The faces of Chingay 2013

24 02 2013

If anyone reading this appears in any of the photographs below (or in this album), I would be pleased to extend a higher resolution copy of the photograph to you if you can drop me an email.


Photographs from what was certainly a feast for the senses, Chingay 2013, which was held at the F1 Pit Building over two evenings on 22 and 23 February 2013. The annual event, touted as “Asia’s Grandest Street Parade”  is organised the People’s Association. In its current incarnation, Singapore’s Chingay was conceived as a street parade to celebrate the Chinese New Year in 1973 in the wake of the ban on the tradition of letting off fireworks, the parade has evolved over the years into the spectacular celebration of Singapore’s rich multi-ethnic mix and includes participants from many other countries. The event wouldn’t have been a success if it wasn’t also for the efforts of many participants and volunteers, to whom this post is dedicated to:

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The spirit of Chingay 2013

22 02 2013

Themed “Fire in Snow”, Chingay this year celebrates the strength of the human spirit in the face of life’s challenges. Presenting a spectacle (as it always does), with fire representing resilience, bravery, perseverance, passion and determination. This will be placed in contrast with snow representing challenges and hardships. Exemplifying the spirit of this year’s Chingay will be not just the resilient Singaporeans who would be honoured during Chingay, but also the participants who have collectively put in many hours of tireless efforts including rehearsing through last evening’s pouring rain to bring the show to the audience tonight and tomorrow night. Besides being part of the audience, Chingay 2013 can also be watched live at this link.

Participants rehearsing through the pouring rain - exemplifying the spirit of Chingay 2013.

Participants rehearsing through the pouring rain – exemplifying the spirit of Chingay 2013.

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Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco with  Peng Qia Qia (澎恰恰), Hong Rong Hong (洪荣宏), Yang Lie (杨烈) and Billy Wang (东方比利) as well as some of the resilient Singaporeans who will be honoured at the event.

Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco with Peng Qia Qia (澎恰恰), Hong Rong Hong (洪荣宏), Yang Lie (杨烈) and Billy Wang (东方比利) as well as some of the resilient Singaporeans who will be honoured at the event.





Rediscovering the Pearl of Chinatown

21 02 2013

Stumbling across an old world nestled in the new brings great delight to me. It in a little pocket of space, not so distant from the rush and rumble of the streets of the urban world, where I did rediscover one, Pearl’s Terrace, set at the foot of the south facing slope of Pearl’s Hill.

A world seemingly far from the rush and rumble of the busy streets of nearby Chinatown.

A world seemingly far from the rush and rumble of the busy streets of nearby Chinatown.

Pearl’s Hill Terrace is a place one might have been reluctant to visit in times not so long ago. It was where the men in blue had ruled – where not just the home of the Police Force’s Headquarters as well as some important divisions of the force were located, but a place where police officers had called home.

Just a stone's throw away from the rush and rumble of Chinatown is a world that awaits rediscovery.

Just a stone’s throw away from the rush and rumble of Chinatown is a world that awaits rediscovery.

Towering over the slope today, one sees a long slab block of apartments, seemingly an isolated block of public housing that lay forgotten. Built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for, it is one of several physical reminders of a world that had existed in the days before we last saw the snake (the last Chinese Year of the Snake, 2001). That block today, 201 Pearl’s Hill Terrace, has seen new life breathed into it. Not longer are its mix of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments rented to the junior police officers it was built in the late 1960s to house, it has since 2006 been turned into a hostel. Its 336 units are now offered to white-collared workers and students for rent.

View of Chinatown 1973 showing the newly completed People's Park Complex. Beside and behind it the slab block of flats that served as the Police Quarters for junior officers, as well as the Upper and Lower Barracks, can be seen.

View of Chinatown 1973 showing the newly completed People’s Park Complex. Beside and behind it the slab block of flats that served as the Police Quarters for junior officers, as well as the Upper and Lower Barracks, can be seen.

The former Police Quarters at 201 Pearl's Hill Terrace.

The former Police Quarters at 201 Pearl’s Hill Terrace.

It isn’t so much in that block where the charms of the old and perhaps where the reminders of the previous world can be discovered, but in the two lower but grander looking large edifices it overlooks. One, the Upper Barracks, set on a terrace immediately below the block of flats is 195 Pearl’s Hill Terrace. The other is a slightly taller building, the Lower Barracks which is at street level facing Eu Tong Sen Street. As their names suggest, both had also served as policemen’s quarters. Completed in 1934, and built in a simplified Neo-Classical style typical of public buildings of the era, the Public Works Department erected the two to house the Sikh Contingent of the then Straits Settlements Police (SSP).

Windows from the past to the present.

The Upper Barracks provides a look through windows from the past to the present.

The Upper Barracks now looks a little run down and is perhaps is accorded with a little less dignity than it deserves having been, since 2007, turned into offices spaces for lease. It is however where many ghosts not just of its past, but also of Singapore’s colonial past await discovery. Built to house married policemen, it is laid out in a bright and airy way – reminiscent perhaps of the Old Hill Street Police Station, with its six spacious courtyards, open corridors, and generous ventilation openings – giving a sense of light and space within the confines of its stern looking exterior.

The Upper Barracks as seen today.

The Upper Barracks as seen today.

Wandering around the Upper Barracks certainly takes one back to a time when air-conditioned public building was a rarity with its generously provided ventilation openings and open corridors.

Wandering around the Upper Barracks certainly takes one back to a time when air-conditioned public building was a rarity with its generously provided ventilation openings and open corridors.

With the disbanding of the SSP soon after the war, the two barracks were turned over to other civic uses. More recently serving as the Police Headquarters, the Upper Barracks had in the time since also served to house the Ministry of Interior and Defence, from Singapore’s independence to 1970, when the Ministry was split into the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA continued to be housed at the Upper Barracks until 1977 when it moved to Phoenix Park.

Courtyards were a common feature of buildings of the good old days.

Courtyards were a common feature of buildings of the good old days – the pull up bars left behind provides a reminder of the building’s past.

