Land and People:
Less than half the size of Beijing city, Singapore is commonly known as the "Little Red Dot". Its population is almost five million-strong, with more than one-fifth being foreigners, even as fertility rates continue to drop. Singaporeans of Chinese descent make up the ethnic majority, with large numbers of Malay, Indian and other residents. English is the language of government.
According to legend, a visiting prince of the surrounding Srivijaya kingdom in the 11th century mistook an animal he spotted for a lion - subsequently labeling the island "Singa Pura" (Lion City). The Merlion - a mythical fish with a lion's head - has since become the country's icon to the rest of the world.
Food: Singaporeans are justifiably proud of their cuisine, an eclectic mix of Asian and foreign influences that reflect the spices of the region and its immigrant history. Local foodies argue over popular offerings like chili crab, fish head curry or Hainanese chicken rice as the "national dish", while gourmet events and high-end restaurants continue to entice the world's best chefs and most discriminating diners to Singapore's shores.
Jobs: The tropical island's market-base, export-driven economy helped it become one of the newly industrialized economies with a highly educated and skilled workforce behind a GDP of more than $180 billion. It also continues to be a top financial, business and services center, amid rising costs and challenges posed by the global economic crisis. The island is coming up with new economic bets like casinos, Formula One races and other international draws to boost sectors such as tourism. More than 10 million tourists visited the island last year, tourism bureau figures showed, with more than 1 million Chinese travelers making up the total.
Life: Visitors are suitably impressed by the multiracial success of Singapore, where citizens preserve their ethnic heritage in aspects like language and architecture in the face of modernity. It is not uncommon to hear locals speaking various Chinese dialects or even the bewildering Singaporean English - Singlish - on the streets. Historic areas conserve past enclaves of ethnic groups with attractions including shop houses with five-foot-way corridors and places of worship within the city and central business districts, while new residential towns, transport networks and other amenities serve as models for the rest of the world.
Moving ahead: Many know of Singapore's efficient and no-nonsense government, with elder statesman and now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew leading the crucial phases of the country's impressive development since it ceased to be a British colony and its subsequent independence after being separated from Malaysia in 1965. Still, moves to ensure security and order such as caning for major crimes and a chewing gum ban have received their fair share of media attention. But as a tiny nation with few natural resources except for human capital, many Singaporeans are looking ahead to face the challenges of globalization by focusing on areas such as education and services to build a world-class city for the 21st century and beyond.
(China Daily 11/11/2009 page10)