Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Meet Mr River Hongbao

When Perng Peck Seng organised the first one 30 years ago, it was a two-day event
By Leong Weng Kam, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2016

Mr Perng Peck Seng was in his early 30s, newly married and a dubbing producer with the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, when he was asked to stage the inaugural River Hongbao in 1987.

It was then only a two-day event staged on the banks of the Singapore River by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, and supported by groups such as the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) and the People's Association (PA).

Mr Perng, who was then head of SFCCA's cultural committee, was seen to be the best person for the job. He was active in the local Chinese cultural scene, having started the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan's cultural troupe.

Thirty years and more than two cycles of the Chinese zodiac later, Mr Perng has seen River Hongbao grow to an event that spans as many as 17 days.

Today, it has become Singapore's leading Chinese New Year event, attracting more than a million visitors each year with its giant character lanterns, food and entertainment. Now 64, Mr Perng is still putting the act together for this year's event, which takes place over nine days, at the Marina Bay Floating Platform.

[视频 Video] 《春到河畔 ∙ 走过30》30 Years Through River Hongbao
农历新年是天下华人共享的节日,是华人文化的重要载体。我们总是期盼这佳节的到来,与亲友团聚、吃团圆饭、穿新衣、贺新年,制造许多美好、温馨又难忘的回忆。春到河畔于1987年1月24日首次举行,一转眼已是30年光景,春到河畔依然是农历新年期间独属新加坡的靓丽风景。在春到河畔2016,让我们一起回顾春到河畔的成长路程;“穿越时空”,重温30年来春到河畔带给我们的美好记忆。请各位观赏视频!Chinese New Year has been the grandest and the most important annual event in the Chinese calendar. River Hongbao was first held on 24 January 1987. For 30 consecutive years, this iconic event remains an integral part of Singapore’s Lunar New Year celebrations.River Hongbao 2016 will provide a nostalgic trip down the memory lane for the visitors, showcasing the precious and collective memories of River Hongbao.Enjoy the video!
Posted by River Hongbao on Saturday, February 6, 2016

At Saturday evening's light-up and opening, which also marked the event's 30th year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described Mr Perng as the tui shou or "main person" behind the River Hongbao festivities. Mr Lee also presented him with a special Recognition Award for his voluntary service spanning three decades.

"I feel humbled to receive the award and it will motivate me to do even better," the man who is undoubtedly Mr River Hongbao told The Straits Times.

Mr Perng, now executive director of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Cultural Academy, said his passion for promoting Chinese culture and sense of mission in making Chinese New Year a special event here kept him going all these years.

"My real reward truly is in seeing the event grow, and crowds, both young and old, enjoying themselves at the event," said Mr Perng, who is also SFCCA treasurer and president of the Nanyang Fang Shee Association.

Mr Perng, who has a 28-year-old daughter, was also happy to see more young people at the event in recent years, perhaps due to efforts to appeal to them.

This year, there is a pictorial exhibition tracing the history of River Hongbao, and more than 1,500 students from 27 schools have registered for a guided tour.

Mr Perng, who moved here at age six from southern China, said River Hongbao is an important event for Singapore. The alumnus of Chung Cheng High School said River Hongbao was the Chinese community's response to concerns voiced in the 1980s by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that young Chinese Singaporeans were losing interest in their cultural heritage.

More Chinese Singaporeans, Mr Lee had observed then, were leaving the country on holidays instead of staying home to celebrate.

"A group of leaders from the Chinese community, cultural groups and the media, including myself, met in 1986 to discuss the problem and came up with the River Hongbao idea," Mr Perng recalled.

Over the years, the site for the event changed several times, but always stayed in the Singapore River area. It has been held at its present site at the Marina Bay Floating Platform since 2009.

While the event was led by representatives from Lianhe Zaobao and the SFCCA previously, a group of Mandarin-speaking MPs got involved from 2009 and has been chairing its organising committee since. This year's committee chairman is Mr Liang Eng Hwa, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

Mr Perng said his most difficult task as programme chairman is "to be different every year".

For that, he has to travel often to China, Taiwan and neighbouring countries to look for performers.

This year, Taipei's Hwa Kang Dance Troupe and Nanjing's Song and Dance Theatre are the main performers on the first five nightly shows. Local xinyao and getai singers, and other Singapore groups, will perform on the last four days, till the event ends on Sunday.

With no hint of retiring soon, Mr Perng said his preparation for the next River Hongbao started when this year's began.

"I start thinking of ways to improve next year's event when I hear feedback from visitors, or when things did not go the way I want them to," he said.

Missed the fireworks display? Fret not, catch it live at 9pm nightly till 14 February 2016 at The Float @ Marina Bay!...
Posted by River Hongbao on Monday, February 8, 2016

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