The Lower Barracks, to which there is currently no access to, is one which most would be familiar with being at street level. Built for unmarried policemen, the barracks housed several divisions of the law enforcement agencies under the MHA, the most recent being the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Other units it served as a home to include the Police ‘A’ Division, the Registry of Societies, the Anti-Vice Unit, and the Central Narcotics Bureau. Both the Upper and Lower Barracks were vacated in 2001 when the new Police Cantonment Complex opened. The Lower Barracks is at the present being refurbished for use as a students’ hostel which is opening this year.

The Lower Barracks around the time of it opening in 1934 (source: http://www.hometeam.sg/cmsmedia/).

The Lower Barracks around the time of it opening in 1934 (source: Singapore Police Force at http://www.hometeam.sg/cmsmedia/).

The Lower Barracks.

The Lower Barracks.

While the Upper and Lower Barracks have been put to what does seem like less than dignified uses, both have in fact been given conservation status. More on this and as well as an architectural description of the buildings can be found at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Conservation of Built Heritage website, excerpts of which follow:

Upper Barracks

“The 3-storey Upper Barracks was built at a higher level on the hill, facing towards the Singapore River. At almost 160 metres in length, it is one of the longest pre-war civic buildings in existence. The combination of its impressive length and elevated position gives it a commanding presence overlooking the Chinatown area. The overall design treatment is more geometrical, with the details of the building articulated to greater emphasize the length of the thirty-one bays of the building. The building also has its ends emphasised through the protrusion of the building bays, while the central entrance is made prominent with the use of pairs of pilasters, in contrast with the single pilasters elsewhere. The features combine to give an overall appearance of palatial grandeur”.

The Upper Barracks from a Singapore Land Authority tender document  in 2007 (source: http://www.sla.gov.sg/doc/new/AnnexB-5Feb2007.jpg).

The Upper Barracks from a Singapore Land Authority tender document in 2007 (source: http://www.sla.gov.sg/doc/new/AnnexB-5Feb2007.jpg).

Lower Barracks

“The 5-storey Lower Barracks are on street level. Set back from Eu Tong Sen Street with a generous plaza, it creates an impressive contrast to the prevalent two and three storey shophouses of Chinatown across the road. The building follows the Classical tradition of having the three parts of the building clearly articulated. The first storey gives a sense of firmness of appearance by having rusticated horizontal bands in the plaster-work. The top of the building is completed with a deep overhanging entablature with a strongly articulated geometric linear cornice line. The centre of the building is given greater emphasis through a shallow triangular pediment, surmounted by flag-poles”.

Branches on an exterior wall of the Lower Barracks. It is a reminder of a time when less was concealed and perhaps of the building's history serving several  branches of law enforcement agencies over the years.

Branches on an exterior wall of the Lower Barracks. It is a reminder of a time when less was concealed and perhaps of the building’s history serving several branches of law enforcement agencies over the years.

Besides the two barracks, there is also a smaller reminder of the old world close by that deserves to also be looked at, a two-storey villa which based on information at the URA Conservation of Built Heritage site, is though to have been built in the 1920s. Currently housing a education centre, the building at 18 Pearl’s Hill Terrace is also thought to have been built as accommodation for a higher ranking officer of the Police Force (or perhaps a high ranking prison warder – the terrace is known to have been where quarters of warders at the nearby Outram Prison (located where the former Outram Park flats were) were located. Most recently housing the Scene of Crime Unit, it has also housed a CID Training Centre and also from 1978 to 1988, the Syariah Court.

18 Pearl's Hill Terrace today.

18 Pearl’s Hill Terrace today.

There is more of the old world to be found just up the hill close to where the somewhat iconic and very distinctive Pearl’s Bank Apartments stands. The block erected in 1976, a subject matter all on itself, stands next to the crest of the hill where a Victorian era service reservoir is located. It is around it where a green oasis in the midst of the city can be found offering an escape which can be hard to find in the overcrowded streets below it. That, together with the four buildings which have found a new lease of life, is where a reminder of world that we have forgotten to appreciate does seem to exist – for the time being at least. While we do know that three of the buildings are being conserved, it may not be very long before the urban world stakes a claim on it.

A linkway from Pearl's Hill Terrace to the Lower Barracks.

A linkway from Pearl’s Hill Terrace to the Lower Barracks.

The area was part of a wider area which had been the subject of a URA planning exercise in the early 2000s. While in the plans developed then the area would still very much be a green space, developments planned for the area around – particularly at neighbouring York Hill across the Central Expressway (CTE) project that some 5,500 new homes will be built, together with landscaped deck across the CTE to link the two hills. While it is good to see that there are plans to open the wonderful green space up to the wider community, it does also mean that we may be seeing the last of a quiet and insulated space where the remnants of a charming and old world can still be found.

A jungle of letter boxes at 201 Pearl's Hill Terrace.

A jungle of letter boxes at 201 Pearl’s Hill Terrace.

Information on Pearl’s Hill and Pearl’s Terrace:

Previous planning considerations for the area:

Patterns of an old world.

Patterns of an old world.





Ladies need only apply

19 02 2013

Guaranteed to have its audience in stitches at the rate of a laugh a minute is Mediacorp’s brand new talkshow, LOL, which is scheduled to be launched in early April. Recordings which are being done with live audiences for what promises to be a show packed with loads of fun and laughter – one which will have you “laughing out loud at the edge of your seat”, has in fact already begun with the producers of the show looking for participants to be part of the audience (which I am afraid is open to ladies only).

Tracie and Adrian Pang with host Judee Tan.

Tracie and Adrian Pang with host Judee Tan.

Ming Bridges singing at the session.

Ming Bridges singing at the session.

The talkshow is recorded in front of a ladies only live audience.

The talkshow is recorded in front of a ladies only live audience.

The talk show, hosted by the extremely humourous and, if I may add, vivacious, Judee Tan – best known perhaps for her role in The Noose and the suave Marcus AC a stylist and creator of Fashion Forward, aims to showcase the latest happenings, the hottest music artists and celebrities, and the very latest in fashions and style. Guests at the inaugural recording session were husband and wife theatre team Adrian and Tracie Pang of Pangdemonium! who spoke about their upcoming production Rabbit Hole, with Singapore based Mandopop sensation, the gorgeous Ming Bridges, performing.

