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History of Singapore
The name "Singapore" is derived from the Malay word "Singapura" or "lion city." Legend has it that a visiting Sri Vijayan prince, Sang Nila Utama, saw an animal which he mistook for a lion and named the island after it. In 1819, British civil servant Sir Stamford Raffles established the city as a trading station for the British Empire.
Tourists today may find it hard to believe but as recently as 1965, when Singapore became independent of Malaysia it was a backwater stopover with a few colonial trappings and not much else. That colonial period began in 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles, a British civil servant, "founded" Singapore. As an official of the British East India Company, Raffles was charged with combing the Straits of Malacca to find a suitable trading station to counter the Dutch influence in the area. Raffles thought the tiny fishing village of Singapore perfect because it was at the crossroads of East and West.
However Sir Stamford was no ordinary government functionary. A man with vision he recognised the island's potential with a deep water harbour and started from early on planning the city - a trait that continues to this day. Needless to say the Dutch were not happy to see the British in "their" territory and Raffles still needed to work with the local Sultan to get the trading post set up. With a treaty in hand, a strategic location and no customs duties on imports or exports Singapore flourished as a trade post.
By 1822 Raffles drew up the arbitrary lines that separate Singapore's neighborhoods until today. South of the Singapore River was set aside for the Chinese while Malays and Muslims were settled in and around the Sultan's Palace. Then in 1824 Raffles bought out the Malaysian Sultan and Singapore was British. The first census that year reports that Singapore had as many as 10,000 residents. In 1867 Singapore become a crown colony of England and 20 years later, in 1867, the Grand Dame of Asian hotels, Raffles, opened.
During W.W.II and after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula and attacked Singapore from the north and in February 1942 took control of the island. The Japanese occupation was ruthless with thousands executed or forced into slave labour. After the war Singapore became part of the Federation of Malaya hoping to gain Independence from Britain together with Malaysia (which it did in 1957). However the union with Malaysia was fraught with problems from the get-go and after many difficult years Singapore finally announced it would go its own way on 9 August 1965.
The man in charge on that fateful day was Mr. Lee Kuan Yew - no less a visionary than Sir Stamford Raffles and one of Asia's leading lights in the second half of the 20th century. Under his guidance Singapore, with virtually no natural resources save its people, has become one world's great economic success stories and the gateway to Southeast Asia. Included in its achievements are its world class medical facilities, Asia's largest and the world's second largest container port and an airport handling some 25 million passengers a year.
Singapore is modern - no doubt about it - with the highest per capita income in the region and with a plan to get everyone on the internet in the next few years Singapore is in some ways ahead of the West. But all the same it's still very traditional. A peek behind the new skyscrapers reveals a citizenry proud of its heritage and customs carrying out life as they have for generations.