Monday 31 March 2014

Singapore Day 2014: Taste of home for Singaporeans in London

Guests from all over Europe flock to a sunny Singapore Day in Victoria Park
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

It was Singapore's day in the sun literally at Victoria Park yesterday.

London shrugged off its grey blanket of the past week and unfurled rare blue skies as the temperature rose to around 19 deg Celsius. It almost felt like air-conditioned weather back home, but better, as Singaporeans descended onto the sun-drenched park to sample hawker food and enjoy entertainment by home-grown stars such as the Dim Sum Dollies, Gurmit Singh and Hossan Leong and singers Jack and Rai.

Crowds began forming early and by noon, there were more than 10,000 guests soaking up a slice of Singaporeana and colonising a swathe of the sprawling park, named after the queen of the empire that once ruled Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived to cheers and claps and mushrooming smartphones as people snapped pictures of him, but he did one better. He went on stage and took a picture of the waving audience, then turned around to do a selfie with them in the background.

"I am very happy to be here for such a beautiful Singapore Day. Some of you have private messaged me, e-mailed me, commented on my Facebook, liked me... I look forward to enjoying the laksa with you," he told the crowds.

As he left the stage, Mr Lee was mobbed by a surging crowd wanting to take pictures of him or their own selfie with the PM in the background.

The team overseeing the event from the National Population and Talent Division, led by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, also mingled with guests, many of whom work, live and study here.

But more than 16 per cent of those present had travelled from all over Europe to be at the park, some as far away as Munich in Germany and Nice in France, for a chance to rekindle their links with Singapore and "relieve some of their homesickness", said Ms Fu.

Student volunteer Bing Xi, a third-year law student at King's College, confessed that all he could think of was "my intense strategising" on which food to queue up for first.

"I am going for the laksa, and then the teh tarik, and then I want the prata," said the 24-year-old, adding these were delights hard to come by for Singaporeans living abroad.

There was all of that on the menu, and more, including chicken rice, satay and bak chor mee from famous stalls in Singapore.

Madam Peggy Quek, 65, came with a party of six friends, including two foreigners from South America and South Africa. "They've heard so much about Singapore and everything about Singapore makes all my friends go 'wah, wah, wah, so good'."

A member of the pioneer generation, Madam Quek, who has lived in London for 38 years but travels home twice a year, said: "Those days, my mother always told me, listen to the Government; this is a good government and she was right."

Said DPM Teo: "I could feel the strong Singapore spirit... I am glad to see that many have a keen interest in what is happening in Singapore and want to contribute to make Singapore a better home for us all."

Earlier in the day, Ms Fu had a dialogue with 40 overseas Singaporeans. Several talked about the 50th-anniversary celebrations for Singapore's independence next year and how they could contribute.

Ms Fu said: "Many are keen to give back and the ideas they shared, such as helping the needy and how to bring new arts and cultural ideas to Singapore, have galvanised them."

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