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Rapidly changing Singapore
Singapore architecture. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

One should not forget the roots of Singhapura, an old Malay settlement on this island off a peninsula.

Guide to Singapore:

Of its importance as a seaport at this crossroads of the East, and of the Chinese junks, heavy Cochin-China trade vessels, slender proas from Hoklo and Arab dhows, tubs from Thailand and steamboats of the East India Company. Of the Portuguese and British who knew these Straits of Singapore.

And of Sir Stamford Raffles, so obsessed with its geographical importance that he was even reprimanded for his doggedness by the East India Company. But he knew it was the gateway to the Far East - and emotionally it still is, though the world has changed.

In 1819, the British obtained an agreement to build a factory on the island, then in 1824 - by treaty and for a financial reward of $20,800, along with a life annuity for the ruling Sultan of Johor and his resident officer - sovereignty of the island and the waters 10 miles (16km) around it.

Soon there were 10,000 residents. Today there are five million. They are innovative, forward-thinking, successful. And indeed, one cannot forget their roots.

Old shop houses have been restored and have reinvigorated lives. Between the whacky high-rise accommodation, there are new developments following the traditional bungalow style - and old bungalows are beautifully restored. Prime examples in tourism are the heritage-listed Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa Island and Raffles Hotel in the city - once seafront in Beach Road but now with hectares of reclaimed land between it and the South China Sea.

It is hard to think of anywhere else with not only such a commitment to tourism but also such an investment in it, both in terms of buildings and culture. It is paying off. The $5.6 billion Marina Bay Sands hotel, alone, employs 9000 people.

"It is because we have no natural resources," says Leanne Sim, a young Singaporean in the hospitality industry and Capella Singapore's marketing and communications manager.

"So we have to rely on service and the human capital to keep us competitive. There is no space here for oil palms. There's no naturally spectacular landscape. It's wild in a concrete sense.

"I think Singapore even in the last year has really changed. We are really trying to reinvent ourselves."

Ms Sim spent two years in Perth, completing Years 11 and 12 as a boarder at Presbyterian Ladies' College in Peppermint Grove.

She then spent eight years in Sydney where she completed an arts/law degree. She has been with the hotel for a year.

Singapore is relying for its future on intelligence, adaptability and planning, with investment supporting that.

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The pace of change, and embracing the front edge of the wave, is seen throughout.

Some 74 per cent of Singaporeans own a smartphone and mobile service suppliers say the volume of data being moved is increasing by between 50 and 60 per cent a year.

Singapore now has one of the highest computer tablet ownership rates in the world, at 31 per cent (behind Hong Kong's 34 per cent). It is expected to be 60 per cent of the population by the end of this year.

"There's been so much change in the last year," Ms Sim says. Sometimes, she says, she barely recognises the place.

And with Gardens on the Bay and the new River Safari, Asia's first river-themed park, next to Singapore Zoo in Mandai, with more than 500 animal species and 300 plant species, the commitment continues.

The West Australian

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