Singapore, a city-state in Southeast Asia, covering an area of 274 square miles (710 sq. km.) and has a population of just over five million people.
Comprising 63 islands, much of Singapore is extremely developed and urban, although plenty of green spaces exist, including forests, parks and nature reserves, to earn Singapore the title “Garden City”. The city itself is known as the “Lion City”, with the lion being used in several national symbols, including the national coat of arms.
English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil are all official languages of Singapore. English, although only the native language of a third of Singaporeans, is the common language and is used for business and government communication and also for teaching in schools. Reflecting its culturally diverse population, Singapore’s public holidays include major Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western festivals, and similarly there are several TV and radio stations that broadcast in specific languages.
Singapore is the world’s 13th richest economy by GDP (nominal) per capita. It is considered to be one of the world’s least corrupt countries and thanks to it being of the freest economies – together with its strategic location, low taxes and modern infrastructures – attracts high levels of foreign investment. Thousands of US, European and Japanese multinationals have already set up base there, as have more than 1,000 Chinese and Indian companies. Renowned as an excellent center of finance, Singapore is home to the world’s fourth financial center. Tourism is also an important contributor to the country’s economy, with key attractions including dining and shopping. Principal exports include oil/petroleum products, food & drink, chemicals, textiles, electronic components, telecommunications apparatus and transport equipment.
While Singapore is only a small country, the choice of food available there is vast, thanks to its ethnic diversity, location and huge port. Singaporean cuisine is influenced by several cultures: Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Peranakan and many Western cultures too, together with the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines. Food often assumes a ‘fusion’ nature, with a chef from one culture preparing the food of another and injecting it with some gastronomic elements from his own culture’s cuisine â€“ Indian-style spicy fried noodles for example.
Chicken rice is often considered to be Singapore’s national dish, and is served everywhere: from street stalls to luxury hotels. It is served on a bed of seasoned rice, and may also include sauces and flavored dips. Some of the most renowned dishes to be found in Singapore are sambal stingray (grilled stingray wrapped in banana skin and flavored with a chili paste containing spices, shallots and local seasonings), chili crab (served in a chili tomato gravy), fish head curry (containing a head of red snapper) and dum biryani (basmati rice delicately colored with spices and saffron). Desserts include banana fritters, shaved ice desserts and ‘cendol’, which generally comprises soft noodles with coconut milk and shaved ice and sago, seasoned with a pinch of salt.
Singapore offers a wide range of cultural attractions, events and spaces, with institutions including the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Singapore Lyric Opera, Singapore Dance Theatre and Singapore Repertory Theatre. An Arts Festival is held annually, while in 2009, Singapore hosted the Genee International Ballet Competition (promoted by London’s Royal Academy of Dance). Highlights among Singapore’s many museums include the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilizations Museum, the world’s first Art Science Museum and its toy museum, ‘MINT’ (Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys). Due to open in 2012 is the Singapore National Art Gallery, which will focus mainly on Southeast Asian art.