Vampires out, mermaids in. Such is the trend that’s taken off in the past year or so with a subculture of mermaid wannabes emerging from blogging communities around the world. Mainly women (but increasingly men too), the “mermaids” meet at pools or the seaside, assisted by “mer-tenders” who are there to provide physical assistance getting in and out of their tails. In Part Two of our series on mermaids, Yahoo reporter LUNA PHAM talks to Singapore's most prominent mermaid, Cara Nicole Neo on why she took the plunge.
Meet Cara, 21, a Singaporean university student who majors in English Literature and does belly-dancing twice a week.
A "major" Lord of the Rings geek, she has also taught herself to speak and write in Elvish. And oh, by the way, Cara is also a mermaid.
What began as a childhood fascination with the mythical aquatic creature with the body of a woman and the tail of the fish helped trigger her real-life transformation into her alter ego, "mermaid Syrena", back in July.
That's when she bought a swimmable fin tail while researching online for a Halloween costume.
“For me, mermaiding started as fulfilling a childhood dream. I have always been someone who isn’t afraid to express herself,” said Cara during a recent hour-long chat with Yahoo at a Holland Village cafe.
“I thought if I can make a living out of it, it would be a great bonus,” said Neo, as her long shiny hair cascaded down her maxi dress.
Since setting up her Facebook page, Cara has received offers to appear in fashion shows and corporate parties. [Update: Since the first article on mermaids was published on Yahoo last week, Cara said she's received tremendous support and many inquiries from Singaporeans about her mermaid tail. "They tell me they've always loved mermaids, but have never quite dared to take the plunge. But now that they've seen Syrena, they're opening up and asking about monofins, tail costs, and how they should go about swimming as a mermaid. It's pretty awesome."]
This Singapore mermaid’s service includes singing, story-telling, glitter tattoo application for children, and performing tricks in the water.
Her biggest dream, however, is to entertain children at theme parks, such as Universal Studios Singapore and perform at the S.E.A aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.
“I see the kids’ expression when they see my tail and it’s magical. Little kids come up to me all the time asking ‘why can I see your knees in your tail,’ ” said Cara, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm.
“So I told them those are my mermaid bones, because even mermaids have bones.”
So what does it take to be a mermaid, apart from the fin tail? Spare cash, and a good deal of lower body strength apparently.
Cara' current lycra tail costs S$500 but her next handcrafted silicone tail, equipped with an Olympic Competitor monofin, can costs upwards of a few thousand.
In order to save up the money , the NUS Literature student admitted "not having gone shopping in ages."
Hazards of being a mermaid
But with each fin weighing as heavy as 15 kilograms once it's wet, the portrayal of half-human, half-fish is not as easy as it seems. For one, mermaids can't walk in their fins, which would break under the weight.
That's where the trusty “mer-tender”, or a man who carries the mermaid into the water, comes about.
Neo is lucky. Her boyfriend-cum-mertender is happy to indulge her passion. Trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for good measure, the 30-year-old businessman and Cara have been dating for the past 1.5 years.
“He has the glamorous job of carrying me in my wet tail which is extremely heavy,” she said with a laugh. “Right now it’s heavy, but when my new tail comes, it will be even heavier so poor him.”
The support Cara has from her boyfriend is beyond the physical. Her boyfriend has been understanding about her hobby even though Cara thinks few men can agree to the idea of their girlfriend being “a person in tail.”
“I can’t complain, I caught a good one in my net,” Cara said, dishing up another mermaid joke.
Not surprisingly, it also takes a good swimmer to become a mermaid.
Despite being an accomplished swimmer who completed the Gold course and trained under the Ang Peng Siong swimming school when young, Neo said the first time she swam in her tail, her feet cramped badly because they were bound so tightly in the fin.
Besides the physical challenge of being in a fin tail for hours under water, her eyes also get red and swollen from the chlorinated pool water.
“I don’t think I am going to swim in Singapore ocean,” said Cara. “I think Singapore does a great job of maintaining their pools and keeping them clean so I will swim in those.”
Cara joins an increasing community of mermaids who have taken the plunge.
Malaysia's No.1 mermaid
Across the Causeway, popular blogger and model Felixia Yeap is Malaysia's foremost mermaid. Born and raised in Ipoh, the 26-year-old is also a ring-girl with mixed martial arts organisation ONE FC.
"At first they'd laugh. I would say 90% of them would start laughing their brains off," said Yeap on the reaction she gets when people find out about her hobby.
"When their laughter subsides, then their curiosity would get the better of them and they ask me questions. I am used to it, as this is still very new, and I am very proud to be pioneering it in my country, and to be heard even in Singapore," said the former FHM Girl and ex-Playboy bunny via email.
"It's my childhood dream to be a mermaid, and before this, I never thought I'd be one, but here I am, a real mermaid to show little girls who love mermaid as much as I do that every dream could come true," said the popular blogger, who charges up up to S$1,600 to perform at private pool parties or functions.
But ultimately, Neo says “mermaids have always possessed an element of sensuality, and that they've always been known to exude charm and grace.”
“It’s just about reminding people magic exists.”