Pop Culture Icons Of Singapore

May 07, 2014 Ivan Teh - RunningMan 0 Comments

Pop Culture Icons Of Singapore
Words and Research by Ivan Teh RunningMan, Pictures credited to sources.

Source

Singapore may be small, and some may argue that we're influenced by other, larger countries (America or Korean anyone?), but we still have things which represent Popular Culture, or Pop Culture, in our society. These are images or ideas that when looked at, people think, "Aha! Singapore!".

Ok maybe not like that. Still, here's a warts-and-all look at 30 pop culture icons of Singapore, each of them a part of our national identity. How many of these do you recognise?


.....


1. Ah Meng
Source Attribution

The poster girl of the Singapore Zoo and the tourism industry in Singapore, Ah Meng, a female Sumatran Orangutan, has appeared in over 30 travel films. Ah Meng has been visited by numerous celebrities, including Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor.

At the height of her popularity, Ah Meng commanded appearance fees of USD $2,275 per hour! Sadly, this matriarch passed away on 8 February 2008, at the ripe old age of 95 orangutan years old.


.....


2. Our Army
Source Attribution

What could be more iconic to a Singaporean male than the idea of compulsary National Service? Recognised for its necessity but bemoaned as well, the idea has been lampooned in pop culture.

From stories to songs to magazines to movies, who can forget the idea of the blur like sotong Recruit? Or the tough as nails PT instructor / "Sar-gent" whose grandmother can run faster than you?





Source Attribution

The 1996 comedy movie Army Daze (based on the 1987 theatre play) showcased this side of life, grossing SGD $1,600,000 in the local box office, among the highest for any made in Singapore film.





Source Attribution

In more recent years, Jack Neo's 2-part comedy movie Ah Boys To Men has spawned a sequel, a spin-off (Ah Boys To Frogmen), a 2014 musical, and catapulted its actors to stardom. Despite the prevalence of the Army in pop culture, the Navy and Air Force is still underrepresented.


.....


3. Bookworm Club

The Bookworm Club was a range of popular children's books in the 80s, fronted by a group of distinct, racially diverse, yet oddly stereotypical characters. "Smarty" was really smart, "Sam Seng" was a ruffian, and "Dollah" was a soccer player.

Many primary school students became members (they had a cool membership card), and attended special club events, becoming the envy of all the not-so-cool kids at recess. Their popularity was such that many children would save money just to buy the latest book!


.....


4. Our Police
Source Attribution

Our Police force is respected and admired unlike any other country in the world, perhaps because they're so efficient. Who still remembers when your parents used to scare you by saying the Police would come catch you?





Source Attribution

The longest running television show in Singapore is Crime Watch, first airing in November 1986, and now into its 29th season. But our Police force is mostly showcased in action / drama serials on MediaCorp's Channel 5 or Channel 8, such as in...





Source Attribution

Triple Nine, starring the hunky James Lye, babelicious Wong Li Lin, and good-natured Lim Yu Beng, ran for 4 seasons...





Source Attribution

C.L.I.F. (Courage, Loyalty, Integrity, Fairness), starring the hunky Qi Yuwu, babelicious Joanne Peh, and good-natured Elvin Ng, has spawned 2 sequels...





Source Attribution

Mata Mata, starring the hunky George Young, babelicious Daniella Sya, and good-natured Jason Godfrey...





Source Attribution

And even HBO's Serangoon Road, starring the hunky Don Hany, babelicious Pamela Chee, and good-natured Alaric Tay. Also, I sense a pattern here.


.....


5. Captain Green
Source Attribution

As the mascot for Singapore's first "Clean & Green Week" in November 1990, the National Environment Agency chose Captain Green to be a frog because amphibians are sensitive to changes in the environment.

Captain Green subsequently morphed (evolved?) into a superhero in 1997, and became the "Defender of the Environment", starring in the "Adventures with Captain Green" comic. Now we just need a team-up between Captain Green and Captain Planet.


.....


6. Captain SMRT / SMRT Man
Source Attribution

A little-known yet nationally reviled Singaporean superhero, Captain SMRT, sometimes called SMRT Man, has the virtually useless superpower of thanking commuters for taking the bus or train. He also lectures them on public transport etiquette.

Although he's been around since 2007, you've probably never heard of him because he somehow fails to show up whenever there's a breakdown.

Wait... what if Captain SMRT is actually a supervillian in disguise? That would explain everything! DAMN YOU Captain SMRT!


