Milestones in Singapore’s history

Singapore's White Lion
Singapore’s White Lion

Singapore’s history begins with the Sumatran Prince, Sing Nila Utama sometime in the 14th century. Legend has it that when he landed on the island, then known as Temasek, Sing saw a white lion crouched at the edge of the sea. Believing it to be an omen, he re-named Temasek Singa Pura, or Lion City.

Singapore’s modern history began when, on February 19, 1819, Singa Pura’s Malay Ruler, Tengku Long, signed a Treaty with British Governor Sir Stamford Raffles, allowing the establishment of a port. Soon after, Singapore became a British colony, with Sir William Farquhar as Governor and Tengku Long, now re-named Hussein, as Sultan..

Trade coursed through the new port, which was free and open to ships from any nation. As migrants flooded in from China, India, Malaya and Europe they were assigned to their own separate areas of the city. The population burgeoned and Singapore flourished, taking the lead in Asia as melting pot for different ideas and cultures.

On February 15th, 1942 the Japanese took control of Singapore and re-named it Syonan-to or Light of the South. Japanese became the official language and all systems and institutions were run by the Japanese. British and allied Singaporeans were interned. Chinese and Malay Singaporeans were pressed into slave labour. Times were hard and the regime harsh. Rationing was strict, food was scarce and malnutrition commonplace.

Independence from Britain followed the post-war re-build and in 1963, Singapore joined Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. The union was short-lived and Singapore separated from Malaysia on August, 9, 1965.

Enormous efforts were poured into ensuring the new, independent island state’s survival. Changi airport was built and Singapore Airlines established. Oil refineries and the electronics industry were fostered. A world class financial market was developed and the port of Singapore became one of the busiest in the world.

Today, Singapore is a thriving, modern industrial city state with a clean, green environment. It still leads as melting pot of ideas and cultures and it looks set for an exciting future.

A wealth of great museums tell Singapore’s story. The following three, in particular, are a  must for a fascinating insight into Singapore’s past, present and future.

Fort Siloso Museum on Sentosa Island recaptures seafarer, Sing Nila Utama’s adventures, British colonization, the lives of some the settlers whose grit and determination built early Singapore and the dark days of the Japanese occupation.

The Asian Civilisations Museum, in Empress Place looks at the context of rich and varied Asian cultures in which Singapore sits and also at the unique Peranakan, or Straits Chinese culture with its beautiful traditions of furniture, china, costumes, food and customs which such an important part of Singapore’s story.

The Singapore City Gallery shows Singapore as it is today, with a 3D model of the island, an aerial map, a map pin-pointing interesting nooks and crannies, a transport map, models of Singapore’s architectural highlights and glimpses into future developments and best of a “planner’s table” which allows visitor’s to play at shaping the Singapore of tomorrow.

More lists of Museums can be obtained from Singapore Visitor Information Centres at Changi Airport and all over the city or on

Clean Green Singapore

Although it is modern and industrialized, with its meagre land area densely populated and built–up, Singapore is officially the greenest city in Asia. Unofficially, it is probably the cleanest in the world.

Green space in Singapore
Green space in Singapore

Singaporeans are proud of their clean, green reputation. “Singapore is very nice” says Elwin, a waiter in the Hotel InterContinental’s restaurant. “The air is clean, there’s no pollution, not too much traffic, no litter and lots of green”.

Elwin is right. The city air is clean; it is warm and soft on the skin; it smells of rain, imminent or just past, with the slightest tinge of exotic Asian food. There isn’t too much traffic; it flows in smooth lines, quietly enough for a conversation. There is no litter; no dropped papers and packets on the footpaths, no soggy cigarette butts clogging the gutters, no chewing gum to embed in the soles of unwary pedestrian shoes, no dog-poo, vomit or pee to side-step and none of the accompanying stench. In fact, there are no dogs, drunks or derelicts (at least not on the streets).

Beds of lush plants border the pavements and boxes of bright flowers spill from walkways. There are vast, dense lawns of an almost blinding green, like the Padang, the Singapore Sports Ground, down in front of City Hall. Oases of palm trees line the streets and pepper the shopping malls. There are roadside stands of shady old-man trees with dark canopies, their scarred trunks twisted with growths like thick rope. Like a verdant heart, Fort Canning Park sits at the centre of a knot of busy arterial roads, a cool repose for the eyes between the silhouettes of skyscrapers. The clean, clear surface of the Singapore River reflects the sky despite the bum boats full of tourists that chug constantly up and down and the cafes that crowd at its edges from Boat to Clark Quay.

Singapore’s nature reserves form a rough semi-circle round the city. There are the Botanical Gardens – 53 hectares of trees, flowers and shrubs, with picturesque paths and walkways; Singapore Zoo, a jungle haven with 290 species of animals; Sungei Bulah Wetlands – its Mangrove Swamp alive with birds and sea-creatures; MacRitchie Reservoir with its nature paths and treetop walk; Bukit Timar Nature Reserve and the wildly colourful Jurong Bird Park. Beyond the mainland are the islands; sleepy Pulau Ubin – a glimpse old Singapore and Sentosa, once a pirate hideaway, now a retreat from the city, threaded with shady bushland paths and fragrant gardens.

Singapore’s clean, green reputation is thoroughly deserved. Singaporeans have worked hard at it. A committed effort has seen the once polluted river run clear again. Strict laws and tough consequences have rid the streets of litter. New, clean, efficient, accessible public transport systems have been established and Singaporeans are encouraged to use them, rather than private cars.

As old Singapore has morphed and mushroomed into a modern metropolis, careful planning has safeguarded precious urban green zones and preserved 5% of the island in its natural state. In 1990 the Singaporean Environmental Council was established to oversee growth, land use, water supply, pollution control, refuse disposal, transport and quality of life into the 21st century and beyond.

Elwin is right. Singapore is nice. Singaporeans are determined to keep it that way. So, as 21st century Singapore shoots ever skywards and business booms, a clean, green future with fresh air, pure water and a quality lifestyle in a safe, healthy and “nice” environment seems assured.