The City of Public Housing

Singapore is a nation of public housing, being transformed from a city with slums and homeless in the 1950s to one renowned for its functional, effective city planning, cleanliness and lack of “visible” homelessness. In Radio National’s Rear Vision podcast, Annabelle Quince explores the history behind Singapore’s public housing phenomenon, and how it impacts the residents of Singapore today.

The Pinnacle at Duxton is a fifty storey, high density public housing complex that challenges the conventions of typical public housing (Architecture Lab 2010).

Public housing is an integral part of Singapore’s national identity, while also being a significant and dynamic contributor to the national economy (Chua 2002). In Singapore, around 80% of citizens live in housing built by the government, commonly referred to as HDB’s after the Housing Development Board, and 90% of these residents own their own homes (Housing Development Board 2017). This is an incredibly high figure for a city of Singapore’s population and density, however it has ensured widespread home ownership and housing affordability (Bin & Naidu 2014). Public housing in Singapore doesn’t just ensure affordability however, with many estates having food courts, shopping centres and other amenities built in therefore creating all-inclusive housing communities that have the ability to support themselves. Diana Chua, a heritage guide of Singapore, states that “You don’t even need to go to town, you have everything you need just in this one street. You have the banks, you have the fast foods, you have photo development, you have shops. That is what the housing estate’s all about” (Quince 2008).

Because the majority of housing is managed by the state, the process of choosing and owning a home is dictated by both the financial class of the applicant and the availability of the flats themselves. Low income applicants are prioritised for the more affordable flats, whereas higher earning applicants are not and are instead encouraged to invest higher cost flats, Chua stating that “there is probably a kind of a ceiling for higher level salaried people. They don’t get the first priority to buy the cheaper flats. So that will protect the lower income groups and give them a better choice of flats” (Quince 2008).

Bukit Batok HDBs
An example of conventional HDB architecture in Bukit Batok (Vaidya 2008).

The Housing Development Board was established in 1960 in order to deal with the growing population of the city, the board stating that “home for the majority of Singaporeans was a rented cubicle or a hut in a squatter settlement” (Housing Development Board 2017). This process of creating mass public housing was incredibly effective in coping with the population growth, however the continuation of this program has led to the gentrification of many areas and thus a loss of cultural heritage and identity in these districts. Established in 1966, the Land Acquisition Act gave the Singaporean government the ability to acquire any land for public use (Bin & Naidu 2014). Eng Peng, a Singaporean filmmaker, was subjected to the result of the public housing scheme, being relocated from her village that was cleared to make way for public housing. After relocating to the development in 1987, Peng states “We felt quite trapped I think, because we were living in like a box in the sky, and we were facing four walls, just a ceiling on top of us” (Quince 2008). Due to this forced relocation, Peng also records people from her village committing suicide, jumping off the balconies of the development – an overlooked, unrecorded consequence of such an aggressive redevelopment scheme.

The public housing scheme in Singapore has ensured widespread, universal housing for most citizens and is one of the most successful housing initiatives in the world – transforming the city in the space of fifty years. However, the psychological impacts on earlier citizens roped into such an aggressive initiative cannot be ignored, perhaps calling for the government to offer some reconciliation to citizens who were forcibly relocated.

Reference list:

Architecture Lab 2010, Pinnacle @ Duxton / ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism, Toronto, viewed 26 January 2017 <>

Bin, T. S & Naidu, V. L. 2014, Public Housing in Singapore: Examining Fundamental Shifts, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, viewed 20 January 2017 <>

Chua, Beng-Huat 2002, Political Legitimacy and Housing: Singapore’s Stakeholder Society, Routlege, Abingdon, viewed 26 January 2017 <>

Housing Development Board 2017, Public Housing – A Singapore Icon, Singapore Government, Singapore, viewed 26 January 2017 <–a-singapore-icon>

Qunice, A. 2008, An apartment in the sky – the story of public housing in Singapore, audio podcast, Rear Vision, Radio National, ABC Radio, Sydney, 28 October, viewed 26 January 2017 <>

Vaidya, G. 2008, Bukit Batok HDBs, Flickr, viewed 26 January 2017 <>


“I Not Stupid” – Singapore Educational System


Brian Lo

“I Not Stupid” in English narration is refered to “Children are not stupid”, this is a distinctive Singaporean comedy film which narrates about the lives, struggles and adventures of three Primary Six school fellows who are studying in the academically inferior EM3 stream. In 2002, this film has officially released in domestic cinemas and earned over the 3.8 million Singapore Dollars, which was rated as into the second-highest grossing Singaporean film. In relation to the cultural context of this film, this movie comprises various of serious and significant topics for instance, relationships in family and between friends, educational system and government policies in Singapore. Even though this is a comedy film, however the content is exceptionally inspiring and encourages the audience to consider and understand different aspects of Singaporean culture.

