are of a high quality and easier to experience. Free theatrical
and musical performances are offered generally in local parks, for
example, the Singapore’s Dance Theatre performs
Ballet Under the Stars twice a year at Fort
Singapore is a superb place to see and purchase art from all over
Asia, as well as works by many local artists. The cultural
diversity means that works by local artists cover
a broad spectrum of styles and themes.
Art Museum, Bras Basah Road (tel: 6332 3222); Artfolio,
Raffles Hotel (tel: 6334 4677); Art2 at The Substation,
Armenian Street (tel: 6338 8713); and the galleries on the ground
floor of the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts,
MITA Building, 140 Hill Street (tel: 6270 7988;
fax: 6837 9480; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
For arts and antiques, there is a centre of shopping outlets at
the Tanglin Shopping Centre, 19 Tanglin Road.
Local newspapers (the largest English-language paper is the Straits
Times) publish lists of events happening each day, as does
the online National Arts and Entertainment Calendar. Two free
publications to check out for are I-S Magazine
and BC. Both have good listings and reviews for
art, exhibitions, music and dance.
More details can be acquired from the National
Arts Council (tel: 6746 4622; fax: 6837 3010) or through the
Singapore Tourism Board. Tickets can be purchased
through Sistic (tel: 6348 5555) or Ticketcharge
(tel: 6296 2929). Additional information is available from Centre
for the Arts (tel: 6874 2492), an arts agency promoting various
arts groups and organising many festivals as well.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (tel: 6338 1230)
performs every Friday and Saturday at the Victoria Concert Hall,
Empress Place (tel: 6338 6125), including the open-air concerts.
The SSO, established in 1979 walks a skilled tightrope between Asian
and Western music and has a growing, if still fragile, reputation.
The NUS Symphony Orchestra stages performances
at the NUS Forum and Theatre, and the Singapore
Lyric Opera, Waterloo Street (tel: 6336 1929), normally performs
Western classical pieces, sometimes fusion. The Chinese
Classical Music plays at many different venues and are
well worth catching. Check the local press for information. The
Esplanade (see Theatre below) also hosts local and touring
orchestras, and other types of music performances.
Native Singaporeans are very dynamic in producing modern theatre
with an Asian flavour, reflecting Singapore's ethnic diversity.
The largest and newest venue for performing arts is the Esplanade,
the theatres on the Bay, 1 Esplanade Drive (tel: 6828 8222; fax:
6337 3633; email: email@example.com),
which is destined to be one of the best and biggest performing arts
centres in Asia. Covering six hectares (15 acres) on the waterfront,
it boasts a concert hall (capacity of 1,800), recital studio (250),
two theatres (2,000 and 220), and an art gallery.
Some of the more productive theatre companies are: Singapore
Repertory Theatre, Cecil Street (tel: 6221 5585), who perform
at the DBS Arts Centre, 6 Shenton Way; and TheatreWorks
(tel: 6338 4077), located at the Black Box in Fort Canning Centre,
Cox Terrace Fort, Canning Park.
Additional theatres include Kallang
Theatre, Stadium Walk (tel: 6345 8488; fax: 6344 2340), and
45 Armenian Street (tel: 6337 7535 or 7800; fax: 6337 2729), which
showcases modern, experimental drama.
Ltd (tel: 6226 6772), among the youngest professional performing
arts groups, has a reputation for also being one of the most daring
and dynamic. The company performs at the Telok Ayer Performing
Arts Centre in Cecil Street. The Singapore
Dance Theatre (tel: 6338 0611; fax: 6338 9748) performs classical
dance and ballet and at the Fort Canning Centre,
Cox Terrace Fort, Canning Park. Among the city’s most popular
shows is their Ballet Under the Stars, performed 2 times a year
at Fort Canning Hill.
Cinemas cater mainly to popular taste. Mainstream films are very
popular and usually sold out; however, there is a backlash from
those who deplore the censorship enforced through the Film Act of
1981, which bans obscene and pornographic movies with a much tighter
definition of these than in the West. NETPAC (Network
for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) was founded in 1994 to involve
film-makers, critics, festival organisers and the like to promote
greater artistic freedom in Singapore’s film industry. Singapore's
International Film Festival is held in April, and features
films and documentaries from around the globe.
Singapore’s main cinemas include Cathay,
Orchard, 8 Grange Road (tel: 6232 5874); Cathay Causeway
Point, 1 Woodlands Square (tel: 6767 1588); Lido
8 Ciniplex, Shaw House; Bugis, Parco Bugis
Junction; Balastier, 360 Balastier Road; and Prince/Jade,
100 Beach Road (all at tel: 6738 0555). There are no art cinemas;
however, the Alliance Française on Sarkies
Road (tel: 6737 8422), shows mainstream and alternative French films
Singapore’s calendar of annual events includes a real mix
of modern and ancient, with old, revered ritual pitted up against
the modern and experimental.
