SINGAPORE - After being forced to go online last year, the Singapore HeritageFest returns in May "making up for lost time", offering more than 130 physical and digital events focusing on medicine and food - two themes that have captured the nation's attention.
From May 3 to 30, festivalgoers can expect tours to a goat farm, soy sauce-making workshops and an event where children from different ethnic groups in Boon Lay share their family's cooking practices.
Tours of Singapore General Hospital, Singapore's oldest hospital, as well as talks by healthcare volunteers at the Institute of Mental Health are also on offer to those whose interest in medical history had been piqued by the pandemic.
In its 18th edition, Singapore HeritageFest differs from past iterations in significant ways.
The dual-theme approach is a departure from programmes in past years that centred on particular precincts, allowing a greater reach across the island, from Choa Chu Kang to Changi.
Its topical nature should also get attendees to have more extensive discussions, lending it more "depth and breadth", festival director David Chew said.
"This is a chance for residents to learn more about Singapore, with travel borders still largely closed," he said. "The team has really gone all out this year, so it's quite packed.
"We are moving towards a thematic approach, meaning that we are going to focus on emerging topics, every year, tied to national milestones. It's one thing to come and experience a programme but we also want people to talk about the different issues."
The programmes on medical heritage pay tribute to the front-line doctors and nurses who have helped Singapore weather the past year under the pandemic, and coincide with SGH's 200-year anniversary.
Food has also been in the limelight following Singapore hawker culture's inscription on the Unesco intangible cultural heritage list last year.
Mr Chew said food, beyond being "a topic that we all have a view on", has deeper implications.
"Food sustainability has become a really important issue because of Covid-19. Through looking at what people eat at home, we can also understand resource constraints in that family, which is related to socio-economic inequality," he said.
"Rather than just a fun event for people to enjoy, I hope Singapore HeritageFest will get people talking about these social issues that have become more well-known in recent years."
One of the featured enterprises is Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory, Singapore's oldest and still only sugar manufacturer. Its 90,000 sq ft building in Taman Jurong produces 1,000 tonnes of sugar every year, allowing Singapore to export sugar products to other countries in Asia.
Mr John Cheng, the third-generation director of the company, will be giving parts of a Cheng Yew Heng Candy Factory tour during the festival, as part of his efforts to showcase rock sugar's appeal.
One of his recent innovations is his Jewels rock sugar sticks, which are colourful, flavoured with tastes like blue pea and pandan chiffon, and can be dipped in coffee and tea.
The 39-year-old said: "Many young people think rock sugar is something only their grandparents will use but I want to make it relevant to them. During the tour, they will use our sugar to make kuehs and taste the difference."
His Taman Jurong building, Innovate 360, is now also being used as a food incubator for companies like Singapore's first kombucha producer Kombynation and more experimental - and environmentally sustainable - projects like Shiok Meat, which grows shrimps in a lab.
Those on his tour will get a chance to witness the processes and buy some of the products. All these innovations, if successful, can take Singapore one step closer to being self-sufficient, Mr Cheng said.
The Singapore HeritageFest team also continues to seek out partners such as clan associations and people with interesting collections with whom they can build long-term relationships.
The programme this year features three collectors, one of whom is Mr Jamal Mohamad, a programmer at the Malay Heritage Centre.
The 40-year-old has been collecting daggers and blades, most at least two centuries old, for about a decade. His collection will be featured on the festival's website in a video series.
"When you collect pieces like this, you also collect stories," he said, adding that the stories can spread to more people even if the items themselves cannot.
"I think that's wonderful, because the story allows us to better appreciate the times in which they were made and used."
Singapore HeritageFest's programmes will be open for registration from 2pm on Thursday (April 29) at this link.