Mandopop sensation had Judee Tan moving to her beat.

Mandopop sensation had Judee Tan moving to her beat.

The hosts and last evening audience.

The hosts and last evening audience.

The audience can also expect styling demos by co-host Marcus AC.

The audience can also expect styling demos by co-host Marcus AC.

Ming Bridges accompanied on guitar by producer and songwriter Eric Ng.

Ming Bridges accompanied on guitar by producer and songwriter Eric Ng.

Upcoming recording dates are 21, 22, 25 and 27 February. Sessions take place at s at *Scape Orchard and start with refreshments at 6.30 pm (audience would need to be seated by 7.15 pm). To be a part of the audience do drop an email to jolynkhew@mediacorp.com.sg and include your name, age, occupation, contact no. and email address, with the preferred date of attendance. Limited seats are available and the production team would contact those selected. Exclusive goodie bags will also be given to all guests. Guests for the upcoming recordings include Yvette King, Shane Pow, Daddy O’s, Jade Seah, BobbyTonelli, George Young and Andayoma. More information on LOL and Toggle is available at http://www.toggle.sg.

Adrian and Tracie.

Adrian and Tracie.

A back view of the studio and the audience.

A back view of the studio and the audience.


Update 21 Feb 2013

The Guys Don’t Get it!

Ooooooh Ladies! Look who we have coming up on LOL! Jade Seah, George Young, Bobby Tonelli, Pierre Png, Andrea De Cruz, Rebecca Lim, Tay Peng Hui!!!!!!!! SCREAM!!!

Catch them and be part of the audience for the brand new fun and happening talk show in town – LOL! Hosted by Judee Tan and Marcus A.C., we guarantee you 2 hours of entertainment, fun, laughter, fashion, celebrities and more!

So how do you get to be part of the LOL fun?

RSVP Quickly to : jolynkhew@mediacorp.com.sg

Provide the names, age, occupation , contact nos. and email addresses of you and your gal pals (sorry, only the girls get it!)

Tell us which of these dates: Feb 25, Feb 27, Mar 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 you prefer (Yes, you can come for more than one show and yes, it’s FREE!)

We film Live at:

Venue: The Gallery, Level 5, Scape, 2 Orchard Link.
Time: 6.30pm from refreshments from Dr Cafe
To be seated by: 7.15pm
Ends: About 9pm

And who are some of our upcoming guests?

Tay Peng Hui, Rebecca Lim, Chou Enlai, Hossan Leong, Paul Foster, Jaymee Ong, Glenda Chong, Timothy Goh, Alicia Pan, Jack and Rai, Vanessa Fernandez, Siti Zahidah.

We’ve also got a very special guest band coming in from the States, so look out for them!






Obsessions and flirtations

19 02 2013

I will not pretend to know much or anything at all about Fashion, even though that I did very recently find myself flirting with the obsessions of a Fashion label, Juicy Couture, whose velour track suits gained what could be described as cult status at a presentation of the house’s Spring / Summer 2013 Collection in Singapore.

Flirting with Juicy Couture's Spring and  Summer Collection. A model shows off a dress from the Summer collection.

Flirting with Juicy Couture’s Spring and Summer Collection. A model shows off a dress from the Summer collection.

The label which has been present in the local scene for over 10 years, has outlets at Takashimaya and at Marina Bay Sands. Known for its fresh and playful approach to style, it’s following is primarily from the 18 to 35 year olds. It does also have bright and trendy offerings with an apparel and accessories range for younger girls as well. The label traces it orgins to 1997, having been started by two, “fashion-obsessed friends”, and now has stores in over 30 countries. This includes 126 stores in North America, as well as many across Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle-East.

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The label’s Spring looks which has hits the stores here since January this year, is one that is inspired by the flirty, glamorous pin up girls of the 1950s. LeAnn Nealz, the President and Chief Creative Officer of Juicy Couture, described the collection at its debut as a reinterpretation of the spirit of the pin up era and in a modern and fresh way, with “a subtle sexiness carried throughout but still feels Juicy and fun”. The spring collection includes soft silk dresses, rompers, sharp printed blazers, glamorous Juicy Jeans and a new interpretation of the label’s iconic track and also includes accessories such as jewel encrusted leather handbags and pave jewelry.

Juicy Couture's flirty Spring looks - inspired by the pin-up girls of the 1950s.

Juicy Couture’s flirty Spring looks – inspired by the pin-up girls of the 1950s.

The label’s Summer’s looks (available from March 2013) on the other hand, is one that embraces the bohemian spirit for Summer, “full of vibrant sun-kisses, hues in lush fabrications, and relaxed day-to-night dressing taking her from Malibu Beach to the Chateau Marmont”. Described as bringing out a “beach-chic” style, the Summer collection is marked by its silk and lace fluid dresses, burnout bright tropical prints and layered beaded jewels. It also has a range of accessories to supplement the look including handbags with signature gold hardware in light washed soft leathers and treated canvas adorned with stud accents; oversized totes and cross body chain bags.

The Summer collection takes her from Malibu Beach to the Chateau Marmont.

The Summer collection takes her from Malibu Beach to the Chateau Marmont.

The Summer look with a Leni Clutch.

The Summer look with a Leni Clutch.

Also presented was its Juicy Couture Stella and Surfside range of watches. The Stella range is described as sleek siren with sleek, smooth contours and oversized 41 mm case in yellow- or rose-gold-toned stainless steel and is available with a bold link deployment bracelet or an embossed colored leather strap. The new Surfside range is sporty yet elegant with its rubber-coated leather strap or with a glossywhite alligator-embossed leather strap.

Watches from the Stella range.

Watches from the Stella range.

Juicy Couture’s stores in Singapore are located at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, #03-03 and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Galleria Level B1-78.

Accessories - a Rhinestone Chain and Bracelet from the Spring collection.

