Jane shares her thoughts on Singapore history, heritage and culture PLUS some insider secrets!

We're More Than Merlions

Jane’s passion for Singapore is palpable when you meet her. Vivacious and playfully irreverent, Jane’s an exceedingly knowledgeable advocate for the city-state she’s known intimately since childhood. She lived in Johore as a youngster and again as a teen — her dad was a radio engineer for the BBC — coming down to Singapore often for films at the Cathay and boat trips to nearby islands from Clifford Pier on Collyer Quay. As an adult, she’s lived in Singapore for close to two decades, spending years as a museum guide and getting to know the little red dot inside and out. For Jane, Singapore feels like home.

Whether she’s guiding a tour or introducing one of the wonderful arts or theatre events she curates, Jane throws her heart and soul and encyclopaedic command of Singapore into everything she does.

When she started Jane’s SG Tours back in May 2016, above all else she knew her mission was to offer something different.

“We don’t do airport pick-ups and Merlion tours for 75, we offer small-group tours that delve into Singapore’s history and culture,” Jane says. “There’s so much more than first meets the eye, and we want to share that.” Jane and her team of guides explore Singapore’s side streets, back alleys, secret corners, and natural places. They share the backstory, personal anecdotes and little-known tidbits you’re not likely to hear elsewhere. Jane and the team collectively show that Singapore is multi-layered and dynamic.

In the spirit of helping folks peel the onion and get to the essence of the real Singapore, Jane’s SG Tours offers weekly Tuesday Small Group Walking Tours for visitors and newbies. Designed for just 6 to 10 people, these are an intimate and in-depth exploration of Singapore’s iconic neighbourhoods — Kampong Glam, Little India, the banks of the Singapore River, the Colonial core, and more. Tuesday Small Group Walking Tours for visitors and newbies are ideal for visiting friends and family.

They also provide an excellent overview for those who have recently moved to Singapore and want to dig deeper than the standard ho-hum tours do. Check out our upcoming Tuesday Small Group Walking Tours for visitors and newbies.

We're the United Nations of Touring

The team of guides at Jane’s SG Tours doesn’t just talk about Singapore’s cultural diversity, they embody it. A melting pot of nationalities and circuitous family journeys, Jane’s guides represent Singapore’s fascinating ethnic fabric in all its various and glorious permutations.

“Its blend of people and culture is what makes Singapore so special,” Jane says.

The team of guides at Jane’s SG Tours doesn’t just talk about Singapore’s cultural diversity, they embody it. A melting pot of nationalities and circuitous family journeys, Jane’s guides represent Singapore’s fascinating ethnic fabric in all its various and glorious permutations.

“Its blend of people and culture is what makes Singapore so special,” Jane says.

Shanti Bhattacharya was born and raised in Singapore, but went on to live all over the world, including Moscow and Paris. She’s fluent in English, French, and Russian, and guides in all three — and she also speaks Bengali and Malay. We wonder what language she dreams in!

Min Xie from Shanghai, one of Jane’s Mandarin-speaking guides who mostly guides visitors from China, is also fluent in English and German, having lived in Berlin for eight years and is working towards her German-language guiding certification.

Pavla Schneuwly grew up in the Czech Republic and came to Singapore at 22 to study Mandarin. The rest is history! Pavla speaks English, French, Mandarin, and Czech, and leads tours on many subjects including one of her favorites, architecture.

Long-time Singapore resident and Australian native Bruce Bird speaks and guides in Australian and English ;), while Singaporean Jimmy Sim has been around the block many times, guiding for more than 40 years in English and Malay.

Nature guides Wan Ling and Ed Lim can talk flora and fauna in multiple tongues — Wan Ling in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, and even in a bit of Japanese, and Ed, in English and German, having lived in Berlin. He also knows some Malay and Thai.

Catalina Tong effortlessly moves between English, French, and Cantonese, and her Mandarin is pretty good too. Catalina has spent half her life in Singapore and half abroad.

