Monday 22 November 2021

Why an otter in TraceTogether app? It should be a merlion and I have one in mind

Do merlions cry?

As in can tears come out of their eyes?

Or are they only capable of expelling copious fluid from their mouth like they are vomiting?

I am asking because somewhere out there, there must be a very sad merlion right now.

His name is Merli.

“Who?” you may ask

Merli is the “heart-warming and whimsical” cartoon character based on Singapore’s mythical national icon – no, not Phua Chu Kang – the Merlion, created by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 2018 to appeal to families with kids.

According to STB, Merli the merlion “is energetic and outgoing, and has many friends from Singapore and around the world”.

He also “makes it a point to treat his friends to his favourite food – kaya toast – which he loves for its unique taste”.

So cute, right?

Merli eats kaya toast like a typical Singaporean – and human being. He thinks he is people.

Merli has appeared in various marketing collateral, including animated videos produced by STB, but you don’t really hear much about him.

Fast forward to today.

GovTech has updated its TraceTogether app to show your Covid-19 vaccination and test statuses on your check-in pass after you scan the QR code.

For those who are vaccinated, the screen will have a green background for venue staff to see easily from a distance so that queues can be cleared quickly.

The screen will also have animation for venue staff to easily check that it is not a screenshot in case people want to cheat.

So for the animation, GovTech decided to have a cute cartoon critter swimming back and forth across the screen.

Merli is perfect for this.

I mean, he is a cute cartoon critter and he is half fish. So swimming back and forth is not a problem for Merli.

Obvious choice, right?

But what did GovTech choose to put in the animation?

Not Merli. Or even Phua Chu Kang.

GovTech picked a damn otter.

Because according to GovTech, “what’s not to like about a cute floating otter”.

Well, there is a lot not to like if you have precious koi that were eaten by a otter. You wouldn’t have that problem with kaya toast-loving Merli.

Hey, at least GovTech didn’t make it a baby panda.

So instead of using a pre-existing animated critter that officially represents our country and can swim, GovTech wastefully creates a brand new animated critter based on… what? Popularity?

No wonder The Washington Post recently claimed: “Otters are taking over Singapore.”

Last month, the US newspaper reported: “Using drainpipes as highways, the carnivorous mammals traverse the city, sometimes popping up in rush-hour traffic, or racing through university campuses…

“They visit hospital lobbies and condominium pools, hunting for koi fish and drinking from fountains.”

They have been featured in BBC and Netflix documentaries.

They have gone viral by crashing a marriage proposal and writhing around a tree like they were possessed.

They were once voted by Straits Times readers to represent Singapore for National Day.

Just last week, when an otter pup died after suffering injuries from a fight with other otters, it was front page news in this very paper you are reading.

The animal couldn’t get more publicity if it were marrying Rebecca Lim.

After Jack Neo finishes the Ah Girls Go Army movie, the logical sequel would be Otters Go Army (that is, if he can find a trangender otter to be in the cast).

Which brings me to my point.

The otters have so much already. Couldn’t GovTech have at least given the TraceTogether animated screen to poor Merli who has so little?

I mean, he is right there!

STB must have paid someone a lot of money to create Merli.

What a missed opportunity. With the drop in tourism due to the pandemic, he could use the work.

Maybe he can get a gig promoting Shopee like PCK did.

The sad, under-utilised merlion is probably somewhere out there drowning his sorrows in kaya toast right now.

Damn otters.

- Published in The New Paper, 22 November 2021