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What do India, Singapore, and Hong Kong have in common? Well, I visited them all a couple of weeks ago, that's one thing they have in common. They all drive on the left, that's another. There's a reason for that. They were all ruled by Britain at some point.
India became independent from Britain 70 years ago (plus a few weeks, the actual date was August 15) in 1947. What was "India" up until that point was divided up into two countries, India and Pakistan, with Pakistan being the primarily Muslim parts to the west and east. Geographically partitioned countries like that never seem to be stable, and Pakistan was no different. What was East Pakistan became a separate country, Bangladesh, in 1971.
The partition of India, actually the partition of Punjab in the West and Bengal in the East, resulted in the displacement of over 10M people and deaths of perhaps as many as 2M people, and given that India today actually has more Muslims than Pakistan has people, seems like it was a poor decision. The resulting bad relationship between India and Pakistan continues to this day, with some aspects of the border in Kashmir still disputed.
Of course the important figure in India's independence was Ghandi. He opposed partition but was politically outmaneuvered by Nehru (and others). Nehru was India's first prime minister after independence.
The British rule of India began with the East India Company, one of the earliest companies owned by stockholders (depending on definition), which had a monopoly on trade with India. It lasted until 1874 when it was dissolved and the British government took over. Various terrible things happened during this period, but the legacy of British rule has to include building the railways, creating the Indian civil service, creating much of the democratic and legal system, all of which still exist today. But perhaps the most useful legacy of British rule is that, in a country with hundreds of dialects, the educated classes communicated in English (for example, all IIT classes are in English) which meant that they were very well placed to integrate into the international community when India became less closed. Call centers were an obvious starting point, since other low labor cost countries generally did not have enough good English speakers to compete. There was no language barriers when companies wanted to set up subsidiaries.
I have just been at CDNLive in Bengaluru, or Bangalore as it was known until recently. I think due to the climate (or maybe the pubs, another British legacy), it turned out to be one of the places that companies decided to set up subsidiaries. Today its population is 8.5M (the third biggest city in India). In 1991 it was half that, and it was under a million at independence. Cadence has its third largest group there (first is San Jose, second is Noida/Delhi). Apparently, it actually depends on what day you look since Cadence Shanghai has almost exactly the same number of people.
India trivia: Do you know why IPA (beer) is called IPA? It stands for India Pale Ale, and it was beer brewed in Britain to a high alcohol strength (although only 5% or so) and with extra hops (a preservative) so that it would survive the sea voyage to India without spoiling. Of course, the West coast of the US took that idea and ran with it, and West coast IPA typically is 8-9% alcohol and with lots more hops still. But when you buy an IPA in your local brewpub, you can drink to India, the "I" in IPA.
Singapore was founded by Sir Stanley Raffles (yes, the famous Raffles Hotel is named after him) in 1819. Of course there were people there before, so I should say modern Singapore. Or modernish, since true modern Singapore was created in 1965 when it became independent from the federation of Malaysia with Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister. He governed Singapore for three decades, during which time it transformed from "a third-world nation to a first world in a single generation." In many ways, it is one of the most amazing transformations of any nation, ever.
If you want a semiconductor connection, GLOBALFOUNDRIES has several fabs in Singapore, which they acquired with Chartered Semiconductor. The biggest is Fab 7 (the other big GLOBALFOUNDRIES fabs are Fab 1 in Dresden, Germany, and Fab 8 in Malta, New York).
Singapore trivia: Do you know how to make a Singapore Sling? Combine 1½ oz gin, ½ oz cherry-flavored brandy, ¼ oz triple sec, ¼ oz Benedictine, 4 oz pineapple juice, ½ oz lime juice, and ½ oz grenadine in a cocktail shaker. Add 1 cup ice, cover, and shake until chilled. Strain into a pre-chilled Collins glass. Garnish with a slice of pineapple and a maraschino cherry. (Or pour down the drain and use the gin to make a martini.)