Based on the movie; “I Not Stupid”, the viewers would be able to recognise that Singapore is still rapidly developing and transforming from an ordinary urban to a modern industrial leading country in Asia-Pacific region (Young Singapore 2017 and OECD 2010). Throughout the past decade, Singapore’s education system has maintained its status and standard at or close to the top of most major world education level (OECD 2010). Within the country; Singapore, education would be recognised as the “central to building both the economy and the nation” (OECD 2010). Since the Singapore government has the ability to fulfill the requests and needs in education system and they are convinced of the existence of skills and knowledge would be the origin of aspects and also become crucial competitive advantages.


In light of this, more researches have been developed in order to discover and understand Singapore education system further. All the children in this nation would be legible to receive a minimum of 10 years of education and their teaching instruction is “highly-scripted and uniform across all levels and subjects” (Nayak 2016). According to Professor Hogan (2014) from the University of Queensland, he has mentioned that Singapore’s education system is “the product of a distinctive, even unique, set of historical, institutional and cultural influences.” Moreover, the learning and teaching standard/ quality is monitored and prescribed but the Singapore’s national curriculum, which has emphasized and enhanced the nation’s education policy. In addition, “schools play a significant and remarkable role within the Singapore community, encourage to delivery the Singaporean values, characteristic and cultural identity.

In order to refer the Singapore teaching curriculum as “education system”, “or “arrangement”, it would be appropriate to consider this as mental strength support that enhances the student holistic developments. In another term, this education system is a belief, which allows them to utilise their knowledge into practical tasks and also maximise their potentials at the most.


Hogan, D. 2014, Why is singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the west?, The Conversation Media Group Ltd., viewed 20 January 2017, <>.

Nayak, S. 2016, Singapore schools: ‘the best education system in the world’ putting significant stress on young children, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, viewed 20 January 2017, <>.

OECD 2010, Singapore: rapid Improvement followed by strong performance, viewed 19 January 2017, .

Young Singapore 2017, About Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board, viewed 19 January 2017, <>.


With the melting pot of different races coming together in Singapore, one of the most unique outcomes found is Singlish. Singlish or Singaporean English, is the ‘street’ language of Singapore and derives from various languages, such as Malay, Hokkien and English. Although Singapore’s national language is considered as English, many Singaporeans used Singlish in informal, casual situations, and it is now considered as a symbol of national identity. If one does not understand Singlish, it can be considered that one is not Singaporean and it may be hard to be form closer bonds with those who use Singlish. According to BBC, various campaigns promoting the proper use of English has been deflected by Singlish, as Singaporeans still prefer to use Singlish in their casual environments over proper English (2015). This illustrates how deeply rooted Singlish is in their identity and heritage.


Image Source: University of Pennsylvania, (n.d.). Singlish. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

As Singlish is the melting pot of languages and cultures, the combination of words from different languages form a ‘new’, colorful and unique language formed, ranging from the tone and emphasis of the words spoken to the vocabulary and grammar used. It can be said that Singlish illustrates the personality of Singapore; a country full of vibrant and friendly people from various backgrounds. This can be seen through the 1991 rap song, ‘Why you so like dat?’. It is a song illustrating the conversation between two school boys as they bicker about various issues.

It can be seen, that Singlish reflects and supports the intimacy between people, as people who speak Singlish to each other are shown to be closer compared to those who speak formal English. This can be shown by comparing the Singlish lyrics to the formal English counterpart. When Siva Choy sings, “You tell me dat you don’t like girl, I also dunno why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice go up damn high!” (Ming 2007), it can be seen, that more slangs are used and it is much more intimate as it seems the friends are quite close to one another. The English counterpart can be formal as it can be translated as such, ‘You told me you do not like girls, I do not understand why, but when you see a pretty girl, your voice pitch becomes higher’. Even the usage of Singlish amongst strangers, supports a friendlier and more intimate conversation than using formal English, as Singaporeans tend to act friendlier with those who can speak Singlish. The usage of Singlish indicates a more casual and comedic tone, which allows people to become friendlier to one another.