Accessories – a Rhinestone Chain and Bracelet from the Spring collection.

Aquarius Geo Dress from the Spring collection.

Aquarius Geo Dress from the Spring collection.

The Rope Yarn Jacquard Blazer.

The Rope Yarn Jacquard Blazer.

Attractive looking bangles and bracelets.

Attractive looking bangles and bracelets.

JC's range of fashion accessories includes mobile phone cases.

JC’s range of fashion accessories includes mobile phone cases.

Leather Handbags.

Leather Handbags.

A cotton lycra dress from the kids' wear collection.

A cotton lycra dress from the kids’ wear collection.

The Summer collection features dresses with bright tropical prints.

The Summer collection features dresses with bright tropical prints.


About Juicy Couture

Juicy Couture embraces the bright and glamorous fun of its Los Angeles heritage by discovering the couture in the everyday, and delivering an element of surprise in all of its designs. Famous for ascending the tracksuit to its status as a casual luxury icon, the brand continues to evolve, bringing the same confident, whimsical and feminine attitude to everything it creates. Today, the global phenomenon offers an assortment that spans fashion apparel for women, girls and baby, handbags, shoes, intimates, swimwear, fragrance, accessories, jewelry, sunglasses and small leather goods.

Started by two fashion-obsessed friends in 1997, Juicy Couture quickly achieved global recognition and garnered millions of fans, many with famous faces. In 2003, Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (NYSE: FNP) (formerly Liz Claiborne Inc.) acquired the company, and in 2010, Juicy Couture tapped LeAnn Nealz as Chief Creative Officer and President to guide the brand into its next phase of growth, while preserving the house’s playful and unique DNA.

North America is home to approximately 126 Juicy Couture and Juicy Couture Outlet stores. You can also shop Juicy Couture in select specialty and department stores and at JuicyCouture.com. Internationally, Juicy Couture and Juicy Couture Outlet stores can be found in over 30 different countries across Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Follow Juicy Couture on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and our blog, The Juicy.





Perhaps tradition needs a smartphone app

15 02 2013

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Spreading happiness at Serangoon Gardens

14 02 2013

Tucked away in a somewhat obscure area of Serangoon Gardens is a delightful little café that as its name, Sun Ray Café, suggests, brings sun rays over the area. Describing itself as a joyful and offbeat spot, the cafe is probably better known to pet owners – it being one of the few pet friendly eateries found in the area of Singapore.  I guess, not being a pet owner, I might be forgiven for not being aware of the cafe, and it was only through an invitation for a food tasting session that I got to know of its existence.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

That it is an offbeat place is probably also seen in some of the food creations made specially for the occasion of the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day. One of the first things we got  to do was toss the what has come to be a tradition for the Lunar New Year in Singapore and Malaysia, Yu Sheng or Raw Fish Salad. That is perhaps as traditional as it does get, not only is the “Raw Fish” Salad topped not by raw fish as its name might suggest, but by a generous helping of smoked salmon, but it also is  tossed with a fork. Topped off with croutons, and served with plum sauce, the salad’s ingredients and the salmon topping is shaped into a short cylinder in a mould – taking on a rather quirky and non-conventional appearance. The Sun Ray Café Yu Sheng Platter, named Rising Joy is rather a rather delightful twist to the traditional dish, comes in two sizes – a small portion ideal for 2 diners is priced at $10.80 and the large portion for 4 diners costs $16.80 and will be available until 24 February. Being a pet friendly, the café also serves a pet version of the dish with boiled salmon, a portion of which costs $6.80.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

The main part of the food tasting was to introduce the café’s Valentine’s Day menu (for which this post probably comes a little too late for). Available on 13 and 14 February, the menu comes with a choice of three entrées. The menu is also served with a Smoked Salmon Salad served with a wonderful walnut sauce dressing; a Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup inspired by how cappuccino is served these days which I thought was just right – light and not overladen with cream; a choice of Home Made Tiramisu or Chocolate Lava Cake; and a choice of drinks – a Signature Mocktail Mellini or a glass of House Wine. The entrées can be selected from a Australian Seared Steak (marinated in red wine and rosemary and served with Lyonnais potatoes); Crusted Salmon (sesame crusted salmon with sweet taro mash – I am told it is naturally sweet taro); or the Honey Glazed Spring Chicken (grilled and served with oven-roasted potatoes). I though the salmon turned out the best – full of flavour complemented by the sesame crust. The steak was also tender and juicy and rich in flavour. The chicken however did taste a little too sweet and wasn’t to my liking. The menus are priced at $45 for the steak, $35 for the salmon and  $30 for the chicken.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

Cuppa' Mushroom Soup.

Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup.

The Valentine's Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The Valentine’s Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The crusted salmon.

The crusted salmon served with sweet taro mash.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

Besides the food – the café’s owner is also big on coffee. A trained barista, he hopes to also turn the café into one that serves specialty coffees and is considering roasting his own beans. Tthe café was kind enough to have a little coffee appreciation session during which Columbia Geisha beans (which we were told cost $300 a kg!) were used and the practice of coffee cupping was  introduced – after which I will not look at a cup of kopi-o in the same way again.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

A cupping spoon.

A cupping spoon.

Located at 79 Brighton Crescent, more information on the pet friendly café can be found at its Facebook page. And do note that, as a special treat, the café is extending a $10 return voucher – all you would need to do to claim the voucher is to say “Happiness will keep us alive!” to the staff serving you.





A final frontier

13 02 2013

One of the few places in present day Singapore that I am able to find myself at home in is the Sembawang area along the northern coast. It is an area which has in the last two and a half decades, as with much (if not all) of Singapore, undergone a huge transformation and also one that is still being transformed. Despite the transformation – Sembawang now plays host to a new public housing estate, it is still a place in which a Singapore we have forgotten about can still be found – at least for the time being.

An intermediate egret in flight.

An intermediate egret in flight over the canalised Sembawang River – the Sembawang area was one known in the past to be rich in bird life.