I filmed a recent "What's for Breakfast?" video in the Singapore botanic garden:
Hong Kong became British as part of the resolution of the First Opium War. It is hard to imagine that Britain invaded China because they had declared opium illegal, and the British wanted to sell all the opium they were growing in India.
Eventually, in 1898, the British formalized arrangements with a 99-year lease on the territory, by then including Kowloon and the New Territories. There isn't really a Lee Kuan Yew of Hong Kong, but the nearest is a man you have probably never heard of, Sir John Cowperthwaite. He was financial secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971. He introduced free market economics at a time when Britain was largely run by socialist governments. He famously refused to collect financial statistics on the economy, on the basis that the government in London would only use them to try and intervene. To the extent that modern China is based on 1960s Hong Kong, he is perhaps the most influential person you've never heard of.
He actually arrived in Hong Kong in 1945 after the war and was tasked with finding ways for the government to boost the economy. But he discovered it was recovering just fine without the government doing anything, a lesson he took to heart. So during his period as financial secretary he pursued a policy of "positive non-interventionism". On his watch, Hong Kong started its transformation from one of the poorest places in the world to one where its per capita income is almost 50% higher than Britain, in the same league as Singapore.
The lease on Hong Kong expired in 1997 when it transitioned to a special administrative region of China, under the "one country, two systems" system, although it remains to see how that plays out long term, with less and less emphasis on two systems, and more on one country.
Hong Kong trivia: the current Hong Kong airport opened in 1998. The old airport was famous as an unusual landing. The flight path was lower than the surrounding apartment and office buildings, so the planes basically flew between the buildings....straight at a hillside, requiring a right turn once the hills got close, to line up on the runway. I never flew into the old airport, but I have done it in the right-hand seat on a 737 flight simulator, the kind they use to train pilots (in Singapore, as it happens). Without a retired 737 captain in the left seat, I doubt "my" landing would have been quite so successful.
I said Hong Kong drives on the left (and they have double decker buses, too). But China drives on the right (and has no double decker buses). So at the border they have to switch the sides of the road over. The same actually happens with railways on the French-German border. Wait, don't they both drive on the the right? They do. But the first French railways were built by British engineers so they did it the way they always had. So at the French-German border, they have weird ramps where one track goes up and over the other.
Over one-third of the world drives on the left, but mostly it is island nations like UK, Australia, Cyprus, Japan, Indonesia, and many more. So it turns out that there are relatively few junctions where left-hand drive countries meet right-hand drive countries like the Hong Kong to China bridge above. Many of them are around Thailand, which drives on the left (I don't know why, they were never colonized by the British or, indeed, anyone) but is surrounded by right-hand drive countries.
The Romans drove on the left and France did, too. Traditionally, people on horseback had ridden on the left (something to do with swords) and so people on foot had tended to walk on the right, so that the horses closest to them were visible, not coming up from behind. After the French revolution, it was considered aristocratic to be on the left, and popular to be on the right. As Napoleon spread his armies across Europe, they also spread the "keep right" rule.
Driving side trivia: On what side of the road do they drive in the US Virgin Islands?
Answer: The left, although all the vehicles seem to come second-hand from the US, so the steering wheels are on the "wrong" side.
So all these places were places that Britain "invaded" at some point.
Have you heard that there was a war when some slave-owning states wanted to secede from the union they were part of? Yes, it's called the American Revolutionary War (in America—in Britain we call it the War of American Independence). So yes, the US was one of the countries that the British invaded at some point in history. It is a very big group. In fact, there are just a handful of countries that escaped fish and chips, tea with milk, and warm beer, the ones in white in the map below, just 22 countries out of over 200:
Fish and chip trivia: Going full circle back to the beginning of the post, did you know that there are more Indian restaurants in Britain than fish and chip shops? And most of them are not run by Indians, but by Pakistanis.
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Continuing with the "driving on the left" trivia, does that make Sweden the only country to switch from the left to the right in recent times? I think it was sometime in the late 60s.