He is chubby, sports a spiky hairdo and “Huat ah” (prosper) is his pet phrase.
Meet Mr "Semba Wang", the new face of Sembawang GRC.
He is not an aspiring politician, but Sembawang’s official mascot - and probably one of the first created by a GRC here. The pineapple-inspired character, which made a quiet debut last year, made a high-profile appearance at a community event on Saturday, stealing some of the limelight from Sembawang MP and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, with children clamouring to shake the mascot’s hands. Grassroots leaders hope that the icon can strengthen the sense of belonging and identity among residents, and hopefully bring them some luck - as pineapple also means “prosperity” in Chinese.
While mascots appear to have fallen out of fashion here, they mean big business in other countries. In Japan, the land of all-things-kawaii (cute), there is a mascot for everything, from banks, government agencies to cities and prefectures. Kumamon, a cuddly bear who is considered the superstar of mascots, even held a press conference in Tokyo last Friday, “fielding” questions from a dozen or so international journalists through his “spokesman” to promote the southern prefecture of Kumamoto which he represents.
Mr “Semba Wang” was first conceived during the Singapore National Games opening ceremony in 2012 when a team of Sembawang grassroots leaders and People’s Association staff put their heads together to conceptualise a common identity for the GRC. A pineapple was chosen to pay tribute to the history of the area, which used to be home to kampung villagers who worked in pineapple and rubber plantations in the early 1900s. Prominent Teochew pioneer and philanthropist Lim Nee Soon (1879-1936) - which neighbouring Yishun is named after - was known as “rubber and pineapple king” for making his riches from these crops. Many of his plantations were located where Yishun and Sembawang are today.
A “prototype” of the mascot graced a specially decorated raft at the ceremonial sail past at Punggol Waterway to mark the opening of the Singapore National Games. Last year, the pineapple-inspired character started showing up at community events such as the Chingay Parade and Racial Harmony Day celebrations.
Mr “Semba Wang”, who already graced fridge magnets handed out to residents, now has his face plastered on 10,000 keychains.
He joins the dwindling list of made-in-Singapore mascots, many of whom have been forgotten, retired or quit in frustration (remember the disgruntled Singa The Lion?)
While mascots appear to be losing popularity here, they mean big business in other countries. In Japan, popular mascots endorse products, rub shoulders with royalty and politicians, and make big bucks.The Japanese even organise a grand prix each year to pick the most popular mascots or yuru-kyara – which literally means loose characters in English.
And some of these life-sized mascots take on a larger-than-life presence.
Kumamon, a cuddly bear mascot with red cheeks and no voice, held a press conference in Tokyo last Friday, to promote the southern prefecture of Kumamoto which he represents. The superstar of Japanese mascots, whose name means “bear-person” in the dialect of Kumamoto, has had his smiley face plastered on literally everything from bread to cars - and even the front page of Wall Street Journal - since his debut in 2010. The Bank of Japan has estimated that Kumamon-related products created an economic impact worth whopping 123.2 billion yen in the past two years alone.
There is also Sanomaru, the mascot of Sano city in Tochigi prefecture, a samurai-inspired character who wears a ramen noodle bowl and carries two potato fries instead of a sword. The icon won the yuru-kyara grand prix last year. Even creepy Okazaemon, a white ghostly-looking mascot with dead eyes and a helmet-like hairdo who is the new face of Okazaki city in Aichi prefecture, has his fair share of fans.
The Americans are also big fans of mascots, with most schools and sports teams having their unique icons.
Last month, Wally, the mascot of Boston Red Sox, rubbed shoulders with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of the baseball team’s visit to Tokyo.
Other famous sports icons include Mr Met of the New York Mets baseball team, Benny the Bull of Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs’ Coyote.
Mascots also feature prominently at international sporting events, such as the Sochi Winter Olympic games’ Polar Bear, Leopard and Hare, and Fuleco the Armadillo which will front this year’s World Cup in Brazil.