Istana celebrates Chinese New Year with open house

Visitors posing for pictures at the Istana Chinese New Year open house on Feb 5, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Visitors had to apply for tickets that gave them a slot to enter the Istana grounds for two hours. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Visitors were required to keep their masks on at all times. Mask-off activities - such as exercising, eating and drinking - were not allowed. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The Istana open house on Saturday (Feb 5) in celebration of Chinese New Year was a homecoming of sorts for Mrs Thava Many, 48.

Her late father, who was a police officer, was based there for some time, said the bank administrative officer.

"It's my first time (visiting) in around 30 years. My dad worked at the Istana, while I used to study at St Margaret's Primary School."

The school is located in Wilkie Road, behind the Istana grounds.

"Occasionally, he would also bring the entire family for picnics here. So really, we've come back to relive nice memories of my dad," said Mrs Many, who was there with her mother, husband and son.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Istana open house for Chinese New Year did not feature live performances and picnics.

But visitors, who had to apply for tickets that gave them a slot to enter the Istana grounds for two hours, thronged the merchandise booths where they bought Istana and President's Challenge souvenirs.

These included notebooks and mugs as well as books to commemorate the Istana, one of Singapore's oldest heritage sites, which turned 150 in 2019.

A volunteer at the booth, 18-year-old Zhong Wanzhi, said business was brisk in the morning, with around 40 to 50 items sold.

"Our best sellers are the mugs with Peranakan designs. We sold 22 of them.

"People find them very cute, especially Japanese customers. The plushies are also popular with families with kids as well," said Ms Zhong.

All sales proceeds will go towards charities supported by the President's Challenge, an annual community outreach and fund-raising campaign.

Mr John Lim, 43, who was there with his wife and children, was one of the many visitors who patronised the booth and bought the Istana Anniversary Book.

"The book is an interesting piece of our local heritage, sharing details about our seats of government.

"Personally, I think that's something important to share with my two children. I was glad we managed to snag the second-last copy," said Mr Lim, a lawyer.

Visitors also checked out the Japanese garden at the Istana, where enhanced features were completed last year.

A young visitor enjoying the Japanese garden at the Istana open house on Feb 5, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Children played along the dry rock garden and hand-crafted crossing bridge, while adults posed for pictures next to the water cascade and pine forest.

Ms Ng Chee Yeng, 48, a certified health coach, was there with four friends.

"Many of my friends have not visited the Istana before, so this is a fresh experience," said Ms Ng.

"It's also a fairly special opportunity, since the Istana opens only on certain occasions. That's why we thought it would be a unique way to spend the New Year, especially since we cannot travel."

Mr Yuichi Masuko, 32, an ocean cargo logistics worker who was visiting the Istana grounds for the first time with his wife Miki Masuko, described the place as beautiful and huge.

Theodore Wang poses for his parents, Mr Nick Wang and Madam Tan Shou Keng, at the Istana open house on Feb 5, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

"Having the chance to admire all the flowers and greenery helps me relax. It also makes for good exercise, and precious memories," said Mrs Masuko, 32.

"Normally there's nothing much going on, so we try to organise activities for ourselves like going to concerts and whatnot during the weekends.

"It was fortunate that we managed to get tickets to the open house this year,"

Visitors were required to keep their masks on at all times. Mask-off activities - such as exercising, eating and drinking - were not allowed.

The open house also did not feature performances, tours or food trucks on the Istana grounds.

This year, around 3,000 people were at the Istana for the Chinese New Year open house

About 2,000 people visited the Istana grounds on Nov 4 last year for the Deepavali open house.

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