Saturday, August 7, 2010

Singapore - Overview

Alas, I can now return to documenting our journeys after a long hiatus. Lot's has happened since I was last able to post something which was about 2 months ago. Singapore seems like such a distant memory now. We were actually there in the third week of May, Wow! I will do my best to try and remember everything.

For those of you who don't know, Singapore is both a city and a country all rolled in to one. Yup, that's right. Maybe some of you already knew that but did you also know that it is actually an island as well? Yes sir re bob!

Geographically, Singapore is situated at the very bottom of what is now Southeast Asia. At the time of it's discovery it was inhabited by approximately 1000 people most of which were Malay(indigineous people) as well as a handful of early chinese farmers. The earliest settlement phase came in the 9th - 13th century under the rule of the far-reaching Srivijaya Empire that was based in Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the Srivijaya that gave Singapore it's name. The name translates to "Lion City" based on the idea that the leader of the Srivijaya claimed to have seen Lions roaming the shores.

The story of Singapore as we know it today began in the year 1819 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived. The incumbent leader at the time decided to sign a treaty with Raffles to set up a trading post on the island in return for annual payment to the Sultan King. The Dutch who controlled most of Malaysia and Indonesia at the time severely protested this treaty but in the end relented by signing the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824 which ultimately ended the Dutch claim on Singapore for good. Raffles masterfully declared Singapore a free trading port with no duties charged on trade. Traders flocked to Singapore to escape onerous Dutch taxes in surrounding ports and Singapore skyrocketed into one of the biggest ports in all of Southeast Asia. Perfectly placed at the mouth of the Straits of Malacca it stradled every major trade route between China, India, Europe and Australia. Think of it as having the same influence as the Panama Canal. It soon became a crown jewel of the British colonial crown. Due to the massive trading post nature of Singapore it soon become a cutural soup growing exponentially every year populated by Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Armenians, Europeans and Eurasians. It grew so fast that is convinced Raffles to design a town plan in 1822 that assigned specific ethnic groups to specific neighborhoods that remain pretty much the same today. In 1826 Raffles died before he was ever recognized for his role in expanding the British Empire -- he died penniless. However, he remains a hero to modern day Singaporeans.

When WWII broke out Singapore was viewed as a formidable British base. On February 15th, 1942 the Japanese took control of Singapore. When the British returned in 1945 it was seen as less than a triumph because the Singaporeans were not happy with the British because thousands of them were tortured and bloodgeoned to death during the Japanese occupation and they blamed the British for this, rightfully so as the British basically got "caught with their pants downs" and were "asleep at the wheel" when Japan invaded Singapore. In 1955, Singapore was granted self-rule by the Brits. In the ensuing years they tried vigorously to become a part of the country of Malaysia practically begging the Malaysians to take them in. They were finally accepted in 1963 but were soon expelled because the Chinese-majority(75% of population) city was soon seen as a threat to Malay dominance and so the island became independent on August 9th, 1965 due to expulsion by the Malaysians. It is the only country to gain independence against its own will in the history of the modern world. Fastforward to today it has become one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in Asia earning its rightful place as one of the Big Four Asian Tigers. Not bad for a country that has endured so many tests and such a long hard road to get where they are today.


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