.....


7. Fast Fry & Steam Marinate
Source Attribution

Once upon a time, a young boy from a faraway galaxy arrived on Earth in his spaceship. Being unlike any other child on Earth, he was constantly ridiculed. On his travels, he met another boy who had developed steam powers after falling into a geyser.

The two became good friends, and decided to promote McDonald's Chicken McCrispy as "Fast Fry & Steam Marinate - Crusaders for Better Tasting Chicken!" The end.

Oh wait, their story is intriguing because after much success, they mysteriously disappeared. Did another fast food company strike a deal with them? Did the crusaders decide to pack up and go back to their galaxy? Nobody knows...


.....


8. Growing Up
Source Attribution

One of the most fondly remembered drama serials on television, Growing Up was a dose of nostalgia. Running for a total of 6 seasons, Growing Up revolved around the life of the fictional Tay family, showcasing how their lives changed from the 60s to the early 80s.

This award winning drama was neither funny, nor was it too dramatic, but it showed an authentic slice of family life in early Singapore, with costumes and period sets from that era. The family themselves was memorable, from the stern father figure of Charlie Tay (Lim Kay Tong), to the rebellious and hotheaded Gary (Andrew Seow).


.....


9. Jenny Quantum
Source Attribution

The first major superhero with a Singaporean origin, and also the one you've most likely never heard of, is Jenny Quantum. Starring in the Wildstorm universe comic book "The Authority", which is published by DC Comics, Jenny Quantum was created by writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely.





Source Attribution

As the leader of The Authority, the WildStorm universe's most powerful superhero team, Jenny Quantum has the power to manipulate reality on - you guessed it - the quantum level. Born on 1st January 2000 at the stroke of midnight in a Singapore hospital, Jenny Quantum is recognised as a "Century Baby" and the "Spirit of the 21st Century", both of which mean she is incredibly powerful and should not be messed with.

The comic doesn't say which hospital Jenny Quantum was born in, so I'm forced to assume it's KK Hospital. But the comic does say that the hospital was destroyed shortly thereafter, because I guess supervillians hate children too.


.....


10. Liang Po Po
Source Attribution

The endearingly bumbling Liang Po Po, or Granny Neo, is the most well known character played by comedian Jack Neo in his cross-dressing days on television. The 85 year old fictional granny was lovable, but naive and prone to clumsiness.

Liang Po Po was ingrained enough in the public conscious that Jack Neo produced Liang Po Po: The Movie in 1999 solely based around the titular character. It grossed SGD $3.03 million in the box office.


.....


11. Lyo The Lion Cub & Merly The Merlion
Source Attribution

Lyo The Lion Cub & Merly The Merlion were the official mascots for the first ever Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore in 2010. Members of the public were invited to name the mascots, and the eventual winning entries were Sean Pang Yi Wei (Lyo) and Tung Chi Jun (Merly).

Lyo symbolises the fun-loving, boundless enthusiasm of youth and the zeal for excellence. Merly symbolises a respect for fellow man, active participation in community building, and the hope for a sustainable future. Betcha didn't know till I told you! (I didn't either)


.....


12. Masters Of The Sea
Source Attribution

Masters Of The Sea was a terrible English drama serial that aired in 1994. Some of the criticisms aimed at the show include unauthentic costumes, settings, props, and manner of speech. However, one of the show's saving graces was the breakthrough role of then little-known Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han, who has since gone on to star in multiple Hollywood films including The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

However, Masters Of The Sea is perhaps best known for Margaret Chan's character, the Peranakan matriarch Madam Tan Geok Neo, who uttered that infamous line "I will crush you like a cockroach". Now say that to your friend.


.....


13. The Merlion
Source Attribution

The Merlion is an enduring icon of Singapore. This half lion, half fish mythical creature was designed by was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner in 1964, and has since come to represent tourism in Singapore. No fewer than 7 Merlion statues dot our tiny island.





Source Attribution

The Merlion is also popular in pop culture, especially for those who like to demonstrate their drinking abilities...





Source Attribution

The Merlion is a beast of many moods. Here we see the Merlion partying like the best of us. Quite hip for a 50-year-old.





Source Attribution

No funny business in bed. The Merlion is watching.





"Welcome to Singapore Cap -- Wait, what's that behind you!" Source Attribution

And that time the Merlion fought / stalked Captain America...





