What to do, where to eat during CNY weekend

There is plenty happening across the island to keep you occupied during the long Chinese New Year weekend. The Straits Times susses out 10 activities to check out, many of them festive-themed and free

1 CHICKEN & EGG: A FOWL TALE


Chicken & Egg: A Fowl Tal PHOTO: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM

The humble chicken is the subject of this exhibition that features more than 200 stamps sourced from across the globe.

Here, you can learn fun facts about this ubiquitous bird, such as blood sport cockfighting or the purpose of the red comb on a rooster's head.

The stamps on display date from 1962 to today and come from countries such as Botswana, Laos and Singapore. Where: Singapore Philatelic Museum, 23B Coleman Street When: Open till 6pm today, closed tomorrow. Otherwise, the exhibition runs daily from 10am to 7pm till June 25. Admission: Free for Singapore citizens and permanent residents; other visitors pay $8 an adult and $6 a child aged three to 12 Info: spm.org.sg

2 CHINESE NEW YEAR EXHIBITION

People born in the Year of the Rooster are especially welcome at this festive exhibition devoted to trivia about chicken.

If you are born in the Year of the Rooster, have your photograph taken at the entrance to the show and you get to enter all three levels of the centre for free. The photo will be included in the centre's Happy Rooster Family Album.

Inside, you can take close-up shots of some of the handmade Rooster lanterns that are part of the this year's street light-up in Chinatown.

After the exhibition, you can choose to hop on a trishaw for a relaxing half-hour jaunt around the streets of Chinatown that are adorned with about 5,500 colourful lanterns.

The starting point for the rides are either at the centre or Albert Mall Trishaw Park. Where: Chinatown Heritage Centre, 48 Pagoda Street When: Open till 5pm today, closed tomorrow. Otherwise, the exhibition runs daily from 10am to 8pm till Feb 28. Admission:Entry into the exhibition is free.

Trishaw ride: $49 for an adult and $39 for a child aged three to 12. Childen below three ride for free if they sit on their parents' or guardian's lap. Info: chinatownheritagecentre. com.sg

3 CHINESE NEW YEAR COUNTDOWN PARTY

Usher in Chinese New Year at this countdown party with Mediacorp artists such as Zoe Tay and Tay Ping Hui and make sure to stay for a dazzling display of fireworks at the stroke of midnight. Where: New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street When: Tonight, 9.30pm to 12.30am Admission: Free Info: chinatownfestivals.sg

4 FESTIVE STREET BAZAAR


Annual Festive Street Bazaar in Chinatown along Pagoda Street. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

If you have not bought enough festive wares and goodies, tonight is the final night for the annual street bazaar in Chinatown and the hours are extended to 1am.

The 440 stalls sell everything from lanterns and cushion covers to pineapple tarts and dragon's breath, a trendy new dessert that makes you look like you are breathing out smoke. Where: Along Pagoda, Smith, Sago, Temple and Trengganu streets When: Tonight, till 1am Admission: Free Info: chinatownfestivals.sg

5 RIVER HONGBAO 2017


Visitors observing fireworks explode over the illuminated sculptures as part of the River Hongbao celebrations, on Jan 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Missed the fireworks display at the Marina Bay New Year's Eve countdown? The pyrotechnics are coming back to the area as part of the ongoing River Hongbao event at The Float @ Marina Bay.

At midnight tonight and 9pm daily till Feb 4, fireworks will dance across the scenic skyline, accompanied by lasers, flames and music.

As an annual tradition, most people also go for the more than 60 large-scale lantern displays.

Look out for the 53m-long, 13m-high centrepiece that features future Singapore icons such as Jewel Changi Airport and Punggol Eco-town. Visitors can also put on virtual-reality glasses to take in a 360-degree view of lanterns that will appear to fly across the sky.

At scheduled timings, there will be acrobatic and dance performances by Chinese troupes, xinyao and getai shows.

