The tiny island has been serving one of the world’s busiest trade routes for centuries, beckoning people and money, like the Japanese fortune cat, to come to this strategically located piece of land. Evidently business and trade flourish, backed by sound economic management which now makes Singapore synonymous with wealth in a region where economic development is often hampered by political instability and rampant corruption.
But the image of Singapore as a rich city was not necessarily helpful in luring more people to come and explore the island, especially those who were more inclined to cultural sights and family-friendly attractions. Too often it was associated with business travelers and shopaholics.
In 1990, understanding the importance of a massive campaign to show the world the image of Singapore as a friendly place, the then Singapore Tourist and Promotion Board (STPB) felt the urge to have a mascot for the city. Singapura cat, believed to be a Singapore natural breed, was chosen.
However it soon led to debates on whether or not Singapura really was a natural breed, backed by contradictory historical suggestions, dubious claims, and scientific test results. It was the confirmation by the US-based Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) on Singapura’s status as a natural breed which justified the SPTB’s decision to launch the mascot, despite studies on the cat’s DNA indicated otherwise.
One year later through a competition the nascent mascot got its name. Kucinta, a Malay portmanteau from kucing (cat) and cinta (love) which if read together also means ‘I love’, was chosen to further affirm the city’s aspiration to not only be a clean, orderly and wealthy place, but also a friendly one.
Nevertheless because of the unresolved matter on Singapura’s status, Kucinta’s popularity has always been overshadowed by Merlion, the half mermaid half lion creature which has been used by the country’s tourism board as its logo even before before Kucinta was born, until the latter’s eventual oblivion from most people’s awareness today.
The Merlion statue, on the other hand, has become one of Singapore’s most prominent landmarks with images of it spouting water at Marina Bay appearing everywhere from magazines, newspapers, television, to social media.
Marina Bay was chosen as the spot where the most iconic of all Merlion statues was erected for its significance as the extension to the city’s Central Business District. It was at Marina Bay where reclamation works took place to provide land for some of the country’s most ambitious makeover plans in the 21st century.
Since the early 2000s the world began to witness Singapore’s ultramodern buildings gradually transforming the city in an unprecedented scale. The durian-shaped Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore Flyer, Moshe Safdie’s eccentric Marina Bay Sands, and the otherworldly Gardens by the Bay, along with futuristic skyscrapers, have dramatically altered the face of the once unassuming bay. They have been on the forefront of Singapore’s tourism campaigns since then, including the backdrop for the first ever Formula 1 night race.
Unfortunately the bombardment of images of Singapore as a 21st century playground has discouraged some people to visit the country – those who look for less polished experience when they travel all the way to Southeast Asia, where traditional cultures abound and are still very much alive. Singapore has become a little too perfect.
Many were surprised to learn that the tiny island in fact has grand colonial buildings and colorful ethnic neighborhoods, not to mention the wide variety of dishes influenced by the peoples who called Singapore their new home. The island does have much more than sanitized avenues, glitzy malls, and world-class theme parks – the usual things promoted on tourism brochures and advertisement.
As its recently-coined nickname suggests, the red dot is small in size, but it has a fiery ambition to be a world-class city, playground, and tourist destination. Embracing its less glamorous, but more culturally fulfilling side, certainly is essential to reach what it aspires to be.