Source Attribution

And of course, there are those who channel the spirit of the Merlion.


.....


14. Mr Kiasu
Source Attribution

Created by cartoonist Johnny Lau in 1990, Mr Kiasu is a series of 8 comic books lampooning the Kiasu spirit of Singaporeans. The titular character Mr Kiasu wanted discounts everywhere, tried all the free samples, was first in any queue, and generally afraid of losing out.

Mr Kiasu and his cast of characters were incredibly popular, spawning a toy line from McDonald's, a radio show, t-shirts, a watch, bumber stickers, and even a television sitcom starring Chew Chor Meng as Mr Kiasu. The brand went international, grabbing the world's attention, and in 2007, Oxford Dictionary added the word "Kiasu" to the English dictionary, in part due to Mr Kiasu.


.....


15. Phua Chu Kang
Source Attribution

Who comes to mind when you hear the words, "Contractor", "Yellow Boots", "Facial Mole"? Yes, Phua Chu Kang of PCK Pte Ltd, that all round Ah Beng who is the best in Singapore, JB, and some say Batam. The iconic curly haired contractor played by Gurmit Singh starred in his own comedy sitcom for 10 years, and also spawned a Malaysian spin off, PCK Sdn Bhd.

Phua Chu Kang's first appearance was in the variety show Gurmit's World in 1994, and the only other character that first appeared here was King Kong. Phua Chu Kang is notable for appearing in other Singapore sitcoms, in the SARS prevention video "PCK Sar-vivor Rap", as an ambassador for the Singapore Kindness Movement's "A Happy Journey Starts Like That", and in Leg 10 of the Amazing Race 3.





Source Attribution

Phua Chu Kang is known for his catchphrases "Use your blain! Use you blain! Use your bllaaainnn!" and "Don't play play!".


.....


16. Russell Lee
Source Attribution

The ghost that haunts your nightmares has a name... Russell Lee. The pen-name of the writer who has produced the best selling "True Singapore Ghost Stores" horror series, Russell Lee has released 23 books since 1989, with each book having a specific theme.

Adding to his aura of mystique, Russell Lee always appears in public dressed completely in black, and with his entire face and body covered. There has never been any photograph of his true face, nor any details of his personal life. Some have questioned if Russell Lee is a real person, and conspiracy theorists talk about the unmasking of Russell Lee.





Source Attribution

When he's not writing, Russell Lee can be found searching for ghosts, posing in graveyards, or signing books for children.


.....


17. SGAG
Source Attribution

If the international community has 9GAG and 4CHAN, then Singapore has SGAG. Funny, current, and uniquely Singaporean internet memes are uploaded by users daily.





Source Attribution

Like during the Singapore haze...





Source Attribution

The internet loves cats, so here's one. Bedok Lepak Cat would take your likes, but "relac 1 corner" comes first. SGAG has become a true Singaporean time waster, just like queuing.


.....


18. Sharity Elephant
Source Attribution

The mascot of the Community Chest charity in Singapore since 1984, Sharity Elephant is all about caring and sharing. Born on 1st October (Children's Day), Sharity Elephant was bullied because he was pink instead of gray. His parents took him away to Sharityland, a land of caring, sharing, and happiness, where Sharity Elephant was accepted.

Sharity Elephant was redesigned in 2012, most notably, he now has a funkier hairstyle and no longer carries a big heart. He celebrated his new-found hipness by dancing Gangnam style at NYP.







.....


19. Singa The Courtesy Lion
Source Attribution

Since 1982, Singa The Courtesy Lion has been encouraging Singaporeans to be more kind and gracious towards each other as part of the National Courtesy Campaign. A widely recognised icon, Singa The Courtesy Lion has been featured on t-shirts, stickers, badges, keychains, thumbdrives, and even a board game.





Source Attribution

Singa The Courtesy Lion featured prominently in the 2010 to 2011 toy line and exhibition Project Singa. But in 2013, Singa The Courtesy Lion resigned after 30 years, saying it was "just too tired to continue facing an increasingly angry and disagreeable society". The resignation letter provoked a harsh reaction from the public, who felt the publicity stunt was in poor taste, but the mascot has yet to return as of 2014.


.....


20. Smiley Squirrel
Source Attribution

Smiley Squirrel was introduced in 1970 by POSB Bank, encouraging children to save money. Originally a brown squirrel wearing a blue coat, Smiley Squirrel updated his look to a sleek blue and yellow in 2008 when DBS Bank launched the "People's Bank" campaign.

