PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am


Singapore is a clean, green, hyper-efficient machine, and one of the most user-friendly cites in Asia. The multilane freeway from Changi International Airport is bordered with flowering trees and shrubs. The Mass Rapid Transit zips its way round the island with barely a hint of a rumble or rattle. Taxi drivers help passengers load their luggage into the boot. Glitzy shopping malls rub shoulders with 5-star hotels and gourmet restaurants. It's as if the entire republic is connected via wireless broadband to

And Singapore's attractions got a tremendous boost with the opening of Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, two star-studded integrated resorts that combine hotels, casinos, shopping and entertainment.

Yet, despite the obvious modernity, what makes Singapore so enjoyable is its traditional Asian identity. Eddies of smoke from smouldering joss sticks waft the streets of Chinatown, the air is suffused with the gentle aroma of spices in Little India and the muezzin's call rings out over Arab Street.

Conversations overheard in a lift or a bar might include the sing-song of Putonghua, a lilt of Bahasa, the quick-fire jabber of Hindi, or the Lion City's own brand of 'Singlish', whose quirky expressions often carry the idiosyncratic tag 'lah'. All in all, the island is like one vast, cosmopolitan buffet.

When the British colonialist Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819, it was little more than a fishing village. But he soon realised that its location - just off the equator in the Straits of Malacca - could be exploited to make it the mercantile crossroads of Asia. Advocating free trade and laying out a town plan that is still largely in place, he spent a mere four years on the island, long enough for him to be commemorated as the city state's founder.

Following the second world war and later independence, Singapore - under the leadership of elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew - carved a niche for itself in financial and service industries. Today, it is one of the most prosperous nations in the region, a remarkable achievement considering the lack of natural resources on its 646 square kilometres. And major recent trophy projects, such as sparkling new hotels and casinos, have added to Singapore's allure as a very desirable place.

As somewhere to live, Singapore has a legion of fans, not least a sizeable number of expatriates and business travellers.

'To me Singapore offers the best professional balance in the region,' says Torbjorn Karlsson, managing partner for Industrial Practice Asia-Pacific. 'It's a great place to work, it's a professional environment that is beginning to approach Hong Kong in terms of opportunities and rewards but, more importantly, it's also a great place to call home.'

Karlsson says part of the difference is the constant change and focus on liveability. 'Singapore figured out a long time ago that attracting employers is only one side of the equation,' he says. 'People must like to live in a place and remain there in up and down cycles.

'The Singapore of today is not the Singapore of 10 years ago. We have bicycle paths, botanical gardens and marinas competing with shopping, and more food than you can ever eat. This is a multiracial and multicultural society, but also an incredibly accessible city - you can read menus and communicate with people from all walks of life. Perhaps Singapore is not the best at any one thing, but it's overall the best mix and it keeps getting better.'

Karlsson's views are echoed by Barry Lea, a British expatriate financier. 'The locals help really make the place welcoming,' he says. 'It's not just the high standard of English, or 'Singlish', here, which is a great help, but, more importantly, people tend to be a bit more relaxed and appear innately happier than some of their counterparts in the region. It shows in many everyday situations whether it's at the supermarket checkout or interacting with waiters, taxi drivers or others when you're out and about. People are good humoured, cosmopolitan, cultured and friendly, and display considerable national pride.

Lea adds that while Singapore is becoming an expensive place to live, tax rates are low.

'You don't have to look very far to see what you're getting for your money,' he says. 'A trip to the supermarket can be tough on the wallet but, at least, there's little that you can't find there.

'Singapore doesn't normally suffer from air pollution woes, and the health care system is top-notch, so in the unlikely event that you could afford to develop a drink problem, you would be in good hands.'