Singapore: Little Red Dot

Representative Image

It was once a sleepy fishing village, but over the years it grew into a futuristic, gleaming first-world metropolis. The story of Singapore is truly remarkable.

Representative Image

Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia and it consists of the island of Singapore, as well as 54 other smaller islands. It is the smallest country in Southeast Asia, about half the size of Delhi. Singapore may be a small country, but it is big on the world stage. It has a strong international image and it encourages social development, technological innovation and new ways of living. It is located in a natural meeting point for sea routes, which has meant that it has flourished as a trading post for many types of vessels from around the world including Buginese, Portuguese, Chinese and Arab ships. Its encouragement of international business and trade has helped it to grow into one of the major financial powerhouses of the world.

Ancient to modern times

One of the earliest historical records of Singapore is a Chinese account from the 3rd century, which describes it as the “island at the end of a peninsula.” Later, when the first settlements were established from 1298-1299 AD the city became known as Temasek, which translates to “Sea Town.” The town was mentioned in a Javanese epic poem from 1365 and it is also mentioned in the Malay Annals, which are thought to have been written in 1535.

When the Chinese traveler Wang Dayuan visited the island in 1330, he described it as two distinct settlements – Dan Ma Xi and Ban Zu. It is thought that Ban Zu was the present day Fort Canning Hill. Singapore is considered one of the oldest Chinese examples of a Chinese community existing outside of China, a claim that is supported by archeological evidence. During this era life in Singapore was very simple. Wang Dayuan wrote that the natives and the Chinese dwelled side by side, wearing cotton sarongs and producing tin. According to archeological evidence found in Fort Canning in the 14th century, Singapore was a port that was used for trade between the Malays and Chinese.

The Lion City

The name Singapore did not come about until the 14th century. The legend is that Prince Sang Nila Utama from Palembang in Srivijaya was hunting in the area when he saw a lion – an impressive animal that he had never encountered before. He regarded this as good luck and he founded the city where the lion had been seen. He called it Singapura, which comes from the words “simha” meaning lion and “pura” meaning city.

This story is likely to be a myth, as it is unlikely that lions ever lived in Singapore. However, the creature may have been a tiger as they did exist there until the early 20th century. Lions are considered kingly in Hindu mythology, so it is thought that the story was invented by the court historians of the Malacca Sultanate to glorify Sang Nila Utama.

A great deal of the development of modern Singapore can be linked to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. During the 19th century the British empire was developing a base in this region where they could house their fleet of merchant ships. At the time Singapore was already a decent sized trading post, so it seemed like a good option.

Sir Raffles was the Lieutenant Governor of Bencoolen in Sumatra (which is now Bengkulu). He landed in Singapore on January 29, 1819. He recognised that the location of this city state was advantageous. He worked on a treaty with the local rulers to establish Singapore as a trading station. At the time, Singapore was under the Johor Sultanate and he allowed the British to start a trading port on the Island.

When Raffles first arrived, there were only around 1,000 people living on the entire island of Singapore. As the city grew it attracted immigrants from India, China and all over the Malay Archipelago. The city grew rapidly – the census of 1824 shows that there were 10,683 residents in total. By 1871, the population of Singapore had reached nearly 100,000. The Suez Canal was built in 1869, which positioned Singapore as a crucial gateway between Eastern Africa and Europe. The legacy of Sir Raffles lives on in the famous Singapore landmark The Raffles Hotel.

After the World War II

During World War II, Singapore was under Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945. However, when the war ended it reverted to British control. At this time, greater levels of self government began to be granted. This led to Singapore merging with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963.

However, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia only two years later, due to disputes and social unrest between the Alliance Party in Malaysia and the People’s Action Party in Singapore. The last British military forces in Singapore were withdrawn in 1971.

Modern Singapore

From the 1960s to the 1990s Singapore experienced rapid economic growth. It became a newly industrialized country and its people had a high standard of living. However, at the time the society was strictly controlled and the government was authoritarian.

When Lee Kuan Yew resigned as prime minister in 1990 he was replaced by Goh Chok Tong, who introduced a much more liberal regime. Today Singapore is growing steadily and is highly prosperous.

Today, as you walk around Singapore, you can see many remnants of the city’s colonial and wartime past. There are many fascinating museums, memorials and monuments to visit, as well as heritage trails and much more.

Diverse culture of Singapore

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, religions and races. The largest ethnic group in the country is the Chinese, who make up three quarters of the population. The Chinese people mostly immigrated to Singapore to find better conditions than they had at home and they worked as labourers, entrepreneurs, politicians and in entertainment. This influence can be seen in the way that Chinese language, festivals, food and entertainment features prominently in Singapore.  For example, the festival of Chinese New Year is celebrated in Singapore with plenty of fireworks, dancing, parades and traditional performances.

Another important cultural community within Singapore is Eurasians, which refers to people with mixed Asian and European heritage. Most Eurasian people in Singapore can trace their European side of the family to either British, Dutch or Portuguese and then Asian side to Indians, Malays or Chinese. There are approximately 15-30 thousand Eurasians in Singapore and they have their own culinary traditions such as the curry-based Mulligatawny soup, Sugee cake and Shepherd’s pie. The Malay people are the second largest ethnic group in Singapore and they originate from the surrounding areas of Bawean, Java and the Malayan peninsula. The majority are Muslims and they celebrate festivals such as Hari Raya Haji and Haru Raya Puasa. The Malay cuisine is popular in Singapore street food and includes dishes such as nasi lemak (coconut cream rice) and mee rebus (noodles in spicy gravy). In Singapore you will also find a population of Peranakan people – who are descended from marriages between Indian or Chinese Men and local Indonesian or Malay women.

Singapore is also home to one of the largest Indian populations outside of India, many of which came to Singapore when the British settled in 1819. Today, nearly 60 percent of the Indian restaurants in Singapore come from ethnic Tamil ancestry. Many Indians have set up businesses or have become involved in professional and political enterprises. The presence of Indian culture can also be seen in the cuisine – Indian food adds delicious spice to Singapore’s food scene.

Success as a global city

Singapore is known throughout the world as a global financial center, as well as a hotspot for dining, shopping and entertainment. According to the Ernst and Young 2011 Globalization Index, Singapore ranked the third most globalised economy among 60 of the largest economies in the world.

There are many factors that have led to its success – a skilled workforce, a largely corruption-free government, support for foreign investments, plenty of exports and a strong free-market economy that attracts investors on a large scale.

Singapore has values and ideas which influences the rest of the world. Some of the other characteristics include the ability to command an international presence, strength in business, a diverse workforce, high quality infrastructure, a high standard of living, connectedness to world markets and excellence in knowledge. 

The city-state is considered a strong knowledge based economy. The government supports research and innovation and works to attract companies that specialise in building technology. Many big international companies such as Bayer, Fujitsu, HP and Nestle have set up their labs and research centres here.

Ease of doing business

Singapore is open to the movement of goods and services. Importing and exporting goods does not require a lot of paperwork and takes only a few days, without costing a fortune. Also, Singapore has always been one of the most important hubs of trade in the world – a central point of connection for many nations. It is located at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, which is where approximately 40 per cent of the world’s maritime trade traffic passes through. It also has an open financial market and this allows capital to flow with the rest of the world. The business environment here encourages investment inflows and the country has attracted many investors from all over the world. Singapore makes it as easy as possible to set up a company and invest within the region. Many factors, such as high savings rates, budget surpluses, foreign exchange reserves, moderate inflation and a stable currency encourage the flow of capital in and out of the country. 

Free movement of labour

Singapore has a relatively open immigration policy, which encourages many people to relocate to the country and add their talent and skills to the strong economy. Visa programs such as the Singapore EntrePass and the Singapore Employment Pass encourage entrepreneurs and skilled workers to immigrate.

Many cultures living in harmony

Last but not least, one of the important characteristics of Singapore is the integration of diverse cultures. This can be seen in the arts and entertainment of the city – there has been an increase in the number of art performances, museums and heritage centres in Singapore celebrating the diverse cultures that call this city-state home. The cosmopolitan residents live alongside each other, learning about and respecting each other’s origins, beliefs
and traditions.