Sembawang is one of the last places left in which much of the past remains to be discovered. A past which perhaps with the planned future developments in the area, some for which preparations are already being made, is one which may soon be well forgotten. Best remembered for hosting a huge British naval base which was completed in 1938, Sembawang Shipyard which inherited the former Naval Dockyard in 1968 serves to remind us of that, as does the former Stores Basin, now used as a naval logistics base. It is however in several of the smaller reminders in which the past charms of the area can found in. These include the cluster of colonial bungalows (“black and white houses”) and in what is today Sembawang Park. Sembawang Park and perhaps the coastline east of it is where some of the old world does seem to have been left behind including what may be one of the last stretches of natural beaches in Singapore, the old jetty (sometimes referred to as the “Beaulieu”, prounounced “bew-lee” jetty, or “Mata” jetty), Beaulieu House, and a seawall which once belonged to Kampong Wak Hassan.

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Sunrise along the northern coast – an undeveloped part of the beach east of Sembawang Park, and an area which despite the kampongs being cleared from it, retains much of a charm which is missing from the overly manicured and cluttered urban spaces in Singapore.

Besides traces that is associated with the former naval base, reminders do also exist of the area’s lesser known natural past. The area (as had much of the coastline around it) played host to a swamp. Much had already been cleared when the naval base was built with the course of two rivers around which the marshy ground formed altered. There were, however, remnants of the marshland that remained around an area of what is today the Sembawang River up to the 1980s when it was drained for the development of Sembawang New Town. This lay about a kilometre west of what was then Chong Pang Village, just north of the Ulu Sembawang area (an area of farms and freshwater ponds around where Gambas Avenue is today). It was known then to have been a fertile feeding ground for marsh birds, attracting herons, egrets, sandpipers and storks to it. While the swamps have all since vanished – HDB blocks of flats have risen where the wetlands had once thrived, the is today a canalised Sembawang/Senoko River which on the evidence of what we do see today, does see a return of some of the previously rich bird life. Besides the marsh birds, the area today also sees many other birds. These include common birds such as the yellow-vented bulbulblack naped oriolepied fantailashy tailorbirdgreen pigeon, starling, Asian koel, several types of kingfishermunia and sunbird. There have also been some less common sightings in the area including the Sunda woodpeckerbrown hawk owlmilky stork, and what is perhaps an escapee, a white-rumped shama.

A yellow-vented bulbul in a Simpoh Air bush along the banks of the river.

A yellow-vented bulbul in a Simpoh Air bush along the banks of the river.

A white-throated kingfisher.

A white-throated kingfisher in flight over the canalised river.

Sembawang is toady, a world in which the charm of a forgotten old world missing from most of the redeveloped spaces on the island, can still be found. It is a world which has thus far, managed to remain free from the crowds and clutter which now seems to dominate almost all of the urban world we now find around us. The area is one which had for a long while boasted of welcome pockets of greenery and un-manicured beauty. But all that I fear, is soon going to change. Sembawang Park for one is already in the midst of a “renewal” which I feel will see it lose the character and charm which attracted me there since the days of my childhood as it becomes just another well manicured park cluttered with paraphernalia which Singapore really has too many of.

A once beautiful area that is now being cleared for possibly what is the beginnings of the HDB's new Simpang estate.

A place where the sun would shine on an uncluttered space …

As I look around me, I also see huge tracts of land which were once held much beauty behind hoardings and in the midst of being cleared. That I understand is part of the effort to provide new homes. What that also means is that the crowds the area has hitherto been spared from would soon descend on it, attracted not just by the homes, but the inevitable as it now seems – a huge redevelopment effort which has been outlined in the recently released Land Use Plan intended to supplement the somewhat controversial Population White Paper. That speaks of “new waterfront land along the Sembawang Coastline being freed up once existing shipyard facilities are phased out” with the aim “of providing land for new business activities”. With that it will not just be the character and charm of the area that will be lost, but what it does also mean is that it will see the breaking of what may be the last links it has with its past.

Another part of the same area seen on a misty morning on 28 August 2012.

… and a space where once there were trees.

Inevitable as it may seem, that future  is one that I hope, perhaps for selfish reasons, is one that will never come. Development which has broken many of our links to our past as well as the more recent wave of immigration has without a doubt provided great economic benefit to us living in Singapore. For many of us however, it has also come at a huge cost, a cost which has also seen us lose the soul of who we are as a people. The country is today, one where I find it a struggle to feel at home in. Much of what once was familiar and a source of joy and comfort is no longer with us, creating in us that sense of longing for what has been lost, as well as a sense of loss … a feeling which perhaps can best be described by the Welsh word Hiraeth or  the Portuguese word Saudade

The final frontier?

Now perhaps the final frontier?

One of the positive things that did come out of the land use plan is that it makes mention of some of the more immediate future developments to provide public housing at Bidadari, Tengah and Tampines North. What that does mean is that for the time being at least, the large parcel of land reserved for the future Simpang New Town, an area by the northern coast part of which was once a land of idyllic coastal villages and prawn farming ponds will be left undeveloped. What that also means is that while the area will certainly become more crowded over time, it will for a while, be spared from an even bigger   one, remaining as a final frontier where not just the birds, but also free spirits such as myself can still find space to roam free.





Celebrating the Lunar New Year at Marina Bay

12 02 2013

In celebration of the Lunar New Year, The Float @ Marina Bay once again plays host to River Hongbao. The annual event, now in its 27th year, is organised by Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCCI), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and People’s Association (PA) with the aim to allow both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere. This year’s fair sees a display of lanterns including some of the largest which have been designed and specially handcrafted for River Hongbao on display at The Float. This combined with the host of fringe activities including amusement rides and carnival games; nightly shows on the main stage and; brought specially this year – food and handicraft from Guangdong Province, will certainly make this year’s River Hongbao one that will certainly be worth a visit.

The Guangdong Arts Troupe during the Countdown Ceremony on Saturday.

The Guangdong Arts Troupe during the Countdown Ceremony on Saturday.

The Float coming to life for River Hongbao 2013.

The Float coming to life for River Hongbao 2013.

