The Danes have “hygge”, the Finnish have “sisu”, the Japanese have “ikigai”, deep concepts that tend not to have linguistic equivalence in other languages, conveying something profound. I was wondering if there was any Singlish equivalent and the closest I came to one that had that kind of positive connotation is “shiok”.

Which makes me wonder about the quality of our culture and what truly we want to identify more with, and to celebrate. Of course, at the bicentennial experience in 2019 we explored traits of self-determination, multi-culturalism and open-ness; the self-determination part still won out eventually at the poll.

The thing about self-determination is there is very little as a collective that we can really latch on to celebrate as a cultural identity. Likewise, shiok seemed to be about common experiences of pleasure but can still be highly subjective (“shiok meh?”). Within the notion of self-determination, there can also be elements of resilience in face of adversity, and some quiet strength. Yet these things don’t feature much in Singlish.

If we continue to just think about “kiasu” and “kiasee” as Singaporean traits, tell ourselves stories about fear, losing, anxiety and death, we are just perpetuating a very negative narrative that no doubt drives us in the direction of a mental health crisis. We need a positive Singlish term embedded in our culture to identify with.


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