Signs in Singapore

Culture manifests itself through the most ordinary things. Signs are one of them. Like most people, I tend to take signs for granted until I travel to a foreign country. Whether warning, traffic, or advertising signs, these objects reflect the characteristics of a culture in the most subtle ways. I find signs of various countries fascinating.

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Kopithiam. Forget Starbucks. It is ridiculously overpriced here in Singapore and still the same mediocre coffee. There are hawkers that sell kopi, and a Kopithiam. Kopithiam is literally translated “coffee shop” and a brand to suit the local tastes. As you can see here, it seems that the national attire of Singapore is sandals and shorts.


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Dim Sum Dollies. People seem to be forgetting their manners. I suppose with the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle, etiquette is taking the backseat. But a local theatrical trio, The Dim Sum Dollies, are there to remind commuters about giving up their seats to the elderly, pregnant, and disabled riders. They used to appear in the train announcements. This is what the train announcements used to sound like.

In no time, those announcements can get very annoying. Now it’s replaced by a bland generic voice. You know, the type you hear on a company’s automated phone system. And if you wanted to see a cheesy ad, here you go.


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Multilingual Signs. Some myopic Americans seem baffled by the fact that many countries in the world have more than one official language. It’s the types who seem to naively assume that nothing significant exists outside the American borders. I never understood who complain about bilingualism or the English-only movement. There are many countries in the world with more than one official language. Singapore is one of those multilingual countries with 4 official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. Multilingual signs are common.


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Mozzies. That’s what some people call mosquitos here. There ain’t nothing like a couplet with a slant rhyme to warn against dengue. I have not experienced it, but I heard it’s terrible. Fortunately, I lived on the 20th floor and away from those pesky critters.


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Singapore is a Fine City. These signs are typically posted in the MRT (train) stops. Honestly, it isn’t as bad a you think. If you were eating in the train or stations, an employee would politely ask you to not eat. I’m sure if you persist like a rebelious teenager you would get the fine. But who’s going to try? You’d be also glad to know that durians are not allowed on the public transit either.


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Fines for Leftovers. Pay attention to the little card that’s holding down the napkins on the left side of the menu. I heard about Singapore restaurants fining patrons for leftovers. When I first arrived in this urban jungle, I did not find a single one that fined. I asked a taxi driver about it and he laughed saying it’s not that common place anymore. There may be a few local restaurants. Only after 7 months, I discovered a conveyor belt sushi joint. By the way, the sushi was terrible. If they made better sushi, wastage wouldn’t be an issue.


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Low Crime Does Not mean No Crime. Another saying you’d be acquaited with on this island. Singapore is the safest city I’ve ever been in. As a woman, I can take the bus late night without worrying about my personal safety. However, sometimes people can get too comfortable. There are warning signs warning about scams, molestation, loan sharks, and theft.


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Fact-seeker or attention seeker? This is media literary poster stands at the many branches of the National Library of Singapore (NLS). It’s a good one.


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Don’t Shoplift. Just in case the fines alone didn’t convince you to behave, here’s a cut out of a police officer. He’s only about 5’3. Hey, don’t judge a person by the height. Sometimes the shortest people are the most intimidating. Seriously.


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Ah, those darn cellphones! It’s called handphones here. I used to think it was bad here but it’s nothing compared to Singapore. Everyone is glued to their phones and mobile devices. The sign’s no joke. I had people run into me more than one or two occasions because their eyes were on the phone.

There are several more. I wish I could have snapped some more images of signs. I’m sure foreigners would be laughing at our American signs too. Putting myself in the shoes of a foreigner new to America, I’d be laughing at the  warning signs for the most obvious, common sense things. I mean who doesn’t know that coffee from the pot is hot? Or a do not iron label on a lottery ticket? Most Americans have common sense and also laugh at the absurdity of it. The problem is some people pretend to be stupid and have access to lawyers. With that combination, you can take advantage of the written law originally meant to limit judicial tyranny and sue for trivial things to get money. That is why those absurd labels exist.

5 thoughts on “Signs in Singapore

  1. One of my life’s biggest regrets is not photographing a workplace heath and safety banner which pictured a man with his arms around the belly of a pregnant woman and the slogan, “Let’s practice safety in the workplace together!”

  2. That would have been interesting. Out of curiosity, I tried the power of Google but alas couldn’t find what you were describing.

    That’s interesting.


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