Malaysians protesting at Merlion Park

From ’21 Malaysians arrested at protest’, 12 May 2013, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Twenty-one Malaysians were arrested yesterday for staging a protest at the Merlion Park against the outcome of last Sunday’s Malaysian general election. The rare police action followed earlier warnings that such gatherings are illegal, and after nine Malaysians were warned for participating in a similar protest last Wednesday.

In a statement last night, the police said that “while foreigners are allowed to work or live here, they have to abide by our laws”. “They should not import their domestic issues from their countries into Singapore and conduct activities which can disturb public order, as there can be groups with opposing views. Those who break the law will be seriously dealt with.”

….Last week, the police warned nine Malaysians for “actively participating” in an illegal gathering at Merlion Park on Wednesday, when about 100 people went to protest against the Malaysian election results.

…Separately, the police also reminded migrant worker rights activist Jolovan Wham of his responsibilities as organiser of a Speakers’ Corner demonstration today, also related to the Malaysian general election. He has been told to take appropriate measures to ensure that the event complies with Singapore laws. The police said they were informed that Mr Wham had posted on Facebook that he was organising the demonstration to show solidarity with Malaysians calling for fair elections and that “he had invited foreigners to observe the event“.

“The Speakers’ Corner is a designated site for Singaporeans to freely speak on issues as long as they do not touch on matters which relate to religion or may cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups in Singapore. Only Singaporeans and permanent residents of Singapore are allowed to participate in demonstrations held at the Speakers’ Corner,” the police spokesman said.

The terms and conditions of the use of Speakers’ Corner is ambiguous on what constitutes a ‘demonstration’, or if you may be just an ‘observer’ and not a ‘participant’ in the event. In 2001, when public demos were banned from Hong Lim Park, the police described such activities as coming together for a ‘specific cause’, ‘chanting slogans’, ‘displaying placards’ and showing gesticulations such as ‘CLENCHING OF FISTS’. I’m not sure if clapping furiously and going ‘Hear, hear’ in response to a rousing speech constitutes participation, but standing from a distance and folding your arms with an expressionless face may have protesters suspecting that you’re a plainclothes police officer instead of a supporter or observer. You may even get crowd-surfed involuntarily if things get out of hand.

The earlier Merlion Park protest had special appearances from two Mediacorp actors, namely Zhang Yaodong and Shaun Chen, who in the image below, are clearly seen ‘participating’ in an illegal activity. Not sure if it’s stated anywhere in their Mediacorp contract if celebrities (and role models to our ‘impressionable youth’) are allowed to engage in political protests. They may inadvertently get innocent bystanders into serious trouble if screaming fans at the scene who have no idea what ‘Ubah’ or ‘Bersih’ are all about get rounded up by the cops for disrupting public order. You may, however, be part of a campaign to ban shark’s fin soup, though that may upset more people than your political beliefs.

Careful, almost a clenched fist there!

It’s not the first time that our Merlion has seen gatherings of this sort. In 2011, a petition for an SMTown Kpop concert was held in the form of a flash mob. Not sure if a police permit was applied for in this case but amazingly (also unfortunately), it turned out to be successful. These kids with their sick dance moves and placards look dead menacing. Slogans on A4 paper? Amateurs. If you want to get something out of your protesting, choreograph a mass-dance, dammit!

Thanks a lot too, Singa the courtesy lion, for giving Malaysian activists ideas for a venue.

There are other ways to show solidarity for a political cause if you’re a foreigner. You could blackout your Facebook profile for a couple of days before reverting it to a pic of your baby. If you’re a Myanmese you could join fellow countrymen to book entire theatres and watch Rambo viciously gun down junta villains (with permission from the authorities of course). You could even have a sit-down dinner in a nice restaurant with face-paint, sing patriotic songs in unison and get nothing more than dirty looks from diners without having a ring of police surrounding you like a phalanx in a Roman army ready to charge a castle.

