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Singapore by design: Cool products to celebrate SG50

From a Merlion "chou chou" to a "Game of Chope", local entrepreneurs have flexed their creative muscles to produce fun products that celebrate what it means to be Singaporean on the city-state's 50th birthday.

At lifestyle store Supermama, a collection called "Souvenirs from Singapore" pays homage to local icons by recreating them into 50 everyday items such as HDB-shaped erasers and a cuddly "chou chou" — which means "smelly pillow" or "baby pillow" in Chinese, and is the pillow or bolster that is given to small children for comfort during bedtime — taking the form of a Merlion, the lion-fish hybrid that is Singapore's emblem.

Supermama says some items in the collection, including the Merlion pillow, have sold out, mostly snapped up by native Singaporeans.

"Singapore has a strong narrative of different cultures and this is what we hope to [showcase] with the individual objects, which each tell a different aspect of the society that we live in," founder Edwin Low, who collaborated with fellow local design outfit Stuck and manufacturer Meykrs on this collection, told CNBC.

The "Strangely Singaporean' collection by The Little Drom Store.
The Little Drom Store
The "Strangely Singaporean' collection by The Little Drom Store.

For other designers, the city-state's quirky lingo, known as Singlish, is what makes the Southeast Asian nation unique. A mishmash of English with words and phrases from Malay and Chinese dialects including Hokkien, the distinct tongue is a beloved part of the Singaporean life that, for most of the time, leaves foreigners baffled.

Published this month, "The Strangely Singaporean book" written by the Little Drom Store goes beyond common Singlish words such as "kaypoh" to explain over 100 phrases such as "blur like sotong" (commonly used to describe someone in a world of his own) and "stylo milo" (a local stand-in for 'You're so cool'). The new publication builds on the store's previous 'Strangely Singaporean' merchandise collection, which has been a best seller since its launch last December.

"We were inspired by our previous project [because] while doing it, we thought there must be more of these phrases. After talking to our parents and the older generation, we realized there were sayings like ' song song gao jurong' that we don't use anymore so we added them [into the book]," said Little Drom Store co-founder Antoinette Wong. "Song song gao jurong" is a Hokkien phrase used to describe utmost satisfaction.

Read MoreNostalgia wave hits Singapore's F&B scene

Nostalgia is also a key theme, with some entrepreneurs saying that the country's 50th birthday marks a special time to look back at Singapore's transformation from a colonial trading post into a first world country within one generation. As such, celebrations for the Golden Jubilee should involve a re-connection with the simpler pleasures of yesteryear.

That's the concept behind "Game of Chope", a board game playing a pun on the name of popular U.S. television series "Game of Thrones" and largely based on the rules of a nostalgic favorite called "Aeroplane Chess."

Launched by design studio and brand WhenIWasFour last month, the game sets players on a mission to reserve a restaurant or cafe table using their Game of Chope game pieces instead of packets of tissue paper that in real life play a key role in a common practice called "choping", or reserving a table by leaving a tissue packet on it.

"With the availability of smartphones and the internet, technology is always around and for me that has led to a lack of social interaction and [relationships] have become very cold. So I wanted to use these nostalgic [board games] to bring back memories and encourage people to engage in more meaningful bonding activities," the chief designer behind WhenIWasFour, Li Ling Tan, told CNBC. "That was also one of the reasons why I started the brand six years ago."

The 'Game of Chope' board game created by WhenIWasFour.
WhenIWasFour
The 'Game of Chope' board game created by WhenIWasFour.

Tech inspiration

The wave of SG50-inspired innovation has also spilled over into the tech sector.

The makers of an app called "JalanJalan" hope their creation will help Singaporeans uncover bits of history in lesser-known parts of the island. Users can either allow the app to send automatic alerts about interesting spots near you or search the app for a place to visit. Conceptualized nearly two years ago, "JalanJalan" - which means to walk about in Malay - was officially launched in April.

"A friend shared with us his research on how Chinese immigrants sought the blessings of Malay land deities when they arrived in Singapore. These shrines can be found around our island and we may have come across them without realizing. It made me realize that we pass by heritage nuggets such as these every day, and do not recognize how significant they are," JalanJalan creator Steve Tan told CNBC by email.

"Through the app, we hope Singaporeans will become more aware and concerned about our heritage," he added.

The founders - Steve Tan and his wife Michelle Lee - have also organized three heritage walks that have had an enthusiastic response from the public.

"We didn't expect Singaporeans to be so open about sharing their memories. After every walk, we've had participants gather at a kopitiam [or coffeeshop] to share memories while sipping 'kopi'," Tan said.