Culture gives modern cities identity

The anthropologist E. B. Taylor defines culture as a "complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Arts, culture and a distinct Singaporean identity; May 22).

Culture is made up of customs, beliefs, religions, art, food and law, whereas civilisation is characterised by social stratification, codified law and administration and even urban development.

Malacca is a city steeped in history and culture. The Portuguese Settlement at Jalan Daranjo was founded in 1511 and the place is famous for its restaurants serving scallops and spicy fish.

When I walk through Jonker Street at night, I cannot help but be attracted by its old Chinese houses, where one can hear an erhu orchestra practising.

The many nonya restaurants serving authentic cuisine remind me of the rich culture and history of Peranakan civilisation.

Bangkok is a modern city, yet it has kept its canals, river boats and a very vibrant night life.

The streets are filled with itinerant hawkers, buskers and hordes of tourists who come to savour the rich culture of the Thais.

In spite of its daily traffic snarls, this city has a charm of its own that is unlike any other city.

In Singapore, Singlish is part and parcel of our daily communication. It has become part of our national identity, just as the Scots have their kilts and bagpipes.

When an Indian man goes to the coffee shop and tells the Chinese woman that he wants "kopi O siew dai", she immediately understands what he wants.

Ours is a young nation. Hopefully, over the next half century, a distinct Singaporean identity will emerge and the typical Singapore species would be easily identifiable to all and sundry.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Culture gives modern cities identity'. Print Edition | Subscribe