Expatriates Living in Singapore Describe the Interplay of Community Changes 

Singapore is both a city and a country on an island in Asia at the tip of Malaysia, which has changed drastically over the past decade. It has gone from a small, irrelevant city to being one of the richest and most modernized countries in the world.

Brief History

Although its history dates back to the thirteenth century when the island was a trading settlement, the founding of modern Singapore was in 1819 when a man named Sir Stamford Raffles was sent by the English East India Company to find a trading port for England in South Eastern Asia. He came across the island of Singapore and claimed the land after resolving some challenges by Dutch settlers. 

From then on, Singapore began to expand. First, it attracted people from China, Japan, Malay and other SouthEast Asian countries. The city was separated into smaller towns based on ethnicity. The Chinese were put in ChinaTown, which you can still visit in Singapore to this day; Japanese were put in JapanTown, and so forth. 

Fast forward one hundred years, in 1941, the Japanese bombed Singapore in World War II. The British, who were still ruling Singapore, greatly outnumbered the Japanese but the element of surprise threw the British off and this was considered one of the greatest British surrenders of all time.  The Japanese then started to control Singapore. Later, though, when British won World War II, they regained control of Singapore, which became a Crown Colony in 1946. Singapore was able to break out of the colony in 1963 and joined the Federation of Malaysia, which was formed to unite the countries. However, less than two years later, Singapore broke away from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965 to become independent.

Environmental, Social and Economic Changes

Every city and country experiences environmental, social, political, cultural and economic changes over time; some times drastic, some times in spurts and other times more gradually. For example, at the start of modern Singapore, the United States still had a plantation system and now our economy is led by technology and large modern cities. But by comparison to many other countries around the world, Singapore has changed shockingly fast and adapted to new technologies to become one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. 

Just the last decade, Singapore has also experienced the impact of climate change.  U.S. expatriate Shirley K., who has lived in Singapore for over 10 years said, “it’s just been getting hotter in Singapore. In 2012, it was 31.2 degrees Celsius overall and in 2019 it was 32.3 degrees Celsius.”  This may not seem like a lot, but for an entire country to change even one or two degrees Celsius in less than 10 years can have significant implications for the environment and ecology of the country.  

Another environmental change has been Singapore’s practice of reclaiming land. Because it is such a small country, they can only grow by adding land to its water-bound borders. “The Singaporian government leads the country as if it were a company,” explained Marie G., a Belgian expatriate who has been living in Singapore for 10 years. She went on to describe the country as “strategic in their efforts to keep a balance between nature and having the space to accomodate more people.” However, the drawback of increasing land to accommodate more people is that the population is growing quickly and there is more traffic, as described by Shirley K. Traffic then contributes to the pollution that results in warmer temperatures. Due to the warmer average temperature of Singapore, which already has a tropical rainforest climate, people are less active and less likely to spend time outdoors.

Another social shift that has occurred over the past years is that “Singaporeans are less focused on academic results than they used to be,” according to Marie G. They are more relaxed and expect children to be more well-rounded, including pursuing arts and sports. Relatedly, Marie G. described decrease in focus and social pressure on finding a job in technology and finance, which were previously considered the most sought after career paths.

Singapore’s economy is one of the most stable economies in the world. It is a place that attracts a lot of foreign investment and houses a large number of expatriates from all over Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia due to its business-friendly laws and regulations. Singapore also has a lot of favorable laws and an investment friendly environment, which appeals to businesses.

Shirley K. stated that she believes the reason consumer prices have increased so much is that the increase in population, especially from immigrants, has led to a higher demand for goods, while at the same time, the supply is limited because most products have to be imported from other countries. Shirley K. said “pretty much the only thing that has not gone up drastically in price is postage stamps,” which is likely due to the fact that the internet and ease of travel have made snail mail too slow for our pace of communication and connection.

If you have watched the Hollywood blockbuster movie, Crazy Rich Asians, you would get a sense of Singapore as a fast-paced, buzzing place, with highly successful and luxuriously wealthy people, that is among the top most modern and expensive cities in the world. One would be surprised to learn that it is not only a city but also a country that has undergone some of the most significant changes we have seen in the last century.

Categories: Travel