I’ve been living in Singapore for seven years and it’s truly a magical place. I love the charming parks, the futuristic architecture, the clever people and the excitement that comes from such a unique and fast-developing nation.
For me, it seems apt that the national symbol of Singapore would be the Merlion – this cool creature of imagination really captures the spirit of this place. The sea, the lion and the magic. I like it.
Singapore was the dream of its forefathers, Lee Kuan Yew, Dr. Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Dr. Toh Chin Chye, Mr. Lim Kim San and others supporting this new nation. So, to me, it makes sense that the Merlion stands guard at the base of Marina Bay, an almost entirely made-up place as it is – on reclaimed land, surrounded by major architectural development. This land deserves a fitting representative.
The half-fish, half-lion creature came to life as a way to symbolize “Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village, when it was called Temasek, meaning ‘sea town’ in Old Javanese,” according to the Visiting Singapore website. The famous statue in Merlion Park on Marina Bay, created by sculptor Lim Nang Seng, was introduced in 1972 by LKY.
While some people scoff at the thought of an imaginary creature as its national emblem, Singapore isn’t the only country with a mythical mascot! Scotland’s official animal is the unicorn, and Wales has been sporting The Red Dragon on its flag way before Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire came out. Greece harks back to its own ancient mythology to feature the Phoenix as a national bird. Even North Korea is in on the trend – featuring the Chollima, a winged horse from Chinese folklore, as an important symbol and past economic movement.
Singapore recently introduced a new version of the Merlion, called Merli, in a move to create a “stronger emotional connection with families” and, naturally, “to entrench Singapore’s brand awareness among them.” That’s her below. She’s pretty cute.
The history of the Merlion itself does smack a bit of commercialization. But, let’s be fair, that’s a relatively new term in the history of the world – branding is part of every early society. Having said that, Chinatown and many retail stores hawk tonnes of Merlion statues, keychains and cute little stuffed toys. The Conrad Centennial Singapore hotel gives them to guests and even Starbucks has their own version. (I want one!)
I personally bought into Merlion fever when I first moved here in 2012, hitting the tourist areas to seek out the biggest Merlion statue I could find for my balcony. We still have it today. It is perched proudly by my lime trees.
As such, I’m always looking for a bigger Merlion statue. So, if you see one, let me know. Because I’m a true believer in the dream that is Singapore.
About Andrea McKenna Brankin
Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the DaySpring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.
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