Sure, people can associate squirrels with saving nuts for winter, and saving money is a good habit... But not when interest rates are near 'Nut-thing'.


.....


21. Swimming
Source Attribution

The big 3 of sports in Singapore include: Table Tennis, Soccer, and Swimming. Of the 3, the 1 event we as a nation pin most of our medal-winning hopes on is Swimming. Also, because our Soccer teams aren't as great as they used to be.

Think of names such as Ang Peng Siong, Joscelin Yeo, Nicolette Teo, Tao Li, Quah Zheng Wen or Rainer Ng. No surpise that Swimming has made its way into Singapore pop culture, mostly in the form of television dramas. After all, what's better that having good-looking men and women heating up the screen while in various states of undress?





Source Attribution

The Champion was a Channel 8 idol drama which aired in 2004, starring hot young actors and actresses like Toro, Qi Yuwu, Julian Hee, Jeanette Aw, Felicia Chin and Joyce Zhao. Despite lasting only 1 season, The Champion gained notoriety for pushing the boundaries on how much skin could be shown on national television. It's also notable for the scene where Fiona Xie ran down Orchard Road in her bikini, later immortalised in the Jack & Rai song, Fiona.







Source Attribution

And there was the 2010 Channel 8 drama, No Limits, commerating the Youth Olympics, starring Felicia Chin again, but joined this time by Tracy Lee, Elvin Ng and Dai Yangtian. No Limits lasted only 1 season as well. Both swimming teams in The Champion and No Limits were named "Flying Fish", in tribute to one of the first idol dramas about Swimming shown in Singapore, the 1983 show Little Flying Fish.





Source Attribution

And for the ladies, there was Polo Boys, which also aired in 2010, starring Adrian Pang, Michelle Chia and Nat Ho, along with several other good looking dudes wearing very little on screen.

The popularity of Swimming has started to wane somewhat ever since the Singapore Table Tennis team started winning medals though.


.....


22. Teamy The Productivity Bee
Source Attribution

Productivity seems to be the new buzzword these days, with the Government talking about it at length. But the idea for increased productivity has been around since 1982, when the industrious and hardworking Teamy The Productivity Bee was selected to be the National Productivity Board mascot, and the face of its productivity campaign.

Though aimed at working adults, Teamy The Productivity Bee appealed to children as well, with his catchy jingle:
"Good, better, best,
never let it rest.
If it's good, make it better,
if it's better, make it best!"

Besides being a team player, Teamy also had its sting removed because he was friendly, and carried a light bulb that represented creative ideas. Sadly, Teamy The Productivity Bee retired in 1999.



.....


23. The Little Nyonya
Source Attribution

The award winning 2008 drama serial The Little Nyonya won international acclaim for its authentic depiction of the Peranakan culture and their way of life. The story spans over 70 years, beginning in 1930 till 2000, and revolves around 4 generations of a Peranakan family.

The titular Little Nonya refers to 2 characters; Juxiang (played by Jeanette Aw), a deaf mute servant in a wealthy family; and her daughter Yueniang (also played by Jeanette Aw!) a strong willed young lady.


.....


24. The Mr Brown Show
Source Attribution

The Mr Brown Show is a satirical Singapore blog created by Lee Kin Mun, aka Mr Brown, in 2005. The Mr Brown Show produces funny podcasts and videos on a regular basis, typically lampooning recent political announcements, or other pop culture events.





Source Attribution

Among the most popular podcasts include the Bak Chor Mee Stall podcast series in 2006, and in 2011, satirizing the Singaporean elections. Till today, Mr Brown still holds his place as one of the top bloggers in Singapore, and is affectionately known as 'The Blogfather' of Singapore.





Source Attribution

Fans of The Mr Brown Show sometimes produce their own images or videos based on the podcasts, such as this sketch of the "Pacific Lim" podcast. Check out our local Jaegers!


.....


25. The Noose
Source Attribution

Since 2007, the long running comedy series The Noose, now into its 7th season in 2014, has given us many memorable characters in increasingly hilarious situations. A parody of news programmes with fictional reports based on real news, and pop culture references to other real world happenings, The Noose was nominated for the Emmy Awards in 2011.





Source Attribution

Breakout characters played by Michelle Chong include the ditzy President of the Singapore "Aspergers" Club, whose last name changes with every appearance, Barbarella...





