I have just recently arrived in Singapore. I have lived here for two years, but it was only on 15 February 2019 that I truly arrived.
The culture of Singapore is a combination of Asian and European cultures and it has been named a country where “East meets West”. The national language of Singapore is Malay, which plays a symbolic role, as Malays are constitutionally recognised as the indigenous people of Singapore. The other three official languages are Mandarin, Tamil and English. A multitude of other nationalities from all over the globe have been living and working here as well and every year this cultural diversity is celebrated with the Chingay Parade.
Originally it started as a celebration of the Goddess of Mercy, part of the Chinese New Year festivities, more than 100 years ago. This was first introduced in 1973 as the Chingay Parade, or “Carnival of Cultures”. The multi-ethnic elements brought Chingay to another level as a showcase of different communities living harmoniously as united people. From its humble beginnings, this street parade and float extravaganza has developed into a two-day show with more than 6,500 performers from 50 local and foreign parade contingents. Hosted by the People’s Association and attended by the President, the Prime Minister of Singapore and also by thousands of people, as well as reaching 16 million TV viewers in Southeast Asia. The 2019 Chingay commemorated Singapore’s bicentennial, marking 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles arrival on the shores of Singapore. It also commemorates the beginnings of the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299. The theme for Chingay 2019, “Dreams Funtasia”, recognises the significance of the past, present and future of Singapore.
All associations dating back at least 100 years are asked to participate. The German Association (which I am part of), founded in 1856, put together a 20-strong group performing as “Birds of Paradise”, putting on a dance performance as part of the fourth segment of the parade, themed “City of Dreams – Building a Vibrant Community”.
On the Day
The big day has arrived and all performers have gathered at their prep spaces. Everybody is busy, putting on their costumes, getting ready. Everyone is excited to meet the Prime Minister. On this special day you will see him walking in the crowd, shaking people’s hands and if you are lucky you might even get to take a selfie with him.
At 8pm sharp, night has fallen and parade starts in the F1 Pit under the iconic Singapore Flyer. The opening bars of specially composed music and display of a 200m long artwork depicting the “Past, Present and Future” of Singapore are impressive. Giant illuminated butterflies sore to the night sky, putting on a ballet of lights.
The music changes and a celebration of multiculturalism is brought on by three main ethnic groups of Singapore performing dragon dances, stilt walks, boat races and even wedding processions. Now the first floats are entering the parade route – South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan are embracing the diversity of Singapore.
Under the motto “Building a vibrant community” we finally start our section dressed in giraffe costumes. All walks of life are represented, youth groups, primary and secondary schools, architects, Hindu temples, Singapore Recreation Clubs, law firms, dance troupes and many more.
The performers of the German Association represent five nations (Germany, India, Malaysia, Mongolia and Singapore). We are performing the dance routine we have practiced for the past four months but the cheering crowd with the Prime Minister amongst it makes us forget all the hard work we have put in to master the moves. Everybody is welcomed to this victory parade, and the victory belongs to everybody – performers, audience and passers-by. We see the audience filming and taking pictures and it is an endless celebration of the fundamental values that make Singapore the place it is.
After an exciting two hours, the parade is coming to an end and Singapore’s sky is illuminated with a beautiful display of fireworks.
Basking in the air of multiculturalism, I know that now, I have truly arrived in Singapore.