The lanterns will definitely be a draw this year – the most eye-catching one being the towering 18 metre tall God of Wealth, as well as two large Screen Lanterns, which measuring 30 metres by 10 metres, will certainly not be missed. The lanterns have all been locally designed and handcrafted by craftsmen in China and also include zodiac lanterns – 12 of them each with a zodiac animal – the one with the snake will of course be taking centre stage. One rather interesting lantern is that resembles a Chinese Opera or Wayang stage – with lantern puppets as well as puppet show performances at selected times throughout the day. Visitors can also look forward to receiving fortune numbers from the God of Wealth at two hourly intervals from 1 to 11 pm.

The lanterns will add light and colour to The Float over the nine days.

The lanterns will add light and colour to The Float over the nine days.

The 18 metre tall God of Wealth.

The 18 metre tall God of Wealth.

The zodiac lantern featuring the snake.

The zodiac lantern featuring the snake.

A floating lantern.

A floating lantern.

A lantern featuring giant pandas.

A lantern featuring giant pandas.

Besides the lanterns, the happenings on the main stage which comes alive every evening, should also not be missed. The shows on the main stage will over the nine evenings, feature performances by both local and foreign performers, including acts which hail from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.  The highlight includes the performances which feature dancers from the National Taiwan University of Arts and the Nanfang Song and Dance Company, as well as acrobats from Shantou Acrobatic and Magic Troupe. In addition to these acts, the evening of 13 February will see a “Local Talent Night”,  14 February a “Youth Night” which showcases upcoming young talents and 15 February, a “SFCCA Night” during which the clan associations will put up both Mandarin as well as perfromances in dialects. The last evening (16 February) will see a “Harmony Night” when the different ethnic groups come together in a grand finale. For more information on the programme, please visit the River Hongbao’s Programme page. River Hongbao 2013 runs from 8 to 16 February 2013. More information on River Hongbao can also be found at the event’s website and Facebook Page.

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Further information on River Hongbao 2013:

Working with Guangdong

As part of efforts to further cultural cooperation with Guangdong Province, River Hongbao will be partnering the Department of Culture and Department of Tourism of Guangdong Province to bring the region’s highlights to Singapore. Visitors to The Float will be entertained by the Guangdong Arts Troupe, which comprises of performers from the highly acclaimed Nanfang Song and Dance Company and acrobats from Shantou Acrobatic and Magic Troupe. Guangdong is also well known for its popular Cantonese cuisine so expect your tastebuds to be tantalized by the region’s delicacies available at the River Hongbao Food Street. Handicrafts from from different provinces of Guangdong like silk scarves from Shunde, Guangzhou bone and jade sculptures, Foshan paper cuttings and souvenirs from The Musuem of Dr Sun Yat Sen will also be available for visitors to bring a small piece of Guangdong back with them.

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River Hongbao Food Street

Continuing with 2012’s success, River Hongbao’s Food Street will bring back last year’s winning local fare like Char Kway Teow, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Fried Hokkien Noodles, Satay Bee Hoon, Oyster Omelette, as well as Asian street favourites from Taiwan and Thailand. Guangdong chefs will also be flown in to entice palates with popular Guangdong delicacies like Grilled Quail’s Eggs, Soup Dumplings, Oysters steamed with garlic mince, Traditional double boiled soups and many more.

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Memory Collection Drive

This year, River Hongbao will work together with the Singapore Memory Project (SMP) to collect memories of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. Visitors can share their memories of the festive traditions or past River Hongbao events at the Memory Collection Drive. For memories contributed, they will receive specially designed hongbao packets, while stocks last. These memories will enable future generations of Singaporeans to understand the collective journey of our nation and the different facets of Singapore. Members of the public can also submit photos and stories via singaporememory.sg or the SG Memory iOS App.

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Minister for Prime Minister’s Office Mr Lim Swee Say joining the countdown celebrations.

Minister for Prime Minister’s Office Mr Lim Swee Say joining the countdown celebrations.

The fireworks display at the countdown.

The fireworks display at the countdown.





Sunrise over a world the sun may soon set on

9 02 2013

A photograph taken at 7.14 am of this morning’s sunrise at Kampong Wak Hassan, the last of the year of the dragon, using the Canon 5D MkIII camera’s HDR mode, the results of which did surprise me.

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Singapore’s gods of fortune, old and new …

9 02 2013

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The shortlived French invasion of Singapore

8 02 2013

I was looking through some of my old (and rather badly taken) photographs of Chingay when I stumbled upon a sign which brought to mind events of the 1980s. The decade was a time when the world around us was very much in transition and a time when the French decided on an invasion of Singapore. The invasion was one not involving any form of military force, but by forces of an entirely different nature – those of two of their well established retail giants, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps – department stores which are landmarks on one of Paris’ famous shopping streets, Boulevard Haussmann (it was a photograph with the Printemps sign that brought this to mind).

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The Printemps Store along on the ground level of Hotel Le Meridien at Orchard Road.

The entrance of the two stores into the local retail market came at the start of a decade in which Singapore was too see massive changes. Much of the resident population of the city centre had been or was to be moved out, and once bustling districts of shophouses which coloured much of the urban landscape was over the period, reduced to rubble. The 1980s also saw Orchard Road establishing itself as Singapore’s main shopping street and the economic success of Singapore – one of the four “Tigers” of the Asian economies, provided for the rising affluence among Singaporeans and with that a greater awareness of fashion trends. This influenced shopping habits and preferences and many overseas based retailers saw an opportunity to gain a foothold into the Singapore market, with two Japanese based retailers having by then already established themselves. Isetan came in 1972 and Yaohan in 1974.

It was Galeries Lafayette which lead the French charge, opening a 5574 square metre store in out-of-town Goldhill Square (since renamed United Square) in December 1982. Printemps followed soon after, taking up 4000 square metres of space on Orchard Road on the ground floor of the newly constructed Hotel Le Méridien (now Concorde Hotel) in September 1983. It was Printemps which perhaps had the greater impact – projecting an image not so much of Parisian chic but one of being hip, colourful and affordable – it was Printemps which introduced the colourful canvas espadrilles which for a while seemed to catch on with Singaporean shoppers (trendy as they might have been, they unfortunately were not the most ideal form of footwear for the local climate). Printemps colourful and cheap polo-tees were also rather a hit with the young.

