SINGAPORE Singapore residents braved hazardous air, bid hundreds of dollars and queued for hours to lay their hands on a special Hello Kitty stuffed toy, swept up in a craze for the mouthless Japanese cat that peaked this week in the city-state.
The frenzy began at the end of May, when U.S. fast food giant McDonald's began selling the toys in outfits inspired by fairy tales, such as "The Ugly Duckling". The six toys were released in phases, at S$4.60 ($3.63) each with a meal, or S$10 on their own.
But it was the final offering, the "Singing Bone" toy - a black Hello Kitty with a white skeleton and pink bow, based on a German tale - that set the hearts of Kitty lovers pounding.
Hundreds lined up to get first crack at the midnight launch of the toy on Thursday, with police called in to control shouting and queue-jumping, but stocks ran out in a day.
"I am speechless," said university student Quek Hui Ying, 22. "In some cases it turned quite ugly and people argued with each other."
On McDonald's Facebook page a customer lamented his failure to get one of the toys for his 3-1/2-year-old grand-daughter.
"I am one unhappy grandfather! I had deliberately taken public transport in the haze to buy the 'Ugly Duckling'," he wrote, referring to hazardous levels of smog from Indonesian forest fires that recently wreathed Singapore before scattering.
"I tried 3 outlets without success."
With all versions now sold out, a market in the toys has flourished on the Internet, with some sellers demanding hundreds of dollars on auction sites. One fetched S$126,000 on eBay, but it is not clear if the bid was genuine.
In a statement, McDonald's said the demand had exceeded its expectations and it would take steps to improve its services.
Singapore's previous mania for Hello Kitty, put out by Japanese toy firm Sanrio, was in 2000, when McDonald's sold the toy in wedding dresses.
(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata, Editing by Elaine Lies and Clarence Fernandez)