The Red Dot: A Matter of Being Too Perfect

58 comments
Asia, Singapore
Singapore's Central Business District

Singapore’s Central Business District

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.

Kucinta, A Cancelled Icon of Singapore

Kucinta, An Unpopular Mascot of Singapore Tourism

Kucinta and Two Kittens

Kucinta and Two Kittens

Merlion, the Eventual Icon of the City

The Merlion, the Most Prominent Icon of the City

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.

Old Shophouses along the Singapore River

Old Shophouses along the Singapore River

The Fullerton Hotel, One of Marina Bay's Surviving Old Buildings

The Fullerton Hotel, One of Marina Bay’s Surviving Old Buildings

A Popular Meeting Point

A Popular Meeting Point

Ultramodernism around Marina Bay

Ultramodernism around Marina Bay

Looking Out to the Durian-Shaped Esplanade

Looking Out to the Durian-Shaped Esplanade

Luxury in the City of Wealth

Luxury in the City of Wealth

Moshe Safdie's 'Welcoming Hand of Singapore'

Moshe Safdie’s ‘Welcoming Hand of Singapore’

Lotus Pond beneath the Alienesque Museum

Lotus Pond beneath the Ultramodern Museum

Sunset Reflections

Sunset Reflections

All the Glitz for Which Singapore is Known

All the Glitz for Which Singapore is Known

The Elongated 'Infinity Pool' at Marina Bay Sands

The Elongated ‘Infinity Pool’ at Marina Bay Sands

A White Beacon of Singapore's Progress

A White Beacon of Singapore’s Progress

The Photogenic Helix Bridge

The Photogenic Helix Bridge

Singapore Flyer Framing the Suntec City Towers

Singapore Flyer Framing the Suntec City Towers

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

58 thoughts on “The Red Dot: A Matter of Being Too Perfect”

  1. Gara says:

    Singapore with its many faces. Beautifully written, Bama. Yes, Kucinta is a new information for me, too. I always think that Merlion is the mascot of the city–without knowing that there are cats which were intended to be the city’s official mascots :hehe.

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    • Luckily a few weeks before my trip to Singapore I watched a TV program about Kucinta, that’s how I found out about it. When I was walking around Marina Bay those cat statues were the first things I looked for. 🙂 Plus I adore cats!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice captures and article Bam. Especially the fact that Kucinta has been a new mascot for the city, instead of the Merlion. But when I was a kid, I was wondering about Merlion: Was it really exist or how did they imagine that kind of creature? 😀

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    • Matur nuwun Bart! Well, when I was little I thought that the big wooden Garuda Pancasila at MPR could walk! 🙂

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  3. Wow, i missed this one, i just don’t know that they have cat statue as tourism mascot beside the merlion. I shoult see this one when i’m in singapore 🙂

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  4. Interesting perspective. It does seem like Singapore offers much more than what initially meets the eye. It’s too bad Kucinta isn’t a well-liked mascot- Singapura cats are so beautiful and friendly!

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    • Thank you, Holly. That’s the ‘problem’ with tourism in Singapore: most people only know its usual tourism sites, while there are actually lots of interesting places in the city. Shame indeed that Kucinta didn’t make it to people’s hearts, but at least the Merlion is still half a big cat. 🙂

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  5. Great insight here Bama ~ and here all along I thought it was the Merlion, but I really like the Kucinta… Singapore does have this diversity that I think gets hidden behind the ‘rules of rules’ that Singapore is famous for. Cheers.

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    • It would have been really neat to have Kucinta as Singapore’s tourism mascot. But again, the city’s transformation has been very remarkable, hence a more ‘magical’ creature to embody that spirit: the Merlion. I, too, was surprised to find out how diverse and interesting Singapore was. But as you said, those things are often hidden behind the well-manicured gardens, wide and orderly avenues, and modern skyscrapers the city is more known for.

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  6. I love that you got shots of the statues along the river, if I remember correctly there are quite a few statues long the river. I guess there is quite a story behind each set of statues.

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    • Hi Sarah. There are indeed other statues along the river, including the kids jumping into the water which are arguably the most famous statues in the neighborhood. The cat statues, unfortunately, are often overlooked by pedestrians. I don’t know about the story behind each statue, but it would be neat to find out about that.

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    • Sue, and thank you for your kind comment. Ha! I should have known that those bicycles would catch your attention the most. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice post about Singapore, Bama. And very timely. I think Singapore has so much heritage and culture, it’s just that a lot of people don’t want to look for it. What SG has and no other country does in SE Asia is modernism AS WELL AS history. I feel a shame for people who think MBS or the new Sports Hub are the highlights of Singapore from a tourism perspective. I would advise those people to spend some time learning about Chinatown, Arab Street, etc, and eat and drink and live and sleep there. Also, the history of the country during WW2 and its subsequent improvement after independence with Malaysia is a fascinating subject and many places in SG are there to be explored for people who want to get out there and find the spots. I love all that SG has to offer, but I don’t think the likes of Malaysia/Thailand/Brunei/Philippines have THAT MUCH more history than Singapore. Still, the world is how we see it. That’s the beauty of being able to travel! 🙂

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    • My first visit to Singapore was pretty much like what most tourists would do/visit: MBS, the Merlion, Sentosa (including the Universal Studios) and Orchard Road. But it was only on second visit did I get a better sense of what Singapore has to offer: vibrant Chinatown, colorful Peranakan neighborhoods, fragrant Little India, etc. It was also interesting to learn about the history of the city. Thank you, Lee, and thanks for sharing your perspective as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! The skyline shot at night is my all time favourite shot in this post, you captured the light in such a beautiful way. Stunning.

