New Zealand has long-standing links with Singapore and established diplomatic relations in 1965. There is a Singapore High Commission in Wellington.
Singaporean students, mostly Chinese, have been coming to New Zealand since the 1960s. It was common for young people to study overseas, as there were few places available at local universities. Initially, many found New Zealand boring and unbelievably quiet. Although students tended to return after completing their studies, their travels blazed a trail for future migrants.
Less money, nicer air
Shih Liang Chye left Singapore for New Zealand in 1984. He was joined by his partner two years later, and they had two children. He explained that he took a pay cut of more than 50% so the family could live in a country with fresh air, clean water and greenery, and an open, egalitarian society.
Chinese Singaporean immigrants
In 1981 the Singapore-born population in New Zealand was 1,884. Changes to the immigration system in 1987, which encouraged people with business skills to come to New Zealand, stimulated migration. By 1996 the number of people born in Singapore had reached 3,477.
Life in Singapore, the ‘Lion City’, could be highly stressful, and many migrants who arrived during the 1990s were in search of quieter times. Singaporeans invested heavily in businesses and residential property. But not all stayed – over the 1990s some left as they found New Zealand’s economy too small to support their enterprises.
Languages and religions
While around half of Singaporeans in New Zealand in 2013 were ethnically Chinese, many were culturally Malay. Some Baba or Straits Chinese speak only Malay. For the most part, however, migrants are multilingual, speaking English, Malay and Chinese dialects. Sometimes words are mixed into a hybrid tongue dubbed ‘Singlish’.
In Singapore, Buddhism is the most widely practised religion, with Christianity, Taoism and Islam next most common. In 2013 the most common religion for Singaporean Chinese in New Zealand was Christianity, with Catholic and Pentecostal denominations most prominent.
Most Singaporeans have settled in Auckland, which supports a national club. There are also clubs in Wellington and Christchurch, and student groups at universities.
Christchurch’s Singapore Club, formed in 1993, published quarterly newsletters in the early years. In the 2010s it uses its website and social media to communicate with members. It continues to help new migrants settle, and provides information about local matters, including reconstruction efforts following the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. It is also forging links with other organisations that support migrants. Singapore’s diverse ethnicities are reflected in the club’s events, which include celebrations of the Chinese Lantern Festival and Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Auckland’s Singapore Club website has details about its social activities, and invites new members to ‘come and join us and we can create our own kampong [village] right here in this beautiful country’.1
Clubs often celebrate key dates, including Singapore National Day on 9 August. At such events, authentic fare is served, including chicken rice, buah keluak (blacknuts) and chap chye (mixed vegetables).