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Tourists flock to Singapore to revel in arts and culture

By ELLIS NG in Singapore | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-09-30 08:11
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People take photos at a lantern display of the Chinese mythological tale of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay on Sept 13. CHINA DAILY

A pair of Giant Panda lanterns along with a lantern set inspired by the Chinese love story of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl were among the items greeting visitors to Singapore as the country ramped up celebrations for Mid-Autumn Festival on Sept 29.

The lantern displays were Singapore's first after travel restrictions were lifted in February.

The Lion City welcomed a record 1.42 million visitor arrivals in July, with 231,330 visitors from China, according to the Singapore Tourism Board.

At the city's iconic Gardens by the Bay, a lantern display inspired by the mythological tale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl shows a flock of magpies providing a bridge for the two lovers.

Another lantern set re-imagines a poignant romance between protagonists Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The Gardens by the Bay also showcases flora that features greatly in Chinese culture, like the lotus, peach blossoms and bamboo.

Daniela Cavaliere, a tourist from Germany, was impressed by how Singapore has blended traditional elements with modernity.

"There's definitely a good mix," the 31-year-old said. "Singapore needs a lot of tradition, but also a lot of innovative things."

The city's Chinatown came to life with lanterns adorning its streets on Sept 15, under the theme of "A Journey of Love and Celebration."

Lim Yick Suan, executive director of the Chinatown Business Association, said visitor arrivals — including those from the Chinese mainland — have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. "Almost all of our programs and workshops for the festival are already fully subscribed," she said. "We are increasingly seeing more families bringing their children to join us at our celebrations and workshops to learn more about the festival."

In the middle of the city, at the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, a pair of Giant Panda lanterns titled a Mid-Autumn Paw-trait greets visitors. The lanterns, part of a collaboration between toymaker 52TOYS and the World Wildlife Fund's Singapore branch, celebrate the animal's reclassification from "endangered" to "vulnerable".

The two-story villa served as the base for the Tongmenghui (China Revolutionary Alliance) in Nanyang (Southeast Asia) in the early 20th century. It is now a national monument and has teamed up with various clan associations to present programs for visitors to learn more about Chinese dialects.

Multiple workshops

The villa held an open house on Sept 23 and 24, with a Teochew cultural trail, a Hokkien song and rhymes workshop, and a parent-child Hakka abacus seed dumpling-making workshop.

"The various interactive workshops, storytelling sessions and hands-on craft activities are always a hit with families and children," said Priscilla Chin, operations and estates manager for the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, adding that the programs allow children to learn about Chinese arts, culture and heritage in a fun and educational manner.

A Singaporean in her 50s, who only wished to be known as Ng, said that the lantern decorations around the memorial hall were reminiscent of the ones she played with in her youth.

"The youngsters don't have the joy we had," she said. Singaporeans still celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, she said, but not like in her childhood. "For me, I try to keep it alive with my kids," she added. "When they were young I let my children experience the different deng long (lanterns)."

Her children are now the ones bringing her to see lanterns.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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