Screengrab From Martyn See's 'Speakers Cornered'

Screengrab From Martyn See’s ‘Speakers Cornered’

But if you insist on venting your frustrations on crappy governments outdoors, you could do it ‘picnic’ style, like the Bersih 2.0 get-together in 2011 at Speaker’s Corner, where instead of slogans you could hand out yellow roses as a nod to the days of ‘Flower Power’. Just make sure you keep your friendly neighbourhood Police in the loop so they can send their stakeout/riot police team to defuse an ugly situation in the event you start marching around with burning stakes, flipping cars over and then torching them. Singaporean protesters can do without such police permits having been cowed into submission over generations. It’s the foreigners with their campaigns and balls who’re viewed as potential threats (But our government welcomes them with open arms anyway). I mean just look at them, dressed in matching black garb and holding up what looks suspiciously like secret society code numbers.  My God, our riot police have their work cut out for them!

The 8 is upside down. Maybe that symbolises something. Hmm.

Maybe it’s time we drop the name ‘Speakers’ Corner’ and just call it Hong Lim Park instead, since nobody goes there just to ‘speak’ anymore without some fist-pumping or incitement going on. Maybe we should have a demo at Speaker’s Corner to protest against the name ‘Speaker’s corner’. We could sit in unwashed, loving huddles, have a feast of organic tofu and sway holding hands to a live ukelele rendition of ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear some Flowers in your Hair)’.

Here’s a sample of events which render the title invalid and outdated:

Pink dot (2009)

Give Vuikong a Chance (a petition signing event, 2010)


Slutwalk  (2011)

M Ravi dancing (for no one) (2012)

And of course, a recent May Day event about some white paper. Wonder what’s all that fuss about.


Merlion like Taj Mahal

From ‘Disappointed by ‘caged’ Merlion’, 15 May 2011, Your Letters, Sunday Times

(Asad Rizvi): …We had planned a city tour for everyone and were excited at the prospect of seeing the famous Merlion statue at the Merlion Park.

However we were disappointed to see that the Merlion had been ‘caged’ and was not available for public viewing. I am surprised that Singaporeans are fine with this. It’s like caging the Taj Mahal or the Qutab Minar. How can they allow this?

Perhaps the Biennale’s Merlion Hotel exhibit has gone on for far too long, but it’s encouraging to know that some tourists are still ‘excited’ by the prospect of seeing a 25 foot statue rather than shopping for electronics at Sim Lim Square after all these years, though it makes me wonder what kind of photoshopped Colossus the Tourism Board has been portraying our national chimera as. The Taj Mahal is easily 10 times the height of the Merlion, which means the  statue could pass off as mere mantlepiece or garden fountain within its premises. A Biennale artist would need probably a dozen helicopters and cranes to box the Taj up as an installation work, but an illusionist like David Copperfield could make the Merlion disappear with nothing more than a bundle of curtain drapes and the snap of a finger.

A more appropriate symbol for us to aspire to would be Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue, which despite its much smaller size (1.25 m), still garners more international adulation than our Lion City equivalent. Maybe that’s because everybody remembers the fable of the Little Mermaid, but few Singaporeans could truly appreciate the symbolism of the lion-fish, especially the fish portion (See below, Fishy tales of how the Merlion was born, 14 Nov 1987, ST), with one version qualifying as ‘Worst Singaporean Joke’ ever in today’s context (‘They used a lion’s head because all the fish heads were used for fish head curry’). Whether it’s deified or not, our Merlion is probably the only national icon worth keeping for posterity here, and schools and parents should do justice to the Merlion’s origins, manufactured and uninspired notwithstanding, before it’s ungraciously retired from its role as national icon to make way for the  soulless monstrosity that is the Marina Bay Sands. Next year also happens to be its 40th anniversary since the Merlion’s official unveiling in 1972, and I trust the STB, amidst all its casino feting, will appreciate the relevance of myth in a country losing its identity at breakneck speed in exchange for vain progress,  and spend some time fishing its reserves to revive the Merlion legend before you only see it in Miss Universe costumes.

