A durian lantern to light up CNY festival

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 4, 2014. 

The annual River Hongbao returns at the end of the month, ushering in the Year of the Horse with the largest number of lanterns on display in the carnival's 28-year history.

Behind the 28 large handmade lantern displays - which include elements such as the God of Fortune and the animals of the Chinese zodiac - is a team of 36 craftsmen flown in specially from China's Sichuan province.

They arrived in Singapore last Dec 8 to embark on a 45-day challenge to build all the installations from scratch.

Leading the team is master lantern-maker and artistic director Guo Wanlin, 63, who has been honing his skills since he was 13. It is the first time he is involved in the River Hongbao, but he has designed lantern displays in countries such as France, Canada and the United States.

This time, the challenge for the experienced craftsman came in the form of a spiky, pungent fruit uncommon in his hometown.

He was tasked with crafting a durian lantern as part of an installation which was daunting for him, as he had never seen the fruit before.

"We went to Chinatown and bought a durian," Mr Guo said in Mandarin. "I put it on my table and studied it for two to three days."

Each metal spike on the durian lantern had to be individually welded by hand to form a 2.5m-high frame. The spikes, as his team was instructed, had to vary in height and point in different directions, adding to the challenge, he said.

Silk fabrics are then pasted onto the structure to complete the lantern, which is still being constructed.

Other challenging displays include the centrepiece - an 18m- high God of Fortune lantern - which had to be assembled using a hydraulic crane.

The lantern will shower visitors with paper flakes bearing auspicious numbers at specific intervals throughout the 11-day event.

The carnival will be held at the Floating Platform @ Marina Bay from Jan 29 to Feb 8.

Other highlights include performances by the acclaimed Yunnan Opera Theatre, a handicraft street and a food street featuring Yunnan delicacies such as Pu'er tea-flavoured drumsticks.

Opening hours are from noon to 11.30pm daily, except on Jan 30, when it will close at 1am after the Chinese New Year countdown. Admission is free.