There are some who think I Facebook too much and too often. But they don’t realise there are tangible rewards that I receive from it. Firstly, the friend who hosted me in Taipei is someone I got to know via Facebook. The MAP I am in was also a result of Facebook. Finally, it was through Facebook that I won a contest to participate in the Pinic@Istana as part of SG50 celebration. (Istana is the official residence for the President of Singapore.) I was thrilled to learn that I won 10 tickets (the max) to the picnic.
Despite giving ample notice to my family, my mother, brother and sister-in-law all had something arranged. So I invited my aunt and uncle to take their place, and offered to babysit my 5 yo nephew Seb and 1 yo niece Liv.
The weather last Saturday was cloudy and dark clouds threatened when we were queuing for security check. The cloud broke and a slight drizzle dampened the mood for a short period and then the sky clear to a cool, sunny afternoon.
It’s been more than twenty years since I stepped into Istana, which opens its gate during important festive occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa etc. The sprawling green ground behind the massive wrought iron gate reminds me of Bukit Brown. Yes, such places are very rare in Singapore, the other place being Botanical Gardens. As we entered, we spotted a fat white swan resting by a pond.
The atmosphere that greeted us was although carnival-like, not crowded as the huge garden was divided into many sections. I read in the newspapers the next day that 2000 people came but for once, it actually felt empty. A Milo van, reminiscent of our school sports day was parked and queues formed on both side of the van for that cup of cold Milo. Bouncy playgrounds and little plastic swings, see saws and monkey bars occupied a corner where my little tikes had fun playing.
We spread our mats right in front of the official residence, just behind the fountain, another nostalgic decor from my childhood. Large balls littered the place for us to write birthday wishes for Singapore, who like me, is celebrating its 50th birthday this year (in August). This picnic is one of the many events held in celebration.
My three sons lay down on the mat and took a nap, to the accompaniment of a band singing pop music. Seb and Liv ran around, entertained by mascots, balloon sculpturer, and many snacks from my childhood days – ice popsicles, kacang puteh (nuts in paper cones), thin colourful waffles, popcorn. In the cooler bags given free to all the participating families, there were water bottles, muffins, umbrellas, ponchos, mat, popcorn, biscuits. I must credit the organizer for being so thoughtful.
The event, lasting from 3pm to 6.30pm flew by quickly. At around 6pm, we got wind that the President is making its round. He appeared shortly after, surrounded by a tight entourage of security personals and ministers. He walked by purposefully, never giving us a chance to pose photos or skake hands although we were just beside him. I guess that’s the difference when a past politician becomes a President.
The President went straight to greet a Malay family, toured the snack and entertainment stalls, and then joined two families, already set up in front of the fountain for a photoshoot for the journalists. Then the President and the minister wrote wishes on the balls, took a photo with the organizing staff and left, all within 30 minutes.
After he left, the whistle blew for us to vacate as well. Seb said this was the most fun place he had been too. I told him then he should become the President and live here. I know what he meant. It’s not the snacks or the entertainment, its the vast greenery space that we lack, for the kids to run freely. I think all Singaporeans miss that.