Singapore is still a relatively unknown country to the rest of the world if my experience at the Camino is anything to go by.
It’s the usual questions whenever I tell people where I’m from – Are we part of China or Korea or Japan? Where did I learn to speak English? Is Singapore a city, a state or a country?
The most interesting question was from a lady from Idaho, USA who asked if Singapore has her own currency.
Come to think of it, she’s quite right to question the sovereignty of a country she heard of for the first time. Having our own flag does not necessary mean an independent country, I mean a school or club has its flag too.
So yes, we have our own currency – the Singapore Dollar aka Sing Dollar or SGD/S$ – which has been in use for the past 47 years.
Being a diehard history buff, I can’t help telling you how our currency came about. It won’t take too much time, I promise.
To cut a long story short, different forms of currencies were used here tracing back to the fateful day when an Englishman and a Scot landed on this infertile, mosquito infested, tiger roaming, obscure island that was razed to the ground and abandoned by the Portuguese way back when.
Around noon one January day in 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles and his sidekick William Farquhar arranged a treaty with a hastily appointed Malay sultan and his chief minister for the right to set up a trading post on behalf of the British East Indies company. The whole deal which almost caused a war between the Dutch and the British was transacted in Spanish dollars, real de a ocho aka “pieces of eight”, the de facto trading currency of that time.
As the British Empire grew in power and established the Straits Settlements, the Straits dollar became the currency for Singapore for almost 100 years until it was replaced by the Malayan dollar just before the outbreak of WWII.
During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, Imperial Japan issued a new currency for its occupied territories. Informally known as “banana money”, the notes have motifs of overbearing banana bunches and no serial numbers as they were printed whenever money is required, thus causing hyperinflation and subsequently became worthless by the end of the occupation.
The years leading to independence from United Kingdom, Singapore used the Malaya and British Borneo dollar, aka ringgit. These post-war currency notes adopted anti-forgery features such as security threads and watermarks. The first series in 1953 bore the head of a young Queen Elizabeth. Later series carried more ethnic themes, a sign of breaking away from the monarchy.
Singapore became fully independent in 1965 after the tearful separation from Malaysia but continued to use the ringgit.
Finally two years later, we issued our own notes and coins at par with Malaysia and pegged to the Sterling Pound £1 = S$8.57. Today £1 = S$2.05 and M$1 = S$0.40.
We’ve come a long way since, don’t you think?