With the city-state of Singapore being one of the most successful financial centers in the world, it should almost go without saying that there is a vibrant social and cultural life within its confines, and that it is by no means off limits to expatriates. Being one of the most heavily trafficked seaports in Asia has meant a great deal of expatriate traffic through the country, making it not at all difficult to get on with the business of forging friendships and tending to those activities that exist outside of the workplace.
Social Life in a 'Hot and Humid' Environment
One thing that expats from the colder climes of the U.K., the northern U.S., and Canada will notice about Singapore is its persistent tropical weather, and particularly the bearing that can have on social life and leisure time activities. As the humidity and heat ratchet up, most non-Asians will want to seek out the better-ventilated venues in Singapore. The Tiong Bahru Food Market and Hawker Centre is one option here, an outdoor food court (not at all to be compared to those found in U.S. shopping malls) that caters more to an expatriate crowd and allows one to both shop for necessities and to socialize in the spacious common dining areas.Other variants on this theme are also available in the city’s Chinatown. The eating options here range from what might be called exotic in other climes (such as shark meat dishes), but are available along with more Western-style options, making these markets an ideal place to gradually dip into the local culture while meeting or catching up with one’s friends and contacts.
Whatever the weather, though, the local area offers a wealth of year-round attractions that will please new residents looking for experiences that don’t have an exact equivalent outside of Singapore. One such example is provided by the Going Om eatery / café in the Arab Street neighborhood, renowned for its flavored shisha [hookahs with flavored tobacco] facilities, and its varied bohemian clientele ranging from fire-eaters to tarot card readers (Arab Street in general is also known for this ‘feel,’ with its happily informal service employees and its attempts to infuse the urban landscape with greenery.)
The Bayfront and Clarke Quay areas of Singapore offer dozens of expatriate-friendly night spots, in which the typical activities like dancing and ‘people watching’ allow leisure time opportunities to those not yet fluent in non-English tongues. Live music and performance venues in Singapore are not a rarity, with clubs such as the Avalon (situtated on Marina Bay) being world-class in their reputation for glitz and atmosphere: female reviewers of this venue, in particular, have noted that its air of exclusivity keeps out many of the more undesirable and predatory types of hanger-on.
Elsewhere, the riverside Zouk venue, conveniently situated by the Grand Hawthorne Waterfront hotel, is actually a three-in-one entertainment multiplex also comprising the Velvet Underground and Phuture clubs: Zouk itself is the go-to venue for internationally recognized DJs on the electronic dance music circuits, while the more selective Velvet Underground weeds out some of the more giddy youngsters by requiring male entrants to be at least 25 years of age.
The Neverland Thai Disco is another recommended venue for clubgoers who, if they can dispense with more Western notions of live music entertainment (e.g. concerts being provided by one marquee act, rather than a continual rotation of singers and dancers), will be rewarded with an undemanding form of local fun. Further eclecticism is represented in the city by music bars like JJ Alante’s (a blues ‘dive’ bar in the style of American roadhouses), and Aquanova in the Clarke Quay district. Both formal and informal dress codes in such venues can vary dramatically (the Bermuda shorts and flip-flops that may see one getting laughed out of Avalon will be just fine for Neverland), so it may be a good idea to observe the human traffic going in and out of each venue on a busy night before actually attending.
Think Before You Drink
Expats planning on either private gatherings or social outings, particularly ones that revolve around forging personal bonds with the aid of alcohol consumption, may want to take note of a potentially deflating fact: beer and spirits can reach prohibitive costs in supermarkets, and much more so in bars, clubs and lounges. In the latter, it is not out of the ordinary for a standard 16 oz. serving of beer to cost 10 Singapore dollars (whose current valuation on the exchange market is very close to that of the U.S. dollar.) Meanwhile, a similar serving purchased in the supermarket will cost from $2-5 in Singaporean currency.
Heavy drinkers, even those who can boast a healthy bank balance, may have to curtail this portion of their discretionary spending while living in Singapore. Nevertheless, if one is prepared for some above-average expenditure, the locally brewed Tiger Beer provides a good choice for those who don’t wish to pay import prices: it has been awarded a ‘Gold’ recognition from the Monde Selection consumer product judges (the second highest ranking available) and has garnered another 40 odd international awards since its introduction in 1932.
Though this should be common knowledge in any country, those seeking to stay on the good side of the locals should be especially careful not to commit even minor criminal offenses while under the influence of alcohol. Singapore has one of the most severe alcohol laws among industrialized nations, which can translate into a 3-month prison sentence and significant cash fines for public nuisances, or, for drunk drivers, a 6-month prison stay, $5,000 fine and the revocation of one’s license to drive. If one really wishes to press their luck and commits multiple driving-related infractions, they may also be introduced to Singapore’s notorious corrective practice of caning.