Food lover Alice Goh guides many of Jane’s Foodie Adventures with a stew of language skills at her disposal — Mandarin and several local dialects, including Teochew, Hokkien, and Cantonese. Super multi-lingual Gek Lee was born in the Jalan Besar neighbourhood and grew up in nearby Little India. She’s fluent in English, Mandarin, Teochew, Hokkien, and Cantonese, and even speaks a few words of Tamil learned from childhood friends.

Betty Wee lived in Israel for four years and is a retiree with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Jane’s youngest guide, Darren Goh, is equally as passionate about Singapore culture and history as Betty. He’s finishing up his geography degree at NUS and speaks English, Chinese, and a smidgen of Malay; learning Spanish is on his to-do list.

Yeonsil Bang and Chong Eun Baik are both from Korea and guide tours in Korean — they also speak English and Singlish!

Jane was born in the UK, and has lived most of her life elsewhere, including stints in the US and nearly 20 in Singapore. It’s not surprising she can converse in several languages including Spanish and French, and a smattering of Portuguese, Italian and Malay — and even a few words of Welsh (she is half Scottish, half Welsh).

“Confusion sometimes arises when Betty and Pavla are out together guiding,” Jane says with a chuckle. “Betty looks like she could speak Mandarin, but is in fact Peranakan and only knows a bit of Chinese, while Pavla from the Czech Republic is fluent. Caucasians speaking Asian languages, and Asians speaking European languages — I love it! It blows people’s minds and challenges preconceived notions,” Jane adds, more than a bit proud of her team’s linguistic prowess. “It’s a wonderful testament to what Singapore is all about.”

All of Jane’s guides are Singapore Tourist Board (STB) licensed and those guiding in multiple languages have had to take the STB guide test in each tongue — an impressive linguistic feat!

Well done! Or maybe we should say … bravo, 布拉沃, bien joué, よくやった, gut gemacht, bien hecho, výborně, bagus, 잘 했어, bem feito, отлично сработано, and molto bene!

Take a Bite Out of Singapore

Singaporeans are renowned foodies who endlessly talk about food, blog about food, and photograph food. They’ll queue for hours at a popular hawker stall for a plate of fragrant chicken rice or a bowl of spicy laksa.

“Food is a national pastime in Singapore, even an obsession, for many. In fact a standard greeting here is, ‘have you eaten your lunch?,’” says Jane Iyer of Jane’s SG Tours.

To understand Singapore is to see, smell and taste its food. It’s a melting pot — a rojak, a masala, a stirfry — of international flavors. There are so many kinds of cuisines in Singapore cooked into myriad hybrids and versions, it’s hard to keep track. More reason to keep eating.

“Our local cuisine benefits from the many cultural influences brought by the diverse people who have settled in our little island state over the past two centuries. Where else do you find Michelin-starred hawker stalls?!” Jane says.

To know a place is to eat its food. The bowls of noodles and the rice and curries scooped onto banana leaves are culinary clues to the Singapore story. The “makan” is the legacy of the island’s many ethnic groups and evidence of the journeys they took to get here — where they stopped along the way and how they adapted to a new land once they arrived.

Doing her part to teach people about Singapore through their stomachs, last year Jane cooked up a new tour idea with one of her guides, foodie Alice Goh.

And so, Jane’s SG Tours’ Foodie Adventures were born.

A Feast for the Senses

Offered once a month on a Saturday morning at the One Farrer Hotel in Little India, a sleek tower amidst the historic shabby-chic neighborhood, Jane’s Foodie Adventures are a wonderful stew of experiences.

“We started our Foodie Adventures programme in mid 2017 in partnership with the One Farrer Hotel, itself an enterprising project. They have a wonderful cooking school and we particularly love their ‘farm.’ The amazing outdoor edible garden on the 7th floor with panoramic views of Little India harbours fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown for use in the hotel’s kitchens,” says Jane.