Another significant and interesting change, as shown in the lyrics, is the use of particles at the end of the sentence such as ‘ah’. ‘Ah’, alongside other particles as ‘lah’ or ‘leh’, can change the tone of the sentence. These particles change the overall attitude of the sentence. Compared to the English counterpart, ‘Why are you like that’, which can sound more formal and assert a more frustrated tone, the Singlish counterpart, ‘Why are you like that ah’, asserts more of a friendlier tone and supports a lighter atmosphere.  The vocabulary used in the song is also quite interesting as it shows how words derived from other languages replace English words, can change the overall tone and can also shorten sentences or phrases in some cases. The usage of words such as ‘alamak’, support a closer relationship between people who understand the meaning of the words compare to those who do not. It also supports a lighter and more comedic tone.db1a23c4c7853e628e6ecbbf3934b468.jpg

Image Source: Pinterest, (n.d.). My English. [image] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

As shown in the song, Singlish is an important part of living and socializing in Singapore. This is supported by James Wong, a Singaporean who isn’t fluent in Singlish as his parents supported the usage of formal English in everyday context and frowns upon Singlish. Due to this, in social contexts, such as ordering food at food stalls or socializing with others was much more difficult, as they either couldn’t understand him or they considered him ‘posh’ for using English instead of Singlish (BBC 2015).



Choy, S. (1991). Why You So Like Dat?. [Youtube Video] Singapore: Viyo Records. Available at: [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].

Wong, T. (2015). The Rise of Singlish. BBC. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].


Singapore: The Evident Poverty

When the name ‘Singapore’ is mentioned in a conversation, it is often connoted as a lively tourist-hub that attracts travellers from all around the world; or as the article Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism suggests:

“…the jewel of Southeast Asia where residents enjoy a high standard of living and a stable socio-political environment.” (Hong et al. 2014)

This blogpost will explore to what extent this statement is true, and go deeper into how and why Singaporean residents are able to enjoy such high standards of living. It will be done so by revealing an evident poverty line in its society, containing illegal domestic workers that are exploited by those who can afford to.

On the surface, most social media websites promote Singapore as a bustling, tourist-filled country that is rich in food culture and diverse in race (Destination Flavour Singapore 2016), as seen in this video below of a commercial television program that showcases the ‘unique flavours’ of Singapore, hosted by Adam Liaw.

Screen Shot 2017-01-21 at 1.24.32 pm.png
Screenshot of Destination Flavour Singapore

However, as diverse and multicultural and multi-racial a country can be, Singapore’s racial hierarchy draws a border between itself and its female migrant domestic workers who have much less freedom in a thriving and wealthy nation (Kobayashi 2015). An everyday life for a migrant domestic worker is far from ‘enjoying a high standard of living’, as they are not only in the house for domestic service, but also of domestic abuse (Huang & Yeoh 2007).

From this short informative documentary provided by Al Jazeera English, it can be seen that young non-Singaporean girls from poor families are taken advantage of when they dream of being employed to earn money for a decent living. Girls, as young as 15 years old are interviewed in this video, had to live under a false identity in order to gain employment as a domestic worker in Singapore. As Steve Chow investigates the illegal workers’ circumstances, he highlights the fact that there are Myanmar and Singapore laws that were “written to protect [these] girls”, however not a single authority has taken action. (Al Jazeera English 2016, 22:40)

According to Timothy Mcdonald reporting on BBC News,

“Singapore is famous for its strict rules, discipline can have a very real impact [on the country’s economic state].. Doing business is easy and corruption is minimal.” (BBC 2015)

And yet there are still infamous exploitations of young domestic workers, placed in Singapore under illegal working visas and are often beaten, abused or even locked away.

So the statement: ‘Singaporean residents enjoy a high standard of living and live in a stable socio-political environment’ could be  considered fairly true, and a third party would also agree upon brief glance, however, with deeper understanding and research on the social hierarchy that stands in this multicultural country, it can be seen that there is a transparent mask that attempts to hide the young cogs that aid in a flourishing society. The evidence is there and the world can see what is being done to the illegal female migrant domestic workers, but they can also see what is not being done to solve it. This issue has been brought to light for over a decade now and yet the Singaporean government are more concerned about the economic and commercial impression it has to its surrounding countries (BBC 2015).

Reference List:

Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – Maid in Singapore, video recording, Youtube, viewed 19 January 2017, <>

BBC 2015, Singapore: From third world to first, United Kingdom, viewed 17 January 2017,<>

Destination Flavour Singapore 2016, television program, SBS On Demand, Australia, 12 January.

