Place of Interest – Merlion (Esplanade Bridge)


Merlign by Alvin Pang

Even though there are more
websites on you than verses
Even though you evoke
cameras more than pride
postcards more than praise
Even though your titan child
is now terrorising history and
small children on Sentosa

Still you seem to have a face poets love
to woo. There was the old gentleman,
windswept, seablown, wandering home
with a suitcase of dreams, who
treated you like a queen, hoping
to press you for secrets.

And then the lady with the thick glasses,
who thought she saw Ezekiel’s cherubim,
the sign episteme of higher forces
forever barring the way to paradise.

And that young man, himself half lion,
with barbed tale raised, his words coiled
like a fist. Eyes louder than silence.

Still others, perplexed
as much by your blank stare
as their maddening need to know,
burden you with the fret
of lost causes and years of waiting

Become now the need
to apostrophise what is rock
to make it bear weight.
How we wallow in metaphors!

As a child I walked through a garden
to gawk at the back of a giant too tall
for a child’s mind
to wrap around. Risking the simplest
of pleasures: a closer glance, a furtive stroke,
Pitting heights with the dwarf twin, long since gone.
Reaching for scale and contact,

And now, as a man, forever measuring shadows.

No need to go on with this pretense,
these riddles and voices. This is a heap
of fashioned stone, too light to carry souls.

Rough beast, you are neither idol nor ideal.
Your heart is hollow, cold, and open
for admission, but we have nowhere else
to hide our dreams. Take what names
we have to give, and hold our secrets well
Keep what matters and what counts
The rest you can spit as spray.

(Taken from http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/pang.html)

 The Merlion is a mythical creature that represents a Singaporean identity. ‘Mer’ means ‘sea’ in French, hence Merlion literally refers to sea-lion. This explains the creature with lion head with a body of a fish, or mermaid.  The lion is a reference to a tale whereby Sang Nila Utama reportedly encountered a lion when he first stepped on the shores of this island, leading him to name it Singapura. The fish body reflects Singapore as a port city dependent on the maritime trade. In addition, it also represents the origin of Singapore as a fishing village.

The Merlion was designed in 1964 by Fraser Brunner for the Singapore Tourist Board (STB) and functioned as its corporate logo from 1966 to 1997. The Merlion was a popular symbol for tourist souvenirs. There are five Merlion statues in Singapore, with the most popular ones located at the Merlion Park, adjacent to One Fullerton at the Marina Bay waterfront. One of them stands at 8m tall, weighing 70 tonnes. The other stands at 2m tall, weighing 3 tonnes. However, with the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the statues were relocated to a new pier on another side of the Esplanade Bridge, as they could no longer be seen clearly from the waterfront.  The Merlion statue faces east, which is believed to be a direction that brings prosperity as dictated by the guidelines of Chinese geomancy.

Unfortunately, on 28 February 2009, the larger statue was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, causing a crack in the Merlion’s mane, and a hole at the base of the statue due to falling debris. The statue was repaired and restored for public viewing by 18 March 2009.

The Merlion tower at Sentosa is completed in 1995. on a hill 23m above sea level and stands at a height of 37m. It is an 11-storey building, excluding the uppermost observation deck, which allows visitors to enjoy commanding views of the Singapore skyline. Made of cement, the tower is also externally reinforced with a thin shell of concrete fitted with 16, 000 lights that, when switched on after dark, trace the outline of the statue. The eyes of the Merlion are also installed with equipment that enables them to project multi-coloured laser beams.

Another Merlion statue is located outside STB’s office at Tourism Court, standing at 3m tall. A similar statue can be found on Faber Point at Mount Faber. It is owned by the National Parks Board and was installed in 1998, following the redevelopment of the park.

11

Merlion at the Merlion Park
(Image taken at http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Singapore/North_East/Hougang/photo356989.htm)

12
Merlion after relocation at esplanade bridge
(Image taken from http://www.thebestsingapore.com/best-place/merlion-park/)

13
Merlion at Sentosa
(Taken from http://www.travelandtourisminfo.com/singapore/Sentosa_Island_Pictures.asp)

14
Merlion at Sentosa at night
(Taken from http://www.thefoodpursuit.com/sentosa-island-beach-station-singapore/ )

Alvin Pang wrote ‘Merlign’ which plays a pun on the word Merlion as they have the same pronunciation. He started this poem with ‘there are more /websites on you than verses’ and added on with it evoking more ‘cameras more than pride’ and ‘postcards more than praise’. This seems to highlight the superficiality of the Merlion as a representation of Singapore, and a Singaporean identity. When one mentions the Merlion, one think of Singapore. However, do Singaporeans really associate themselves with the Merlion as an identity? The first stanza thus questions the significance of the Merlion to Singaporeans. Alvin seems to point out that the Merlion creates more attraction towards the tourists rather than the locals.

Towards the end of Merlign,  ‘No need to go on with this pretense, /these riddles and voices. This is a heap /of fashioned stone, too light to carry souls’ seems to imply the lifelessness of the Merlion. This points out that the Merlion is merely a statue, without any life given to it. In my interpretation, Alvin seems to imply that the Merlion is just an inanimate object with not much significance attached to it, to the Singaporeans. Furthermore, he calls it a ‘Rough beast’ and thinks it is ‘neither idol nor ideal’. This implies the redundancy of it as a Singapore icon. Lastly, Alvin also wrote that ‘Your heart is hollow, cold, and open/ for admission’, again implying the superficiality of the statue as an icon and place of interest and attraction. The ‘coldness’ implies the lack of bond between the locals and this icon.

Thus, Alvin seems to question the Merlion being an icon of Singapore. He feels that it is merely a statue to boost the Singapore tourism, rather than having the Singaporeans feel themselves linked to the Merlion identity.

Other references

http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_938_2004-12-27.html
http://meridian103.com/issue-7/history/merlion/
http://singgifts.com/singapore-merlion-story.html
http://www.newasia-singapore.com/travel_information/introduction/history_and_origins_20070609390.html

 

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