Mr Kiasu: Why You So Like Dat?

The life and times of being scared to lose.

Everything Also I Want: with those four words, Mr. Kiasu was introduced to Singaporeans just over two decades ago. This title of his first comic book had it all. Here was a character who dreamt about sales and discounts, tried every free sample at a supermarket, and when he knocked down a motorcyclist, got out to check his car’s windscreen. In other words, Mr. Kiasu was the typical ‘90s Singaporean, someone possessed with the fear of losing out.

Mr. Kiasu’s depiction of a national trait clearly resonated with Singaporeans. They snapped up the first 4,000 copies, and then the second. In 1993, just three years after it was first published, the comic had a third reprint and became an annual series. Everything Also Must Grab was Mr. Kiasu’s motto in his second book and he was living up to it. Not only had he grabbed his own radio show, Mr. Kiasu now fronted national campaigns, and had his own magazine, mug, T-shirt, watch, bumper sticker, burger, and even ruler — most rulers are 12-inches, but Mr. Kiasu’s one was an inch longer.

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Your Singapore Icons

Our highly-tamed national lions are increasingly being used as canvases by artists. Is Singapore really loosening up and letting them into the wild?

It may be YourSingapore, but not your Merlion. While the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) website encourages you to create your own version of Singapore, try using the Merlion symbol (or even a close representation of it) without permission and be prepared to be fined up to $2000 or even jailed for six months.

Other than the state flag and crest, the Merlion is the only Singapore symbol that receives such heavy protection from the authorities. Created in 1964 as the tourism board’s corporate logo, the Merlion became a “Singapore symbol” eight years later when a close to eight metres tall statue was installed at the mouth of the Singapore river. The hope was that the Merlion would come to represent this island “just as the Eiffel Tower is identified with Paris.” This has since led to this part-fish part-lion becoming a symbol of all things Singapore to tourists, appearing on T-shirts, keychains and even chocolates. By setting itself as the national icon, it has also become a lightning rod for artists dealing with the Singapore identity — and was itself struck by lighting in 2009, damaging its luscious mane.

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