MBS becoming Singapore’s national icon

From’ Do we really want a casino as our icon?’ 20 April 2011, Voices, Today

(Tong Jee Cheng): IT is disappointing that the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort is fast becoming an iconic representation of Singapore. We see it in the background in local television dramas, we see it in tourist leaflets. It seems to appear often as backdrops in the various advertising media.

The first I heard of such sentiment was at a talk held at the National Museum – the speaker, whose name I cannot recall, was a local historical researcher. And in another local newspaper, a retired architect and urban theorist echoed this sentiment and said he would rather that the Botanic Gardens be the iconic landmark for Singapore.

Which other country in the world has a casino as its most famous icon?

I don’t think any country has a park as its icon either. Besides, the Botanical Gardens isn’t exactly postcard-pretty or instantly recognizable from the inside. Whether natural or man-made, one of the main criteria of a national icon, other than its uniqueness, scale, history and architecture, is that it must be well adored, even revered to myth-like proportions, by its people and not just manufactured for tourists. The MBS not only fails in that most basic aspect, but also lacks any kind of meaningful history, regardless of its function as a casino or a spiritual temple housing homeless orphans. There’s nothing teeming or rich about it, no stories to tell other than appalling service standards, and serves to draw only a certain kind of tourist; the rich ones.

Perhaps our Singaporean identity is simply this; that we have nothing special to commemorate as a nation or decorate our bills with besides the faces of dead presidents, we have no national costume, no national dish, we don’t have a decent tagline in our tourism posters, and we can’t decide on what monument to officiate as a national treasure without proceeding to tear it down to make way for something glitzier. We seem to have forgotten why we’re called ‘The Lion City’, and other than a spouting lion-fish to remind us, it seems that as a country we’ve developed a collective amnesia of what’s worth conserving, epitomising the Dubai-esque ‘futurepolis’ and every archaeologist’s nightmare in sci-fi lore. Some may argue that we’re just too small a nation to have many candidates to choose from, but even 8.5 sq mile island nation Nauru has an icon in the form of a champion boxer named DJ Maaki, not to mention what’s inside 0.2 square miles of Vatican City.

Not that we haven’t tried looking for one. Singapore’s elusive icon could have been a person, a plant, or even an orang utan, as suggested from a past list of potential national icons as follows:

Animals:  Ah Meng (Why Ah Meng is a national icon, 24 June 2006, Today), Sunbird (This sunbird fits image, 31 May 1986, ST)

Flowers: Vanda Miss Joachim

Statues: Merlion

Buildings: National Stadium, National Library at Stamford, Raffles Hotel, Changi Airport, Esplanade, Zoo, Parliament House

Language: Singlish (Beng is cool, Singlish a Signal, 20 March 2006, Today)

People: MM Lee

Sadly there’s nothing that triggers swelling pride from the slim pickings above, with traditional icons like the Merlion being exploited as part of a hotel installation, and the Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling being compared to cough syrup. If we idolise politicians we risk being branded as the North Korea of South East Asia, and advocates of Singlish will realise that we share bits and pieces of it with our Malaysian neighbours. Even if the MBS were granted the dubious honour of being representative of the Singaporean identity, history tells us that it’ll go the way of the National Stadium or Vanda Miss Joachim sooner or later. Ultimately, whats the point of a national icon even if we had one, when our people itself, a mishmash of migrants with their hearts and roots elsewhere, are unlikely to stay long enough, develop a community around it, and tell stories about it to their children in the end? But for now, the question Singaporeans should ask themselves is this; 100 years from now, what’s the one thing we want to see still exist, to grace the pages of National Geographic, appear on the History Channel, to be the first item on every tourist’s itinerary, or printed on our 50 dollar notes? Looking at the list above, my bets are on the Merlion, kitschy today but the icon most likely to really go the distance while megaliths like the MBS  fade forgotten into the shade of an inevitable ever- ascending skyline.

A Merlion in the bedroom

From ‘ Please, not in the bedroom’, 21 March 2011, My Point, ST Forum

(MR PATRICK MOK): ‘I am not at all comfortable with the idea of having a legendary icon like the Merlion confined in a bedroom. It is a national symbol and should be out there in the open for both residents and visitors to admire. We should treat the Merlion with respect.’


