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Hawker Centres in Singapore

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3471 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

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This paper examines how the success of the hawker centers in Singapore has to do with several factors that we can acknowledge as well in Colombia, even though the two countries are so diverse in cultural aspects.

The Hawker Centers have been part of the Singaporean culture since 1950, making them a deeply rooted tradition; that must be adapted in order to fit into the Colombian complex and diverse culture. Here we intend to show how the concept can be implemented in Colombia in a successful way that allows us all to identify ourselves with our roots and matching points as Colombians.


Hawkers Centers are open-air complexes with many stalls that sell a wide variety of inexpensive food, resembling a food mall.

These centers are the most popular and an emblematic place to eat in Singapore; and since the population of the country is so diverse, the food offered includes all the cultures (Chinese, Malay and Indian). People generally go to these places to find something they like and to enjoy the multicultural pluralism of this country, in a context where cultural differences are converted into cultural match points.

The Hawkers Centers are considered the CULTURAL METAPHOR of Singapore. According to Martin Gannon, in these places one can find 5 characteristics that described the culture, those being: Ethnic diversity but unity, Efficiency, the power of women, and, Safety and Synthesizing traditional and new values.

Colombia is a multicultural society, and is subdivided in what we can call micro-nations, the most of them are located in the natural geographical regions, The Caribbean Lowlands which culture is the result of a mixture between indigenous and Africans, the Pacific Lowlands where the roots of African culture are exposed, the Andean Highlands where people reflects the strong influence of their Europeans ancestors, and finally the Orinoco savanna and the Amazon rainforest two regions evidencing the pre-Columbian identity of this salad Bowl called Colombia.

“Mil Sabores, una Identidad” Hawker center will be a place where the 5 geographical and cultural regions of Colombia will be represented, and Colombians coming from all around the country will find in food the way to make the cultural differences a reason for unity instead of conflict.


We consider that Colombia is a Salad Bowl, composed by different subcultures which are difficult to classify, Estanislado Zuleta says that Colombia is divided in 3 main groups of people, the coastal, the caribeans, and the people from the high plateaus (altiplanos).bajucol-colombia

The multicultural and multiethnic character of Colombia is explained by its history, the Caucasians and the Africans races were brought by the conquest, and these new races get mixed with the indigenous, given birth to new ethnic groups, making possible that today Colombia counting on a population of approximately 44 Million with have an ethnic composition of 58 percent mestizos, 20 percent Europeans, 14 percent mulattos, and the remaining of African descent and mixed African-Amerindian.

The geographical regions of Colombia are another way in which we can classify the cultural differences. Due to the difficult topographical situation of the country there is a geographical isolation, each region has developed unique and diverse characteristics, making even more difficult to describe Colombia as one culture.

The complex cultural diversity of Colombia is reflected by the different traditions, values, believes but also by the diversity of the gastronomy, the aesthetics such as the music, architecture, painting, dancing, theater and many others.

The Andean region for example is cultures where there are strong remains of the European ancestors, people on this region have a strong character and are usually hardworking and big entrepreneurs. inside the region there are also differences and we can divide the cultural groups in the “Paisas” from Antioquia and from the coffee Region, the “Santandereanos” from Santander and Norte de Santander, a part of the “Vallunos” from Valle del Cauca and Cauca, the “Tolimenses” , the “cundiboyacenses” from the interior part of the country, the “Pastusos” form Nariño and finally the “Rolos” from Bogota.

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The Caribbean Lowlands is the product of a mixture between Indigenous and Africans, in this region you can find tropical and outstanding way of life, the region located in the north of Colombia is composed by the “Costeños” from the Atlantic coast and the savannas of the north, the “Guajiros” are also part of this region and are in their majority from the “Guayu” indigenous group.

Then is in Pacific lowlands where we find the strongest roots of the Africans, the region of the Afro-Colombians is characterized by its flavors, colors and ancestral rituals that even other Colombians are not familiar with. This particular region ins composed by the “chocuanos” from Chocó and the afro-Colombians from Nariño.

The Orinoco savanna located in the east part of the country is also a different world like every region in Colombia. The terrific landscapes of an eternal green that get mixed with the sky in horizon, and the virgin jungles are the homeland of the “llaneros” and of many Indigenous tribes that are protected by the forest as their natural barrier.

Finally the Amazon rainforest is the natural guardian of the most traditional and ancestral values and beliefs of the pre-Columbian tribes, this region whose population is mainly indigenous is an amazing place, that can be described in only one word “DIVERSITY”. The most of Colombians are not familiar with this region, maybe because due to our high uncertainty avoidance, our aversion to risk and to what is different, we don’t even dare to cross this forest rich in bio- and cultural-diversity.

Colombians are so different, regionalist and in a way ethnocentric, we are aware of our differences and the majority is deeply identified with their regional culture and defend it from the others influence; we are a kind of a salad bowl where people is together but never melted. But despite all those differences there are some things that we love about this multiculturalism, things that constitutes the match point of our cultures, making possible that we all feel and enjoy being Colombians, those things are Food, Music and art.

