National Service in Singapore


Singapore is known to be a very small, very developed country, surrounded by larger, less developed (and maybe envious?) countries. As a result, when Singapore became independent, PM Lee Kwan Yew thought it should be a priority to be able to defend the island, and thus decided to make National Service compulsory for all Singaporeans.

I thought that for some non-Singaporean readers here, an insight into the Singaporean military service could be interesting.

National Service (NS) is a mandatory 2 years of army training for all Singaporean men. The rationale behind it is that Singapore is too small to have a voluntary army, therefore all men would be needed if a war was to break out. One might add that Singapore may have learnt a lesson the hard way during WWII when the Japanese army invaded Singapore from the North on bicycles and Singaporean troops were unprepared, too busy watching the South end of the island…

To some Singaporean soldiers, NS (yet another Singaporean acronym!) is boring, constraining and a waste of their time. To others, NS can be very rewarding, and it can be the first position they have with actual responsibilities. The discrepancy between NS perceptions comes from the fact that missions can be extremely different from one another!

The National Service Army Flag

The army actually affects you to the department they think fit for you, after you go through a medical check. For instance a NS soldier can be affected to:

– a central ammunition control office
– an air force base
– an infantry battalion
– a vehicle mechanics position
– a sniper or scout position
– cadets school to become an officer
–  and so on…

So if you spend your 2 years of NS in an office you basically have working hours and can go home on week-ends. However if you are deemed fit to go for officer training, you will have to go through weeks of survival trainings in Brunei jungles or learn about open-terrain tactics and combat on the field.

From my point of view (which is external, as I am only half Singaporean), I think I can understand that NS feels unbearable for some. However I still feel it brings people together. Feedback I have gathered from Singaporeans is that NS allowed them to meet people from different social backgrounds, and this has broadened their horizons and changed their mindset about certain things.

Plus, it has now become a rite of passage in the Singaporean society. All men have to go through this compulsory phase, and they all come back with a heightened sense of responsibility and belonging to a nation.

I must say I find this quite appreciable overall because not all citizens of the world today feel patriotic or responsible for the survival of their country !! If you wish to learn more about Singapore National Service, this documentary on youtube is quite good!

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Singapore’s colonial heritage


You might be thinking, like many, that Singapore destroyed most of its old buildings to make way for skyscrapers and office towers… and that Singapore is something like this:

But can you spot the low old-looking building right in front of the towers? That’s the Fullerton Hotel. One of Singapore’s many colonial buildings that still exist today… Did you know that the Fullerton Hotel walls were built in 1928? That’s how old some pieces of history are in Singapore. It was once the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, before it opened as a hotel in 2001.

Another masterpiece of Singapore’s colonial heritage is the Raffles Hotel. It was in 1887 that it first opened its doors… and at that time it had only 10 rooms! And did you know that people say this is where the last tiger of Singapore was shot dead? In 1902 in the Bar & Billiard room…

Still today, the Raffles Hotel remains an iconic landmark of Singapore. You can go have a walk inside the hotel and have a look at the luxury shopping boutiques. The inside courtyard is also splendidly taken care of, and you can really feel the luxury and long history of the site when you wander around for a while. Of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the Long Bar, THE most famous place to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore… And you shouldn’t miss out on the Raffles Museum either !!

Last but not least, I would like to share with you one of my favourite things about Singapore… shophouses. They are a heritage of Singapore’s colonial era. Their structure is very simple : a shop or restaurant on the ground floor and a comfortable living space above. To give you a better idea of what they look like, here are some pictures:

Aren’t they beautiful? My favourite shophouses are located on East Coast Road. Their colours and detailed sculpted facades are simply gorgeous. You can find them basically anywhere in Singapore, like in Chinatown, Little India, or downtown around the Raffles Hotel, like on Purvis Street for instance.

Needless to say, Singapore has many hidden treasures. And unlike what people may think, she is still taking care of leftover pieces of her very valuable history!! The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) is the organisation in charge of preserving this beautiful heritage.

Singapore’s history


Singapore is an intriguing island… If you stop and think about it, it truly is one of a kind!

Of British colonial descent, it is now mainly populated by Chinese people living together with Malay and Indian people. From a simple fishermen’s port, Singapore has become a key financial hub and the world’s busiest harbour in terms of total shipping tonnage. And did you know that Singapore’s gain of independence from Malaysia was felt by all as a failure rather than a victory?

Here are a few key dates to help you better understand Singapore’s history:

13th century: A prince of the Malay empire founds the port of Temasek where Singapore now stands.

29th January 1819: Sir Stamford Raffles arrives in Temasek and establishes a trading post for the British East India Company. Raffles separates the city in different areas for each population and Singapore gradually becomes the centre of government of the Straits Settlements, a division of the British Empire. Singapore is a prosperous colony.

1939: World War II breaks out. On 15th February 1942, Britain’s “Jewel of the East” falls into the hands of Japanese invaders. Singapore is renamed “Syonan-to” (“light of the South”) and thus begins the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

1945: At the end of the war, the British return to Singapore but change the island’s status to a separate crown colony, allowing Singapore to hold its first elections.

1962-1965: In a referendum, Singaporeans vote for a merger with Malaysia. However, racial riots in Singapore makes the Malaysian Government very angry and on 7th August 1965, Singapore is declared independent. Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s Prime Minister, cries on television and seems to think Singapore’s fate is doomed… Racial and political tensions are very strong.

1980s: The PAP (People’s Action Party) wins all 75 seats in the 1980 General Election. Lee Kwan Yew’s role as the “nation’s architect” begins…

I really find Singapore’s history exciting and fascinating. If you have time to deepen your knowledge of Singapore’s origins, I would recommend you to visit the National Singapore Museum, or watch this Discovery Channel DVD recommended by a friend. Absolutely worth your time!!

Clarke Quay and it’s history


For those of us who are interested in bars, clubs and parties, Singapore has a lot to offer too.

Of course, the first place the young people will tell you is : Clarke Quay!! Located by the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is overcrowded on Saturday and Wednesday nights (known as “Ladies’ night”, as girls can enter for free before midnight in some places). You might want to check out :

Bars : Chupitos for shots, Cuba Libre for great latino live music, Highlander for live hits, 7inch if you’re into rock music and like playing pool, Mulligan’s Irish pub for a pint, Indochine for a fun decoration and loud music… you can even have a shot of vodka in an ice bar in The Forbidden City! Worth a visit. Don’t worry, they lend you a jacket.

Night clubs : Attica if you are in the expat mood, Pump Room for live music, Le Noir for the French, Zirca if you’re into electro music and enjoy a young local crowd…

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This is Clarke Quay as we know it today. However there is a whole other story behind the place. Did you know that Clarke Quay played a major role in Singapore’s history?

Clarke Quay is where Sir Raffles disembarked when he first reached Singapore… on Feb 6th 1819! At that time, warehouses were built by the riverside so that European and Chinese merchants could store their goods in a safe place, which was also very conveniently located when merchandise needed to be transported on bumboats. Just try and picture how busy the river was 200 years ago…

The riverside area was then named “Clarke Quay” after Sir Andrew Clarke, Singapore’s second Governor in the 1870s. Later on, Clarke Quay became “Clarke Quay Festival Village” and underwent works to become what we see of it now, colourful disney-like shophouses…

Personally, I don’t really think the “new” Clarke Quay is very charming. However, Singapore still made an effort to keep some trace of her past by keeping the warehouses instead of having them demolished. And I truly believe we should be grateful for that!!