I have always been extremely thankful to be born in Singapore: A home that is not only known as one of the safest country in the world, but also a multi-racial, religious and harmonious community. Our forefathers came from all over the world and within a short span of 45 years, we have evolved from a rural fishing village to today’s cosmopolitan city of magnificent sky-scrapers and happening nightlife!
Alright, enough of the self-praise. Since Chinese New Year (CNY) is coming up (14th-28th February 2010), let me tell you more about the cultural aspects of Singapore. The rich mix of cultures in Singapore means there is always a cultural event to celebrate, all through the year. These festivals usually centre on race, religion, age-old myths and traditions. Oh, did you notice the array of abbreviations Singaporeans use? That’s part of the Singapore culture as well! ERP, CPF, MOE, NTUC…you’ll learn more as we go along!
The hub of all activity during CNY is of course, Chinatown. Sense the preparation excitement in the air as enterprising merchants line Terengganu Street and Pagoda Street (Nearest MRT Station: Chinatown Station) with their colourful stalls!
Get your traditional CNY goodies such as Love Letters (thin, crispy cracker emblazoned with auspicious symbols, rolled into a hollow tube), Pineapple Tarts, Kuih Bang Kit (milky cookie that melts in your mouth, made from tapioca flour and coconut milk) and many more! The free sampling of goodies there can fill you up for a meal! Yummy. Or buy some pussy willow, red-paper decorations or baskets of mandarin oranges for good luck. If you’re married and want to join in an age-old tradition, get some Hong Bao (small red envelopes) to give to those who are single. Don’t forget to slip in some dollar notes in the Hong Bao before you give it away!
River Hong Bao Carnival (5 Minutes Walk from City Hall Station)
One of the most awaited carnivals in Singapore, the River Hong Bao Carnival is a huge and lively fair, featuring a mind-boggling variety of food, traditional arts and folklore from ancient China. You will find the entire fairground decorated with floats of mythical creatures, legendary heroes, Chinese gods, pagodas and cherry blossoms.
Visiting performers and artisans, flown in from selected provinces in China, will perform nightly cultural performances ranging from acrobatics to Chinese calligraphy. You can even have your palm read, or get a special Chinese zodiac reading of your birth sign! You should visit this place if you want to learn and experience the CNY customs.
Chingay Parade (Nearest MRT: CityHall Station)
Started in 1973 as a procession to mark the CNY festivities, this annual parade is now the grandest street and floats parade in Asia, showcasing the rich, vibrant multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan cultures of Singapore as well as hundreds of renowned performers from all over the world.
The term ‘Chingay’ originated from Southeast Asia, and is a phonetic equivalent of the Chinese words “妆艺” (which means “a decorated display of culture and traditional skills). Today, the parade has evolved into a massive multi-cultural and international event with live telecast on local television every year. For 2010, it will be taking place at our very own F1 Racing Pit on 19th and 20th February. Tickets can be purchased from www.sistic.com.sg. Chingay is truly an all-out, multi-national party you must not miss!
Transport-wise, I would say that it is relatively easy to find your way around Singapore. Not that we are a mere “little red dot”, but it is because we have got a comprehensive and accessible transport system in place. A good way to avoid the festive jams is to take the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, also known as our subway or train services), which will bring you swiftly to heart of Chinatown and City Hall.
It is just the beginning of February, but I can already sense how exciting this month will be! Got to go, I’m off to get new wardrobe additions for the Chinese New Year, and I can’t wait to experience the festive crowd at Chinatown tonight!