SINGAPORE - For the 14,000 people who queued for up to two hours to visit the Istana during its open house on Labour Day on Friday, the wait was worth it.
Children frolicked on the lush lawns of the President's official residents, while nature lovers marveled at the rare flowers on the grounds and others squeezed in a national education lesson.
Mrs Carol Quek, 35, said her family's 40-minute wait in humid weather paid off: her 62-year-old mother finally learnt the significance of the Presidential standard. An all-red flag featuring the crescent and five stars, it is used to signify the presence of the President while he is in Singapore.
"She's seen it before and wondered why it was different. When she caught sight of the signboard explaining what it meant, she lit up," Mrs Quek said.
Clerk GK Tan, 50, and his son Nathan, 7, spent one and a half hours in line to enter the Istana.
"There are not many nature spots in Singapore, so even if it was a long wait, I thought I'd better bring him here," said Mr Tan.
Nathan was charmed by an exhibition of snakes brought in by the Singapore Zoo. "I touched a snake's skin and I learned that we shouldn't buy ivory," he said.
At 4pm, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife greeted visitors and were welcomed with an energetic samba dance by the People's Association.
Among the performances the crowd were treated to was one by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) as part of its SPH Gift of Music series, the orchestra played pieces by music greats like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Johann Strauss II.
Dr Tan also greeted families at the Swan Pond, where 14 benches from the former National Stadium have been recycled and permanently installed there by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Members of the public also had the chance to take a guided tour of the Istana building or go on a nature walk to spot kingfishers, hornbills, trees and plants on the Istana grounds, while children could have their faces painted and portraits taken.
The Istana holds its open houses on selected dates each year to mark Chinese New Year, Labour Day, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, National Day and Deepavali. Entry to the 40ha Istana grounds is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents, while others pay $2.