Singapore may have traded in its rough-and-ready opium dens and pearl luggers for towers of concrete and glass, and its steamy rickshaw image for hi-tech wizardry, but you can still recapture the colonial era with a gin sling under the languorous ceiling fans at Raffles Hotel. It is this carefully stage-managed combination of Western modernity and treasured Eastern and colonial past that makes Singapore such an accessible slice of Asia. Lying almost on the equator, Singapore is a thriving city-state that has overcome its dearth of natural resources to become one of the juggernaut economies of Asia. In the crowded streets of Chinatown, fortune tellers, calligraphers and temple worshippers are still a part of everyday life. In Little India, you can buy the best sari material, freshly ground spices or a picture of your favourite Hindu god. In the small shops of Arab St, the cry of the imam can be heard from the nearby Sultan Mosque
Despite rapid industrialisation, the majority of Singaporeans celebrate the major festivals associated with their respective religions. The variety of religions found in Singapore is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. The Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism and Taoism (deity worship), though some are Christians. Malays are overwhelmingly Muslims and most of Singapore's Indians are Hindus; there is, however, a sizeable proportion of Muslims and Sikhs amongst the Indian population.
The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English is widespread and is the language which unites the various ethnic groups. Children are taught in English at school but also learn their mother tongue to make sure they don't lose contact with their traditions. The only communication problem English-speakers are likely to have in Singapore is with older Singaporeans who did not learn English at school, though trying to understand the unique patois called Singlish - which uses...
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