Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An Intriguing City/State

01/19/12 - 01/22/12
The more we learn about Singapore the more it seems to offer. We decided to return to the History area of the Singapore National Museum, since we barely touched the actual history when we saw the impressionist exhibit a week ago.

Luckily we arrived just as an English guided tour was about to begin. She started the tour by showing us a large stone which was from the 12th century found near a graveyard. It is of great importance because of it's inscriptions which have never been fully translated by experts, but is an early remnant of the culture.

Various digs have uncovered pottery and jewelry from the 14th century, so life was quite established although the area was primarily jungle at that time. Tigers were so prevalent that they had a bounty on them and sadly lost at least a person a day to a tiger attack.

Singapore was controlled by several different empires (Jahore, Portuguese, Dutch, British) until the 18th century when Thomas Stanford Raffles acquired it as a trading post for the British by negotiating an agreement with the Sultan's older son. Raffles helped him take power from his younger brother (who had an exclusive trading arrangement with the Dutch) in return for complete control of trading with the British. You see Raffles name everywhere. He was a very prominent figure in starting Singapore on the road to success.

There are construction cranes all over the city/state, building hignrisers and reclaiming land that will eventually be built on. Interestingly, there is lots of open green space and many parks.

Often, we think of Singapore as only a city. In reality, it is an entire country, although small. The island actually has many different aspects, not just high rise condos and office buildings and roads. One finds "suburbs", parks, recreation areas (golf, tennis, soccer, swimming), shipping containers, shopping centers, green space, and some industry. There doesn't seem to be any farming per se.

The political powers have tight control over planning and growth. The highways that connect various parts of the island are well-designed and move traffic well. Bus service is modern and efficient as is the subway system. Many people use mass transit or taxis. When it rains (as it did today in thunderous pouring), the drainage system carries the downpour away quickly. In other words, this is a modern first-world country.

The PAP ( people's action party) has been in power since Singapore gained it's independence first from the British in 1956, and then from Malaysia in the mid 1960's. Growth and financial success through expanding the port have made Singapore a world economic power very quickly.

Because of it's convenient location Singapore had people pouring in mainly from China to begin with and then India and other Asian Pacific countries. Men left their families and hoped to acquire fortunes, but many fell victims to the four vices of gambling, alcohol, prostitution and opium (ironically, all legal now except opium).

The word "coolie" is Chinese for "bitter work", and defined terrible working and living conditions that lasted till the middle of the 19th century. At one time over 20,000 rickshaws were being pulled by people that had an average life span of 40 years.

It was during this influx of mainly men that hawker centers were established. The men needed to eat cheaply, had no cooking equipment, no females for cooking, and probably just a cot somewhere. Today hawker centers are still very prevalent and lively places to eat cheaply. Families and people of all ages enjoy a variety of food while sitting outside. There must be hundreds of these hawker centers throughout the city.

Finally, obtaining their independence and establishing a government that strives for a well planned city, Singapore has seen vast, positive improvements in just over 50 years. It is also wonderful to see so many diverse cultures living and working peacefully together.

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