About Singapore: All you need to know about this island
Some refer to her as the “little red dot”, but Singapore’s presence in the world today is larger than that moniker. In fact, Singapore is a bustling cosmopolitan city that offers a world-class living environment, with her landscape populated by high-rise buildings and gardens. One interesting facet you’ll discover about Singapore is a ubiquitous collage of cultures, where people of different ethnicities and beliefs coexist. Besides a vibrant multicultural experience, there’s more you can discover about Singapore.
A Brief History: A Journey into Singapore’s Past
While the earliest known historical records of Singapore are shrouded in the mists of time, a third century Chinese account describes it as "Pu-luo-chung", or the "island at the end of a peninsula". Later, the city was known as Temasek ("Sea Town"), when the first settlements were established from AD 1298-1299.
During the 14th century, this small but strategically located island earned a new name. According to the legend, Sang Nila Utama, a Prince from Palembang (the capital of Srivijaya), was out on a hunting trip when he caught sight of an animal he had never seen before. Taking it to be a good sign, he founded a city where the animal had been spotted, naming it “The Lion City” or Singapura, from the Sanskrit words “simha” (lion) and “pura” (city).
At this time, the city was then ruled by the five kings of ancient Singapura. Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, the natural meeting point of sea routes, the city served as a flourishing trading post for a wide variety of sea crafts, from Chinese junks, Indian vessels, Arab dhows and Portuguese battleships to Buginese schooners.
The next important period in the history of Singapore was during the 18th century, when modern Singapore was founded. At this time, Singapore was already an up and coming trading post along the Malacca Straits, and Britain realised the need for a port of call in the region. British traders needed a strategic venue to refresh and protect the merchant fleet of the growing empire, as well as forestall any advance made by the Dutch in the region.
The then Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (now Bengkulu) in Sumatra, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore on 29 January 1819, after a survey of the neighbouring islands. Recognising the immense potential of the swamp covered island, he helped negotiate a treaty with the local rulers, establishing Singapore as a trading station. Soon, the island’s policy of free trade attracted merchants from all over Asia and from as far away as the US and the Middle East.
In 1832, Singapore became the centre of government for the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of the telegraph and steamship, Singapore's importance as a centre of the expanding trade between the East and West increased tremendously. By 1860, the thriving country had a population that had grown from a mere 150 in 1819 to 80,792, comprising mainly Chinese, Indians and Malays.
But the peace and prosperity of the country suffered a major blow during World War II, when it was attacked by the Japanese aircrafts on 8 December 1941. Once regarded as an impregnable fortress, Singapore fell under the Japanese invasion on 15 February 1942. It remained occupied by the Japanese for the next three and half years, a time marked by great oppression and an immense loss of lives.
When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the island was handed over to the British Military Administration, which remained in power until the dissolve of the Straits Settlement comprising Penang, Melaka and Singapore. In March 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony.
In 1959, the growth of nationalism led to self-government, and the country’s first general election. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of 43 seats and Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore. In 1961, Singapore joined Malaya and merged with the Federation of Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo to form Malaysia in 1963. However, the merger proved unsuccessful, and less than two years later on 9 August 1965, Singapore left Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign democratic nation. On 22 December that year, Singapore finally became an independent republic.
Today, you can experience Singapore’s rich historical heritage by visiting many of the national monuments, museums and memorials located around the city. On your trip here, remember to take a walk along one of the many heritage trails or visit the well-known landmarks for a complete Singapore journey.
Key Facts: Vibrance in the City
Many people marvel at the beauty of Singapore and her progressiveness. Most impressive to note is that she was formerly just a humble fishing village, inhabited by an indigenous settlement.
Fast forward to today. Singapore is a bustling cosmopolitan city populated with high-rise buildings and landscape gardens. Brimming with a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture, Singapore is a dynamic city that’s rich in contrast and colour. In fact, you can even say that Singapore embodies the finest of both East and West.
Located in Southeast Asia, Singapore has a land area of about 710 square kilometres, making her one of the smallest countries in the world and the smallest in the region – hence the moniker “The Little Red Dot”. Although small in size, Singapore commands an enormous presence in the world today with its free trade economy and highly efficient workforce. Also, her strategic location in the region has enabled her to become a central sea port along major shipping routes.
Other than having a sound business infrastructure and favourable economic climate, another factor for Singapore’s rapid growth is due to a stable and competent ruling government. Singapore is a parliamentary republic with a political system that’s centred on democracy. The current ruling party in government is The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has dominated the political process since self-government in 1959.
At present, Singapore’s population stands at about five million people, with English as the main language of instruction, and a mother tongue for each major ethnicity. One of the distinctly Singaporean things you’ll notice on our island is a ubiquitous collage of cultures. Coming together as a society and living in harmony, there are four major races – namely the Chinese (majority), Malay, Indian and Eurasian. Each community offers a different perspective of life in Singapore in terms of culture, religion, food and language.
Being a multi-racial society, Singapore is as diverse as it is cohesive. With so much to see and do, this is perhaps best experienced through your encounters with the locals. And if you’re feeling nostalgic and looking to discover old world charm, you can explore and experience the island’s key historical landmarks or memorials. You can also embark on a heritage trail and enjoy the sights and sounds at various cultural precincts, notably Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam.
