Singapore by Chris McGuire

Brief History

Singapore was founded in 1819 as a trading post for the British East India Company. Before the British, there wasn’t a city where Singapore is today.  It is at a very important place for shipping routes.  The shortest distance from the Indian ocean to the sea ports of China and Japan is through the Malacca strait. Singapore is located at the beginning of this very important shipping route. It is one of the busiest ports in the world.

The line shows the most used shipping route between the Indian Ocean and China.

When Singapore was controlled by the British, they encouraged people immigrate to the city. Many people from China and other places in southeast Asia moved there. This gave the city a unique cultural mixture for the area it is in.

In 1959 Britain granted Singapore a large degree of self-rule. The people put in charge of the city decided that the best thing to do is join the neighboring country of Malaysia. From 1959 to 1965, Singapore was a part of Malaysia.

In 1965 the Malaysian government decided that the population of Singapore was a threat to the rest of the country. Malaysia was afraid that the prosperous city of Singapore might have too much influence over the rest of the country. This was a problem for the Malaysian people because Singapore is 75% Chinese. In 1965, Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia and has been its own small country ever since.

Essential Facts

  • Population of about 5.5million people
  • 30 miles across at its widest point
  • 255 square miles
  • Nearly on the equator. The only major metropolis near the equator.
  • English is the official language in schools and the government. Most Singaporeans are bilingual.
The city of Singapore

Singapore’s Unusual Laws

The laws in Singapore have been controversial since the city became independent. The longtime leader, Lee Kuan Yew, favored prosperity over personal freedom. The tough and restrictive laws of Singapore are designed to keep the country orderly and clean. For everyone living in or visiting the country, there are a lot of rules you must follow.

The preferred method of enforcing the rules is to fine anyone caught breaking a law. A common joke in Singapore is to say “Singapore is a fine city”. The fines can be very expensive. Repeat offenses will result in extremely high fines and jail time.  Caning is still used for certain crimes. Here is a sample of some of Singapore’s restrictions and the associated fines:

  • Annoying somebody with a musical instrument can be a $1000 fine.
  • Getting in the way of a public road (playing soccer in the street for example) can be a $5,000 fine.
  • Singing an obscene song can get you put in jail for 3 months.
  • Spitting in a public place is a fine of $1,000.
  • Using another person’s WIFI can get you a $10,000 fine and 3 months in jail. Computer security is taken very seriously.
  • Forgetting to flush the toilet is $150.
  • Being nude in your home is considered a public nuisance if somebody sees you. A fine of $2000 could be the result.
  • Feeding pigeons is $500 fine.
  • Littering is $1000 fine.
  • Jay walking is a $50 fine on the spot. Repeat offenses can lead to jail time and $2,000 fine.
  • Singapore is famous for its laws on vandalism. Vandalism is punishable by prison time and even caning.
  • Singapore is very serious about drugs. You could get a $20,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. If you have large quantities of drugs they’ll execute you. They can drug test anybody at any time. If you can’t pass the test you’re in trouble, even if you took the drugs in another country before traveling to Singapore.
  • Homosexuality is punishable by prison time.
  • Selling chewing gum is illegal. It is meant to keep the city clean. Fines can be $100,000.

Are these laws enforced? Yes. Singapore is small and there are fine collectors everywhere in the city. They dress in plain clothes and often demand payment on the spot. To make sure the collectors are extra vigilant, they work for commission. The more fines they hand out, the more they get paid. Most of the people of Singapore have been fined at some point.

Public Housing

Because of the limited space, most people in Singapore live in government subsidized housing projects. There are a couple key differences between these large apartment complexes in Singapore and the rest of the world. First, the strict laws that apply to the rest of the city keep the housing projects clean and relatively crime free. Also, with government assistance, the people own the apartment they live in. Not having to rent a space means that the residents are more likely to maintain the buildings and the neighborhoods. 90% of the people living in Singapore own their own apartment.

Here is a common scene in Singapore. There are several tall apartment buildings, very little parking, and its spotlessly clean.

Car Ownership

Owning a car is highly discouraged in Singapore. The government has created enough fees and costs associated with owning a car that it is out of the question for most people. Only the richest people can afford to own and drive a car.

The high cost of owning a car is intended to keep the city from having the traffic congestion problems that other dense cities have. The Singapore government website on car ownership estimates the yearly cost of owning a car at about $26,000 a year. The price of that car itself, after fees such as the “certificate of entitlement”, will cost $80,000 to $90,000 dollars for a car that would cost around $30,000 in the US. The website says:

  • parking will cost around $5,000 a year.
  • An annual fee to use the roads costs about $600.
  • There are also tolls to use many of the roads in Singapore and the government estimates it will cost a driver $2000 a year.

Exploring Singapore with Google Street View

I spent some time exploring the city using Google Street View. Here are some of the interesting places i found. Clicking the link will take you to the same spot on Google Street View so you can check it out too. Google has done a thorough job of documenting the streets of Singapore. Most of the city is available.

Here is the inside of the flower dome. The flower dome is part of a large waterfront park called gardens by the bay. You can explore the whole park on Google Street View.
This is another view of the gardens by the bay. The flower dome is the glass dome in the background. There are walkways between these tall tree things.
Singapore is known for it’s large food markets known as hawker markets. Exploring Google Street View, I ran into these markets often.
For those who can afford it, there are some houses in Singapore. This is a typical scene from one of the neighborhoods. All the houses I saw were surrounded by the same fortress-like walls.
Here is a view of the bay. The islands in the bottom left are completely dedicated to storage and shipping. There are lots of large ship in the water.
Here is a view showing the trees in Singapore. It is a densely populated city that occupies all the land there is available. Had they not designed the city to include so mane trees, there might not be any plants.

1 thought on “Singapore by Chris McGuire”

  1. An excellent sketch of Singapore — after reading, it feels to me as if I could plan a trip there AND that I have a good reason to do so. Top marks for engaging the audience! Thanks for everything — I especially appreciate the way you worked with your Guest Writer. I think you helped him establish his voice a little bit. Good work, you.


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