Hong, J., Leong, C., Lim, S. & Yang, W.W. 2014, ‘Reconfiguring the Singapore identity space: Beyond racial harmony and survivalism’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 43, part A, November 2014, pp. 13-21.

Huang, S. & Yeoh, B.S.A. 2007, ‘Emotional Labour and Transnational Domestic Work: The Moving Geographies of ‘Maid Abuse’ in Singapore’, Mobilities, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 195-217.

Kobayashi, Y. H. 2015, ‘Renationalisation of space in everyday life in Singapore’, Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 410-422.

Illegal Maids: Foreign Domestic Workers

Written by Joanne Lee

From Chilli Mud Crabs to ending sentences in lah, Singapore has a rooted history of what makes the country liberated from Malaysia, Britain and Japan. Since its independence, the country has constantly remained as a potential working ground for labourers, resulting in a “large influx of immigrants from all over Asia” including China, India and Malay Archipelago (Leyl, 2015). This presented a new socio-cultural environment and perhaps acceptance of multiple backgrounds and religions. Although Singapore is viewed rich in culture, language and tradition, foreign domestic workers face possible repatriation due to several laws that dictate their ability to work in the country. This is particularly applied to low-skilled foreign workers due to the fear of resource scarcity, excessive permanent residence and extreme poverty.

From 101 East’s video Maid in Singapore, female foreign domestic workers (FDW), especially from Myanmar, are often exploited. Baited by recruitment agencies and guaranteed high income, these workers are employed illegally and may experience an abusive environment – sexually and physically.

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-11-45-00-pmScreenshot from video “101 East – Maid in Singapore”

Born in a country with no large opportunity to discover well paid work, women are persuaded by the rumoured high income. In saying this, they are given a chance to work in Singapore in return with a large salary that may benefit their family’s finances. Although there is evidence of respectable employers, many are lead to unfortunate circumstances. For example, an agent promised a fifteen year old girl a job as a domestic worker. However, it was under Singaporean law that foreign domestic workers must be at least at the age of twenty-four. Despite this, the agency provided false passports for underaged girls and an intensive house job that would affect their mental state as they would become prone to homesickness due to their immaturity as Mary, recruitment agent states “…even if they can work, they can’t stand the pressure and get homesick” (Al Jazeera English 2016).

As mentioned above, employee treatment scaled from respect to contempt. Experience as a foreign domestic worker has escalated from threats to sexual abuse as a result of under-protection by both Burmese and Singaporean governments. They were beaten, sexually assaulted and kept in captivity as one former worker confesses, “I had to touch him down there…whatever I was doing, I had to go to him whenever he called. If I refused, he would slap me” (Al Jazeera English 2016). Due to their adolescence, their vulnerability becomes transparent to their employer. The agency blackmails to prevent these girls from running away or seeking assistance. As the worker admits, “The agent said if I ran away during those eight months, they would ask my parents to pay”, the agency refused release until their debt had been paid. Therefore, the debt compels the workers to remain obedient as their family may be harassed.

With the mediocre skills and little knowledge, workers are perceived with “common problems…lacking issues and a lack of efficiency in housekeeping and cooking,” stated one agent recruitment. This affected their potential to grow in life skills, thus this agent declared training to build a foundation for the freshly scouted females as she says “That’s why I’m doing this” (Al Jazeera English 2016).

Screenshot from video “101 East – Maid in Singapore”

While the laws of mutual countries are set to prevent exploitation and protect FDWs, there is a clear loophole in the work-permit system as there is little to no action in providing safeguards for these young employees. As Jolovan Wham (2016) states “It’s an issue with both sources and destination countries have to have the political will to do something about it…there has to be a lot more bilateral operation to ensure that this kind of exploitation by recruitment agents don’t happen,” exposing the corruption behind the working conditions of foreign domestic workers.


Al Jazeera English 2016, 101 East – maid in Singapore, videorecording, YouTube, viewed 16 January 2017, <;

Brenda Yeoh & Weiqiang Lin, 2012, Rapid growth in Singapore’s immigrant population brings policy challenges, MPI, viewed 16 January 2017, <;

Sharanjit Leyl, 2015, Singapore at 50, BBC, viewed 16 January 2017, <>

Michael Malay, 2014, Singapore needs to address its treatment of migrant workers, theguardian, viewed 17 January 2017, <;

Ministry of Manpower, 2017, Employment rules for foreign domestic workers, Singapore government, viewed 17 January 2017, <>