City of Lions and Merlions

Funny thing.  When I first went to the United Kingdom to study back in 1978, Malaysia was still relatively not well known internationally.  When I told people that I was from Malaysia, I got all kind of replies;

“Is that an island in the Pacific?”

“Is it a real country?”

“Is that part of Singapore?”

It kind of upset me that Singapore was much better known despite really being just a tiny island at the tip of the much larger Peninsular of Malaya.  However, I got the most signs of comprehension when I told them that Malaysia was just north of Singapore.

However, back in the 3rd century AD, it was the Malay Peninsula that was ascendant and Singapore was just a backwater.  A 3rd century Chinese written record appears to refer to Singapore as the island of Púluōzhōng (蒲羅中), which was probably a transliteration of the Malay Pulau Ujong, “island at the end” of the Peninsula.

The name Singapore actually is derived from the name “Singapura” which was given to the island in the 13th century AD by a prince of the Srivijaya empire (based from Palembang, Sumatra in what is now Indonesia) who reportedly saw a lion when he landed on the island and therefore named it “Lion City” or Singapura; “singa” being sanskrit for “lion” and “pura” meaning “city”.  In one of the peculiarities of history, the prince was probably mistaken as lions have never been found on the island.  It is most likely that he actually saw a tiger and not a lion.

Anyway, Singapore adopted as its symbol the “Merlion” a mythical creation of a PR company that has a head of a lion and a tail of a fish.  Thus acknowledging its historical link with the lion and its importance as a maritime trading port.

The original Merlion statue was set up at Merlion Park which is located on Marina Bay.  Much development has occurred along Marina Bay and the nearby Singapore River in recent years and the Lone Grey Squirrel risked life and sanity under the hot tropical sun to bring you pictures from the surrounding area.

I  hope you will enjoy them.

The Merlion of Singapore (Merlion Park)
Merlion - Singapore's Mascot
The New Marina Sands Complex
Esplanade - Theaters on the Bay (also affectionately known as the Big Durian)
Multi-racial Meeting Ground
Fat Bird City
Chapel of the Convent of the Infant Jesus - now part of the Chijmes Historic Building Complex

12 thoughts on “City of Lions and Merlions”

  1. Whew. I started a comment, then thought I should read back through your posts first to get caught up. I’m glad you took photos – you might not have remembered everything clearly otherwise. I am assuming that the multi-racial meeting statue of the man without the hat is also an Englishman?

  2. Everything I see about Singapore it looks like a remarkably clean city. Is that the case? I’m sure it has its ghettos, or are they clean as well? A cultural or thing or government enforcement?

  3. Violetsky,
    The Malays probably had a settlement on the island as early as the 3rd century AD called Temasek. The Chinese probably came by in the late 14 and early 15 th century and some stayed on. The island became part of the empire of Johor until it was ceded to the British in 1824. Those three races were the communities that built up Singapore. Hence the three races represented in the statues. The Indians were also present in much of Singapore’s history but mainly as visiting traders. It was only in the early 20th century that Indians migrated there in significant numbers. But your observation about the Englishman without the hat was spot on! Haha.

    I wonder what the San Jose statue represents.

  4. Graham,
    It is quite iconic in Singapore. A lot of people try to take a trick photo by placing someone to the left with his mouth open, facing the statue, so as to create the effect that the Merlion is spitting water straight into the other person’s mouth. I unfortunately had no such willing model with me.

    Mr. Charleston,
    I have to say that Singapore is very clean. It doesn’t even have ghettos or slums as seen in other cities around the world. With few exceptions, even the poorest live in Government subsidised housing which though small are well designed, clean and well equipped with communal facilities. The cleanliness is partly due to innovative and practical designs of housing and building facilities but Singaporeans were not naturally clean. Instead the government had a comprehensive and integrated approach to educate citizens towards a high level of cleanliness. They also provided incentives and backed it up with stiff penalties for inappropriate behaviour.

    For example, at one time, people urinating in lifts in low cost housing was a problem. In response, the lifts were equipped with sensors to detect urine and when tripped will shut the lift down, trapping the perpetrator inside until police arrived. When people failed to keep the communal rubbish chutes clean, the flats were re-designed so that the rubbish chutes were within the apartments. In this way, anyone dirtying the rubbish chutes are dirtying their own apartment,

    A famous saying is that “Singapore is a fine city anything wrong and you get fined!” However, the result is indeed a clean city.

  5. Interesting information and love the beautiful statues and surely the fat bird lol. I went ages ago to singapore. We saw some temples and lots of shops and I remeber that you get fined if you drop chewing gum Good one

  6. That Marine Sands architechture is crazy! You couldn’t pay me to go up on that yacht looking part on top. And thanks for the history lesson.

  7. Marja,
    At the start of my working career, I had the opportunity to work in Singapore but chose not to. At that time, it seemed too regimented and full of rules and lacking soul and humanity. I have to admit that Singapore has addressed many of those issues and has improved all round. I think if you make another trip to Singapore, you will find that it is even more interesting than before.

    The Marina Sands houses a casino, hotel and concert halls. That thing at the top has restaurants and even an infinity swimming pool……or so I am told cause I haven’t been up there either as there is a dress code and I was not properly dressed.

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