Singapore is a roughly diamond-shaped island at the end of the Malaysian peninsula. It occupies a strategic position for shipping on the shortest sea-route between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The narrow Strait of Johor separates Singapore from Malaysia, but the two are linked by a causeway less than a mile long.
Concealed behind high-tech industries and high-rise buildings lives a society with an ingrained sense of conservative Confucian values. Beneath a slick veneer of westernized modernity beats a totally Asian heart. Strong beliefs center around extended families, filial piety, discipline, respect and Asian work ethics.
Singapore's name, meaning 'Lion City,' can be traced to the 13th century when, according to legend, the ruler of Palembang sought shelter on the island during a storm and thought he saw a lion.Today, the mythical Merlion, half-lion, half-fish, serves as the popular emblem of the city.
Modern Singapore primarily owes its existence and prosperity to two men, both of them forceful characters and visionaries: Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew. Upon Raffles' arrival in 1819, he found a population of about 150, mostly pirates and fishermen, and a land blanketed in dense jungle. Within four years of its founding, Singapore grew into an international trading port. Raffles' influence in determining the direction of what is today one of the world's busiest port cities was invaluable, while Lee Kuan Yew is without doubt the father of modern Singapore.
This thriving metropolis of three million people is one of the most densely populated places in the world. In addition to being an enormous retail outlet, Singapore is also the trade, transport, business and financial hub of the region.The reputation the city has for law and order is well deserved. A recent advertising campaign billed Singapore as A Fine City'. The double meaning may well reflect the fact that Singapore imposes harsh punishment on locals and visitors alike for violations of the law.
Singapore is a melting pot of nationalities; the majority of the population is of Chinese extraction, followed by Malay, Indian and a small Eurasian population. Officially, Malay is the national language, but English is the language of administration and commerce.