Each Foodie Adventure starts with a mini walking tour led by guide Alice who shares some of Little India’s historic nuggets — from its ornate shophouses to the once thriving horse racing track — on route to Tekka Market. A One Farrer chef then guides the group through the bustling aisles of Singapore’s most famous (and fragrant!) wet market, pointing out exotic regional greens, spices and seafood, and answering questions.

“Singapore’s wet markets are the most sensorially evocative places on the island. Even today when I visit one, the sounds and smells transport me back to my childhood when I lived in Johor and spent so much time down in Singapore,” Jane says.

After Tekka, it’s back to One Farrer for a stroll around the hotel’s edible garden. The main event, of course, is the cooking class in One Farrer’s intimate, well-accoutered TV-show-worthy cooking studio. Each participant perches on a comfy stool along the counter with the chef and his or her assistant right there at the stove, going through the recipes and preparation for three dishes. Savour close-up views of the whole process and participate in stirring, mixing, and of course eating!

Each Foodie Adventure focuses on a particular Asian cuisine, such as Indian, Thai, or Singapore’s signature dishes. The menu for a recent cooking class focused on Singapore’s beloved Rojak salad, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and Chili Crab. People who enjoy cooking will love learning exactly how to prepare these dishes, while armchair chefs will be fascinated by seeing what goes into making a recipe even if they have no intentions of trying it at home.

In 2018, Jane plans to expand the Foodie Adventures to also include classes on Peranakan, Malay, and Chinese cuisine.

So, grab a fork, chopstick, or roti, open your mouth, and feast on Singapore’s culinary traditions by sampling a Jane’s SG Tours Foodie Adventure.

Walk on the Wild Side

“I have a particular fondness for the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore’s northeast. I love the idea that migratory birds stop off at our little island on their long flights north and south. It must be because we make them feel so welcome!” says Jane Iyer of Jane’s SG Tours.

When you get away from the concrete jungle of the CBD and Orchard Road, you’ll discover our little red dot is actually very green — maybe we should rename Singapore the Little Green Dot. With its ancient primary forests, watery mangroves, jungle-framed arcs of beach, and even a few steep hills, you can literally take a walk on Singapore’s wild side.

Starting with a rich history of rubber tree cultivation and orchid breeding at the Botanic Gardens through to the modern marvels of Marina Barrage and Gardens by the Bay, Singapore has some of the most interesting, useful, and used urban green spaces on the planet.

Looking further afield to Sungei Buloh, the Kranji Marshes, Bukit Timah Nature reserve, Pulau Ubin, and St. Johns and Lazarus Islands, Singapore is home to a diverse ecosystem of plant and animal life spread across its national parks. If you’re into birds, you’ll tweet and flap with delight!

In Sungei Buloh, for instance, Jane’s SG Tours nature guide Wan Ling says you can see migratory shore birds between September and March, from the orange-legged common redshank, to the bobbing common sandpiper and the beautiful Asian dowitcher. Year-round you can spot local lovelies like the copper-throated sunbirds, ashy tailorbirds, grey herons and other animals, from plantain squirrels to Malayan water monitor lizards and maybe, just maybe, an estuarine crocodile.

Meanwhile over at the Chek Jawa wetlands at Pulau Ubin, there are wild boar, fiddler crabs, mudskippers, and if you’re very lucky, according to Wan Ling, you’ll catch a glimpse of the resident Great-billed Heron.

Who knew Singapore was such a wild place?

Tell that to the otters. In fact, there are romps of playful smooth-coated otters frolicking along Singapore’s rivers, coastal areas and in its national parks. Currently there are an estimated 60 cute creatures being incredibly adorable around the island and on Pulau Ubin.

