Flower lanterns to bloom in Chinatown

Craftsmen from Sichuan, China, work long hours to complete the flower lanterns, welding raw materials to create a wire frame (above) and leaving the lanterns to air dry after the cloth is glued on (left).
Craftsmen from Sichuan, China, work long hours to complete the flower lanterns, welding raw materials to create a wire frame (above) and leaving the lanterns to air dry after the cloth is glued on (left).PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Craftsmen from Sichuan, China, work long hours to complete the flower lanterns, welding raw materials to create a wire frame (above) and leaving the lanterns to air dry after the cloth is glued on (left).
Craftsmen from Sichuan, China, work long hours to complete the flower lanterns, welding raw materials to create a wire frame (above) and leaving the lanterns to air dry after the cloth is glued on (left).PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Handmade flower-shaped lanterns will light up Chinatown during the Mid-Autumn Festival

From Aug 24, 3,100 handmade flower-shaped lanterns will "bloom" along New Bridge Road, Eu Tong Sen Street and South Bridge Road in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown.

The flowers are being made by a team of 36 craftsmen from Sichuan, China, who were flown in specially by Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee to create the cloth lanterns.

Since July 16, they have been labouring away under a large tent in Indus Road that covers the entire lantern construction space. They work non-stop for around 15 hours every day, taking a break only for lunch.

The craftsmen are from Zigong Zhongyi Lantern Lighting Art in Sichuan, the same company which created this year's large-scale horse lanterns in Chinatown for the Lunar New Year celebrations.

The process of making the lanterns is complicated, with the construction of a single lantern divided among the craftsmen.

They start from scratch with the creation of the wire frames of the lantern. Next, they install the light bulbs inside and cover it with a high-quality polyester fabric. The designers will then paint the lantern in bright colours such as yellow and purple.

The designs were created by a former Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts student who was recommended by the school. All the materials were shipped from China as they are either too expensive or unavailable in Singapore.

Project manager Zeng Zi Bin, 41, one of the craftsmen from Sichuan, says: "The biggest challenge of this job is the sheer quantity that we have to complete, so we need to work long hours in order to get it done before the Mid-Autumn Festival light-up."

The Chinese festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (Sept 8 this year), will be celebrated from Aug 23 to Sept 28 in Chinatown. It is organised by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee.

This year's theme for the festivities is A Blooming Mid-Autumn, which is why flowers are taking centre stage. The streets will be decorated with lanterns of six different kinds of flowers: lilies, orchids, peonies, cercis chinensis, narcissus and plumerias. There are animal-shaped lanterns, such as birds and rabbits, also made by Zhongyi Lantern.

According to Ms Jennifer Lee, spokesman for the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival street light-up decorations, it is the first time the light-up has a flower theme.

Ms Lee says: "This year, we wanted to have a very colourful, garden-like feel for Chinatown. The flower species chosen for the decorations are auspicious and very much associated with Chinese culture, so people can appreciate their significance as well as beauty."

One of the flowers, the orchid, was chosen because it is Singapore's national flower.

Mr Zeng says: "When we travel around the world, we base our works on the culture in each different country we go to."

One of the craftsmen, Mr Chen Gang, 47, says he is motivated by the positive response from people who view the lanterns.

"The physical work involved in this business is very difficult, but it's worth it, seeing everyone's joy at the end. You have to love it to do it," he says.

Mr Chen, who has been crafting lanterns since he was 20 years old, says working in Singapore's humid weather has taken some getting used to.

But he adds: "Even though it's tough to make so many lanterns in such conditions, Chinatown will look beautiful with thousands of well-made lanterns strung up along the streets."

cherylm@sph.com.sg

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