Merlion

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AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE MERLION
Exploring the touristic images of Southeast Asia

Aw Su
A0071294
A0071294@nus.edu.sg
SE1101E
Tutor: Lina Puryanti
Wednesday 12-2pm
29th September 2010

Aim of reflection paper
For this project, I have chosen to visit the Merlion because as our national icon symbolizing our mythical origins, it is one of the most prioritized touristic images of Singapore. There is a lot we can explore about the construct that seen in the context of all Southeast Asian countries’ (SEA) touristic representation, can help us gain valuable insights into how Singapore views itself as SEA within the region. Singapore; the Southeast Asian anomaly

Whilst geographically Singapore lies within the region, as an economically vibrant and cosmopolitan city-state, our urban landscape and fluid demographics (majority non-SEA in ethnicity) juxtaposes us with the rest of the SEA countries, making us a SEA anomaly. As it is, being such a diverse region, it is hard to constitute the idea of being ‘Southeast Asian’. However faced a similar post-colonial identity crisis after independence; they were collectively bound in their need to cultivate a cohesive national identity. Whilst they sought to emphatically stamp out colonialism in the construct of a new national identity, through examining the touristic images these SEA countries present to the rest of the world, we can learn more about the way in which they identify themselves as a region. Merlion: A touristic image of Southeast Asia

Given the fact that the Merlion is Singapore’s national icon which provides a strong testament for our rich pre-colonial and mythical history of origin (NewsAsia Singapore) it is interesting that many Singaporeans feel estranged from it as it has failed in invoking an unified sense of national identity, while tourists can identify it more readily as the national symbol of Singapore (Weigiang, 2008). With the opening of the exhibition gallery within the Merlion at Sentosa, the whole concept of the Merlion myth has been expounded by intertwining it with legends about oriental sea monsters, ‘merfolk’ and primeval shipwrecks, making the Merlion a very wholesome mystical experience. My peculiar encounter with the Merlion; ‘half lion, half fish’ When I visited the Merlion situated at the mouth of the Singapore River in front of the Fullerton hotel, there was in general a very touristic and relaxed mood, where tourists visibly from a few SEA countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, were busy snapping pictures and consuming the whole ‘Merlion experience’. However, I could not sense that they were deriving any deeper meanings from the Merlion construct beyond its physical level. In contrast, locals who were around the area were nonchalant, and did not attach any significant meaning to the Merlion. There was a general feeling of ambivalence towards the Merlion, whereby I too identified myself more as a tourist in viewing the Merlion. Southeast Asia; “A beautiful and culturally rich Orient”

Being such a powerful symbol that asserts our mythical roots of origin, Singaporeans’ poor acceptance of the national icon is a challenge to the mythical image (Hall & Page, 2000) that Singapore seeks to portray. However, this mystifying and self-orientalizing image that Singapore chooses to puts forward, as 'uniquely Singapore’(NewAsia Singapore), a cosmopolitan city with an urban landscape but mystical origins, is revealing, if examined within the context of touristic images that most SEA countries engage in to promote their country. Just as how Malaysia seeks to portrays itself as “truly Asia”, and how Thailand has the slogan “the land of a thousand smiles", there is a common underlying theme in all these brandings. Although they may be different images, they still have the underlying theme of a “beautiful, culturally rich orient” (Peggy Teo, 2001). This conceptualization of SEA which links to the ethnocentric and stereotypic representations of...
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