Adding more dimension to Singapore’s natural side are layers of interesting history that will be shared on Jane’s Naturally Singapore tours. From the days when opium addicts were sent to St. John’s island to “recover” and granite was mined from quarries on Pulau Ubin — in fact the name itself, derived from its original Malay name, Pulau Batu Jubin, means “Island of Granite Stones” — there’s always a fascinating backstory to uncover, even in Singapore’s most remote spots.

“Some people who have lived here for many years have not visited some of these natural national treasures. Visitors to Singapore are constantly amazed at the beauty of these places, which are so far removed from their image of our modern metropolis,” says Jane.

For Jane and others who have been to Singapore before or have lived here in the past, Singapore’s green spaces harken back to an earlier time. “As I child living here for some years, my family and I would go for picnics on the little islands nearby like St. John’s. Today, I still love going to the islands. It feels like I’m going back in time,” Jane says.

When nation building began after independence in the mid 20th century, along with apartment towers, highways, and other public works projects, modern Singapore’s founders made sure the natural side of Singapore wasn’t completely paved over.

“One of our late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s priorities was to keep Singapore as green as possible, and I think we have succeeded. We are now considered a city in a garden. Just look around you, it’s true,” Jane says.

See for yourself. Join the Jane’s SG Tours team for a Naturally Singapore experience on our Little Green Dot.

Engage With Singapore’s Wartime History

“Singapore has more layers to its history than many people realize. It’s a nuanced, page-turning story of settlement, immigration, and occupation. A British settlement from 1819 until 1867, then a colony until 1963, the WWII years were an especially harrowing part of the Singapore narrative,” says Jane Iyer, of Jane’s SG Tours.

Although WWII ended more than 70 years ago, the memories have left their mark on the collective heart and soul of Singapore. And the relics that remain, from military barracks to pillboxes, British-built bungalows, and murals and calendars etched by desperate POWS, are reminders of those challenging years.

“Most Singaporeans will know something about WWII and the Japanese occupation due to family stories, while many expats possess only scanty knowledge of Singapore’s war years,” Jane continues.

This is a gap that Jane’s SG Tours is especially qualified to fill, with an impressive offering of WWII-related tours and events. It’s a fascinating, yet heartbreaking, period of the Singapore story, when the small island was at the intersection of the geopolitical forces sweeping across Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australasia.

There are memorials and small museums that mark the battles and mass executions that took place all across Singapore during WWII, from the Sook Ching massacres on Changi Beach (where there’s a small marker about the tragic event) to the heroic but futile last stand of the Malay Regiment on Bukit Chandu (at Kent Ridge Park), where there’s a small museum.

For those with an interest in Singapore’s war years, Jane and her guides offer two sets of annual tours focused on the Japanese invasion and occupation of Singapore.

“Our tours are designed to explain the reasons behind the invasion, how it happened, and the impact of the Japanese occupation on both the European and local communities. The capitulation of Singapore has been described as the greatest military defeat in British history. In so many ways it marked the end of British colonial rule in Southeast Asia,” says Jane.

In addition to her knowledgeable guides, Jane’s tours often feature experts who share even more in-depth insights. For instance, one of Jane’s most popular guests is battlefield archaeologist and author Jon Cooper, who spent several stints in Singapore (the last, 2009-2016) digging and researching particularly around the Adam Park area, where intense fighting took place in the lead up to the Japanese occupation, and where POWs were later corralled. He wrote the book Tigers in the Park, which details life in the Adam Park during WWII, and he created the virtual museum, www.adamparkproject.com.

“Jon Cooper’s expertise, enthusiasm and energy have opened another part of the WWII dialogue, and have drawn young Singaporeans into wartime archeology and also into collecting first-person accounts from survivors and their descendants,” Jane says.

In 2018, Jon was Jane’s guest twice — a speaker at a Jazz & History evening at a Black & White house in Alexandra Park, and an expert guide a the WWII tour. We look forward to Jon joining us again for tours in 2019.

The stories, books, photographs and letters of people who lived in mid-20th century Singapore inform the evocative narratives that Jane and her guides share on their tours.