Finally, fuel up at one of more than 40 stalls selling local and regional fare such as roast duck and churros. Where: The Float @ Marina Bay When: Till Feb 4, 2 to 11pm daily except for tonight when it will end at 1am Admission: Free Info: www.riverhongbao.sg

6 WINGS OF ASIA ENCOUNTER: PHEASANTS EDITION


Fowl play at Jurong Bird Park. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Where better to pick up fowl facts than at the Jurong Bird Park?

The park has organised a guided tour of the Wings of Asia exhibit, which houses endangered birds such as the red junglefowl, the chicken's wild ancestor and the green peafowl.

Drop by the Breeding and Research Centre and if you are lucky, you might catch chicks hatching from their shells. Where: Jurong Bird Park, 2 Jurong Hill When: 11.45am from tomorrow to Monday Admission: $29 for an adult and $19 for a child (aged three to 12) during these three days Info: www.wildcny.sg

7 DAHLIA DREAMS


Dahlia Dreams exhibition at Gardens By the Bay returns from Jan 20 to Feb 19, with new varieties of flowers and an all-new begonia hybrid created by the in-house horticulture team. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Go gaga over dahlias at the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay, where there are about 3,000 pots of dahlias in vivid hues of red, orange and yellow shown in rotation. There are 30 new cultivars this year. They include the Marem Pom Pom, a dahlia shaped like a pom pom, and Bora Bora, a two-toned dahlia that is yellow in the middle with hot pink petals.

Besides the floral display, there will be other Chinese cultural touches such as a three-tiered pagoda, arched moon gates, a pond and adorable driftwood sculptures of chickens.

If you want to learn botanical facts about the display, join a free guided trail that takes place twice a day. Where: Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay, 18 Marina Gardens Drive When: Till Feb 19, 9am to 9pm Admission: Local residents: From $8 for a conservatory and from $12 for two conservatories; foreigners: from $15 for two conservatories Info: www.gardensbythebay. com.sg

8 ISTANA NATURE GUIDED WALK

The Istana opens its doors on Sunday to visitors for a botanical tour of its grounds.

In guided walks conducted every hour by NParks volunteers, participants will encounter tembusu trees that are more than a century old, jelutong trees with their huge, lofty crowns and brightly coloured peacock flowers.

Elsewhere at the Istana are activities such as a Chinese opera performance and puppet show. Where: Istana, Entrance via main gate along Orchard Road When: Sunday, 10am to 4pm Admission: $2 for a child aged three to 12, $4 for an adult who is a Singapore citizen or permanent resident, others pay $10. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. Info: www.istana.gov.sg

9 LOVE IN SPRINGTIME


Sentosa will be showcasing zodiac lanterns at Sentosa during the Chinese New Year period. PHOTO: SENTOSA

With Valentine's Day just around the corner after Chinese New Year, the folks at Sentosa are adding a touch of romance to the New Year festivities.

At Palawan Green, each of the 12 Chinese zodiac lanterns is accompanied by a love story.

From tomorrow to Monday, there will be stilt walkers dressed in Chinese opera costumes roaming Merlion Plaza and Beach Plaza and a circus act at Merlion Plaza.

At the Beach Plaza, various booths will provide activities such as palm reading. Where: Various locations around Sentosa When: Till Feb 26 Admission: Standard entrance fees apply Info: www.sentosa.com.sg/cny

10 CRAFT AND MUSIC FUN AT THE ESPLANADE


Children can get crafty drawing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac at the Esplanade this Chinese New Year. PHOTO: ESPLANADE – THEATRES OF THE BAY

The Esplanade comes alive with free programmes for the entire family during the long weekend. At the Pip's Playbox activity space, children can learn about the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.

Wooden panels with carvings of the animals will be set up and children can create paper rubbings of the animals with crayons.

There is also a line-up of music performances such as an ocarina (ancient Chinese wind instrument) and guzheng performance tomorrow by members of the Singapore-based traditional Chinese music group Ocarina House.

Where: Pip's Playbox and Esplanade Concourse, 1 Esplanade Drive When: Till Jan 31 for music performances and Feb 28 for the Chinese zodiac craft activity Admission: Free Info: www.esplanade.com/free


Master of lion dance costume roars on

  • VIEW IT / A LIGHTER SIDE OF HISTORY: A LION DANCE COSTUME MAKER

  • WHERE: The Salon, Level 1, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

    WHEN: Monday, 11am to noon

    ADMISSION: Free with registration

    INFO: Register at national museum.sg/programmes/programme-list/lsoh-jan-2017. The talk is conducted in Mandarin

Chinese New Year or not, Mr Henry Ng is busy creating flashy and intricately designed lion dance costumes.

