Once you get over those numerous fines and heavy rains, you will be eager to find out a bit more about the Republic of Singapore you have traveled to, especially about Singapore’s Merlion. So, I read few Singapore guide books, and here is what they say. It is an island country located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It lies 137 kilometers north of the Equator while the “gap” in between is occupied by Indonesian islands. The country stretches for more than 700 square kilometers and it is one of the few true city-states in the world, home to the smallest nation in Southeast Asia.
Fishing village that got rich
Before the European settlement, the island we now know as Singapore was the site of a Malay fishing village at the mouth of the Singapore River. In 1819 the British East India Company established a trading post on the island which was used afterward as a strategic port along the spice route. Singapore was to become one of the most important commercial and military centers of the British Empire, and the hub of British power in Southeast Asia. The city was occupied by Japanese during the World War II, which Winston Churchill called “Britain’s greatest defeat”.
After the war, in 1945, Singapore reverted to British rule. Eighteen years later, having established independence, it merged with Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak to form Malaysia. But, less than two years later, the federation was left and the new state emerged in 1965.
Since then, the standard was just rising. Foreign direct investment and a state-led drive to industrialization, modern economy focused on electronics manufacturing, petrochemicals, tourism, and financial services, positioned the country among the wealthiest in the world.
The population is less than five million and though Singapore is highly cosmopolitan and diverse, ethnic Chinese form the majority of about 80 percent. The nation is thus mainly Buddhist, while English is the official language.
Singa and pura
The name of the city comes from Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city). According to legend, this name was given to the settlement by the 14th century Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama who, landing on the island after a thunderstorm, spotted a beast on the shore. His men identified the creature as a lion. Being astonished by the beauty of the beast and by the fact that it was friendly, just gazed at the prince and left in peace, Utama has decided to name the island – the City of The Lion. Recent studies, however, show that lions have never inhabited the region, not even Asiatic lions, so the beast seen by Utama was more likely a tiger.
Being surrounded by water, people from Singapore took another symbol – mermaid, which in time they somehow merged with a lion. This recognizable, one might even say mythological creature, is the well-known symbol of the city, the one you will find on every souvenir. It represents one of the true glimpses of Singapore! What the Eiffel Tower is for Paris and France, that is what the so-called Merlion (lion-mermaid) is for this island country. There is one imposing statue of Merlion in the famous Marina, from where you will have a great view of the trade center full of modern skyscrapers, and another huge one that overlooks the whole of Singapore and is located on the island of Sentosa, the nature resort.
The crucial influence of the British
There are more interesting facts about Singapore’s history. The records show that the first settlements in Singapore were built in the 2nd century AD. The island was an outpost of the Sumatran empire and had the Javanese name of Temasek (sea town). It rapidly became an important trading settlement, but declined in the late 14th century. It was part of the Sultanate of Johor between the 16th and the 19th century. During the Malay-Portugal wars in the 17th century, the settlement was took over by Portuguese troops and than by the Dutch, but throughout most of this time the island’s population consisted mainly of fishermen.
In January 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed on the main island. Spotting its potential as a strategic geographical trading post in Southeast Asia, Raffles signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. The country was still controlled by a Malay Ruler until 1824 when officially became a British colony, giving the British control over the whole island. The city was flourishing and by 1869, 100,000 people lived on the island.
No homeless on the streets
The early onset of town planning in colonial Singapore came largely through framework of different ethnic groups being settled in different parts of the city.
The river was largely a commercial area that was dominated by traders and bankers of various ethnic groups with mostly Chinese and Indian workers loading and unloading goods from traditional barge boats. The Malays were mostly fishermen and seafarers, who along with Arab traders and scholars were mostly found in the south-east part of the river mouth, while still few Europeans settled further upstream. Early Indian migrants also settled more inland of the Singapore River, where Little India stands today.
There was the major move by the post-independent Singapore government to resettle these residents in the late 1960s. All of the ethnic groups were moved into buildings in their own neighborhoods, which solved the problem of the homeless back then.
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