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    • Thank you! I didn’t get any sunset photo like I wanted, but I’m glad my photos at dusk turned out quite nice — as in not blurry. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

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  9. Good writing about Kucinta! Since I know two of my friend are spend their morning by seeing the catcafe (yes, Firsta and Ariev did it), they will be so happy to scan every corner of Merlion Park 🙂

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    • Makasih Kak Indri! Ahh, I didn’t know that both of them are also cat lovers. They really should find those statuettes by the bank of the Singapore River.

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    • Wow, thank you for your kind comment! There’s something quite whimsical about the ArtScience Museum, I must admit — the architecture, the pond, and the view of Singapore’s skyline.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. That is a funny story about the cats. Singapore doesn’t rank high on my list for the reasons you mention (commercial, modern, expensive) but your posts about the different neighborhoods makes me want to visit. I am sure that someday I will visit in transit to the other countries in the region. 🙂

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    • As a cat person I knew I had to write about that cat from the moment I found out about it. 🙂 After my visit to Singapore a few months ago I learned that Singapore actually has so much to offer, shame most people don’t know about the city’s interesting neighborhoods. The next time you’re in Southeast Asia at least try to stay in Singapore for a few days, since now you know what to expect.

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  11. Bama, I couldn’t pick a favourite photo from this post – they are all gorgeous! If it weren’t for your keen eye I would have completely missed those little sculptures of the Singapura cats. Thanks for letting me know about Kucinta before we got there. 🙂

    I remember the days when the Merlion stood at the tip marking the entrance to the Singapore River. Marina Bay was a newly reclaimed patch of land and none of those landmarks had been built yet! Great job on the story; as Sue said it was most informative and I ended up learning a couple of new things.

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    • Wow, thank you James! I quite enjoy that afternoon walk around Marina Bay – I wish Jakarta had such a nice promenade, but you know how bad Ciliwung is. 😀 Had I not watched that TV program, I would have not known about Kucinta until now. It was a food program by the way. 🙂

      Singapore must have been a very different place the time you left it for Hong Kong many years ago. But Hong Kong is pretty much the same, right? With all those reclamation and construction works. Makasih banyak, James! Visiting Singapore was your idea after all, and I’m glad I went. 🙂

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  12. The new modern geometric architecture is fantastic in its own gray way, but it certainly lacks the welcoming charm of the old shops along the waterfront. And about the cats – people can argue about the weirdest things!

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    • I couldn’t agree more with you, Marilyn. Sure modern architecture is nice, but old buildings certainly have their own charm. Oh people can argue about literally everything! Such is the nature of human.

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  13. Great post Bama! I had no idea the Kucinta even existed! It’s definitely been replaced by the Merlion. You’ve captured Singapore’s dilemma perfectly — aspire to be an ultra modern city or cling to the heritage that tourists these days are so interested in seeing. For now, Singapore seems to be succeeding at both with the glitz of Marina Bay near the remaining conserved neighborhoods of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India. I hope the balance remains for many years to come, but the future remains to be seen. Great photos!

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    • Aha! So that’s one thing you can look for the next time you walk around that area. To be honest Singapore has done a great job in preserving its cultural heritage. All it has to do is to showcase those colorful neighborhoods to the world. Thank you, Kelly!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Bama. I wasn’t aware of the existence of Kucinta as a mascot but I know Merlion very well. Anyway, I’m allergic to cats so I’m gald they retired Kucinta:)
    Funny, I was just having a conversation with my cousin, who just came back to NY from HK after a 7-month work stint, about Singapore vs HK. We both agree that if we were given a choice to work for an extended period in either place we would choose HK. Although were not big fans of HK’s pollution, it has more cultural flavor than Singapore. We both feel that Singapore is too sanitized, too choreographed, a bit too artificial for our taste.
    P.s. You night shots are stunning.

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    • Shame you’re allergic to cats, Marisol. They’re just so adorable and playful. Well, this is me, a cat person, speaking. 😀

      I, too, would choose HK over Singapore for its great hiking trails and rugged terrains. Those are the things Singapore can’t compete with — unless one day, with their money, they build artificial hills and white sand beaches. Who knows?

      Thank you, Marisol!

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  15. never heard of this kucinta mascot before. as a cat person, I would totally vote for it rather than the merlion. kucinta would fit perfectly with ‘ret dot’ like how cats would chase after moving laser red dots :))

    where are those cat statues located, anyway?

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    • Ha! More cat person here. 🙂 That’s a great tourism campaign idea, of Kucinta chasing after moving red laser dots. Brilliant!

      If you’re near the Fullerton Hotel, look for Cavanagh Bridge. The statuettes are in one corner of the bridge, just over the railings.

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  16. Chuckling over your comment about the possibility of Singapore building artificial trails and beaches! Who knows indeed! 🙂 Thanks for the education Bama….I hadn’t heard of Kucinta either.

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    • Well, we’ve seen them build an artificial montane forest inside a giant dome, with artificial waterfalls. So we can’t really say building artificial trails and beaches is impossible, can we? 🙂 Thanks for reading, Madhu.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary. There are still sooo many places to visit though. The world is such a big, wonderful place. 🙂 Best wishes to you too!

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  17. sepertinya sebagian besar orang baru tau kalau ada maskot kucing “kucinta” di singapore, karena orang akan ingat merlion sebagai ikon negeri singa tadi, eh maaf ya aku komennya pakai bahasa Indonesia

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    • Saya aja dulunya gak pernah denger sama sekali mengenai Kucinta. Baru pas ke Singapura beberapa tahun yang lalu saya tau oh ternyata ada kucing ini yang tadinya mau dijadikan maskot negara itu. Komen mau pakai bahasa apapun dipersilakan kok. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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