The Merlion and the Cat

The Merlion, 11″x8″ in colour pencils

Singapore is where I work and live in.   How the city got its name sounds like the stuff of legends, and the romantic version goes like this:

One fine day in the 8th century, a monster rose out of the sea.  Its appearance was that of a half-lion, half-fish chimera and a Malay prince (who was probably out at sea) at the time was so suitably impressed that he named the island nearby “singa” which means lion and “pura” to mean city.   Both words originate from sanskrit. To this day, it is referred to as Singapura in the Malay language or Lion City in English.  A merlion statue sits near the mouth of the Singapore river.   Despite the almost often hostile and derisive reactions to it initially, it has become a mascot and personification of the city. (To this day, I am not sure why it’s supposed to be female) 

A densely populated metropolis of tall buildings, efficient public transport, shopping streets, financial mecca and non-stop hustle and bustle, the city is also known as the Little Red Dot (it exists as a tiny dot – if at all, on most world maps).  It was referred to as the annoying pimple of Southeast Asia by one of the region’s rulers quite sometime ago.   It is also the world’s only island-city-state, located at the tip of the Malayan Peninsular or West Malaysia.

Which brings me to my next story of a smaller cat, Kuching.

Cat family statue, 10″x7″ in acrylic

Kuching is where I grew up in, situated at the southwestern tip on the island of Borneo – the name means “cat” in Malay.  A complete opposite of Singapore, it is also known as Cat City.

There are many public displays of cat statues (like that the family above – this is a 10″x7″ piece) and there’s even a cat museum which sits on top of a hill overlooking the city.

The etymology of Kuching has somewhat been lost in history. While there’s no magnificent sea monster, an old tale has it that a giant cat saved some villagers from something horrible disaster.

It is also believed that the name was derived from the city of Cochin in India and so named by merchants from there.  Hence, the presence of a pedestrian mall called India Street.   Yet another  points to the fact that the name may refer to “Ku”(古) – Old and “Ching”(井) – Well or “old well” (古井) in Chinese.

Both cities are located in Southeast Asia,  where the climate is tropical.  The weather’s just hot, wet and humid all year round.  Thank goodness for the invention of air-conditioning, cooling systems and fans.   I can’t live without either city…both of which are ‘home’ to me.

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