The Republic of Singapore is one of the world’s smallest countries and one of its most economically prosperous and successful. Home to over 4.15 million people, Singapore has the world’s 5th highest GDP and virtually no families living below the poverty line. Singapore boasts the world’s second busiest harbor, a highly literate and skillful workforce, and booming high technology industries. Singapore is noted for its cleanliness, safety, excellent education and medical systems, good public transport and proactive economic policies that make it a very desirable place in which to live and do business.
The nation of Singapore consists of a small, diamond-shaped island at the tip of the Malay peninsula and 58 smaller surrounding islands located in the narrowest part of the Strait of Malacca. Separated from Malaysia by the Strait of Johor, the island is now joined to Malaysia by a causeway which greatly facilitates trade and communication. The total land mass of Singapore, including the outlying islands, is 646 square kilometers. The major island is about 42 kilometers long and 23 kilometers wide. The largest small islands include Pulau Tekong (18 sq km) which houses part of Singapore’s military, Pulau Ubin (10 Sq. km) a rural haven, and Sentosa, an island dedicated to tourist facilities and relaxation. The north eastern islands of Indonesia can be seen from Singapore on a clear day. Its strategic location in the Straits of Malacca, governing the shortest sea route between Indian and China, accounts for its importance in world trade since the early 19th century while its deep water anchorage and natural harbor have made it a transshipping port for centuries.
Located only 137 kilometers north of the Equator, Singapore’s climate is tropical, humid with lots of rain, and fairly consistent. Temperature variations are small with day and evening temperatures usually between 68 to 85 degrees F. Singapore is very humid, with the average humidity being 80-85% and receives lots of rain. In spite of plentiful rainfall, Singapore has a problem with fresh water and has to import water from Malaysia; the government is working on solutions to this problem. This water, taken from the reservoirs in Johor province, comes to Singapore via an aqueduct under the causeway which links to two nations. In return, Singapore re-exports treated water to Malaysia.
While Singapore has four seasons, the climate is dominated by the Northeast and Southwest Monsoon periods. The Northeast Monsoon Season is from December to March and is the windiest and rainiest time of the year, with winds reaching 30-40 km/hr with almost daily rains in the afternoon. April to May is the “between Monsoon” season with light winds and afternoon and evening rains. The Southwest Monsoon Season runs from June to September with Southeast and Southwest winds, frequent squalls and heavy rain. The months of October and November have moderate winds, rain in the afternoon and more sunshine than in the Monsoon months. This period is also noted for short but violent line squalls known as Sumatras. However, while Singapore appears to have rain all the time, this rain is interspersed with days and half days of sunshine. Since the temperature is always warm, the rain which usually falls in sudden intense but short lasting showers, does not pose a great hindrance to either work or leisure time. While Singapore is free from earthquakes and typhoons, the greatest natural hazard is local flash flooding; the threat of this has increased with the extended building and road paving programs which have destroyed the natural vegetation.
While the island of Singapore was originally covered with tropical rain forest and surrounded by mangrove swamps, most of this has disappeared and Singapore is a highly built up and developed island nation. Singapore has a varied topography with the center having a number of hills, the highest being Bukit Timah Peak at 165 meters. The east has relatively flat alluvial land where streams have cut deep gullies while the west is composted of a series of low but steep ridges. Massive land reclamation projects have increased the size of the country by about 76 square kilometers; hills have been leveled, swamps drained and filled and a number of the small islands enlarged and joined to form new and larger islands suitable for industrial uses. A number of these off shore islands are used for industry, including oil refineries, or for military purposes. However, the government has taken great pains to establish parks and garden throughout the state and to plant tens of thousand of trees and shrubs thus re-creating some of the green space that was destroyed.
Singapore is a multi-ethnic nation with four official languages reflecting this diversity: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. The earliest settlers in the area were ethnic Malays and today they constitute about 15% of the population. Chinese began migrating to Singapore several centuries ago, but large scale immigration began in the 19th century as conditions in China worsened and as Singapore rose to be a vital shipping port in the pan-Asia trade networks. Today, Chinese make up the majority of Singaporeans, about 78% of the total. The Chinese, who come from several different locations in China speak different dialects. Hokkien from Fujian province are about 42 % of the Chinese population, Teochew from Shatou in East Guangdong province are about 23% of the Chinese population while 7% are Hakka, 6% Hainanese and 5% others. All, however, now receive their schooling in Mandarin and many speak Mandarin at home as well. Indian merchants had visited the Malay peninsula and Singapore for centuries as Indian trade networks spread throughout Southeast Asia. They were mostly traders seeking tin, gold, emeralds, spices, etc and actual colonists were few. The Indian population mostly migrated to the area after the British colonized it and recruited laborers for the plantation industry in Malaya; by the middle of the 1960’s they were Singapore’s second largest group but today they comprise only about 6.5% of the population. The majority (60%) of the Indian community are Tamils while 20% are Malayali and the other 20% come from all over India. The government has a number of policies designed to unite these disparate people into one and stresses that they are all Singaporeans.
According to legend, it was an early Malay prince in the 13th century who gave Singapore it name. He was an Indonesian prince, from the court at Palembang, who set sail for the Malay peninsula. The voyage was a difficult one and he had to ditch most of his cargo. Upon landing on Singapore, he rejoiced at the beautiful beaches and colorful birds. Suddenly he saw a strange animal which he had never before encountered; upon being told it was a lion, he named the island “The Lion City” (Singapura) and proclaimed himself the ruler. Although it is believed that lions never inhabited the Malay peninsula, the name stuck and was taken over by the British when they colonized it in the early 19th century.
Singapore’s religious diversity reflects its ethnic make up. The majority of the Malays and a few of the Indians are Muslim and Islam is a major influence in the lives and values of the Malay community. The Chinese are either Mahayana Buddhist or belong to one of a number of Daoist (Taoist) sects; often, these families worship at both Buddhist and Daoist temples. In addition, the values of Confucianism play an important role, not only in the lives of the Chinese community, but in the political make up of the country as many of these values have been institutionalized by the government. The majority of the Indian community are Hindu and worship at a variety of Hindu temples. Some are Sikhs and several Gurdwaras can be found in Singapore. A variety of different Christian denominations can also be found.
Singapore has positioned itself both as a major international port and as a high technology hub. Thus, its communication and transportation networks are excellent. In addition to paved roads and a rail line, the city is served by an excellent mass transit system (the MRT), regular ferry boats to the outlying islands and to Indonesia, a causeway to Malaysia with simplified customs and immigration between the two countries, and a major airport at Changi. A total of almost 200 ships are registered in Singapore and the harbor is the world’s second biggest cargo port. The city is well served by both land lines and cell phone service and international connections are everywhere available and inexpensive.
Singapore is looking toward the increasingly globalized future with its economic plans. It weathered the Asian economic crises fairly well because of its high volume of savings (mandated by the government) and its lack of foreign debt. The government spends heavily on the development of high technology industries as well as on education and Singapore boasts one of the world’s most literate and skilled populations. Singapore is becoming a world financial hub and this increased with Hong Kong’s integrations in to China in 1997. Singapore’s exports exceed its imports, giving it a favorable balance of trade.
For a map of Singapore please see Mapquest Atlas