It's an all-year business, he says. "There is no season for lion dance. People have it for celebrations and anniversaries too, so I'm always busy."

The 57-year-old is one of Singapore's last few full-time lion dance costume makers. He has been working out of his five-room flat in Ang Mo Kio for the past 21 years.

A self-taught craftsman who began working in his teens, he still makes everything from scratch. The lion heads are built from a bamboo skeleton and strengthened with layers of gauze and high quality paper before he decorates them with long eyelashes and a feathery beard.

He designs the lion's body too, which is a blanket stitched together using various types of cloth, sequins and fur.

One lion costume - which consists of the head and body - takes him five days to complete and he charges $1,250 for each piece of work, a price tag he has not changed since he first started.

"Maybe I should start charging more, eh?" he quips. Pointing to his shiny bald head, he adds, "I have been working hard till all my hair fell out but my price is still the same."

His wife works as a senior operations executive and they have three children who live with them.

This year, he has resolved to step out of his home-cum-workspace more to share his story and possibly even impart his skills to the younger generation.

That is why he is conducting a free talk in Mandarin at the National Museum of Singapore on Monday. He will also demonstrate key parts of the crafting process.

"After all these years, I realised that I need to do other things besides just making the costumes every day," he says.

Demand for his costumes has dropped by about half compared to when he first started. This is thanks to competition from China, where factory-made costumes are sold for a fraction of what he charges.

But he is not calling it a day yet.

"I will carry on making lions as it's my passion. I won't stop until I can no longer do it."


Rooster, monkey and dragon take a dive

  • VIEW IT / UNDERWATER DRAGON DANCE

  • WHERE: Open Ocean Habitat, S.E.A Aquarium, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway

    WHEN: 2.15 and 4.15pm daily till Feb 11

    ADMISSION: For Singapore residents: $34 (adult) and $22 (child aged four to 12 and senior citizens aged 60 and above), for others: $38 (adult) and $28 (child)

    INFO: www.rwsentosa.com

Aquarist Michael Soh, 49, is one of the many "backstage workers" at S.E.A. Aquarium in Resorts World Sentosa.

He feeds the marine animals and cleans the tanks, working hard behind the scenes to keep the aquarium experience magical for visitors.

But this Chinese New Year, he will be put in the limelight as one of the four performers in an underwater Chinese dragon dance.

Mr Soh and the rest of the aquarium's diving team will take turns playing a dragon, rooster and monkey in a five-minute skit on how last year's Chinese zodiac animal, the Monkey, makes way for this year's Rooster.

To mark out their characters, the divers will wear rooster and monkey headgear. The dragon is a 3m-long prop that dances against the currents.

The show runs twice a day at 2.15 and 4.15pm in the aquarium's Open Ocean Habitat from tomorrow till Feb 11.

Mr Soh, who has been working at the aquarium for the past five years, says performing underwater is tougher than it looks.

"We have to adjust to the water current and the marine animals swimming around," he says.

The Open Ocean Habitat is home to more than 40,000 marine animals of 120 species including manta rays, schools of fish and sharks.

"The sting rays are particularly curious. They like to come close and see what's happening," he says.

The underwater dragon dance has been part of the aquarium's Chinese New Year celebrations since 2014.

Mr Soh will perform in some of the shows, but unlike previous years, he will rest for the first few days of Chinese New Year.

"It's time to rest and let my junior colleagues shine," he says.

These festive performances are a way for divers like Mr Soh to be recognised by the public.

"Otherwise, people don't really see us or realise that we can perform too," he says.


Young tour guides bring Singapore festivals to life

While most of her peers will be taking a break during this Chinese New Year period, 16-year-old Rebekah Seow will be working instead.

The CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School student is part of a group of 54 youth ambassadors who will guide visitors around River Hongbao's photo exhibition, The More We Get Together: Festivals And Festivities In Singapore.

Using photographs and information boards, the exhibition details the customs and preparations behind some of the main festivals celebrated in Singapore, such as Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali and Christmas.

The show is part of River Hongbao, the annual Chinese New Year carnival held at The Float at Marina Bay.

From Feb 1 to 4, Rebekah and her friends will be conducting guided tours in English and Mandarin.

She hopes to hone her speaking skills through the experience. The youth ambassadors had already undergone public speaking training sessions organised by Sun Yat Sen Memorial hall.

The eldest child of a civil servant and a sales representative, she has always been interested in public speaking. The student councillor is a member of her school's English drama club and has participated in storytelling competitions in school.

"I'm glad I got this opportunity," she says. "It gives me more insight into the different festivals in Singapore."


Restaurants open during CNY

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More restaurants are choosing not to "rest the wok" on the first two days of Chinese New Year. The restaurant scene will still be relatively active during this period, with not just the big brands choosing to stay open but standalone eateries too.

One of them is Shanghainese cuisine restaurant Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant in Woodlands. It has been open for all 15 days of the Chinese New Year since its opening two years ago.

"We have many loyal customers who are like family to us, so we don't feel like we are missing out on the festivities," says restaurant manager Steve Chew, 32.

The Straits Times rounds up 18 restaurants, from Japanese ramen shops to dessert cafes, that are serving food this long weekend.

NORTH

Din Tai Fung

What: Apart from the usual Taiwanese fare, this popular chain restaurant is offering a Prosperity Smoked Salmon Yu Sheng dish (from $32.80) during this period. Where: 01-22 Waterway Point Punggol, 83 Punggol Central Open: 11am to 9pm Info: Call 6384-7767 or go to www.dintaifung.com.sg

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

What: This two-year-old Shanghainese cuisine restaurant specialises in xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Other signature dishes here include the drunken chicken cold dish ($8.80). Where: 02-18 Ten Mile Junction, 1 Woodlands Road Open: 11am to 4pm, 5 to 10pm Info: Call 6892-7195 or go to www.nanxiang.com.sg

Paradise Dynasty

What: This mid-range restaurant serves Shanghainese cuisine and is offering eight set menus (from $268 for a seven-course meal for four) this Chinese New Year. Where: 05-16 Causeway Point, 1 Woodlands Square Open: 10.30am to 10pm Info: Call 6894-6322 or go to www.paradisegroup.com.sg

Whisk & Paddle

What: Tired of Chinese food? Head to this all-day breakfast cafe. Staples include Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon ($13) and the Full Waffle ($10.80).

Some items on the a la carte menu may not be available during this period. Where: 01-01, 10 Tebing LaneOpen: 11.30am to 10.30pm Info: Call 6242-4617 or go to www.whiskandpaddle.com.sg

Steambox

What: A casual "steam-potting" restaurant suitable for large groups, Steambox serves its food in steamers atop a congee base. New dishes to look out for include stuffed cabbage rolls Vietnamese crab meat rolls and sliced smoked duck (all at $6.80 a serving). Where: 68 Serangoon Garden Way Open: 11.30am to 11pm Info: Call 6281-6939 for reservations

SOUTH

Peony Jade at Keppel Club

What: Awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand award last year, Peony Jade serves Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. Diners can expect it to be packed this weekend and should call ahead to check if tables are available. Where: Keppel Club (Level M), 10 Bukit Chermin Road (off Telok Blangah Road) Open: 10am to 3pm, 6 to 11pm Info: Call 6276-9138/6375-5562

Prive, Keppel Bay

What: There are three dining options here: an alfresco oyster bar, a French restaurant and a casual Western cafe. Reservations are highly recommended as limited seating is available. Where: Marina at Keppel Bay, 2 Keppel Bay VistaOpen: 9am to midnight Info: Call 6776-0777 or go to www.theprivegroup.com.sg

