I toured Singapore in November of 1988 or 1989. I can knock Singapore for its expense and relative lack of entertainment compared to some other places in Asia. On the other hand, it offers a quiet, tranquil environment and friendly people. All in all, I would say: "a nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there."


The usual Chinese records mention Singapore. Certainly, some of the artifacts below indicate that it served the Sumatrans, from whom it gets its name of "Singapore." The Sea Gypsies, the Orang Laut, also visited the island over the years.

Singapore's current status and real development, however, stems from its location and begins with the British. The map below shows it as as a well-situated place between China and Indian. Traditionally, Indian merchants handled the trade between the two countries, as the Chinese never had much of a maritime tradition. They sailed out and back with the monsoons. Stop-overs from these voyages led to Indian influence on cultures such as the Khmer, the Chams, and the Mons (who, in turn, influenced their Thai and Burmese conquerors). Originally, the port of Malacca (now in Malaysia) serviced this flourishing trade first independently and then under Portuges and Dutch rule.

Stamford Raffles, a British East India Company servant, wanted to get a piece of that trade. Raffles established the settlement at Singapore. Then, Singapore, a tropical island, teemed with animal and plant life and even hungry tigers. While technically the settlement came remained under the rule of the local Muslim Malay sultan, the British quickly obtained direct rule. The Chinese and Indians flocked to the new colony as workers and businessmen, as did nearby Malays. Singapore flourished as a trade center until the Second World War.

After the War, the British took all possible steps to leave. They did not leave the flourishing country seen today but a relatively prosperous trading station rife with some ethnic tensions, labor troubles, and even a dangerously active Communist party. One can credit Singapore's rise to the leadership of the People's Action Party, headed by Lee Kuan Yew.

Yew's party rules what he called an "authoritarian democracy," which, he claims, best suits Asians. In an authoritarian democracy, according to theory, the people worry more about the survival of the society than about their own rights. One can make a case that these beliefs derive from Confucianism and, especially, the great challenges that the Chinese empires historically faced due to overpopulation and natural disasters. Specifically, Lee's government limits personal freedom, and, through merging with other parties, co-opts the opposition. The government censors magazines, speeches, and even the internet.
If Singapore's government limits personal freedom, it gives plenty of economic freedom. The Chinese community, especially, lured industry, including high technology, onto the island, so that the island became an industrial and technical power as well as a trading center. As a result, Singaporeans enjoy the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia. Perhaps one measures of Lee's sucess: When Asian experienced a meltdown in the late 1990s, Singapore remained relatively untouched.

Is Lee right? The economic records seems to speak for him. Yet won't the Singaporeans eventually demand more freedom to go with their thriving home ownership, medical savings, and retirement systems? Only time will tell. In the meantime, Singaporeans, themselves, call their island "boring," and joke "Singapore is a fine city," a reference to the government's unending fines for littering, parking tickets, and even gum-chewing. Still, they needn't look too far to find their neighbors living far worse, if freer, lives.

Singapore boasts one major accomplishment: getting three very dissimilar cultures and religions to live together in harmony. The government encouraged this through integrating each government-built housing unit so that it contains Chinese, Indians, and Malays. The Chinese form the majority of the population and practice traditional Chinese religions. The Indians, mostly Hindu Tamils, generally come from southern India. The Muslim Malays come from Indonesia and nearby Malaysia. One needn't look too far either, to find neighboring countries shattering along ethnic and religious lines.

The Singaporan National Anthem

Malay Words*:

Mari kita ra'yat
Singapura sama sama menuju bahagia.
Chita chita kita yang mulia
Berjaya Singapura!

Marilah kita bersatu,
Dengan semangat yang baru.
Semua kita berseru
Majulah Singapura,

Majulah Singapura! Marira!

English Words:

Let us, the people of Singapore,
together march forward towards happiness.
Our noble aspiration is
to see Singapore achieve success.

Let us unite in a new spirit.
We all pray:
May Singapore Progress.

Chinese Words (Latin Transliteration):

Lai ba, Xinjiapo renmin,
Rang women gongtong xiang xingfu maijin;
Women chonggao de lixiang,

Yao shi Xinjiapo chenggong.
Lai ba, rang women yi xin de jingshen,
Tuanjie zai yiqi;
Women qisheng huanhu:
Qianjin ba, Xinjiapo!

*Singapore recognizes all three languages, so I put all three versions in italics.


Early Singapore
This only hints at Singapore's native jungle vegetation.

The original inhabitants built something
like these recreated on Sentosa island.

They lived in huts like this.

They did have at least some form of writing.

Did they worship these as nature spirits?

The Orang Laut (Sea Gypsies) lived here before the British.

The British Influence
The British named this hotel for Raffles.

It ranks with the Strand in Burma as an "old empire standby." It recently went through a renovation.

I did as the wealthy travelers do, I sat at the Long
Bar and drank an obligatory "Singapore Sling."

St. Andrew's, the local Anglican Cathedral.

Sentosa Island looks British also.

The British built these massive guns to defend the island from invaders. Unfortunately, the Japanese invaded Malaysia first and hit the defenders from behind.

After the war, the sun set on this part of Brittania.

Indian Singapore
Indians attend at the Nagore Durgha.

Note the disembodied head inside this pavillion.

Malays-Islamic Singapore
The Istana Glam first served the local Malaysian ruler and later the British governor.

The Sri Mariammon Temple

This shot looks outward from the Sultan Mosque,
the center of Muslim worship in Singapore.

This shows the Sultan Mosque exterior.

Chinese Singapore

The Tiger Balm millionaire built Ho Par Village. It recreates famous Chinese legends in which he believed. It serves the duel purpose of entertaining and teaching traditional Chinese culture and values. I still can't figure out the purpose of Tiger Balm Oil, but apparently a lot of Chinese swear by it.

Mrs. Ling, my friend and contact on the
island showed me a lot of Singapore.

This man goes fishing to get food for his mother (obviously a very old woman). The fish feel so sorry that they jump on his hook, showing the value of filial piety.

These ride into "Hell" enters the dragon. Even Bruce Lee couldn't do that! Dragons represent nature's powers.

Rodents go to war.

In Hell, of course, you see politicians. No, I'm not making this up. These politicians live in Hell.

Anthromorphism goes amok, or a sequel to
"Starship Troopers." I am making that up.

Here I got sucked into playing a role in traditional Chinese folk tale as "the tiger." Note the "woman" in the background who needs a shave.

The tiger chases the woman. Try this in 90% humidity.

We compare notes on acting technique. I gave him a few pointers, much to the audience's futher bemusement.

I wear a rug, and we cut a rug.

These old men still drive rickshaws. The government doesn't have the heart to make them stop yet.

A few traditional Chinese shops survive
with the owner's living quarters above.

Guidebooks only consider this Tian Bock Temple worth a look.

You see a lot more of this kind of architecture.

The emperor contemplates the past.

He contemplates the future.

This power stuff sort of grows on you.

The Future
The new Singapore, the gigantic Tang store...

.. and the most port facility in the world.


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