Monday, September 28, 2015

The Charisma of Singa, the Kindness Lion

Many of you must have received a Singa figurine in your National Day Parade (NDP) funpack.  1.6 million from the new series of 15 figurines were distributed nation-wide in celebration of SG50.  Soon after National Day (9th, August), 1,000 serially numbered limited edition sets as well as individual figurines of 14 designs were made available to collectors and others.  This is the second series of Singa figurines.  The first series was created in 2010.  As the Straits Times reported on 12th August 2015 the new series proved to be very popular. 

Singa,​ ​the Lion, ​ ​was introduced to the public in 1982 as the official mascot for Singapore’s National Courtesy Campaign (NCC). He was a mascot used for various public education campaigns ​ ​to message the need for courtesy.   In 2001, Singa became the mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) after the NCC was subsumed into the movement.​

​In his role as mascot, Singa has appeared in numerous publicity materials, souvenirs and events related to the movement.  These include badges, stickers, posters and banners, puzzles, plush toys, magnets, erasers, pens and pencils, T-shirts, bags, pamphlets etc. In addition,​ ​Singa  was made into a popular board game of the 80’s, ‘Courtesy Snakes And Ladders’.​ ​In the game, courteous behaviour would send a player up a ladder while rude behaviour would send the person down the ranks.​  There was also a series of stamps featuring Singa.  We have benches and statuettes of Singa in many public spaces. Recently, at Terminal 3 of our Changi International Airport, a 4m high topiary of Singa stands proudly to welcome visitors.  And in Chinatown, Singa lanterns help celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Not surprisingly, Singa became a familiar face with regular appearances in community events and advertisement campaigns.​ ​He is also the most recognizable according to some surveys.

On 15 May 2013, Singa resigned from his role as the mascot for kindness because he believed that it was time for Singaporeans to bring out the Singa within them. His resignation was an invitation for all of us to be the change we want to see, and called for Singaporeans to take responsibility for their own actions. News of Singa’s resignation went viral and provoked a wide range of responses from the public. Some people expressed their sadness and said that they would miss Singa. Others felt that the resignation did not make a difference as they believed that mascots such as Singa had become irrelevant in today’s society.

The charisma of Singa was such that he generated over 100 articles ​ in various media within a month​. ​In addition to mainstream media such as daily newspapers and online news websites, the public wrote in to the forum sections of the newspapers and posted their thoughts on blogs and social media.  The conversation regarding Singa - and more importantly, kindness and graciousness - went through the roof.

Singa’s appeal cuts across the generations.  When we created an animated series of Kindsville where a young Singa and his friends live and play, for pre-schoolers and primary school children, it attracted a great deal of interest.  For instance, the monthly average viewership from Jan - Aug 2015 per episode is more than 13,000.  Its website total pageviews in 2015 to-date is more than 44,000.  Many children write to Singa.  In the first half of 2015, Singa received  almost 300 letters. 

Singa is still busy inspiring kindness and graciousness.  He reminds us that there is kindness in all of us and we should just go and show it by our speech and deeds.  In a creative way, the 15th design of the current Singa figurines has become the canvas for the public to paint their pictures of kindness on. Some schools and community groups have organised events for this. These painting events are effective in bringing people together. Let me share what our Minister of Education wrote to us:

We are very proud of Singa.  To check out the latest 'Singa and the Kindness Cubbies' animation series produced by SKM, visit  If you are interested in the Limited Edition of the NDP Singa, please visit our Facebook page ( for the latest updates. If you are interested in any other merchandise related to Singa and SKM, please contact us via

Monday, September 7, 2015

My Day In Court

Interior of the main dome of the former Supreme Court building Photo: Supreme Court of Singapore
I was called to the bar in 1973, and in the same year, I had the opportunity to appear before the late Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin in the High Court on a contentious matter involving four members of a family. It was a rather unfortunate case because I was representing the mother and sister against two other siblings who were disputing over a settlement of the family estate upon the death of the patriarch of the family. The case was heard in the Old Supreme Court Building which is now the National Gallery.   As a rookie lawyer, still wet behind my ears, I was awed by the very ornate court room and chamber of the Chief Justice. 

Many famous cases were heard in this magnificent building, and perhaps the most historic of all is the war crime trials of members of the Japanese military in 1946. In my view the most professionally meaningful symbol in the building is the tympanum sculptures on the pediment visible below the cupola. They are the work by Florentine sculptor Augusto Martelli, a Milanese sculptor. The centre figure in the tympanum, holding a sword in the left hand and scales in the right, is Justice. The figure immediately to its left represents Lost Soul begging for protection from it. Next to this figure are two legislators with books in hand, representing the Law. To the left of Justice is Gratitude. A man holding a bull, representing Prosperity is on his left. And at the extreme left are two young children holding a sheaf of wheat representing Abundance resulting from law and justice. They constitute an eloquent allegory of justice which, as an officer of the court, I was exhorted to uphold.

Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin was Singapore's longest-serving Chief Justice Image from The Straits Times

The late Chief Justice had presided for 27 years as the first non-British Chief Justice, making him the longest-serving chief justice not only in Singapore, but also in the Commonwealth. I was also awed by his reputation and presence.
After our opening statements, he glared at us and promptly adjourned the trial and called us into his imposing chamber.  “Learned counsels,” he softly queried, “do you know what you are doing?”  He reminded us that these litigants were members of the same family who were being divided by quibbling over the way the estate was being distributed.  He made it clear to us that the matter is one that ought to have been amicably settled out of court for the unity and wellbeing of the family as a whole.  We got the message and within a matter of weeks, both parties arrived at an amicable settlement and the case was withdrawn.

It was my first high court hearing that did not quite happen because the late Chief Justice was a kind and compassionate judge who believed that justice sometimes is best done outside the court.  In a matter of minutes in his chamber, he instilled in me the notion that justice in that matter was to be found in the spirit of the law not in the letter of the law. I learnt very early in my practice that family relations and unity is far more important than each member insisting on his own right under the law. By insisting on a settlement out of court, he got me to start my practice on the right footing with the right values.  Justice is best served with the best outcome for all.
Part of tympanum sculpture fronting the former Supreme Court building. Photo: Supreme Court of Singapore

Needless to say, the family remained intact and was full of gratitude. And whenever I think of the Old Supreme Court Building, the allegory of justice symbolized by the tympanum sculptures below the cupola is projected in my mind. If I were to practice law again, I would like the outcome to be on the left of Justice represented by Gratitude, Prosperity and Abundance.
My memory of the Old Supreme Court Building is not the building in and of itself, magnificent as it is.  My true memory is that first encounter with the late Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin who practiced what he preached.  I cherish his words as I walk down this memory lane:  “The qualities that one should look for in a judge are a burning desire to be fair and impartial; the courage to uphold the law and strike down injustice; compassion, coupled with an understanding of human frailties; and lastly, love for the law.”

[This article is adapted from Down Memory Lane: Memories of the Old Supreme Court published in the August 2015 issue of the  Singapore Law Gazette, an official publication of the Law Society of Singapore, Adapted with permission]