Street 50 Restaurant and Bar

What: Serving local fare, the flagship restaurant of Bay Hotel will offer only a buffet spread (priced from $58 an adult, $30 a child) during lunch and dinner this weekend. There are limited seats left and diners should call ahead for reservations. Where: Bay Hotel Singapore, 50 Telok Blangah Road Open:Noon to 3pm, 6.30 to 9.30pm Info: Call 6818-6681, or go to www.bayhotelsingapore.com

Slappy Cakes

What: The mid-range American restaurant specialises in pancakes and diners can create their own at their tables. There are also main course options for those looking for a full meal. Where: 01-29 Resorts World Sentosa, 26 Sentosa GatewayOpen: 8am to 9.30pm Info: Call 6795-0779 or go to www.slappycakes.com.sg

EAST

Paradise Classic

What: Formerly known as Paradise Inn, this restaurant chain serves Chinese fare and is known for its double-boiled soups.

New dishes to look out for include the trio layered osmanthus pandan cake ($4.80 a portion) and espresso chicken (from $14.80). Where: 02-01 Bedok Point, 799 Upper Changi Road Open: 11am to 10pm Info: Call 6447-8083, or go to www.paradisegroup.com.sg

Ramenplay

What: This family-friendly Japanese ramen restaurant also features other popular Japanese fare such as shabu shabu, gyoza and donburi. Where: B1-09 Bedok Mall, 311 New Upper Changi Road Open: 11am to 10pm Info: Go to 6844-9441 or visit www.ramenplay.com.sg

Jumbo Seafood

What: This popular seafood chain is open only for dinner on the first day. Choose from nine Chinese New Year celebration set menus (from $218 for a six-course dinner for four). Where: National Service Resort & Country Club, 10 Changi Coast WalkOpen: 5 to 11pm on Sunday and 10am to 3pm; 5 to 11pm on Monday Info: Call 6552-3435 or go to www.jumbogroup.sg

WEST

Min Jiang at One-North

What: A fine-dining restaurant renowned for its Sichuan and Cantonese dishes, Min Jiang has launched two specials: braised pork belly with sea treasures in claypot ($268++ for six people), and double-boiled wild chicken consomme with abalone, fish maw and wanton in claypot ($228++ for six people). Where: 5 Rochester ParkOpen: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm Info: Call 6774-0122 or go to www.goodwoodparkhotel.com

The Carvery

What: During lunch and dinner this weekend, the restaurant will be serving only a buffet (from $48.80 an adult and from $25 a child). Highlights include the crispy pork belly with apricot ginger sauce and the salt baked chicken. Where: Level 7 Park Hotel Alexandra, 323 Alexandra RoadOpen:Noon to 3pm, 6 to 10pm Info: Call 6828-8880

Brotzeit

What: Fill up on bratwursts and beer at this casual German eatery. Also check out the special CNY platter featuring roasted meats atop sweet potato mash and Chinese cabbage in garlic cream sauce (from $88 for four). Where:01-04 Westgate, 3 Gateway Drive Open:Noon to 1 am Info: Call 6465-9874 or go to www.brotzeit.co

CENTRAL

Empress

What: Empress, a smart casual Chinese restaurant, will offer only its dim sum brunch and set lunches (from $68 a person) and set dinners (from $88 a person) this weekend.

Festive specials here include fried glutinous rice in lotus leaf, and poached lobster and amaranth in chicken broth. Where: 01-03 Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place Open: 11am to 5pm, 6 to 11pm (bar snacks and cocktails will be available from 5pm to midnight) Info: Call 6238-8733 or go to www.empress.com.sg

Roadhouse

What: Modern American diner-styled restaurant Roadhouse has introduced a special chicken burger, the "Shut the Cluck Up Burger" ($18) to celebrate the Year of the Rooster. Where: 13 Dempsey RoadOpen: 9am to 11.30pm Info: Call 6476-2922 for reservations

Ippudo Ramen

What: This famous Japanese chain is a fail-safe option for ramen. Highlights here include the Hiromaru Motoaji ($17), a ramen served with Ippudo's tonkotsu broth. Where: B2-54/44 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue Open: 10.30am to 11.30pm tomorrow, 10.30am to 11pm on Sunday Info: Call 6688-7064 or go to www.ippudo.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Festive fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe