Love, Singaporean style

Love, Singaporean styleMargo was one of the first people I met when I moved to Singapore.  She was an American psychologist who once mentioned that she taught a “How to Flirt” class for the Singaporean government. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

This was my introduction to the Social Development Unit (SDU), which was more or less a dating service for university graduates. It was created in 1984 by a government growing increasingly desperate over its citizens’ blatant disinterest in baby-making. (The government was right to be worried, by the way — Singapore’s birth rate is the lowest in the world.)

Margo’s flirting class was just one of many initiatives designed to bring men and women together. There were also speed-dating events, dance classes, wine appreciation evenings, cruises, and other heavily subsidized outings. When the non-graduate population rose up and cried “elitism!” the Social Development Service (SDS) was created just for them. In 2009, the SDU and the SDS merged into a new entity called the Social Development Network (SDN — Singaporeans are an acronym-mad people).

The good people of Singapore were underwhelmed by these matchmaking efforts and before long, SDU became slang for Single, Desperate, and Ugly. The marriage rate has increased over the years — imperceptibly — but the expected surge in births hasn’t materialized. Not even the introduction of the Baby Bonus scheme (in which the government awards “cash gifts” of up to $6,000 to newborns and matches parental contributions to special savings accounts) can convince Singaporeans to procreate. The future of the island nation seemed doomed.

Until now! Check out this motivational video by Mentos (yes, the mint people) that was released just in time for National Day (August 9th.) If laughter is an aphrodisiac, this frisky little rap might just succeed in doing what the government never could: getting Singaporeans to do their patriotic down-and-dirty duty.

(I’ve included a guide to the Singaporean references below the video.)



  • I ain’t Merlion, baby: the Merlion is a national symbol, courtesy of the imaginative folks at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB.) Half lion, half fish
  • SMS: Short Message Service, also known as a text
  • EZ-Link card: a stored value card used on public transit by tapping it on a card reader. So civilized. Are you listening, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)?
  • Night Safari: an after-dark excursion at the Singapore Zoo that showcases the nocturnal creatures doing something other than sleeping
  • Book into your camp: refers to the mandatory 2-year stint in the National Service (NS)
  • Baby bonus: monetary incentives to have children (see above)
  • Turn on the A/C: I was surprised to hear this, as I never heard air conditioning referred to as anything but aircon when I lived in Singapore
  • Eating durian on the MRT: durian is the foul-smelling fruit which is fortunately banned on Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
  • PIE: the Pan Island Expressway
  • KPE: the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway
  • AYE: the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Not mentioned (probably in the interest of time): Central Expressway (CTE), Tampines Expressway (TPE), Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), East Coast Parkway Expressway (CPE), Kranji Expressway (KJE), Seletar Expressway (SLE), and probably more, but that’s all the Three-Letter Acronyms (TLAs) I can remember
  • Put a bao in your oven: a play on the expression “a bun in the oven,” meaning “pregnant” — a bao is a steamed bun
  • Tau sa pau: a steamed bun filled with red bean paste
  • HDB: Housing Development Board, which is responsible for the housing estates lived in by 85% of Singaporeans. Their apartments are referred to as HDB flats, and their cramped living spaces are probably part of the reason a video like this was needed in the first place. It’s hard to raise a family in a shoebox
  • $900 stroller: reference to Singapore’s highly materialistic society
  • I wanna hang out in your void deck: a void deck is the ground-floor communal area in HDB estates
  • Whether you’re about to get your tau huay: tau huay is soybean pudding (although I sense there might also be a spicier meaning I know nothing about)
  • Gardens by the Bay: this plant-lover’s paradise is a new (and expensive) development in the Marina Bay area. Some of it is quite pretty, but I think the Supertrees (vertical gardens) are hideous.

About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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16 Responses to Love, Singaporean style

  1. Lyn says:

    Oh My! The graphic heart dude is extra creepy. Thanks for the link!

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    Yes, the heart dude is unsettling in ways I can’t quite pin down.

    I admit that for me, possibly because of long experience, my favourite Singapore “What the heck?” video is probably the Gurmit Singh-starring “SARS-vivor Rap” made to encourage hand-washing and general oddness during that crisis.

  3. naomihattaway says:

    O.M.G. seriously?

    Can’t wait to see what the month of May brings, in terms of babies being born. So THAT is why the twitter for the younger population of Singapore was crazy re: “What are YOU doing for your Nat’l Night?”

  4. Heather says:

    Hilarious! Sorry… I couldn’t help laughing! Thanks for the explanations. I think Germany needs something like this too…

  5. expatlogue says:

    I had to see that to believe it! Well, things ARE in a sorry state when it’s only the thought of national “doody” that will get couples in the mood! Whatever happened to bottle of wine and a romantic movie?

  6. henry says:

    You have a great blog, interesting and amusing!
    Thank you for sharing, appreciate it!

  7. Maria says:

    I wonder if this is going to be an annual thing? If so, I can’t wait to see what they come up with to top this video. How can you beat perfection? LOL

  8. “Let’s make fireworks” Is that what we call it nowadays? If I was a Singapore local, I’d be treasured because I’ve just done my bit, made some fireworks, and now my wife has a bao in her oven. A perfect model citizen (even though I live in Oz).

  9. Maria, what a great post. I had no idea! That video is hilarious.

  10. Sine says:

    Very cool. Though I must say it is a bit disconcerting that a Singaporean rap is done in an American accent. Where are the ‘lah’s’ ?

  11. theravenwine says:

    I just came across your blog and found it an interesting read as someone who was born in Canada but raised in Singapore, and now am back in Canada! There’s so many things I can relate to. Keep writing!

  12. jamietang84 says:

    hello. im a 29 year old singaporean and i just stumbled upon your blog today. i havent read much but i already am drawn to it because its refreshing and warming to see someone who doesnt take herself too seriously just because he/she travels alot; someone who is also open-minded enough to pick up and share what she has observed in her stints in different countries. and not put it down just because its foreign. to be honest, its very rare to find a caucasian/western person who gives the time of the day to asian locals. as a young(ish) person who has studied overseas in australia, travelled not alot but enough to see the diversity in countries’ income, standard of living, class behavior, social etiquette, i find it hard to disregard the fact that end of the day, many westerners tend to not think much of asians. i can see why and i cant see why sometimes. its as if some people expect everyone in the world to be just like them. but i like it that you find something worthwhile to talk or smile about, even in amusement (trust me, alot of my government efforts still make me cringe). I think we need more people in the world to act internationally neutral, while still bringing and maintaining their own culture. im sure your kids will grow up being way smarter and loving as human beings just like how you have shown them.

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