January, Hindus celebrate Thaipusam,
a time of devotion, penance and thanksgiving; however, the sheer
volume of the dominant Chinese majority outshines them with their
New Year celebrations.
The Lunar New Year is the highlight
of the Chinese calendar and the streets of Chinatown are illuminated
in January/February with decorations and fairy
lights. After dark, Chinatown transforms into a
heaving spectacle of the Orient, with hawkers and fortune tellers
lining the alleyways as colourful dragon and lion dancers parade
through the crowds and Chinese opera takes to the streets.
holiday for Vesak Day, in May,
honours the birth, enlightenment and
death of Sakyamuni Buddha. Hundreds
birds are let out of their cages to symbolise the release of captive
The yearly Singapore Dragon Boat Festival in June
sends fishermen to find the Chinese poet and patriot, Qu Yuan.
the anniversary of Singaporean Independence, a
new anthem is composed every year and played constantly in the month
leading to the National Day Celebration on 9th
August. A National Day Parade is held
in front of thousands of spectators.
The month-long Festival of the Hungry Ghost (August
to September) is among the biggest Chinese festivals. As
believed by Taoists, the gates of hell open up throughout the seventh
month of the lunar year when spirits are permitted to wander the
earth. To appease the spirits, sumptuous banquets and ‘wayangs’
(Chinese street operas) are held, candles and joss-sticks are lit
in a row in front of Chinese houses and hell currency notes are
burnt as offerings.
During the Lantern Festival in
September, the Chinese Garden
is illuminated with light and colour as children and adults flock
to the park with their paper lanterns.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali
is a Hindu celebration held in
October/November to commemorate the victory of
good over evil and light over darkness. Little India,
particularly the Hindu temples
of Sri Veerama Kaliamman, Sri Vadapathira
Kaliamman and Sri Srinivasa Perumal, is
decorated with garlands, fairy lights, and colourful arches.
gather for festive shopping for Hari Raya
Puasa, for the end of Ramadan
(the month of fasting), normally in November.
The younger generation are engaged in an variety of performance
and theatre arts that continually test the boundaries of this tightly
Take Art, from March to April, combines
various local and international events with theatre, comedy, film
and art auctions.
For Art’s Sake!, from September to mid-November,
comprises several performing and creative arts festivals. Including
WOMAD, which takes place at Fort Canning Park over
3 days in August.
ARTSingapore showcases modern art from South-East Asia,
and the Singapore Music Festival.
The Singapore Film Festival, normally in April,
continues to try and make cultural progress in a heavily censored
society, which would prefer to give its attention to the Great
Singapore Sale, the yearly shopping bonanza, in May/June.
‘When in Singapore, feed at Raffles.’
It was a smart piece of marketing for the hotel by Rudyard
Kipling, who came to Singapore after departing
India in 1889. In fact, Kipling spoke of ‘a place called Raffles
Hotel, where the food is as superb as the rooms’.
for over one hundred years, been fertile writing ground for many
authors, as well as Hermann Hesse,
Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward,
Somerset Maugham and James Michener
– the Writer’s Bar was named in their
honour. More than any other writers, Somerset Maugham
sought inspiration during many visits to the island beginning in
1921. He wrote several short stories of Singaporean colonial life
including ‘The Outstation’, ‘Yellow
Streak’ and ‘The Casuarina Tree’
(1926). Society was horrified by his portrayal, in The Letter
(1927), of the real-life murder of his lover by a rubber planter’s
More recently, Singapore’s success could be said to be the
vision of the island state’s Senior Minister
Lee Kuan Yew, the grandson of a Hakka coolie from
China. His memoirs, The Singapore Story (1998),
have recently been revised From Third World to First – The
Singapore Story (2000) depicts the events leading up to Singapore’s
Independence, beginning with British colonial rule through Japanese
occupation, Communist insurrection, riots, independence and the
struggles that ensued.
Defending the Lion City (2000) by Tim
Huxley is the first major study on the Singapore
Armed Forces and looks at its military policies, outlook,
contemporary Singaporean novelists
include Hwee Hwee Tan, whose Foreign Bodies:
A Novel (1999) depicts an authoritarian state in which
three rootless friends are implicated in the shady dealings of an
international soccer gambling ring. A quite different Singapore
is portrayed in Catherine Lim’s The Bondmaid
(1997), set in the 1950s. The novel depicts a Singapore far removed
from the modern, developed, cosmopolitan society of today and much
more entwined with its Chinese roots, beliefs and traditions.
Two popular new books
are Got Singapore (2002), a combinations of stories
and articles by journalist Richard Lim.
He depicts his own perception of the changes that occurred with
Singapore’s Independence and provides a personal and humorous
testimony about life from the 1960s to the 1980s. Neil
Humphreys offers a slightly different view in Notes
from an Even Smaller Island (2002), dissecting the lifestyle
and culture of Singapore from an ex-pat’s viewpoint.