flag singapore helicopter flying backwards

Country of the Week: Singapore

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in one of the most unique countries in the world. Singapore today is a modern city-state and, despite its small size, has grown to become a global economic force.

  • Capital: Singapore (Downtown Core, Central)
  • Population (2015): 5,535,000 (113th)
  • Total Area: 719.1 km² (190th)
  • Official Languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
  • Currency: Singapore dollar ($) (SGD)
gardens singapore modern dusk building

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore – World Building of the Year in 2012

History

Prior to the 1800’s, the island (Singapore consists of one main island and numerous smaller ones) was picked over by different powers including Indonesians, Indians, and Europeans. The island became a footnote in history for many decades thanks to Portuguese raiders burning the main settlement down. Still, Singapore persisted while the Dutch dominated the waterways and trade.

The course of Singapore changed dramatically in 1819, when the British East India Company signed an agreement with the Johor Sultanate (the ruling power at the time). Singapore became a British trading post, with the entire island named a British possession just 5 years later. The population exploded (much of it Chinese) and Singapore became a global trade centre for rubber. During the early 1900’s, the British began to militarize the island by building a massive naval base. However, this did not stop the Japanese during WWII, as they invaded and occupied Singapore from 1942 until the end of the war.

The defeat was a resounding one for the British, and they wouldn’t reclaim the island until September 1945. Following this, many in Singapore began to push for greater independence, culminating in the British granting the island city domestic self governance (though Britain was still responsible for foreign policy and defense).

In 1963 however, Singapore decided to form a union with nearby Malaysia due to concerns about the country’s small size and lack of resources. This was doomed to fail however, as economic and political differences soon led to Malaysia expelling Singapore in 1965.

Since then, Singapore has grown rapidly thanks to strong economic growth, support for business, limited corruption, and merit-based advancement. The people of Singapore have high confidence in the government and the city has been recognized as the easiest place to do business. In addition, it has been ranked as Asia’s most influential city. An impressive feat considering that Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai, and Beijing could also be included.

fireworks singapore city night water skyline

Fireworks over downtown Singapore

Culture

Singapore is a very diverse country (or city if you like), with similarities and influences from nearby countries as well as Western and British customs. Some speak English, others Mandarin, and still others speak Malay. It is in these linguistic differences that we can see some semblance of clear-cut cultural groups. English speakers are predominantly Western influenced, Mandarin speakers (or speakers of other Chinese dialects) gravitate towards traditional Chinese or Confucian culture, while Malay speakers unsurprisingly have close links to Malaysian culture (which is more Islamic). In other words, it is impossible to sum up Singaporean culture, as this city represents a crossroads of many different traditions and lifestyles. Despite these differences, the people of Singapore coexist and work together peacefully and productively.

The concept of meritocracy is very important in Singapore both in business and government. This means that everyone is judged upon his or her ability with advancement possible as long as you earn it. Work ethic is very high with many working longer hours than regional neighbours.

Dining and cuisine are very important in Singapore as well. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there are a wide variety of ethnic foods found here – a product of the diverse population. In particular, Chinese, Indian, and Malay cuisine is found throughout the city.

food singapore plate cuisine asian

Singaporean food comes from a variety of backgrounds

Geography

While Singapore is a city-state (and by nature is relatively small), there is still quite a lot to be found within its borders. A total of 63 islands (most small and uninhabited) make up Singapore with the main one aptly named ‘Singapore Island’. The country has been involved in land reclamation (filling in river beds, ocean, etc.) for many years, which has resulted in the country growing nearly 150 square kilometres over the last 50 years. The country has also been involved in many environmental initiatives and is keen to keep parks and open green spaces commonplace.

Overall however, the land is almost entirely urban. While the old Downtown Core remains on the place of the original settlement, many other districts have been built up over the years. While the city isn’t as large as some of China’s biggest, Seoul, or Tokyo (and let’s face it, hardly any cities are), over 5 million people call Singapore home and have helped turn this metropolis into a world leader.

statue singapore city sir british daytime

Statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles – the British founder of Singapore

Did you know?

  • Singapore is the second most densely populated country on earth (behind Monaco)
  • The symbol of Singapore is a merlion (half fish, half lion)
  • The world’s first nocturnal zoo was opened in Singapore (The Night Safari)
  • Buildings can’t be built higher than 280m because of proximity to the airport
  • That being said, a rooftop bar can be found at 282m – the highest in the world
  • The time zone has changed 6 times over the past 110 years
  • Singapore is just north of the equator (13.7 km to be exact)
marina bay sands singapore convention hotel city

Marina Bay Sands – a state of the art complex including hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and much more

Last Word

Singapore is a hard country to classify. It may just be a single city, but it punches far above its weight on the global stage. It truly is one of the most fascinating countries (and cities) on earth.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems. See all of our previous countries HERE.

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