Monday 26 November 2018

Welcome to Otter-pore? My proposal: Time for Singapore to replace the Merlion

Dear Singapore Tourism Board,

A few months ago, my American friend Bill, who lives in Iowa and hadn’t contacted me for a while, messaged me on Facebook.

His message included a video titled “Otter Tree” apparently shot in Singapore.

The video showed more than a dozen naked otters writhing around the base of a tree like some sort of kinky animal tree-worshipping cult ritual.

And I thought Black Friday shoppers were possessed.

Why didn’t the National Council of Churches of Singapore say anything about that?

All Bill wrote in the message was “Ong, what the hell is going on in your country?”

Okay, so this friend of mine – whom I hadn’t heard from for maybe five years and seen for decades longer – after all this time, felt compelled to finally get in touch with me, an old college friend living half a world away, to ask me about a 46-second viral otter video from Singapore?

Indeed, what the hell was going on here?

Bill didn’t ask me how I was doing, how my family was or thank me again for the Fragrance turkey bak kwa I sent him once for Christmas.

All he wanted to know about was the damn otter tree.

And the worse thing is that I couldn’t tell him.

I just replied lamely: “Yeah, I don’t know how in the last few years the country’s getting overrun by otters, of all things.”

I haven’t heard from Bill since.

It struck me as weird that now someone in Iowa thinks that Singapore is filled with otters.

And not just in Iowa.

A British couple came to Singapore to “witness the otters” after seeing the critters featured, not in the otter tree video, but in the BBC documentary series Planet Earth II.

A photo of the man kneeling to propose to the woman with otters at his feet went viral and was reported by international media last week.

And no one was even eating pizza with chopsticks in the picture.

I’m surprised Bill hasn’t messaged me about it.

But clearly the otters in Singapore are world-famous. Travellers are coming here to see them. They have become a tourist attraction.

And yet there’s no mention of them at all in your Visit Singapore website where passion is supposedly made possible.

Isn’t it about time you showed some passion for the otters? All this talk about hawker culture, but what about otter culture?

I would even go so far as to propose replacing the Merlion with the otter.

I mean, when was the last time Merli went viral, if ever?

At least the otter is real and not some awkward manufactured offspring of an impossible inter-species coupling that’s neither fish nor feline but both.

Two years ago, The Straits Times readers even voted that the otters best represented Singapore for the nation’s 51st birthday. Singlish came in second.

Now if we could only train an otter to speak like Phua Chu Kang, we’d be all set.

And this year, guess what photo won the National Geographic photography contest held in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information as part of the #WhatMakesSG campaign for National Day. Hint: It wasn't a picture of the Merlion.

Look, I’m not suggesting that an otter be appointed the first assistant secretary-general of the People’s Action Party.

All I’m saying is if I don’t see an otter in the sequel to the Crazy Rich Asians movie, then you guys are simply not doing your job.

Sure, an otter bit a little French girl at Gardens by the Bay last December, but let's sweep that under the rug, shall we?

Next, I’m writing to the Monetary Authority of Singapore to get the otter on a coin despite there being no such thing as the Year of the Otter.


That will be worth writhing naked around a tree for.

I can’t wait for Bill to message me about it.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 November 2018