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Jul 2, 2017

The Little Red Dot To Show The World

The Singapore Waterfront in the 1950s

In the 1950s, few people in the world have heard about the small island, Singapore - the little red dot on the map.

Fewer people wanted to travel to Singapore as tourists because there were not many interesting places to visit.  Thus tourism as an important revenue earner to benefit the economy of Singapore then was insignificant.  Many people who have not heard of Singapore without looking at the world map would easily miss a place, a pin-point dot dwafted by the bigger continents in the world.

Since the independence of Singapore on 9 August, 1965, every ways and means were done to promote tourism and travellers to visit Singapore with worldwide publicity through the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.(now Singapore Tourism Board).

The Singapore Waterfront in 2017

Miss Universe Pageant 1987 in Singapore 

Singapore hosted the 36th Miss Universe pageant on 27 May 1987 at the World Trade Centre, Hall 4.

It was the first and only time Singapore hosted the international beauty contest.  It was also the first time Singapore made it into the top 10 of the Miss Universe pageant.

The event generated much public interest among Singaporeans because of the international exposure that it brought.

Contestants from 68 countries competed for the title and prizes worth US$250,000.

"Live" TV Telecast to the World at Miss Universe Pageant

The world suddenly seems to have shrunk with orbiting satellites.

Events that occur across continents are captured almost instantaneously on the television screen.

When Miss Chile, Cecilia Bolocco was crowned the 1987 Miss Universe here at the World Trade Centre on the morning of 27 May 1987, her exhilaration was witnessed by millions of viewers in many parts of the world via the satellite.

Front page of The Straits Times, 28 May, 1987.  Courtesy of NewspaperSG.

The pageant telecasted "live" in the United States by the CBS network during prime time.

The country expected to reap the most benefit from the publicity that invariably goes with the show.

Almost everything the beauty contestants do is lapped up by the media and sent around the world.

The Miss Universe pageant is an event of local and international interests and publicity will be good for all Singaporeans.

The publicity generated by the pageant 30 years ago here and elsewhere plus other spill-over benefits was a boom to our tourist industries directly or indirectly.  Can we imagine how many hundreds of thousands of jobs created for Singaporeans in the increasing numbers of travel agencies, hotels, shopping complexes, food courts, restaurants, souvenir shops, trishaws, taxis and the many businesses to cater to the visitors and tourists who visit Singapore.  

The Government has to develop better infrastructures such as the airports (Terminal 4 to be opened soon), better modes of transports (eg buses, MRT stations and trains), more places of interest to serve our visitors and tourists.  

More importance of all, Singapore is a clean and green Garden City for the comfort, safety and security to our guests during their visit to our country.  Courtesy campaigns to encourage Singaporeans to smile and greet to them to be a friendly people to welcome them.  There is no better words of mouth and shared experiences to make Singapore a preferred country to visit and all the conveniences provided for them.

The visitors and tourists are protected and to ensure that unscrupulous shopkeepers who cheat the guest customers are charged in the court of law.

Many people believed that the money was well spent by the organisers and the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board for the long-term benefits for the country.   Tourism is one of the best revenue-earner for every country in the world.  It was a rare opportunity and a challenge to hold the major world event first time in Singapore.

Let us not forget that if we want to put Singapore on the world map, whether in trade or tourism, we have to put in a lot of efforts and money in order to do so.

We should not grudge the expenditure of $7 million nor denigrate the efforts of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to publicise Singapore to the world in order to woo potential visitors and tourists to Singapore.

That Singapore was chosen as a venue is itself an honour and a recognition of its international status, thanks to the efforts of STPB, the media and all involved in promoting Singapore.

Our country will be on the lips of millions of viewers and spectators for a long time to come.  Isn't this good advertisement for Singapore?

Despite sticking to tradition, like having veteran Bob Barker as compere with Ms Mary Fran to assist him, Miss Universe Inc promises a few surprises at the pageant.  Like having the largest stage ever for the contest and a set inspired by Chinatown where producer Sid Smith fell in love with the Chinese butterfly paper kites sold there.

Viewers will also notice that apart from the beauties themselves, Singapore gets a lot of exposure during the 2-hour show and about 20 minutes of pre-recorded outdoor shots our country.

About 600 million people viewed the TV show, including lots of Singapore sights and scenes.

