Singapore Adventure

Friday, August 05, 2005

by venitha

Jim and I met up after work last Friday and took advantage of free admission to the Singapore History Museum after 7pm. Jetlag prevented us from being able to stay up that late when we lived practically next door to the museum. However, we can now regularly stay awake through Singapore's consistent 7pm sunset, and just after we moved, the museum debuted an exhibit that I couldn't resist: Love Me, Love Me Not, featuring Singaporean icons from Hello Kitty to the Courtesy Campaign to the Singapore Girl.

As Singapore approaches its 40th birthday in less than a week, there is a great deal of hand-wringing about the lack of a unifying national identity and even the lack of an impressive representative national symbol, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower.

Hello Kitty is Japanese. Love me not. The Courtesy Campaign has a mascot, but c'mon. Love me not. And the Singapore Girl was invented for a Singapore Airlines ad campaign. Love me not. Well, can we kindle some fond feelings for the Merlion?

Created after a government-sponsored contest in 1972, the Merlion is popular with tourists, who flock to see him spray his fountain into the harbor and buy his likeness on endless souvenirs. I am the proud owner of a Merlion keychain myself. However, the locals show no respect and have gone so far as to coin the verb "to merlion" meaning, to, well, it doesn't require much imagination, does it? The Merlion spews a great blast of water out of his mouth. This amuses me greatly, and I anxiously await an opportunity to use this term in conversation.

I think the Singaporeans should stop digging up this entire island searching for its culture and just embrace their kitschy-ness. Where else would people care so much about all this crap? Well, just about anywhere else, actually, which is a depressing point. A nation formed amidst globalization and multi-national corporate ownership of everything isn't going to have much of an independent identity, is it?

While this is a good excuse for the current state of Singaporean culture, it doesn't completely cut it. Saturday evening, we headed out to Bugis St, which was the big transvestite hang-out in the 60s, but then the government kicked out all the unsavory elements, re-built it, and turned it into just what Singapore needed: a tourist haven with a night market selling lots of, well, crap. You know, like Hello Kitty pens and Merlion keychains.

Squash everything that isn't the right kind of culture and then whine when nothing's left? Makes me want to Merlion.