We arrived to Singapore by bus, after an easy five hours trip from Malacca. Malaysia left us with a very nice vibe, so we were looking forward to Singapore, a country that we had heard so much about but that none of us had ever visited. Some time ago I considered studying in Singapore but ended up staying in Europe, so I was really keen on seeing what I missed.
In Malay, Singapore means ‘Lion City’. Oddly enough, it seems that lions never lived in the island. Most likely, Sang Nila Utama, the prince that founded the Kingdom of Singapore in the 13th century and gave it its name, confused a lion with a tiger!
Albeit very small, Singapore is an impressive country. After centuries of being dominated by local empires, Sir Stamford Raffles, one of the icons of the country, founded Singapore as a British trading post. It became independent from Britain in 1963, as part of the Malaysian Federation. However, after only for two years, Singapore left the federation and established itself as a sovereign country.
By then, Singapore was a very poor country, without any major assets to rely on. Half a century has passes, and today it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The architect of this change was the recently deceased (March 23, 2015) Lee Kuan Yew. In 1965, he announced to his country that his dream of seeing Singapore united with the Malaysian federation was shattered, and that Singapore would have to proceed on its own. In a moment of political unrest in the world, with the delicate equilibrium of forces of the cold war, Lee understood that the best chances of success for Singapore relied in allying with its former colonisers and by attracting American, Japanese and European investment. The bet paid off and, in a single generation, Singapore went from a third world country to one of the leaders of the first world, with one of the highest indexes of trust in the government.
However, this success came at a cost, with Singapore being ruled as a “benevolent dictatorship”, combining an authoritarian state with a free market, limiting civil liberties (trade unions are residual, public protests are repressed and media are controlled) and lacking political opponents. Lee is seen by many as the creator of the “authoritarian capitalism” ideology that may have inspired Deng Xiaoping’s “market-Leninism” development model for China.
Most Singaporeans are originally from China, with the remaining population coming from Malaysia and India. However, it is a very multicultural hub, and it’s easy to find people from every corner of the world. You can find this diversity also in the architecture and landscapes of the city. The remains of some colonial buildings stand next to impressive skyscrapers and super modern buildings, like the spectacular Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Downtown Singapore is a consumers’ paradise, with shopping malls on every corner. I had to keep reminding myself that everything that I bought would have to be carried on my back… it was persuasive enough, and I kept my wallet closed!
We had only planned for a day in Singapore, and we caught some nasty bug that made us cough constantly (or most probably a side effect of the haze), so we didn’t spend as much time discovering the country as it deserved. We were also unlucky with the weather, and most of our photos turned out pretty bad. Fortunately, some of our awesome friends that have visited Singapore recently came to the rescue and sent us their own pictures of the stuff we couldn’t visit. Kudos to them!
On our way to Bali now! I’ll spoil it a bit and say that we’ve seen the most beautiful corals of this trip there… that and turtles!
cover photo: Rossana Santos