“Hey, are you busy with anything next week? Nothing urgent? Right, you’re Singa for two days.”

My editor popped his head into the room that we were working in and shot me an assignment out of the blue.

I’d first learnt about Singa during my Values In Action classes during my primary and secondary school days. And I’ve recently started my stint at Singapore Kindness Movement, where Singa has been the official mascot since 2009.

But I never would have imagined to be asked to don the iconic mascot’s suit!

I was a little thrown by the suddenness of the assignment but inside my head, I was thrilled, how often do you get the chance to be Singa for a day?

We were going to do a shoot at Jewel Changi Airport and the recently revamped Golden Mile Food Centre on May 10 and 11 May as part of this year’s Kindness Day SG celebrations, which falls on May 21.

Here’s how the memorable experience went.

Day One: Getting a cuppa kindness

Singa Mascot
Singa the Lion and Bearista doing a dry-run of the first filming scene. Image source: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi

I woke up early on the first day, excited as it was my first time being a mascot – I have always wanted to try it out since I was a kid, because I used to often come across mascots at shopping malls and loved watching them interact with people.

Also, I first found out about Singa and the Kindness Cubbies in primary school and it was exciting to be playing a part in something greater than myself.

As I donned the Singa suit, I felt a sense of pride because not everyone has the chance of being such a nationally-loved character.

After taking some pictures for memories (my friends would never believe me otherwise!), the shoot started at 9am.

For my first scene, I was supposed to ask for a cup of coffee from Bearista, Starbucks’ friendly bear mascot. Sounds easy right? Well, I had to do it almost blind because I had no clue where I was looking as my visibility was compromised by a mandatory mask that covered Singa’s mouth.

Thankfully, due to the director’s clear instructions, I was able to execute the first scene flawlessly (you can take a look at the video below to see how I did!).

For my next few scenes, I had to make some hand gestures, including a close-up of Singa grabbing a cup and Singa drinking coffee in the background while Bearista served a customer.

I found these scenes easier because I did not have to move as much as compared to my first scene.

However, being in a mascot suit for the entire morning is not as easy as it looks!

By the time I took off the suit after I finished the scenes at 10am, I was drenched in sweat even though we were shooting in the air-conditioned Starbucks outlet at Jewel Changi Airport. I was completely drained of energy and hungry too. My stomach was growling and I couldn’t wait for lunchtime to come.

Singa Mascot
Being a mascot isn’t as easy as it looks! Image source: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi

It made me realise that being a mascot, just like being kind, can sometimes be harder than it seems. And that often people don’t realise how much effort you put into being kind (just like sweating in a mascot suit) because they don’t see the hard work behind your actions.

Nevertheless, even though being the mascot was really tiring, I was glad that I managed to persevere and not let everyone down.

Day Two: Going the extra Golden Mile

Singa Mascot
Singa and Benjamin doing a piece-to-camera at Golden Mile Food Centre. Image source: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi

The shoot on the second day was held at the Golden Mile Food Complex. This time, armed with an electric fan and a confident smile (that no one could see once I put on the suit), I was more prepared.

The day’s shoot was more fun as I got to move around with local influencer Benjamin Gerard (@the.smiling.afro), who would interview members of the public to find out what kindness meant to them.

My task as Singa of course was simply to look cute and grab people’s attention. It’s not every day that you see a giant Singa in an eye-catching outfit in your neighbourhood!

We started filming our intros and outros at 9.30am and it was starting to get hot. Initially, I found it tougher than the Changi Airport shoot because it was warmer outdoors, but I got used to it with the help of my trusty little suit fan!

After 30 minutes or so, I removed the suit for a quick breather. While I was resting, I had a newfound respect for people who work as mascots full-time.

I was already worn out after less than an hour of work so I can imagine how daunting it can be to be a mascot for a prolonged period of time, especially if you have to move around under the heat of the sun.

Break over, suit on and it was time to listen as Benjamin asked members of the public questions about what kindness means to them, as well as their thoughts on clearing their trays at the hawker centre.

Singa Mascot
Talking to passers-by to find out more about what they thought about kindness. Image source: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi

The responses were varied, where many expressed their thoughts on showing kindness at our public spaces – such as at hawker centres and food courts.

“I think that clearing your plates and trays is being kind to the people around you – by not leaving a mess, in terms of being socially responsible,” said one of the interviewees.

From listening to their responses, I saw the importance of showing courtesy, being kind to people around me and the environment.

The oddest thing about my experience is that while I was in the suit, it made me think about what kindness actually meant to me personally.

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We are often told to be kind or to “be nice” to others, often by our parents but we never really think about why we do it, aside from that “we should”. But being in the suit, seeing how people were smiling at me (well, at Singa, actually) and at Benjamin made me realise that kindness begets kindness and it often just takes one smile or one positive act to start the cycle.

I understood that kindness does not always have to start with a mascot like myself, but it can come from small deeds such as clearing your tables or even helping your parents and friends with simple tasks on a regular basis.

While I was suited up, some elderly folks were excited to see Singa back in action. One of them said loudly in Mandarin: “I haven’t seen Singa in years! Great to see that kindness is still being actively promoted in Singapore amidst the pandemic.”

Simply hearing this gave me a great sense of satisfaction as I was able to bring a smile to these people, through one act of volunteering to be the Singa mascot.

Learning takeaways

Singa Mascot
Singa and Benjamin having a drink while the film crew prepares for the next scene. Image source: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi

Although being a mascot for two days was physically exhausting, it was an experience that I will certainly not forget.

I took away some practical tips – such as being courteous by clearing your tables and showing kindness to others by giving up your seat for those in need, even when you are not obligated to do so – and some deeper life lessons.

In fact, the main purpose of Singa as an ambassador is to remind us that kindness is up to us. It is our own responsibility to be kind to others – it does not have to wait for a special day like Kindness Day SG, or for a mascot like Singa to talk about it.

Kindness can start small – and it can start with yourself.

Singa Mascot
Taking pictures for the memories! Image source: Tan Xinyi

I am thankful for the opportunity to be a childhood hero. I was fortunate that I was able to carry out my mascot duty before the heightened alert measures were announced just days after our shoot.

Given another chance, I would love to be the Singa mascot again in the future. Perhaps when it is safer to meet up with friends we could even organise another #Mascotreunion!

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Top Image: Nurul Hafizah Suhaimi