Singapore is a thriving Southeast Asian city-state located on an island at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Despite being the smallest nation in Southeast Asia, Singapore has achieved massive success with a hugely competitive economy and an extremely high standard of living. Situated between its sprawling skyscrapers, ethnic groups from many different Southeast Asian nations live together in a diverse and egalitarian society.
History & Culture
The area where Singapore now stands was originally a part of the early Malay empire, the Sultanate of Johor, which existed between the 16th and 19th centuries. The area, while initially serving as an outpost for the Malay empire served of little consequence until the early 19th century and the arrival of British traders.
In the 19th century, as part of ongoing European colonial expansion in Southeast Asia, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles signed a series of treaties with the Sultanate of Johor in 1819 and 1824 which brought the entire island of Singapore under the control of the British Empire. Britain felt that it needed to establish strategic ports in East Asia to support its expanding trading ventures through the East India Company, while at the same time protecting its interests from rival nations. Singapore served this purpose well and was later made the capital of the Straits Settlement, a collection of key British territories on the Malay Peninsula. In the years after Singapore’s incorporation into the British Empire, the population swelled as the island not only became an important region trading center, but also developed its own domestic industry including the export of rubber.
Singapore was occupied by the Japanese military during World War II after the surrender of the British garrison in early 1942. In the postwar years, Singapore began the slow march towards independence from Britain, culminating in 1963 with the succession of other British owned Malay states (including Singapore) and the founding of the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore later left the Federation in 1965 over deep rooted cultural and ideological differences and became the Republic of Singapore.
Today Singapore exists as an economically rich and cosmopolitan culture where various ethnic groups live in harmony, including Chinese, Malays, Indians and others. Despite its high degree of economic development and modernization, the cultural heritage of Singapore’s different ethnicities is still widely evident throughout the city, with many neighborhoods showcasing a diverse mix of traditional Chinese, Islamic, Indian, as well as colonial-style European architecture.
Economics & Politics
Singapore possesses a highly developed market economy, and along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan has been classified as one of the Asian tigers due to its rapid and transformative economic growth in the 2nd half of the twentieth century. Singapore functions largely as a hub for international trade, with the majority of the economy depending on exports and the further refinement of imported goods. Key industries within Singapore’s export orientated economy consumer electronics, information technology products, and pharmaceutical products. Many foreign companies are attracted to invest in Singapore due to its strategic geographic location, low-corruption environment, skilled workforce, advanced infrastructure and low tax rates. Singapore is recognized as one of the most innovative and competitive marketplaces in the world.
Singapore is a parliamentary republic, with executive powers resting with the Cabinet (which is led by the Prime Minister and the President), and legislative powers resting with the Parliament. The legal system in Singapore is based on English Common Law, and while known for comparatively stricter interpretations of the laws as well as harsher punishments, has regularly ranked highly in terms of low rates of corruption and a high level of public order and security.
Places to Visit & Cuisine
For the curious tourist, Singapore possesses a wide array of sights and activities in regard to culture, the arts, nature, sports and family fun. The Chinatown Cultural Heritage Center offers visitors a look into bedroom, kitchen, and street scenes from the early 20th century amid the backdrop of Singapore’s gleaming skyscrapers. Art lovers can head over to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel to view some excellent and little-known collections that are free to the public. Visitors who are looking to relax can either head over to the Singapore Botanical Gardens to actual rainforest fauna or take a ride on the Singapore Flyer, currently the world’s largest observation wheel.
Dinning is known to be one of the favored pastimes of Singaporeans, and the country’s cuisine, much like its ethnic diversity, is composed of many flavors, most notably of Chinese, Malay, and Indian origins. Chinese cuisine includes Dim Sum and other delicacies brought to Singapore by Cantonese and Hokkien immigrants as well as such specialties such as chili crab, hearty noodle dishes, and fish heads. Indian Cuisine includes various vegetable and seafood dishes as well as a great variety of curried dishes. Malay Cuisine is spicy without being unbearable and is known for peanut flavored sauces as well as Satay – skewers of grilled meat.
In recent years the variety and hybridization of Singaporean cuisine has increased with the continuing influx of immigrants and workers from other countries.