Singapore is a small country of 4.9 million located in South-East Asia at the southern tip of the Malayan Peninsula. At 710.2 kilometres square, it is the smallest country in South East Asia. However, it is also the most prosperous, as the 22nd richest country in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (nominal) per capita. Singapore also has one of the lowest crime rates of any major metropolitan city, thanks to an efficient law enforcement agency and a competent judicial system. As a result, locals and visitors alike are free to wander the streets at night with a peace of mind, though you should still try to avoid the odd dark alley if possible.
English is the main language for communication and most Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, have a good command of the language. The other official languages are Malay, Tamil and Chinese. However, Malay and Tamil tend to be restricted to the respective Malay and Indian communities. Most modern Chinese lean towards English as the language spoken at home, though there is still a great majority of Chinese families, especially the older generation, to converse in the various dialects: Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka or Hainanese.
When in Singapore, you’ll tend to at some point in time find yourself not understanding what a local is saying though it sounds very much like English. Singlish is uniquely Singaporean, evolving due to the diverse cultures and languages spoken. It contains borrowed words from Hokkien, Malay and Tamil combined with English. Here’s an example: “The food is delicious!” In Singlish it would be “Wah, the food very shiok man!” There are simply too many nuances and styles to Singlish, but essentially, it is a variation spoken and understood only amongst locals. However, you should not worry too much as most Singaporeans are able to switch from Singlish to standard English when speaking to foreigners.
Singapore was discovered by the British explorer Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and established a trading post of the British East India Company. Prior to Raffles’ arrival, Singapore was a fishing village sparsely populated by the indigenous Orang Laut or “people of the sea”. Singapore subsequently became a British colony in 1824, and that set the stage for an increase in trade and immigration.
During World War 2, Singapore was conquered by Japan and renamed Syonan-to or “Light of the South” for a period of three years and 8 months, during which the Singapore population suffered great repression. After the war, the British government granted the right of elections to Singapore, eventually breaking away from British control by joining the Federation of Malaya in 1963. However, there were ideological differences between the Singapore government and the central government in Kuala Lumpur, leading to eventual separation and independence on 9 August 1965.
Good governance and an open economy saw a surge in Singapore’s growth into a rapidly industrialising economy. Together with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, Singapore became known as an Asian Tiger economy. Throughout the industrialising years, Singapore capitalised on manufacturing for export, especially in electronics, textiles and chemicals. In recent times, the government has begun diversifying the economy, with much greater focus on the finance, bio-medical, life-sciences and service sectors.