Despite the apparent popularity of some of what the stores had to offer, both did have great difficulty in making inroads and were making losses. Galeries (as it was referred to by Singaporeans) closed its Goldhill Square store in May 1986. The news of that did not come as a shock as it had been plagued by rumours of its closing for several months before that even as it had expressed interest in taking up a space either at Crown Prince Hotel or the space previously occupied by Mohan’s at Orchard Shopping Centre. It was perhaps a poor decision made to open their store at a location far from the main retail scene in Singapore. The closure did turn out to be a temporary move. Some ten months after closing the Goldhill Square store, Galeries opened a 4460 square metre store at Liat Towers on Orchard Road and not long after that, a smaller 400 square metre outlet at Raffles Place. In spite of the problems the two stores faced in what was perhaps becoming a saturated retail market, the two did last a little longer. Printemps operated ntil December 1989 when it shut its doors. Galeries after its second coming lasted a little longer – it was in March 1996 when they did finally close again.

Galeries Lafayette's second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

Galeries Lafayette’s second coming which was at Liat Towers, seen here in the 1990s, in March 1987 (source: http:// a2o.nas.sg/picas/).





A sunrise over the new Singapore

8 02 2013

Singapore has, in close to half a century of its existence as an independent nation, seen a dramatic transformation not just as a nation but in the development of the city. There is nowhere, perhaps, where the change is as striking as it is in the new city that has risen from the sea – the Marina City Centre, built on land reclaimed on what had once been the old harbour. The new world is also perhaps where some of the more dramatic sunrises over the city can be observed, particularly against the silhouettes of what has certainly become one of the most photographed places in Singapore, the very iconic Marina Bay Sands complex.

Sunrise over the new world 7.29 am 8 February 2013.

Sunrise over the new world 7.29 am 8 February 2013.





Bukit Timah Railway Station revisited

7 02 2013

It was in the final days of the Malayan Railway’s operations through Singapore just over a year and a half ago that the former Bukit Timah Railway Station drew crowds it that had not previously seen before. The station, built in 1932 as part of the Railway Deviation which took the railway towards a new terminal close to the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was one that was long forgotten. Once where prized racehorses bound for the nearby Turf Club were offloaded, the station’s role had over time diminished. Its sole purpose had in the years leading up to its final moments been reduced to that of a point at which authority for the tracks north of the station to Woodlands and south of it to Tanjong Pagar was exchanged through a key token system. The practice was an archaic signalling practice that had been made necessary by the single track system on which the outbound and inbound trains shared. It had in its final days been the last point along the Malayan Railway at which the practice was still in use and added to the impression one always had of time leaving the station and its surroundings behind. It was for that sense of the old world, a world which if not for the railway might not have existed any more,  for which it had, in its calmer days, been a place where one could find an escape from the concrete world which in recent years was never far away. It was a world in which the sanity which often eludes the citizens of the concrete world could be rediscovered. It is a world, despite the green mesh fencing now reminding us of its place in the concrete world, which still offers that escape, albeit one which will no longer come with those little reminders of a time we otherwise might have long forgotten.

Scenes from the station’s gentler days

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The transformation of Chingay over the years

5 02 2013

The Chingay Parade in Singapore as we know it today had its beginnings in the wake of the total ban on firecrackers which once were a must-have at any Chinese New Year celebration. That was back in 1973 – the parade was a relatively simple one which had been put together by the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation, and saw a procession of lion dancers, giant flag bearers, dragon dancers, stilt walkers, clowns and juggling acts down a 3 kilometre route that took them from the old Victoria School to the end point at Outram Park. Being very much a celebration connected with the Chinese New Year, it was a very Chinese-centric passing some of the streets of Chinatown along the way. A resounding success in its first year, the decision was made to make it an annual affair and the four decades of Chingay, saw it first move into the housing estates starting with Toa Payoh in its second year, before it was moved to Orchard Road in 1985. In that time, the parade also took on first a multi-cultural flavour and then an international flavour – moving from being a street parade not just for Singaporeans but also for visitors to the island.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

The carnival -like street parade Chingay is today. A less than traditional looking stilt-walker seen during the rehearsal for Chingay 2013.

Stilt walkers from a Chinagy Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

More traditional stilt-walkers from a Chingay Parade in the 1980s seen along Orchard Road.

The origins of Chingay are not actually in the carnival-like street parade that we are treated to today. Chingay in its original form is very much what has been described as a Hokkien Chinese tradition, once held usually in conjunction with religious festivals with a usual parade of deities, and it is in this form that it is still very much celebrated across the causeway in Johor Bahru on the 21st day of the Chinese New Year. The parades were known to be held in Singapore as far back as in the 1880s, with participation not just by the Hokkiens, but also by the main dialect groups that made up the immigrant Chinese population.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The annual event has over the years taken on a multi-cultural and more international appearance.

The Japanese community  in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

The Japanese community in Singapore has been well represented over the years.

A Straits Times report of 1 February 1902 describes the parade as “being accompanied by all the usual banners, flags, toms toms, bands, magnificently and grotesquely made out individuals, and figures”. The report further describes the parade: “barbaric splendour was manifested to extravagance and thousands of spectators flocked to all points to witness it. Numbers of pretty Chinese girls brilliantly and richly dressed sat on perches ten feet high, surrounded by flowers, and borne on the shoulders of bearers”.

The early parades in its more recent form would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

The early parades would typically feature traditional performers such as flag bearers.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place.

Chingay in 1985 seen passing Peranakan Place along Orchard Road.

Parades in their original form were ones which perhaps were an expression of identity and on which no expense was spared, were discontinued after December 1906, when at a meeting of the Hokkien clan it was decided that the raising of public funds should properly be devoted to the promotion of children’s education instead rather than in the extravagance of a street procession.

