Sunday, 14 July 2013

S’pore in 1957 was more modern than we think

It was cosmopolitan and sophisticated

What’s so fascinating? Not only is the past not in black and white, it shows a Singapore that is more modern than many people think.

And it gives us a sense that Singapore was already destined to be a thriving cosmopolitan hub even before the ruling party wanted to brand it as such. And Singapore in 1957 is definitely not worthy of being branded a Third World country status.

British imperialism provided the urban blueprint. And it’s far from the primordial swamp and wasteland and sleepy fishing village we have been taught in schools.

Bunch of white dudes arriving in planes

Densely urban, and more developed than popularly imagined

Singapore Airport looks like some place in New York

Notice how clean the roads are

This looks like a Parisian scene

This surely doesn’t resemble a fishing village

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Singapore at 50: From swamp to skyscrapers

Fifty years ago Singapore became an independent state, after leaving the short-lived Malaysian Federation. With no natural resources, just how did this tiny country go from swamp to one of the region's leading economies? On the strength of its human resources - immigrants like my grandfather.

At the age of 17, with only the shirt on his back, Fauja Singh left his parents in a small Punjabi village and made the long and dusty journey on foot and by train to Kolkata (Calcutta), where he caught a ship to his new home. It was the early 1930s. He arrived in a melting pot of cultures and chaos on an island at the mouth of a river, which bustled with trade - Singapore.

Once a swamp-filled jungle, when the British arrived in 1819, under the leadership of Sir Stamford Raffles, the makings of modern Singapore began. Lying at the mid-point of the shipping route between India and China, it became a thriving trading port, and with this trade came a huge influx of immigrants from all over Asia.

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