“I especially appreciate the story of the Morrisons who lived in Adam Park before and after the occupation,” Jane says.

You’ll have to take one of Jane’s WWII tour to get more details — spoiler alert: they lived at 16 Adam Park before the war and returned to live there again for many years after (the father, Hugh, was captured and sent to work on the hellish Thai Burma Railroad, also known as the Death Railway, and was one of the lucky survivors who lived to tell the tale).

After WWII, when the Japanese were defeated and the British resumed power in Singapore, things would never be the same. The tide had turned in irreversible ways, as did the hearts and minds of people around the world — from Africa to Asia — who were finally ready to break free from the shackles of colonial rule.

“Calls for merdeka (independence) grew after 1945 and eventually led to Singapore gaining independence in stages from 1955 onwards, with Malaya becoming independent in 1957,” Jane says.

And the rest, they say, is history.

Click here to mine Jane’s selection of wartime Singapore tours and events, from trips north to Sembawang to visit colonial-era mansions and military sites built up around the former Naval Base there to events staged at Adam Park’s atmospheric black & white houses.

Read a Book About Singapore

“The magic and mystery of the East in general has long inspired such greats as Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and others. Singapore’s position as a port city and trading hub meant all kinds of people from many places were always coming and going, giving it an outward-looking focus against a steamy tropical backdrop,” Jane says.

Maybe it’s the heat. Or all those palm trees. Could be Singapore’s spicy multicultural stew, its colonial past, its immigration story, or those traumatic WWII years and the Japanese occupation. There have been more books written about Singapore than you may realize, both fiction and non-fiction, by a sea of writers coming at it from many different perspectives — Chinese, Peranakan, Malay, Indian, Asian-American, British, Australian and so on.

It’s easy to get lost in the pages of these stories, epic tales, memoirs, and catalogues of old (and new) Singapore through the prism of war, hardship, love, triumph, and everyday life.

A number of novels have been set in WWII-era Singapore, historical fiction including The Singapore Grip by J. G. Farrell (1978) and Tanamera by Noel Barber (1995)Boyd Anderson’s Amber Road (2013) is another in this genre of mid-century war novels set in Singapore with an overlay of intense family drama. A Different Sky (2010) by Meira Chand is a worthwhile read with a similar plot line and the requisite interracial love story — it’s packed with historically precise detail and crescendos towards the Japanese occupation of Singapore and the post-war campaign for independence.

Going back further, author Dawn Farnham’s The Straits Quartet is a sequence of four steamy novels set in 19th-century Singapore with all the ambient trappings of that era — triads, piracy, opium, illicit love — commingled with issues of race and culture. The first of the four is called The Red Thread: A Chinese Tale of Love and Fate in 1830s Singapore (2007)A Crowd of Twisted Things (2013) is Farnham’s latest; it’s a mystery set in 1950s Singapore as the Maria Hertogh custody case unfolded and the ensuing riots raged.

A fascinating nonfiction account of 19th-century Singapore can be found in the pages of Victoria Glendinning’s Raffles: And the Golden Opportunity (2012), a biography about the visionary albeit sometimes controversial Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore.

Tangentially, there are excellent works of gripping nonfiction that deal with the WWII POW experience in Southeast Asia as well as in Singapore, including The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (2013) and You’ll Die in Singapore: The True Account of One of the Most Amazing POW Escapes in WWII by Charles McCormac (2015). Meanwhile, through dug-up artifacts and letters, battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper’s Tigers in the Park (2016) details life in Adam Park during WWII, where fierce fighting took place and where POWs were later held.

Memoirs are another evocative type with their strong personal voice pushing the story forward, such as Josephine Chia’s two books about Singapore’s old kampong days and subsequent building of HDB public housing to replace the rustic village dwellings. Her Kampong Spirit, Gotong Royong Life in Potong Pasir 1955 to 1965 (2013) won the Singapore Literary Prize, and she just launched a sequel, Goodbye My Kampong, Potong Pasir 1966 to 1975 (2018).

