When blogger James Seah's father left China for Singapore's waters in the early 1900s, the only way in was through a messy and crowded Boat Quay. "My father was a bookkeeper for an import and export business (there). When I was young, he would let me watch the coolies working by the river. Over the years, the river changed before my eyes."
Mr Seah, 68, is one of the five profiles for the Singapore River Festival's (SRF) first-time initiative, People of the River, in conjunction with the Goldbell Group.
The initiative, introduced to the media on Tuesday, pays homage to those who are intrinsically linked to the river and its heritage. Their stories will be shared on the SRF website by mid-November.
Mr Seah was joined by Captain Frederick James Francis, 55, a senior lecturer at the Singapore Maritime Academy in Singapore Polytechnic (SP). Captain Francis has preserved 23 native boats, including one of the original bumboats that plied the Singapore River.
"I formed an interest group with SP students in 2011, spending three years doing restoration and preservation work. It was a request by (former president) S R Nathan ... to preserve our maritime heritage."
Their stories will lead up to the actual festival on Nov 3 and 4, organised by Singapore River One (SRO), a non-profit, private sector-led group that aims to increase footfall in Boat Quay, Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay. Organisers aim to attract 140,000 people over the two nights to let them know of the river's vibrant history through this year's local focus, in contrast with overseas acts in the past two years.
Home-grown talents like electric kite firm GoFlyKite will showcase the world's first giant LED kite display. There will also be the first mass trivia competition in the pubs along Robertson Quay, and the first Night Regatta in over two decades.
There is also a food trail via river cruise, costing $105 per person. Participants will eat at three restaurants serving the best food along the river, as judged by this year's panel for the festival's SR Signatures initiative.
Festival organiser and executive director of SRO, Ms Michelle Koh, said: "While we are always forward-looking, we must also remember where we came from."
Correction note: In the previous version of the story, we said the first DBS Night Regatta will be held in over two decades. This is incorrect. It should be the first Night Regatta is to be held in over two decades. They are two different races. We are sorry for the error.