The colourful celebration that is today's Chingay.

The colourful celebration that is today’s Chingay.

Chingay these days has perhaps come a full circle – at least in the sense of the extravagance. Each parade is now one to look forward to as a spectacle – planning we are told for the parades start as early as some fifteen months before each one is held. No longer a what can be seen as a spontaneous celebration on the streets, the preparations for Chingay these days involve a massive effort, not just from the organisers but also from the performers with many rehearsals required to perfect what has essentially become a staged performance which of late has included effects which bring out the spectacular – much like how National Day Parades are now staged. In that – the Chingay parades are now ones as with National Day Parades which should not be missed. Unlike National Day Parades for which tickets are often hard to come by, tickets for Chingay are available for purchase – these, I am given to understand are selling fast. Tickets may be purchased from SISTIC (see website). More information on ticketing and on the parade can be found at the Chingay 2013 website. For photographs of a preview of Chingay 2013 – please visit my previous post on Chingay 2013.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.

Stilt-walkers resting along the Orchard Road route in 1985.


Some highlights of Chingay 2013:

  • Grandest Cultural Opening – 文天祥之“正气歌” Song of Righteousness by renowned Wen Tian Xiang, Song Dynasty (Cultural collaboration between artistes from Singapore and Fuzhou), with Chingay Taichi Sword Showcase
  • World’s Biggest Peach Blossoms, “桃夭” Performance
  • First-Ever Combined Chinese Opera Performance of Lady Generals of The Yang “杨门女将” jointly presented by Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese Opera Groups in Singapore
  • Programme will involve at least 5,000 students and Singaporeans to write calligraphy based on the poem “Song of Righteousness” 五言诗:正气歌





Staring into the abyss

5 02 2013

Sharing a scene seen along our northern shoreline one that may soon be changed in a way many of us don’t want it to be.

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Fire in snow lights up the Lunar New Year

4 02 2013

While many in Singapore feel that the annual Chingay parade, now in its 41st year, has moved away from its original purpose of a street parade for the masses first celebrated in 1973 to make up for a total ban on the long held tradition of letting off fireworks during the Lunar New Year, the parade is without a doubt still very much a celebration of what Singapore is and what perhaps Singapore has become. The parade has in its recent editions become a show of the spectacular, combining a street-like parade in which the people from all major races and from all walks of life participate, with a well-orchestrated show of lights, music and effects which never fail to dazzle the audience. The theme of this year’s parade, “Fire in Snow”, will on the evidence of Saturday’s rehearsal, no doubt be as dramatic, if not more so, than last year’s water show was, with the opening scene seeing some 3000 performers light pots of fire, which turns the 360 metre parade route at the F1 Pit Building into a spectacular sea of light. The parade’s dramatic opening is matched by an equally staggering finale during which the parade’s audience and participants will be showered in falling “snow”, in which falling soap and pieces of paper brings the parade to a sensational close.

Chingay brings together members of the various communities in Singapore in an annual street celebration.

Chingay brings together members of the various communities in Singapore in an annual street celebration.

The opening scene sees the lighting of pots of fire.

The opening scene sees the lighting of pots of fire.

The spectacular closing sees "snow" falling on the parade.

The spectacular closing sees “snow” falling on the parade.

Saturday’s rehearsal, which was opened to members of the media, also had some 8,000 students in its audience. The students, representing some 56 schools, were there to participate in a National Education (NE) show to educate students about multicultural harmony. This is the first time students an NE show, usually associated with National Day Parade rehearsals, is being held in conjunction with the Chingay Parade rehearsals. The six-part parade will see some 10,000 performers representing some 120 organizations and will include a Chinese classical featuring 450 young performers from Singapore and China; a combined Chinese Opera Show with 300 members of local Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese opera troupes who will perform to the strains of Phantom of the Opera; Tai-chi Swordmasters; and the participation of a 1,000 strong PAssion Zumba Community which includes the youngest participant in the parade who is only 4.

The largest Chinese Classical Dance in the show's history sees 450 young dancers from both Singapore and China peform.

The largest Chinese Classical Dance in the show’s history sees 450 young dancers from both Singapore and China peform.

A close up of the Chinese Classical Dance segment.

A close up of the Chinese Classical Dance segment.

Tai-chi swordmasters.

Tai-chi swordmasters.

The parade will be held on Friday 22 February and Saturday 23 February this year. More information including that on ticketing can be found at the Chingay 2013 website.

Members of the Queenstown CC Cantonese Opera troupe pose for a photograph before the rehearsal.

Members of the Queenstown CC Cantonese Opera troupe pose for a photograph before the rehearsal.

Student performers dressed in Chinese Opera costumes practicing before the parade.

Student performers dressed in Chinese Opera costumes practicing before the parade.

The youngest participant who is 4.

The youngest participant who is 4.

Ms Elaine Tjon a member of the PAssion Zumba Community sharing her experience at the media conference.

Ms Elaine Tjon a member of the PAssion Zumba Community sharing her experience at the media conference.

Student participants at the media conference.

Student participants at the media conference.

Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco speaking.

Mr Nah Juay Hng, Chairman of the Chingay Parade Exco speaking.

Members of the Japanese community.

Members of the Japanese community.

Float carrying more participants from Singapore's Japanese Community.

Float carrying more participants from Singapore’s Japanese Community.

The NE Show audience - schoolchildren expanded a lot of energy during the parade.

The NE Show audience – schoolchildren expanded a lot of energy during the parade.


More photographs from Saturday’s rehearsal:

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Solitude

1 02 2013

It is in a world we have forgotten, that I have come to enjoy a peaceful moment in. It is a world which in being seemingly far removed from the cold, grey and unfamiliar world that has grown around me; I take great joy having a moment in quiet solitude in. It is also one in which I find a sanity that can no longer be found in the Singapore I struggle to feel at home in. The world is one which will soon change. A change necessary, as we are told, for the small island we call home to move forward. A change which, as with the many changes we have been forced to accept, we will surely look back at with regret.

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