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 along with being the smallest country in Southeast Asia, Singapore happens to be the site of several ancient port cities and has 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 were made in various Chinese texts as early as the 3rd century. The island, which then bore the Japanese name “Temasek”, and which happened to be an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya, an ancient Malay kingdom on the island of the Sumatra empire, gradually rose to become a significant trading city. However, throughout history, it had to bear the blunt of several political conflicts, which altered its destiny in 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.
After several other major treaties and battles, Singapore won its independence in 1965.
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 centre 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 South East 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.
A cosmopolitan society with harmonious interaction among various different races, the inherent cultural diversity of the island is a source of one of the prime attractions of the nation. To be precise, this cultural diversity is the ultimate result of the diversity of the population, the intermingling of various ethnic groups and the amalgamation of Chinese, Malay, and Indian immigrants. It is not unnatural for one to witness a Malay wedding taking place next to a Chinese wedding at a void deck, on the ground floor of a HDB apartment block in the Singapore city. Infrequent intermarriage between the Chinese and Indians are not unusual occurrences in Singapore. Besides indigenous Malay population, Singapore houses a majority of third generation Chinese as well as Indian and Arab immigrants. Thus, the diverse mix of races results in a significant degree of cultural diffusion with its unique combination of ethnic groups. Maybe that is one of the reasons why one would find very little culture that is specifically Singaporean. However, there exists a Eurasian community and a community of Peranakan or "Straits Chinese," (a community of mixed Chinese and Malay descent).
Such a significant degree of cultural diffusion has given Singapore a rich mixture of diversity for its young age. One of the prime examples is the Singapore's cuisine, a massive cultural attraction for tourists. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and even Fusion top the menu. To speak of art and culture, Singapore is identified globally an emerging cultural centre for arts and culture, including theatre and music. As a cosmopolitan and multi-racial society, Singapore has also been the seat of major festivals from various ethnic groups associated with their respective religions. Those again, reflect the diversity of races residing there. While the Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism and Taoism, there are even Christians, Catholics and “free thinkers”: ones who don’t confirm to any religious faith. Thus, in today’s Singapore, religions tend to cross-racial boundaries and even merge in unusual ways, combining a little of the mysteries of the older generation with the realistic world of today.
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