Singapore: The Merlion that Invaded Asia

By: Kathleen Yu

I admit, the first time I saw the Singaporean Merlion, my exact thoughts were, “What on earth is that?!?” It seemed a grotesque sort of animal, and looked a lot like a Pokemon. So much for a national emblem, huh? My mom brought me back a merlion key chain when she first came from Singapore, a shiny little thing that I stuck to the back of my backpack and broke less than a week later. I guess I wasn’t too impressed with the Merlion. It wasn’t even a real animal, after all. Just a weird hybrid of a fish-lion. According to the guidebook, some dude named Fraser Brunner had designed the merlion as an aquarium souvenir, and it ended up becoming the Singaporean national emblem. Imagine that. They must have been out of ideas.

But I guess that in a way, Singapore is a lot like the Merlion. From being a third-rate country, it rose to become one of the most progressive republics in Asia, all in less than ten years. (Thanks in part to an idol of mine, the venerable statesman Lee Kuan Yew) Just the thought of it makes me wonder, what can other developing nations such as the Philippines accomplish if they put their minds to it?

Singapore is like a city, and a country at the same time. It’s similar in size to the Vatican City, but everything around you is more than progressive–it’s ultra progressive. Even just chewing gum is enough to warrant an arrest for “destroying the overall cleanliness of the country”, so to speak.

Despite the fact that it’s a relatively small country, there’s plenty of sights to be seen in Singapore. You just have to know where to look…

Jurong Bird Park
The Jurong Bird Park is the largest bird park in the world. There’s all kinds of birds to be seen there, from those fluffy pink flamingos to the more common run-of-the-mill parrots. You won’t find those in the Philippines, that’s for sure. The exhibits are some of the most beautiful to be seen; there’s all kinds of color everywhere and it all looks pretty natural, like a real wildlife setting. There’s this African Waterfall Aviary that looks like something out of the Amazon Rain forest. It’s hard to imagine finding something like that in a bustling city like Singapore.

Night Safari
If you’re not much of a morning person (vampire, werewolf, or some other nocturnal creature), there’s always the night safari. I’d recommend not bringing a camera, since you’re not allowed to take pictures anyway. The lion is especially fierce, but I thought he seemed kind of cute, like Simba in the Lion King. Then there’s all those innocent looking deer-they’re pretty boring. I almost hoped the lion would come in and run after them, so there would be something interesting for a change. But the night safari was pretty cool, almost like those shows on National Geographic, where some vest-wearing wild life guide traverses the Savannah at night, in search of wild animals to capture on camera…except with the Night Safari, everything is in real time.

Old Singapore
If you’re a history buff and enjoy leafing through guidebooks of unimportant facts (since they don’t concern you any), then Old Singapore is the place for you. Everything in there is pretty old, which makes it “historically significant”. There’s even an old little India inside, if you’re interested in a different scene. There’s an old parliament, an old Hong Kong tea house, an old fire station, not to mention some really old people. If you’re into antiques, explore the place a bit. You never know what you might find in a place like Old Singapore.

Merlion Park
By far my favorite place in the whole of Singapore, and, yes, it’s only because of the giant Merlion in the middle of the park, spouting off water like a cute Pokemon. The place is like a tourist attraction in Singapore, probably because, well -duh- the Merlion is the most adorable, cute little thing…okay, maybe not that much. But it’s a pretty fine statue. And the park is a good place to walk around in, especially if you’re a nature-lover, or a Merlion-lover. Fact of the matter is, you can’t go wrong at Merlion Park. Growwwl.

Train-Hopping
Yes, I know it’s not a real tourist attraction-but you should try it. It’s really fun. You get to see all sorts of different places, and then get lost in the process. And when you’re finding your way back, there’s always a chance of meeting new, and interesting people. Just make sure you bring enough for the commute, so you won’t have to get off and walk the rest of the way.

Shopping!
Shopaholic or not, Singapore offers a wide array of shopping choices. They have at least ten malls in the place, all of them selling different kinds of merchandise. My mom, a well-known foodie, brought home a whole bunch of strange-looking Chinese food when she came back. Needless to say, we haven’t touched any of it. The food is probably rotting in a pantry somewhere.

To tell you the truth, Singapore is a very interesting place to explore. There’s so much to see, hear, smell, taste, touch…and to top it all, bring home to your friends and family! I’m thinking I might bring back a live Merlion one day, to live in our aquarium…if I can find one. The Merlion that invaded Asia, that’s definitely Singapore. And a formidable Merlion at that. So the next time you consider visiting an Asian country, think Singapore. It’s a totally worthwhile place to play tourist in. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to…ummm…see you in Singapore soon!

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