And while the top 10 semi-finalists are changing into the next outfit, the cameras will zoom in one Singapore's cultural performances.

After which a throbbing explosion - a dragon, two lions, stilt-walkers and costumed dancers weave their way through the aisles.

Please watch the Miss Universe 1987 (Full Show) video, with courtesy of tttpageant uploaded on YouTube here .

Marion's Magical Midnight

The newsclip photo below with the courtesy of Marion Nicole Teo:

Marion's figure-flattering gowns

This is one haute couture collection where the person wearing it may be more important than the design.  Mr Francis Cheong, the local designer of the collection, said: "This is not a fashion design competition.  The judges will not be looking so much for originality of design as for good cut and something that fits and flatters."

For Mr Cheong, creating a wardrobe for Miss Singapore, Marion Teo, means putting originality second to other considerations.  On the other hand, "since Singapore is a modern city striving to be a fashion centre, I have to make clothes which would show what Singapore fashion designers can do," he said.  This he has done by sticking to his 'signature' of close fitting dresses with characteristic high empire cut waist line and asymmetric details.


Mr Cheong, a self-taught designer and boutique owner, designed the $5,000 gown which Miss Teo wore in the judging of the competition gown during the Presentation Show.  The marks she scored then will be important if she is one of the 10 finalists.

Mr Cheong, 25, who has been judge at various beauty contests including Miss Singapore/Miss World and Miss Singapore/Miss Asia, also designed another gown, two cocktail dresses and a day dress for Marion.  These other four pieces cost another $5,000 were sponsored by Mr Cheong's boutique.

Marion Against The World
(Source:  The Straits Times, 5 April 1987)

The staging of the Miss Universe pageant here has a lot of going for Singapore.  Will Marion Teo, our contender, give us even more reasons to be pleased?  LEE SIEW HUA and LIM PHAY-LING take a peek beyond the spotlights.

The drums roll; the spotlights converge.  An all-enveloping hush falls on the auditorium of the World Trade Centre.  The announcer's voice booms:  "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Universe 1987 is ...!"

Hearts stop momentarily amid the thunderous applause.  In that fleeting moment, every Singapore's lips quiver with just one question: "Is she our Marion Teo?"

Against a field of 80 beauties from all over the world, we are, for starters, assuming that Marion has made it to the finals.  But will she?

Marion, 19, starts of with a tiny advantage though - she is contesting on home ground.  Her confidence may come more easily, spurred on by the need to excel before the eyes of fellow Singaporeans.

A pragmatic Marion, who measures 86-61-86, has confessed to being uncertain about how she would pan out although "everyone's been saying Singapore's chances are better because the contest is being held here."

Yet, with just seven weeks to the big night on May 27 and the near $3 million tab that the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board is picking up to host the pageant.  Singaporeans, to all intents and purposes, seem pretty detached.

One reason could be that beauty contests have yet to find a place in the national psyche.  But Marion will find it encouraging to know that it's still anybody's game at present.  The saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", appears to put all the 80 contestants on an even footing at the starting line.  But is it really so?

The 1.7m tall Marion is taking no chances even as she flits from fittings to gym to two-hour sessions at her hairdresser.  At the back of her mind looms the fact that in the 32 years that Singapore has been sending representatives to international pageants, no Singapore queen has come close to the top five positions.

But there have been a handful of near-misses and subsidiary titles.

Keen observers of the beauty contest scene said Singapore queens could have done better if there were concerted national efforts to foster a beauty ethos as well as pick the most promising representatives.

They also feel that the net has not been cast far and wide enough to pick a queen each year because of the cattle-show stigma that bedevils such contests.

Yet another reason, a more commercial one, is that the prizes - usually clothes, jewellery and a holiday abroad - are just not attractive enough to entice the crème de la crème to participate.

Mrs Seow Peck Leng, who has organised several Miss Singapore/World contests in the past and is putting up July 1987's Miss Singapore/International, said: "Some parents once disapproved of their daughters taking part.  They thought beauty contests weren't decent and above board."

Tan Swee Leong, who has been organising Miss Singapore/World for the past siux years, elaborated:
"In other countries, they give away bursaries or scholarships to their beauty queens besides clothes, jewellery, a few thousand dollars and a holiday."

He added: "The Government and national airlines should get into the act too.  If we can get the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and Singapore Airlines involved, then the contest becomes something of a national event and more prestigious."