Source Attribution

The always polite and helpful domestic maid Leticia Bongnino, who's had run-ins with Ministers...





Source Attribution

Or the ever so unflappable B. B. See. And remember that time the Noose team met the News team? Hilarity ensued, in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.











.....


26. Under One Roof
Source Attribution

In 1995, the comedy sitcom Under One Roof burst onto our television screens with its multicultural cast. Revolving around the Tan family and their neighbours, the first ever Singaporean comedy sitcom became incredibly popular, running for 7 seasons over 9 years, and even becoming the first Singaporean show to be dubbed in a foreign language (French).

Under One Roof was best known for its opening jingle:
"Moses Lim is Tan Ah Teck,
Nicholas Lee is Ronnie,
Andrew Lim is Paul,
and Koh Chieng Mun is Dolly.
Vernetta Lopez is Denise!"

The show frequently ended with Mr Tan telling one of his underappreciated and seemingly irrelevant stories, beginning with "Long before your time..."


The show was so ingrained in the public's mind that KL-based actor Zaibo, who played Yusof on the show, was offered free cab rides several times by cabbies who were fans. And even as recent as 2014, the actors still have people coming up and saying, "Hey, aren't you ___!"


.....


27. Vanda Miss Joaquim
Source Attribution

The Vanda Miss Joaquim, a hybrid orchid known for its resilience and year round blooming quality, is the national flower of Singapore. Chosen in 1981 to represent Singapore's uniqueness, mix of cultures, determination, and vibrant life, the Vanda Miss Joaquim is used to promote tourism in Singapore, and even has several roads named after it, such as Vanda Crescent and Vanda Drive.

In popular culture, the Vanda Miss Joaquim has appeared in paintings, t-shirts, necklaces, stencils, bags, greeting cards, earrings, and stamps. You know you've made it into pop culture when the national flower is featured in designs for the Google doodle logo.


.....


28. VR Man
Source Attribution

James Lye makes a second appearance on this list, this time playing the Singaporean superhero, VR Man. His gritty origin story goes like this.

In 1998, an accident grants computer engineer Alex Foo the power to project virtual reality objects and solidify them. Limited only by his imagination, and a weakness to strobe lights, Alex decides to use his powers for good and becomes... VR Man.

VR Man also wears a Solidifier device, which grants him superhuman strength, speed, invulnerability, and the ability to shoot neon coloured lasers in true 90s style.

While the concept was promising, the actual execution of the show was terrible, with flashes of eye-rolling lameness. This cheap ripoff from both Batman and Green Lantern only lasted 1 season, and was so bad it was funny. Today, the creators of VR Man mostly try to pretend it never happened.







.....


29. Water Wally
Source Attribution

Launched in 2005 as the mascot for the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in Singapore, Water Wally encourages water conservation and water management. A 2 week "Where's Wally?" teaser campaign during its launch was incredibly popular, with several Water Wally inflatables "going missing" in public.

The 2009 cartoon "The Adventures of Water Wally" was popular with both children and adults. However, Water Wally later lost some friends / fans in a controversial 2013 video where he got a little too chummy with some young Singaporeans.


.....


30. Yam Ah Mee
Source Attribution

The unlikely breakout star of the 2011 Singapore General Elections, Mr. Yam Ah Mee shot to fame as the Returning Officer announcing the elections results. His monotoned robotic, nasal voice and calm, expressionless demeanour caught the attention of Singapore. Facebook fan pages of Yam Ah Mee were created while the results were still being announced, garnering 30,000 likes within less than 24 hours.

Music videos and remixes of Yam Ah Mee went viral, most featuring his signature phrase, "Pursuant to Section 49, Sub-Section 7 E, Paragraph A of the Parliamentary Elections Act, I declare...". Mr. Yam Ah Mee himself got in on the act, spoofing himself at several events.

In March 2013, Mr. Yam Ah Mee resigned as the Chief Executive Director of the People's Association (PA) to pursue another career.







.....


Looking over this list, Singapore seems to have quite a lot of superheroes, mascots, and comedy shows in our pop culture. Perhaps our next great thing would be a superhero comedy?

Think I'm missing anything about pop culture in Singapore? Let me know!



All photos and images are credited and copyrighted to their respective owners. This post is meant for entertainment, informational in nature but with elements of satire.





.....


You Might Also Like