Another homegrown writer is Catherine Lim. Her two short story collections — Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore (1978) and Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories (1980) — are still widely read and appreciated for their insightful commentary about male chauvinism and gender roles.

“There has been such a pace of change here in Singapore, that many writers have been inspired by the desire to chronicle the past as well as the ever changing present,” says Jane.

Meanwhile, other novels have focused on the seedy side Singapore, including one set in 1970s Singapore, Saint Jack by Paul Theroux (1972). The story is set in the days when prostitution and shady characters were an obvious part of the country’s gauzy fabric. A seminal book in Singapore’s literary journey is Christine Suchen Lim’s Fistful of Colours (1992), which was the first book to receive the Singapore Literature Prize. Through the eyes of a young teacher, it muses over the hopes and struggles of Singapore’s immigrant populace.

Then of course there is the novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013), which sounds like a racy beach read (and it is), but is also a fascinating and realistic look at how Singapore’s super rich really do live. Approaching what it means to live in Singapore in a very different way, Justin Ker’s short stories in The Space Between the Raindrops (2014), are imaginative and off-beat vignettes set in everyday places like car parks and HDBs.

The funniest of them all is no doubt British Expat Neil Humphrey’s Notes From an Even Smaller Island (2001), and other similar titles, where he melds humour with keen observations of Singapore’s eccentricities. He pokes fun at Singapore’s quirky cast of characters and its many rules, while also revealing his love and admiration for the Singapore story. His books have been bestsellers.

If Jane were to write a book, she says it would be called, One Degree of Separation — “given how multicultural Singapore is, and that I lived here as a child, for me that title would work on many levels,” Jane says.

Indeed, there is much to learn about Singapore through the books scribed by those who have lived here and been inspired here. Dig deep and lose yourself in the pages of the Singapore story. For a look at Jane’s SG Tours literary-themed tours and events, such as author meet and greets, click here

Grab Hold of Singapore’s Intangible Heritage

When we think of heritage, we usually think of things — old buildings, battle sites, graveyards, historic gardens, and such. But heritage is more than that. It’s also the stories we tell, the things we make with our hands, and the rituals we attach to festivals and significant religious holidays. Heritage can be abstract as well as concrete.

“Intangible heritage is all about traditions that are part of a country’s character and DNA,” says Jane Iyer of Jane’s SG Tours.

In Singapore, intangible heritage is everywhere — from social practices such as weddings and coming-of-age parties, to annual happenings like the Tamilian Hindu Thaipusam festival with its fascinating body-piercing and load-carrying rituals that symbolise penance and gratitude. The Monkey God festival is another yearly celebration and at the handful of temples in Singapore dedicated to this important character in Chinese literature, it’s all about lion dancing, clashing cymbals, banging drums and opera singing. Chinese New Year, Deepawali and Hari Raya are major holidays rich with rituals connected to food; prayer; and candles, joss sticks and festive lighting.

Jane’s SG Tours showcases much of Singapore’s intangible heritage in its tours and events. On walking tours led by Singaporean author Josephine Chia, for instance, who wrote two books about Singapore’s old kampong days, we visit neighbourhoods to hear stories about life before HDBs. Meanwhile, Jane’s Vanishing Trades tour includes stops at a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shop, a metalsmith, and hawker stalls where coffee is brewed using the Singapore-centric stocking method and where bak-kut-teh (pork rib soup) is made the old way.

“On our tours, we take people to shops where traditional trades have managed to survive, from bird cages to Chinese opera costumes and songkok caps traditionally worn by muslim men from the Malay world. Old-style bakeries and tea shops are also deliciously rich ways to connect with the past,” says Jane.

How a nation manages to hang on to its intangible heritage is a predictor of what will survive for future generations. The intangible complements the concrete — from black and white homes, to old temples, mosques, and churches — and broadens and deepens the Singapore story.