Hofstede’s analysis

The analysis for Colombia is very similar to other Latin American countries; where societies are slow to accept changes, are risk-adverse and have a high concern for rules. This can be because in Colombia the population is mainly catholic, which promotes the idea that there is an absolute truth.

According to the analysis that Hofstede made, Colombia has one of the highest rankings in Masculinity, what this means is that there is high degree of gender inequality, and that men are the dominant within the society.

Colombia has high uncertainty avoidance, which explains the low level of tolerance for the unknown and the foreigners; this also explains the need for rules and laws.

Collectivism is very important for our culture, the family is very influential on each individual, and loyalty is required in order to maintain the harmony.

Finally the high power distance shows the huge inequality of power and wealth in the society, which explains the high level of poverty.


Singapore is a City – State with a population of 4,5 millions, the territory is divided in 65 islands.

Singapore has become the way to get into the Asian countries and the place where most of the companies want to have their headquarters because of Singapore’s economic and political security. This high quality of life is thanks Thomas Stanford Raffles, the founder of Singapore and who created the port that nowadays is between the first by volume and the second by containers busiest port of the world and also created a neighborhood for each ethnic group where each region could be governed by itself. Then lee Kwan Yew, the father of the modern Singapore has implemented a system that implemented the western democratic values but always maintaining the Asian identity.

In Singapore people live in harmony, they are usually well educated and really smart. Although there are from different neighborhoods, languages and cultures, the interaction among them is really common, Chinese can marry Indians, in a Hindu temple located in Chinatown, is like a salad bowl of Malays, Indians, Chinese and Europeans.

Singapore is a pluralistic place, where they interact between each other, but don’t create just one culture, they are Chinese – Singaporean, Indian – Singaporean, Malays – Singaporean, etc., they don’t change their roots, “although the bulk of Singaporeans do think of themselves as Singaporeans, regardless of race or culture. Each still bears its own unique character” [1] .worldmap-singapore

Each ethnic group has its own religion and its own festivals, but anyone can attend. The tolerance is really important and there is not discrimination toward people from another religion. For example the “Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism, Taoism, Shenism, Christians, Catholics and some considered as ‘free-thinkers’ (Those who do not belong to any religion). Malays have the Muslims and Indians are Hindus. There is a sizeable number of Muslims and Sikhs in the Indian population” [2] .

Singapore has four official languages: Mandarin (comes from china), Malay (comes from Malaysia), Tamil (comes from Indian) and English (comes from Europe). The last one is the most used for communication and business, the others are talk only in their homes in order to keep the roots and traditions of their home culture. In Singapore almost everyone speak more than 2 languages. They have a dialect called Singlish is like a symbol for many Singaporeans and it’s an influence of Malay and Chinese that have change some words in the informal English language.

“Whatever the race or religion, the country’s communities unite as one nation, where most religious or racial gaps are being bridged” [3] .

The Hawker centers are considered by Martin Gannon the cultural metaphor of Singapore. There are five features of the hawkers that let us to identify the culture in Singapore.

First, Ethnic Diversity but Unity, as we already said, Singapore is composed by three ethnic groups, so Chinese , Indian and Malays live in harmony and are treated as Singaporeans provided with the same rights and Obligations. In the hawker centers the different ethnic groups are represented, each one has a number of stalls depending on their percentage on the total population. The unity between the different cultures in Singapore is highly explained by the five principles imposed by Lee Kwan Yew:

  • Nation before community and society before the self.
  • Family as the basic unit of society
  • Community support and respect for the individual
  • Consensus, not conflict
  • Racial and religious harmony [4] 

Second, Efficiency, in hawker centers there is an unspoken rule, servers and customers must be quick and efficient. Efficiency in Singapore is evident in communication in which people usually prefer quick aswers, and also in the cutting-edge technology present in the different aspects of daily life.

Third, the Power of Women is an evident factor in the centers; the number of men and women working in the center is the same and are treated in the same way. Women also play important roles in business, and there are a lot of policies promoting equal opportunities in the workplace.

Fourth, the safety is one of the most important aspects of the social system in Singapore, there are rules and regulations governing the simplest aspects of the people’s life, these regulations are also strict regarding the Hawker Centers.

Fifth and finally, “synthesizing traditional and new values”, Singapore is trying to maintain their traditional Asian values while implementing efficiency and practicality. The hawker centers represent this because they offer traditional food, but also western food.


According to Hofstede Singapore is a country with a high power distance, where the even if poor people is not so poor, there is a big gap between the rich and the poor. There is also a high power on the leaders, and population is forced to obey the law.

The individualism is very low, due to the Confucian values there is a tendency to collectivism, the country cares a lot about family values and cooperativism.

The country has male values such as people being worth for themselves and every person should take after themselves, but regarding the role of women, there is an equality of gender and they have an important role in society.

