It would not be an exaggeration to say that millions of global tourists, flocking to Singapore in search of fashion, shopping, glitz, and glamour hardly know the proper history of this island city-state located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is a wonder, that being the smallest country in Southeast Asia, Singapore happens to be the site of several ancient port cities and a possession of several empires in its “not-so-well-known” history.
To start with, when Singapore was colonized by the United Kingdom in the 19th century, it was nothing but a small Malay fishing village, the first records of its existence being made in the Chinese texts as early as the 3rd century. The island which then bore the Javanese name “Temasek” and which happened to be an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya (an ancient Malay kingdom on the island of Sumatra) empire, gradually rose to become a significant trading city. However, throughout history, it had to bear the brunt of several political conflicts, which altered its destiny in the course of time.
For example, Singapore was a part of the Sultanate of Johore, until it was set ablaze by Portuguese troops in the Malay-Portugal wars in 1617. Again, in 1819, the British East India Company made a treaty with the Sultan of Johore and established Singapore as a trading post and settlement. Later, seeing instant growth and immigration from various ethnic groups to Singapore, it was declared a crown colony by Britain in 1867. Its status was soon raised to that of an entrepot town by the ruling British empire due to its strategic location along the busy shipping routes connecting Europe to China.
Destiny had written a few more dramatic twists and turns for Singapore, “The Lion City”, as it also called. Further occupied by the Japanese Empire in World War II, it finally became part of the merger which formed the “Federation of Malaysia. Finally, after many tussles with the Federal government in Kuala Lumpur, the nation ultimately acquired independence in 1965.
However, what we see today as a tourists’ paradise was for many years, a fledgling nation struggling for self-sufficiency. Overburdened with mass unemployment, housing shortages and lack of land and natural resources such as petroleum, it was a sociopolitically volatile and economically undeveloped nation, relying massively on foreign investment and government-led industrialization. The situation started changing after Lee Kuan Yew joined as prime minister in 1959. Within three decades, his administration curbed unemployment, raised the standard of living and developed Singapore’s economic infrastructure, thus elevating Singapore into a developing nation and subsequently to developed status.
In recent years, the country has tackled various disasters, the major ones being the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the SARS outbreak in 2003, and terrorist threats posed by the Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
It is really heartening to know that with 63 surrounding islets and with a total land area of 682 square km, the main island of Singapore, with its market-based economy, has grown into a thriving center of commerce and industry in just 150 years. Successfully increasing its manufacturing base after being a ‘backward fishing village’ for many years, Singapore today thrives on various industries including shipping (Singapore today is the busiest port in the world with over 600 shipping lines sending super tankers, container ships, and passenger liners), electronic components manufacturing and above all its booming travel/tourism industry. The island city-state located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula that has suffered various political and economic onslaughts is now home to four million people, also boasting of one of the highest per capita gross domestic products in the world. The economic progress of Singapore as a nation can be an enriching example of how a mere “fishing village” and a British naval base for decades can be reborn as an important financial, commercial and educational center for southeast Asia.
The credit for this resurrection goes to the PAP Government, who, assisted by a far-sighted Dutch economic adviser, realized the need of maintaining its colonial inheritance by attracting foreign capital from the developed world to establish export-oriented industries, while at the same time building up a modern service sector in Singapore based on banking and financial services. Needless to say, this economic strategy proved a phenomenal success, producing real growth that averaged 8.0% from 1960 to 1999. Thus, relying on foreign investment and expertise, while at the same time building up strong state enterprises, the provision of infrastructure, housing, transport, and other basic services for the local population began increasing notably, and the old Singapore consisting of overcrowded and unsanitary slums was demolished strategically.
In recent years, the government of Singapore’s trade policy, including its commitment to free trade, its active export promotion strategy, its open-arms policy towards multinationals and its support for trade liberalization, have made Singapore an economically stable nation. Over time, Singapore has also developed an export trade that thrives on medium and high-tech electronic components. Undoubtedly, such trade focuses on the strengths of Singapore, including “high-tech” sectors such as information technology and biotechnology.