Fortunately for our island, there seems to be renewed interest of late in preserving the past in its many facets and forms. Singapore recently ratified the UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, joining many countries around the world in an effort to preserve our history, from traditional performing arts to festivals, trades and food heritage. Sinpgapore’s heritage leaders, including Jane of Jane’s SG Tours, have been tapped to push the movement forward. They’ve begun an inventory of the country’s rich cultural legacy, so that others may be inspired to share what they know about the past to keep it alive for future generations.

To connect more with Singapore’s intangible heritage, check out what’s on offer from Jane’s SG Tours. Click Creative Singapore for more details on tours focused on everything from Vanishing Trades to Literary Tours led by authors who have written novels or memoirs about Singapore, from Josephine Chia to Dawn Farnham. Our next one is May 17 — Goodbye My Kampong: A History & Literary Walk with Author Josephine Chia.

It Takes a Village

“In the early days of settlement, people came from all over the world, initially to simply trade or make a living before returning to their homeland,” says Jane Iyer of Jane’s SG Tours.

When Raffles and Farqhuar first arrived in 1819 to set up a trading base, they began assigning communities to specific parts of town. While the Malays and Arab traders had already established themselves in Kampong Glam, the British allocated land on the north side of the Singapore River to the Chinese; this area is still called Chinatown to this day.

Various waves of migration happened at all levels of society. The poorest came from parts of famine-ridden China, while others were brought to Singapore as indentured labor, often from southern India, to work on plantations, in leather tanning and in construction. Educated, and sometimes wealthy, Persians, Jews and Armenians came to Singapore fleeing revolution and persecution in the Middle East, and they quickly made their mark.

“The Armenian and Jewish communities have always been small, but their influence has been proportionately greater than their size, as they have provided leaders in business, politics and the community,” Jane says.

Meanwhile, the Peranakans constitute a much larger group and pre-WWII were very much the “bridge” between the local communities — especially the Chinese — and the Europeans, especially in the field of commerce.

“The Peranakans were a cultural mix themselves, so they had an inherent willingness to be open to other ideas and influences. They were even known as the “King’s Chinese” for their Anglophile ways,” says Jane.

Singapore’s ethnic fabric is a patchwork quilt of communities who have come to Singapore over the past two centuries to seek their fortunes and have stayed on to make it their home.

“Because of their overall numbers, it’s the Malay, Chinese, Indian and British communities who have had the most impact on Singapore’s history, culture and destiny,” says Jane.

Singapore is renowned worldwide as a cultural melting pot, a place where many nationalities co-exist peacefully, but Jane believes Singapore is more of a mosaic than a melting pot.

“While Singapore’s culture contains a blend of influences, one can still clearly see each of the parts separately, from Indian restaurants, temples and sari shops in Little India, to the Sultan Mosque and shops selling haj items in Kampong Glam and the Chinese temples and bak kwa stores in Chinatown,” says Jane.

With time, migrants turned into immigrants, though they still largely kept within their own ethnic circles and physical neighbourhoods, speaking their own language and cooking their native food. In the early years, there wasn’t a real Singaporean identity, as it was part of greater Malaya.

The Chinese formed Clan Associations to maintain support and sustain their family lines, while Eurasians, British and other European groups joined clubs as a way to foster close ties with their communities as well as for both social and financial support. Others, like Jewish immigrants, chose to live close to a synagogue so that they could maintain their faith and cultural values.

“Since Singapore’s break from Malaysia in 1965, things changed, and huge efforts have been made to build a feeling of nationhood and a unified Singaporean identity. Yet at the same time to respect the various traditions — be they religious, historical or cultural. It’s a fine balance, but one that I believe Singapore handles very well. While I think there’s a clear notion of what being a Singaporean means, our strength is definitely in our diversity,” Jane says with pride.


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