Connecting to reconnect with the convent

10 11 2014

Several hundred girls from CHIJ Toa Payoh secondary and primary schools found themselves back in school on Sunday, not in the familiar surroundings of Toa Payoh, but in ones once familiar in Victoria Street. It had been in Victoria Street some 160 years ago, that four nuns of the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus’, having arrived following a long and arduous journey from Europe to the Singapore via Penang, began their mission in Caldwell House with just a bed, 2 mats, 2 chairs and 2 stools, establishing the convent in February 1854.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

Back to school in once familiar surroundings.

The convent was to grow, establishing within the walls of its expanded premises on Victoria Street,  not just an enlarged physical presence that was to be defined by the wonderful examples of architecture built to the glory of the supreme being, but also as a leading institution that provided both care for many in need as well as one that has and continues to play a significant role in providing education to girls in Singapore.

Late for school - 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

Late for school – 30 years too late! The schools moved out from the premises of the former convent at the end of 1983 after almost 130 years.

While it is sad that the magnificent buildings erected for the nuns to carry out their mission can no longer be used for the purpose – the convent having had to vacate its oasis in the city in 1983 (the schools in the premises moved to Toa Payoh in 1984 and a third school, CHIJ St. Nicholas, to Ang Mo Kio), and even sadder that the complex has been repurposed in a way that trivialises the original intent; it is good to see that there is still a connection that the schools can make with their spiritual home, now called CHIJMES.

Once familiar scenes returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

Once familiar scenes (except for the mobile devices) returned for a day to the corridors of the old convent.

The girls, dressed in the familiar blue pinafores, made more than that connection yesterday. Together with their teachers and members of their alumni, a physical connection was also established, with 402 lining up, tallest to the shortest, with hands joined to form what is believed to a world record for the longest human chain (tallest to shortest) – subject to confirmation by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Confirmation  of a Singapore Record.

Confirmation of a Singapore Record.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Primary school participants being arranged in order of height.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Hand-in-hand for the world record attempt.

Part of the schools’ commemoration of their 160th Anniversaries, the apparent success of the effort dubbed IJ Link, was celebrated in song and dance immediately after. Along with the world record attempt, which surpasses the previously held record of 311, a bazaar, brunch at the former chapel and arts performances were also held on the grounds of the former convent.

The celebration after ...

The celebration after …

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel.

An assembly held in the field behind the chapel in the good old days (photograph: National Archives of Singapore).

Happy days were here again!

Happy days were here again!

More photographs:









A huge escape!

2 09 2013

The World’s First tandem upside-down double strait jacket escape …

A world’s first was accomplished some 75 feet over the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday. The last night of the Singapore Night Festival saw “Asia’s Most Famous Illusionists”, the pairing of J C Sum and Magic Babe Ning, complete a nerve-wrecking, death-defying, tandem escape stunt that had the two dangling upside down from a burning rope, with each strapped into a double strait-jacket.

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Dangling 75 feet over the air in double strait-jackest suspended from a burning rope

The stunt was part of the performances and the highlight of the two-weekend festival.  The spectacular act was performed to a huge crowd (there must have been more than several thousands) which started to gather in anticipation some two hours before when the National Museum of Singapore, which served as a backdrop for the act, entertained making faces. Many had been present for another of Ning’s mega stunts on the previous evening, when they witnessed “the sexiest woman in magic” stage an amazing escape from a locked steel vault which was filled to the brim with water. For that stunt, Ning was completely submerged, chained and shackled with only a pair of paper clips to help her get out, having only the time that it would have taken her to run out of breath to get out – a feat which on its own was remarkable as it was the first time such an escape has been publicly witnessed in Singapore (see my prevous post)!

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The second stunt, was of course a lot more spectacular – and terrifying, especially so when all was done in full view of the audience. Both Ning and J C Sum were each tied-up into two strait-jackets, with two members of the audience picked to do the job. Both were then attached to a rig by their ankles one over the other. The rig was in turn was attached to a length of rope set alight as they were being attached which was attached to the hook of a huge telescopic crane. As the rope burned, the two were hoisted up – J C Sum made an announcement before the stunt that they would be hoisted not to 50 feet (15 metres – about five storeys) as was originally intended, but 75 feet (23 metres or 7 1/2 storeys) up in the air.

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As a stunt, it must surely count as the most daring ever seen in Singapore. Based on a upside-down escape stunt from a strait-jacket whilst suspended made famous by none other than Harry Houdini himself, the very first tandem inverted strait-jacket escape is much more risky, as it is dependent not just on the actions of one person, but two. There is of course the wind, as well as humidity – which does make the strait-jacket stick to the skin, to contend with. And to top it all, it was done without safety nets!

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Working against a clock set by the time it would have taken to burn through the rope, with the time taken to raise and lower the pair, J C Sum seemed to be initially ahead of Ning in getting out of the strait-jackets – his got his hand free as Ning seemed to struggle. But Ning was first to get out of her two strait-jackets, and the close to three-minutes that it took J C Sum to fling off his inner strait-jacket what must have seemed like an eternity to both. There was some drama as the audience could see that Ning seemed to be having some difficulty in attempting to remove J C Sum’s jacket which had got caught at her feet but all could heave that huge collective sigh of relief as she seemed to recover and it wasn’t long before both could be lowered down. The total time taken for the duo to be raise, to escape and be lowered would have been close to five minutes which probably was as much time as they could have used – the rope after the fire was extinguished did look as if it was about to be burned through.

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It was a visibly relieved look that Ning wore as she first waved to the crowd on completing the stunt. With fireworks illuminating the stage, the pair was greeted by thunderous applause. The two were then presented with a certificate for their world record feat by the Singapore Book of Records as well an Outstanding Achievement & Contribution to Magic award by the International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 115 – all which certainly was well deserved!

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