Not exactly 'in the jungle, the mighty jungle'

I hope someone dutifully changes the bedsheets, otherwise pray that the couple on the last day of this Biennale event do not come away from this one uproarious night with the national icon as an aphrodisiac backdrop with a lion’s share of rashes, crabs or scabies contracted from the unmentionable emissions of previous occupants. What could be more  symbolic than procreating under the benevolent, protective vigil of our magnificent chimera, what with boosting birth rates being the national agenda and all? In fact, this awkward structure that is the Merlion Hotel, crossing the boundaries of functional art, may actually protect our beloved icon from being abused by visitors, having been prone to free for all trampling orgies of late. One can only hope that occupants have the decency to take a dump in the tiny toilet with the door closed, provided that anyone even has the courage to do that in what is essentially a makeshift art installation. But other than that, hardcore patriots like Patrick should lighten up and tolerate what some people may deem serious art expressing something profound about national identity, but mostly a goofy exercise of exhibitionism and voyeurism to others.

Merlion should be moved

From ‘Merlion losing out’, 30 Oct 2010, My Point, ST Forum

(Jaren Chan): The Merlion has been one of the must-stop attractions in Singapore, with tourists flocking to the spot to secure that iconic picture of our country. However, with the completion of Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, the towering complex simply dwarfs the Merlion and has become the new backdrop for that souvenir picture. Perhaps the authorities could consider shifting the Merlion to a location near the Helix bridge and the floating platform. From there, the skyline can be captured with the Merlion in the foreground.

Why stop at the Merlion? How about moving the Sir Stamford Raffles Statue as well, or blowing him up to a Statue Of Liberty sized colossus straddling the Bay area, so that tourists have somthing to gawk at other than waving at other tourists in Singapore Flyer capsules? In this age of social media, nobody even buys postcards anymore, and even if people do, given the dwindling nature of the industry, it’s better for them really to sell separate scenic postcards than relocate the statue just to complete the MBS postcard look out of the aesthetic whim of one complainant. Moving the Merlion is not so easy as plucking it out of its current seat and screwing it into a ready made hole by the Helix Bridge.  I say leave our statues where they are and move them only in a noble bid to emulate the  epic grandiosity that is Rio De Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, as hinted in this 19 November 1985 letter below ‘Show Raffles as he came to shore’, ST Forum. Of course, till this date, nobody’s done anything to elevate the status of the poor Merlion to the mythical demigod that it deserves to be, knowing that in Singapore the only things that get built bigger are BTO flats like Pinnacle at Duxton and casinos, not statues whose only purpose is to instill the useless, non profitable emotions of reverence and nostalgia, or have people trample all over them for that matter.




Brown stain

From ‘Don’t drool, Mr Merlion’ 1 November 2002 ST Forum

My young sons were quick to point out that the Merlion was ‘drooling’ from the mouth, thanks to a brown stain.

The authorities should also have….re-design(ed) the water spout. It would look a lot better if the spout was not visible

Ed: Another reason to circumvent our national icon with barb wire other than to prevent people from trampling on it is so that such nitpickers like these don’t come too close to notice brown stains or protruding spouts.

Merlion bullies

From “Protect Merlion from snap-happy tourists” 5 April 2010, ST Forum online

They (tourists) trample on the ‘waves’ at the base of the Merlion, causing damage to the tiles. Imagine someone getting a deep cut because of the broken tiles, or worse, a child slipping and falling into the Singapore River.

Perhaps the next time the Merlion has a facelift….a planter bed of bougainvillea (prickly but pretty) could be placed around the base to protect the landmark from the mob of tourists thronging the park every day.

Hopefully, in this case, lightning does strike the same place twice

Maybe we should start revering it like a god, instead of making it a laughing stock at Ms Universe contests. It’s all that we have, Singapore!  Sang Nila Utama must be tossing in his grave. Come on, tourists, as ugly as Singaporean tourists are, you don’t see us doing the Visa dance all over your elephant/cow/(insert sacred animal here) statues do you?