Singapore Culture / Religion:
A cosmopolitan society with a harmonious inter-racial interaction, the island’s inherent cultural diversity is a source of one of the nation’s major attractions. To be precise, this cultural diversity is the ultimate result of the diversity of the population, the blending of different ethnic groups and the amalgamation of Chinese, Malay and Indian immigrants. It is not unnatural for someone to witness a Malaysian wedding taking place next to a Chinese wedding on an empty deck, on the ground floor of an HDB apartment building in the city of Singapore. Irregular marriages between the Chinese and Indians are not uncommon events in Singapore. In addition to the indigenous Malay population, Singapore is home to a majority of third-generation Chinese and Indian and Arab immigrants. For example, the diverse mix of races results in a significant degree of cultural diffusion with its unique combination of ethnic groups. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why you find a very little culture that is specifically Singaporean. However, there is a Eurasian community and a community of Peranakan or “Straits Chinese” (a community of mixed Chinese and Malay origin).
Such a significant degree of cultural dissemination has given Singapore a rich mix of diversity for its young age. One of the prime examples is Singapore’s cuisine, a huge cultural attraction for tourists. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and even Fusion are at the top of the menu. Speaking of art and culture, Singapore is identified worldwide as an emerging cultural center for art and culture, including theater and music. Often referred to as the “gateway between East and West”, it has seen the emergence of several performing arts groups, especially in the theatrical arts. A number of productions have been successfully performed and several groups, including TheatreWorks, have also performed abroad.
As a cosmopolitan and multiracial society, Singapore has also been the seat of major festivals of different ethnic groups associated with their respective religions. They again reflect the diversity of the varieties that live there. While the Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism and Taoism, there are even Christians, Catholics, and “free thinkers,” those who do not affirm any religious belief. So in today’s Singapore, religions cross racial boundaries and even go together in unusual ways, combining some of the mysteries of the older generation with today’s real world.
Singapore, famous worldwide and known as a wonderful harbor for tourists, has been able to generate large revenues thanks to the thriving tourist industry. With the rise of tourism in Singapore, there is stiff competition between hotels to run for the best slot machine. There are cheap air travel to Singapore these days including apex fares, low-cost airfares to Singapore and the like. A place for the world’s most delectable seafood, awe-inspiring sea beaches, impressive bird parks and nocturnal safaris that make for a beautiful wildlife adventure, Singapore today is a small dynamo in Southeast Asia and embodies the best of both East and West. Truly, the dynamic city with a lot of contrast and color captures the hearts of millions of international tourists with its harmonious mix of culture, cuisine, art and architecture and above all its unbridled energy.
As you enter this cosmopolitan, multicultural city, you will experience the mishmash of flavors from all over the world, the nation’s multicultural heritage will no doubt sweep you as it discovers an ever-changing mosaic of fascinating contrasts. For example, the amalgamation of ancient beliefs and contemporary culture, from rich legacies and a sleek modern life, makes Singapore an always youthful, always enchanting nation for tourists.
Tourist interests in Singapore: While tourism is continually infesting ChinaTown, a cultural section of Singapore, with shops and street vendors offering a glimpse into the days of old, the Asian Civilizations Museum (a diverse cultural museum) is there to exhibit antiques like a ninth-century Buddha and a Chinese snuff box. For lovers of art and architecture, the Thian Hock Keng Temple (Historic Taoist temple near Singapore’s waterfront) happens to be a “must watch” religious site. Another wonder is the unforgettable Singapore Art Museum, which, since its opening in 1996, offers an immense rotating collection of Singaporean and Malay sculpture and art. If you are a connoisseur of shopping and fine dining, there is Orchard Road, the ritzy shopping and dining area, often referred to as the “Park Avenue” of Singapore. For the lovers of spectacular underwater beauty, there is the Underwater World of Sentosa, showcasing the awe-inspiring beauty of a whole different world beneath the seas.
All said and done, the strategic location of Singapore, its cultural contrasts and diverse tourist attractions contribute to its success as a leading destination for both business and pleasure.