Thursday, March 3, 2011



3,865,600 (city).
The shining star of South East Asia, Singapore has proved uniquely resistant to the crisis that has dogged its neighbouring tiger economies and is held as a paragon of economic rejuvenation. With its high living standards and orderly society, clean, green and gleaming Singapore has been dubbed the Switzerland of Asia and with no natural resources to speak of, the 34-year-old republic has used a vigorous free trade policy to achieve rapid and sustained development. However, this hi-tech city of skyscrapers, futuristic shopping malls and designer lifestyles still presents a very Asian face to the visitor. The most avant-garde interior architecture can come packaged within the traditional painted walls of a Chinese or Peranakan shophouse. The low roofs of Chinese and Hindu temples squat in and among corporate towers and mass housing blocks. And Singaporeans still rely on feng shui consultants, astrologers and fortune-tellers for advice when moving home, getting married or planning children. Singapore as a nation has acquiesced to a paternalistic government that has brought affluence and prosperity at the cost of personal freedom. In 1999, 75-year-old SR Nathan became the city state’s new president – without election and with the powerful backing of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. On a day-to-day level, the threat of harsh financial penalties, caning or corrective work orders ensure streets are litter-free, restaurants are smoke-free, citizens cross at pedestrian crossings, and public toilets are always immaculate. Homosexuality is against the law, possession of drugs carries the death penalty and newspapers are staunchly pro-government. Singapore’s tightly controlled society can make it appear sterile and soulless. But this perception ignores the sheer diversity that is inherent in a nation made up of four distinct ethnic groups, augmented by a sizeable expatriate community. An idiosyncratic consequence of this mix is demonstrated by the peculiar brand of English spoken by all generations. ‘Singlish’ is probably best recommended for its cryptic economy, and is heavily embellished with interjections most commonly from the Hokkien dialect. And if there is one passion that unites Singaporeans, it is their love of food. Singaporeans can eat at any time, day or night, and are well served by the hundreds of hawker stalls selling a quick chicken rice or roti prata, or indulging more acquired tastes with fish head curry, bird’s nest soup or fried chicken’s feet. Singapore is said to serve the world’s best Indian food, and other tastes – whether Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Malay, Japanese or the local Nonya and Peranakan – are catered for to the highest standard. There are things, however, that the government cannot control. Air conditioning may alleviate the sticky climate of an island only eight degrees north of the equator, but Singapore’s statesmen have no power to curb the small farmers and plantation owners in Indonesia and Malaysia who regularly clear land by starting forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan. The fallout in Singapore comes in the form of a ‘haze’ which can bring health and breathing problems, and casts a lingering white pall over the tropical sky.
77 % Chinese; 14 % Malay; 7.6% Indian; 1.4% other. Religion: 31.9% Buddhist (Chinese); 23.9% Tao; 14.9% Islam; 12.9% Muslim; 12.9% Christian; 3.3% Hindu; also Sikh, Confucianist.
GMT + 8.
220-240 volts AC, 50Hz; square three-pin plugs, or two-pin with adapter.


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