A Minute History Of Singapore

There are a ton of memories and experiences that are granted with an exchange program, accompanied by a large list of do’s and do-not’s that could go on and on repeatedly. This is not that kind of blog post. However, there is one huge ‘do’ that I definitely suggest doing while studying abroad: learning as much about the history of a country WHILE living there. There is only so much you can understand about a place without experiencing it for yourself. I was fortunate enough to take a course on the history of Southeast Asia while living in Singapore and traveling to its surrounding countries.

Up until 1965, Singapore was still part of Malaysia. When it finally became an independent republic in 1965 it faced much hardship. As a result, Singapore focused on establishing a manufacturing industry, developing large public housing and investing in public education.

The history of Singapore is a long and interesting one. Singapore was first discovered by Stamford Raffles (also see the prestigious Raffles hotel) and established as a perfect port city. What differentiated Singapore from other port cities, such as Melaka in Malaysia, was that it was declared a free port. Traders from all over the world were quick to venture there since this meant it was a way to get around the Dutch’s strict restrictions. Furthermore, the Suez Canal played another major role in why Singapore had such great success. Only 25 years after separating from Malaysia, Singapore was booming! It had developed a free economic market, relying on supply and demand, had strong international trading ties and was only second to Japan in the highest gross domestic product in Asia.

Malaysia was composed of Malay indigenous peoples, as well as, Chinese and Indian immigrants. The country had difficulty trying to unite all three groups after gaining independence from Britian in 1957. Language being a major part of a country’s culture became a heavily heated and debated part of the Malay culture. Before Singapore separated from Malaysia, the population on the island grew exponentially as Chinese foreigners began migrating and began helping it flourish in agriculture, trade and merchandising.

The population took a hit, however, when in (1942), a large section of the Chinese-Singapore populous was killed by the Japanese in a historical event referred to as ‘Sook Ching’. The event refers to the purging of the Chinese population during the Japanese occupation in Singapore due to long standing hostilities and tensions between the two nations. After Sook Ching, the Japanese radicals surrendered to British authorities. Seven Japanese officers who had conducted some of the horrific events were convicted of war crimes.

In 1959, Singapore finally gained full self-government from the British. Singapores first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was a major part of the city-states growth and development. He implemented a meritocratic, effective and incorrupt governmental system. As mentioned previously, language is a defining characteristic for any country. Lee made English the common language in Singapore in order to integrate the immigrant society. Many foreigners who visit the city today are surprised to find out it is mandatory for all Singaporeans to learn English alongside their mother tongue in schools to preserve ethnic identity.

It is interesting to see how far this nation has developed and some factors that keep it prospering:

  • Singaporeans pay some of the highest tuition for universities. However, Singapore also has some of the highest paying jobs in the world. Their universities are rated some of the best worldwide, and while being there it was very evident that these students study extremely hard to get good grades due to the competitive nature. If you’re not the best, you won’t be the one getting the best paying jobs. Only 6% of locals receive scholarships, which means being the best is absolutely essential to land a great job and afford to pay loans back afterward.
  • Conscription was introduced by Lee and I believe this plays a large part of why Singapore is so united. All able-bodied male Singaporean citizens aged 18-years-old and above are required to serve in one of the three Singapore defense forces.
  • Foreign investment from multinational corporations is a major part of the booming economy. Singapore has a large expat population that is evident in the downtown hub – especially at the bars during industry night.
  • Finally, Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. I have never felt so safe walking the streets at night and leaving valuable items unattended (although I don’t encourage it just for common sense reasons). You will be surprised to know that the country still uses corporal punishment in the form of caning. While this is highly debated, I believe the judicial system is just another reason Singapore is so safe to live.

It is imperial to understand the current state and history of any country in order to have the best experience, learn the most, and practice respectfulness to other cultures. This is especially true in Singapore, where jay-walking and gum chewing are strictly forbidden, and you most definitely do not want to get in trouble with the Singapore law.

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Remy is a wannabe travelling connoisseur. Graduating from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario with an undergrad in Liberal Art and Marketing she was unsure of her next steps, like most twenty-somethings. Her exchange studies in Singapore was one of the most outstanding university experience and propelled her love for writing. Remy now combines her love of travel and writing in one, sharing her adventures, lessons, and experiences with anyone willing to listen. Follow her on instagram and subscribe to her blog to keep up!

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