Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is an island city-state off the southern edge of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometers north of the equator, south of the Malaysian state of Johor and north of Indonesia’s Riau Islands at 710.2 km2. It is a micro-state and the smallest nation in Southeast Asia. It is substantially larger than Monaco and Vatican City, the only other present-day sovereign city-states. This country has grown into a thriving center of commerce and industry. Today, it is rapidly taking its place among the world’s premier global cities, where talents from all around the world gather to share innovative ideas and start new businesses.
The English language name of Singapore is derived from the Malay language name of Singapura which means Lion City. Studies of Singapore indicate that lions probably never lived there, not even Asiatic lions; the beast was seen by Sang Nila Utama, the founder of Singapore who gave it the Malay name of Singapura was most likely a tiger, probably the Malayan Tiger.
Singapore is an Alpha World City. The only country in Asia which uses English as its main language. Its population includes many Chinese, Caucasians, Eurasians, Malays, Indians, and Asians of different origins. The total population including non-residents is approximately 4.99 million. It has the highest percentage of foreigners in the world. 36% of the population are foreigners and foreigners makeup 50% of the service sector.
It’s popular to dismiss Singapore as a kind of Asia Lite – quietly efficient and safe, a boringly tasteless, disciplinarian, and unadventurous place where citizens are deprived of their cherished freedom to spit on the street, drink inside the bus or in MRT and chew gum.
Singapore is, in fact, one of the most enjoyable cities in Southeast Asia. As you zoom in from one of the world’s best airports along the lushly tree-shaded expressway or on the zippy MRT train line, you’ll quickly realize that there is no traffic in this country. And as you stroll through the fashion emporiums of Orchard Rd, poke around antique shops in Chinatown or take a walk around one of the dozens of beautiful city parks, you’ll know the city bears no comparison to crime- and poverty-ridden Manila.
If there’s one thing more stylish than the bars and restaurants, it’s the boutiques that have made Singapore a byword in Asia for extravagant shopping. Away from the Gucci and Louis Vuitton onslaught of Orchard Rd, however, there are bargains to be found on everything from clothes to electronics – and a range of art and antique shops that few Asian cities can match.
But Singapore is not all about shopping and eating. It has lots to offer including water adventure by diving with sharks at Underwater World, watching Songs of the Sea show at Sentosa, mountain biking around Bukit Timah, leopard-spotting at Singapore Zoo’s magical Night Safari, water skiing or wakeboarding on the Kallang River, go-karting and rock climbing. And if you want to retreat from civilization completely, the center of the island retains large tracts of forest where the only sound you can hear is the monkeys swinging through the trees. In fact, It is one of only two cities in the world that still retains a patch of primary rainforest, in the form of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
It’s a fascinating place – and a remarkable achievement. No-one is denying that Singaporeans have had to sacrifice some level of freedom in their island’s rise from racially divided, a resource-starved port town. But you get the feeling that if Western development aid had ever matched Singapore’s strides in poverty reduction, education, infrastructure, and health care, they’d be patting themselves on the back and saying that political freedom was a small sacrifice to make.
Besides, it’s not all strait-laced conformity. You don’t have to look far to find echoes of the island’s colorful, rakish past, or evidence of a thriving and creatively unfettered artistic community. Singapore’s soul is alive and well – and it is unique.