If you prefer the bright city lights and being amidst the hustle and bustle, then you’ll be delighted to know that there are numerous shopping malls, museums, and dining and entertainment hotspots to choose from. Get into the thick of the shopping action at the iconic Orchard Road stretch, or party the night away at the Clarke Quay or Boat Quay areas, both of which offer a myriad selection of nightlife activities.
The other thing that will strike you most about Singapore is its multifarious offering of food – day or night, there will always be something to whet your appetite. With a range of dining options from Peranakan to Chinese, Indian to Malay, fusion and more, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Beyond the history, culture, people, shopping and food, there are many more facets to Singapore’s thriving cityscape for you to discover. And these can only be experienced as you immerse yourself in the exploration of this once fishing village turned cosmopolitan city.
People, Language, Culture: A Multicultural Kaleidoscope
One of the most remarkable aspects of Singapore is the truly cosmopolitan nature of her population, a natural result of the country’s geographical position and commercial success. Established by Thomas Stamford Raffles as a trading post on 29 January 1819, the small sea town of Singapore soon attracted migrants and merchants from China, the Indian sub-continent, Indonesia, the Malay Peninsula and the Middle East.
Drawn by the lure of better prospects, the immigrants brought with them their own cultures, languages, customs and festivals. Intermarriage and integration helped knit these diverse influences into the fabric of Singapore’s multi-faceted society, giving it a vibrant and diverse cultural heritage. By the end of the 19th century, Singapore became one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia, with major ethnic groups in the country being the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Peranakans and Eurasians.
Today, the ethnic Chinese form 74.2% of the Singaporean population, with the country’s original inhabitants – the Malays, comprising of 13.4%. The Indians make up 9.2%, and Eurasians, Peranakans and others making up a combined 3.2%. Singapore is also home to many expatriates, with almost 20% of them made up of non-resident blue collar workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The rest of the expatriate population include white collar workers coming from countries as diverse as North America, Australia, Europe, China and India.
As a reflection of its collage of cultures, Singapore has adopted one representative language for each of the four major ethnic or 'racial' groups. The four official languages in Singapore's constitution are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. However, in recognition of the status of the Malay people as the indigenous community in Singapore, the national language of the country is Bahasa Melayu, or the Malay Language.
The presence of other languages, especially the varieties of Malay and Chinese, has obviously had an influence on the type of English that is used in Singapore. The influence is especially apparent in informal English, an English-based creole that is commonly known as Singlish. A badge of identity for many Singaporeans, it represents a hybrid form of the language that includes words from Malay, as well as Chinese and Indian languages.
Almost everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking as many as three or four. Most children grow up bilingual from infancy, learning other languages as they become older. With the majority of the literate population bilingual, English and Mandarin are the most commonly used languages in daily life. While English is the main language taught in schools, children also learn their mother tongues to ensure that they stay in touch with their traditional roots.
Among the different Chinese dialects, Mandarin is promoted as the main language for the Chinese instead of others like Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese and Foochow. The second most commonly-spoken language among the Singaporean Chinese, Mandarin became widespread after the start of the Speak Mandarin campaign during 1980 that targeted the Chinese. In 1990s, efforts were undertaken to target the English-educated Chinese.
Explore the various cultural precincts and religious landmarks around the island and get acquainted with Singapore’s multicultural society. Whether you join a tour or discover your own Singapore, you’ll be sure to catch a glimpse of the impressive history, cultural diversity and lifestyles of Singaporeans during your visit to our city-state.
YourSingapore Brand Story: An experience to call your own
Singapore has been described as a thriving cosmopolitan city that’s brimming with diversity, as well as a multiplicity of culture, language, arts and architecture. Just like other destinations, the city has her own unique set of offerings that sets her apart. “Uniquely Singapore” was designed to show the rest of the world what Singapore is really about – warm, enriching and unforgettable.
But we live in an ever-changing environment, an increasingly digitised one for that matter. For Singapore to continue to excite and appeal, she has to constantly evolve to present new and engaging travel experiences.
YourSingapore takes over from where “Uniquely Singapore” has left off. The focus is visitor-centricity, meaning the experiences are made wholesome and personal, drawing their allure from the breadth and richness of attractions many have grown to love here in Singapore.
Travellers will be enabled to design their own journeys - ones they can call their very own. Undoubtedly, each account will be different, but they will be personal and that is what will make them even more intriguing. A multitude of stories told through the eyes of travellers from all over the world, or sometimes even local residents. Some intimate, others adventurous. But each remains personal and truly unique. And that’s how we want it to be for everyone.
Take your time to explore yoursingapore.com and discover just what awaits you here. With a slew of new lifestyle picks, web tools, recommendations and even a holiday planner at your fingertips, you can decide how you want your Singapore holiday.
It’s really easy and fun, simply because vacations are supposed to be.
So what will your Singapore be? We say make it your own at yoursingapore.com.
Click here to hear insights about YourSingapore from the Singapore Tourism Board.