The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board began coaching finalists for Miss Singapore/Miss Universe two years ago.  STPB director Joseph Chew doesn't see the need to be involved in every local beauty contest.

"First, Miss Tourism is already our ambassadress in promotions abroad," he said.  "Second, publicity for Singapore is more important than the Miss Universe contest in May 1987.  The contest itself is the means to an end.

International beauty contests here are organised by franchisees such as Mrs Seow, C.L. Liu, Errol Pang and until lately, Tan Swee Leong, who has given up his Miss World franchise.

But besides the organisational drawbacks, the dice are also loaded against Singapore representatives because of the general haziness surrounding the international yardstick used to judge beauty queens.  There is also no knowing whether such international criteria are adjusted each year.

Small wonder that it's nearly impossible to read the minds of the judges or to polish up these qualities that supposedly matter most to them.

Even without the benefit of the complete picture, Singapore organisers and beauty queens are not slow to cotton on to a few prerequisites.

Height is obviously important.  Miss Personality 1975 Maggie Sim standing at a willowy 1.73m, found herself wishing she was much taller at the London finals, where many were topping at 1.8m.

Maggie said: "If you have long legs, your strides are much more elegant."  To make matters worse, she said Singapore girls were also shy about their heights, choosing to "hunch, because our men are not so tall."

Both Alex Liu and Tan Swee Leong say they follow formats handed out by the foreign franchisers.  But in the end, no one is sure what the judges go by.

Said auctioneer and valuer Victor Wee, 60, who has been a contest judge for over 30 years:  "We stand a very good chance if only the tall girls will come forward.

"Singapore contestants are certainly not lacking in looks or personality.  And the judges only have to touch to appreciate Chinese silk."

Besides height, Miss Singapore is also said to lack curves, observers day.

Miss Personality 1975 Maggie Sim recalled ruefully: "My chaperone in London told me I wouldn't win because I had short hair."

Asian girls appear like shrinking violets next to the live-wire Westerners, one reason why they may lose points on personality.  Maggie remembered that her Asian counterparts were very quiet.

Marion Teo, who says she was a tomboy in school, is busy working out at the gym to build up her shoulders.  She also attends make-up, hairdressing and grooming as well as dance classes to prepare for the Miss Universe pageant 1987,

What questions to ask the "Miss Universe" contestants?

Jackie Stuart felt questions asked 10 years ago were "more sensible" - like what books she had read and why, and what her hobbies were.

Today's questions are unpredictable - like what or who one would bring for a year-long stay on the moon/desert island/in jail.

All-round grooming for our beauty queens there must include training on handling tricky questions compere and unappreciative audiences; meeting the press; coping with stage fright; and facing cameras or microphones.

Contest organiser Tan Swee Leong said he used to give finalists a list of potential questions "to prepare them so that they don't get embarrassed."

But fellow organiser Mr Liu thinks too much preparation can be an overkill:  "What you can do is pump her with lots of general information.

"But she may get confused.  You can't polish a girl in two or three months."

Mrs Seow said no period of all-round grooming was long enough:  "Upbringing plays a big part."

She added it was all perception on the judges' part:

"The Chinese girl's reticence and discipline might be interpreted as inhibition and lack of initiative."

So obviously no shy Miss Singapore can turn into a vivacious chatterbox overnight that would mean undoing years of conservative Asian upbringing.

Could the Eurasian girl with her exotic blend of Eastern mystique and extroverted Western ways be a better bet?

The captured photo with thanks to The Merlion Press on Facebook.

Marion Teo - a mix of Chinese and Indian blood herself - certainly thinks Eurasians have the edge.

During the Miss Singapore/Miss Universe finals when she was asked why winning the title was important to her, she said:

"Its because I will represent Singapore and I'm a mixture.  I've got different blood in me and that's what Singapore stands for."

First Meeting with Marion Nicole Teo in 2015

Thanks to Geraldine Soh, the following group photo with Marion Nicole Teo taken at the the Island Cafe on 6 February, 2015.

Now I know more about her from the resources with the courtesy of for the research for this blog to share.  Its my pleasure and privilege to meet Marion and thanks for the autographed book written by her.  She is an amazing person to share her memories and experiences to share.  We are proud of you, Marion.  Keep up your positive inspiration for life to share.

Marion is seated second from left in this memorable photo.




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