6 months ago
Singapore is a testament to how man’s willpower can move mountains. Literally.
Exactly 200 years ago, British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles arrived at an island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula and one degree north of the equator. Soon after, for strategic reasons, he established a settlement that would be a gateway for entrepot trade to the region. He named it after the word Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City, which itself stems from a folktale about the Srivijaya prince Sang Nila Utama, said to be the founder of Singapore, who saw a lion-like animal when he first set foot on it.
Raffles, meanwhile, set about dredging the swampy terrain around the mouth of the Singapore river and levelling a few small hills to build government buildings. Today, that area is named after him and Raffles Place is Singapore’s central business district. The practice of reshaping land to accommodate its leaders’ future visions has also carried on. Singapore’s land reclamation works are some of the biggest on the planet, having increased the size of the island by 22% since its independence from Malaya in 1965.
In the half century since its secession, Singapore went from being the place where homegrown brands such as Tiger Balm and Axe Oil emerged to being the home of one of the most feted airlines and airports. Singapore Airlines has been ranked by Travel & Leisure magazine for the last two decades as the best in the world. Its famed advertising campaign Singapore Girl, emphasizing its cabin crew and service, is so iconic that a wax figure of the Singapore Girl was shown at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London in 1994. Changi Airport has been rated the best in the world for the last seven years by Skytrax and is among the top 20 busiest airports in the world by passenger and cargo traffic. In addition, it boasts the world’s largest indoor waterfall and an 11-cinema IMAX theater.
Tourists, outnumbering the population, flocked to Singapore from all over the world for a look at ‘New Asia’ (a previous tourism tagline). To see the orchids and wizened tembusu trees in the 160 year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, to dine on chicken rice, satay and chilli crab in hawker centres, and shop for consumer electronics.
In the nineties, technology developed in Singapore allowed local brands to gain shelf space too. They helped computer users leapfrog into a world of portable data, crystal-clear sound and high-speed gaming.
We have Singapore to thank for being able to hear audio on computers – the Sound Blaster card was developed by Creative Technologies in 1989, just as the multimedia PC market was taking flight. Creative Technologies later went on to develop the first-generation digital audio players, named NOMAD and Zen. The latter was a forerunner of the Apple iPod, which uses technology licensed from Creative. Processing technology from Creative subsidiary Ziilabs has been licensed to Intel to enable low power but graphic-rich tablets.
Another pioneer in the gaming industry is Singapore company Razer known among top gamers for its mice, keyboards and other peripherals, not to mention its consistent support of e-sports competitions that are now big business.
Flash or USB drives, those ubiquitous inventions of the computer age, were first marketed internationally by local company Trek2000 International in early 2000.
The buying public were youth who were increasingly tech-savvy. With a GDP per capita of over US$64,000, mobile penetration at an all-time high of 144%, and fuelled by increased connectivity and data speeds, the youth of Singapore nowadays are digital natives who use their smartphones to communicate, entertain themselves and shop. They log on to e-commerce sites such as Love, Bonito, Zalora, Lazada, Zilingo, Carousell or Shopee, sell their used cars on Carro, and list homes for sale on Propertyguru.
A vibrant start-up community ecosystem is throwing up lots of innovations to cater to these mobile-first natives. The biggest among these is Grab, which combines conveniences such as transportation, food and parcel delivery, digital payments and e-scooter sharing services, all on one mobile app.
While on conveniences, Singapore is jokingly called ‘the air-conditioned nation’ by its own denizens. The city got its first air-conditioned cinema in 1939. It was a part of the Cathay Building, then Southeast Asia’s tallest building, and to date, marks the beginning of the shopping district around Orchard Road. The hill that rises in front of Cathay is Fort Canning, where Singapore’s earliest trading settlements, named Temasek, were situated as far back as the 14th century, according to recorded history.
Down the road from the Cathay Building and south of the Singapore River from Raffles Place is more recently reclaimed land at Marina Centre. Here sits Suntec City at Temasek Boulevard, one of the largest commercial developments in Singapore and where BORN’s office is located. Built according to feng shui principles, Suntec City is laid out like a left hand when viewed aerially and was even featured on the television series The Amazing Race.
Trivia: BORN’s CEO Dilip Keshu was a Singapore citizen for many years prior to emigrating to the US in 2002.