Finally, uncertainty avoidance is low, due to the multiculturalism, people is no afraid of what is different. But if we take into account the extreme regulations it should be a little bit higher.


Colombia and Singapore are as different as a western and an Asian country can be. But even if those differences are so marked culturally speaking, we find some similar situations or conditions in which the two countries have simililarities.

First taking the Hofstede dimensions of both countries as reference, it can be seen that three out of the dimensions evaluated are quiet similar, Colombia and Singapore present a high level of Power distance, in both countries the gap between rich and poor people is so big, it has be taken into account that the dimensions and the concept of the richness or the poorness is different in both countries. Individualism is very similar too, the collectivism characteristic of the Asian countries is also present on the Colombian culture. Masculinity is also high, evidencing two goal oriented cultures, were success is synonymous of recognition, but in terms of the role of women in society we can say that even if Colombia is one of the countries of lain America with more women participating in high rank positions, Singapore has advanced more regarding the equality of genders. Finally the difference in the uncertainty avoidance is evident, while in Singapore there is not aversion to new, unknown or different things, Colombians are pretty scared of change; but in terms of norms we can say that both countries have a huge amount of rules and regulations that evince a high uncertainty avoidance.

Then when we talk about similar conditions, we are referring to the multiculturalism. With similar conditions, we mean, respecting the proportions, that in both countries there is a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds living within one state that is trying to build one cultural identity respecting differences and enforcing thins in common.


Business idea

We have chosen to bring and to adapt the concept of the HAWKER CENTERS of Singapore, into our country. (Bogotá)

The Hawker center is going to be called “MIL SABORES, UNA IDENTIDAD”. It is going to be located in the North of Bogotá, and it is going to be more fashionable and delightful than the ones in Singapore; this is due to the fact that people in Bogota believe in status, in differentiation and they are willing to pay the price if you are offering something containing this characteristics.

The idea is to create a place with different food stalls according to the five Colombian regions which are: The Caribbean Lowlands, Pacific Lowlands, Andean Highlands, Orinoco savanna and the Amazon rainforest.

Bogotá is the capital of Colombia, this makes it the city in which the best universities, jobs and opportunities are found; for this same reason people from all over the country goes there to achieve their goals, and prepare for the future. We can consider Bogota as a the Singapore of Colombia, where people from different cultural backgrounds live an interact with each other in a pluralistic environment.

According to the quantity of people from each region living in the capital, a proportionate number of stalls will be installed. And besides this, a small number of stalls will be dedicated to International food, such as Arab, Chinese and Italian.

The idea is to offer our customers dishes from their regions but also to offer them dishes that otherwise they wouldn’t find so easily.

So the experience of going to “MIL SABORES, UNA IDENTIDAD” is planned to be like a trip trough Colombia, where the costumer can interact with people from different regions and get to know their gastronomy and their culture.

The place is going to be decorated with the most typical objects of each region and music from our artist will be played.


We believe that this project, if implemented, would have success because although we have high uncertainty avoidance (according to Hofstede’s) .We do enjoy to try and to get to know different aspects of other cultures.

We can say that we are selective in our integration, and that is why we love to go in vacations to the coast and eat excessively, because we enjoy their food, that is very hard to find when being in the interior.

Since we are offering the experience of feeling in a trip through out Colombia, some of the difficulties that Colombia has as a state are creating opportunities for our business to thrive.

For example:

The hard mobilization through our country.

The dangers of making a road trip.

The difficult economic situation.

The unsanitary conditions of the food in some places.

The long distances and the poor infrastructure.


Our main concern is for people to believe that “MIL SABORES, UNA IDENTIDAD” is just like any regular food mall, but as soon as the customer enters in the building it will discover that this innovative project, is nothing like a regular food mall it is an experience for all your senses that you can’t find elsewhere in Colombia.

The mix of music, food and entertainment will allow the customer to feel in different places at the same time and to experience the richness of our folklore.


As international negotiators we appreciate the foreigners that decide to visit our country and that are interested in getting to know us. Because of this, we have decided to integrate everything that represents us in one single place.

Coffee is one of the things that we are known for, so it is clear that we are going to take advantage of this, and build a coffee stall, with a variety of products that contain coffee, such as: caramel, candies, drinks. Etc.

Finally we believe that a souvenir store is also required for foreigners, where they can find hand-made stuff from our natives and artisans, such as hammocks, jewelry, musical instruments, clothes etc.


We have concluded that with the correct adaptation, the concept of Hawker Centers could have success in Colombia. The implementation is based on the different regions, making this an inclusive project, taking advantage of the contrasting influences that have gathered in the country.

The experience in “MIL SABORES, UNA IDENTIDAD” is going to be like a trip into the different Cities, where all the family can enjoy dishes of the diverse cultures, creating them a sense of awareness for the other.

Finally this project is going to awake the sense of a national identity and the patriotism of the people for their country by focusing in how our differences can bring us together instead on breaking us apart.


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