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Caldecott Hill in the limelight at this year’s Singapore Heritage Festival

SINGAPORE: Did you know that years before Zoe Tay became the Queen of Caldecott Hill, there was already a royalty of sorts in the area?

During the 1800s, a merchant named Seah Eu Chin – who was known as the King of Pepper and Gambier – had set up plantation houses and grew crops in the area.

Mediacorp’s former home will be in the limelight at this year’s Singapore Heritage Festival (SHF), which is turning up the glitz and glamour by holding one of its main events at Caldecott Broadcast Centre.

This year’s edition, which comprises 110 programmes and activities, will run over three weekends from April 28 to May 14. 

The SHF’s Caldecott Hill events will take place over the first two weekends. Visitors will be treated to a festival village with a flea market and food stalls, as well as guided tours by television stars and crew. There will also be a performance by Cake Theatrical Productions titled Studio 6, which revisits some of Mediacorp’s famous shows such as The Little Nyonya, Under One Roof, and Growing Up.

The exhibition TV50 – which looks at Singapore’s broadcast history and culture from the 1960s and was previously shown at the National Museum of Singapore – will also be presented. At some point, stars from Mediacorp’s upcoming blockbuster Channel 8 drama The Lead are planning to drop by.

A set at Caldecott Broadcast Centre’s Studio 6, where many shows were filmed. (Photo: Yeo Kai Ting)

The historic Caldecott Hill is the first location for the festival’s new SHF Takes Over! programme.

“Through the years, we’ve seen how people have been very excited to be brought to new places or spaces they don’t normally get to go to, so we decided to try out this new initiative,” said Christie Chua, the festival’s creative director.

Caldecott was a perfect and timely choice as a first location. “Last year, we found out that most of Mediacorp was already moving (to the new Mediacorp Campus), so we thought this was a very good place to bring people.”

She also pointed out it was a place rich in history. Aside from being the site of pepper and gambier plantations, the area was also named after Andrew Caldecott, a British colonial administrator (hence, Andrew Road). In the 1930s, the first broadcasting station by the British Malayan Broadcasting Corporation was set up, which would morph into Radio Television Singapore, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, Television Corporation of Singapore, and, eventually, Mediacorp.

After 80 years at Caldecott Hill, Mediacorp recently completed its move to its new Mediacorp Campus in one-north. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

FROM ZOE TO ZOO, AND MORE

Aside from Caldecott Hill, another unusual place the festival will head for is the Singapore Zoo, where there will be a trail, where people can learn more about some of its “heritage” occupants, such as Inuka the polar bear, Omar the white tiger, Komali the elephant and Astove the giant tortoise.

Introducing events that look at the world of broadcast and entertainment, as well as animals, is a way of expanding one’s idea of what heritage is all about, said Chua.

“That’s what we want to share with people; that after all these years, these are part of our heritage and the whole mind map of Singapore.”

One of the Singapore Zoo’s most senior occupants, the polar bear Inuka, is in the heritage spotlight this year. (Photo: Reuters)

SHF events will also take place at areas such as Little India, Bukit Pasoh, the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) and along the Singapore River.

At Little India, there will be events such as a Ramayana performance, food trails with celebrity chefs, among others. Meanwhile, the clans and associations at Bukit Pasoh will also be participating in various events, and there will be a special focus on Ann Siang Hill. Among the shows are a Taiwanese puppet group.

The Satay Club. (Photo: National Archives Singapore)

The Asian Civilisations Museum will be the focal point of events along the Singapore River on the final weekend, where hawker culture – including a nod to the Empress Place Food Centre and the Satay Club in the vicinity – will be revived through installations and exhibitions. Across the river, the Fullerton Hotel will be holding a performance tour through its area.

Meanwhile, the NMS will also look at other unique places in its festival-related events. Among these is a multimedia exhibition of works by mural artist Yip Yew Chong. Known for his murals found in Kampong Glam and Tiong Bahru, these will be given an animated touch at the museum’s Gallery 10 space.

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Thousands celebrate Hindu Thaipusam festival in Malaysia

BATU CAVES: Hindus gathered in temples across Malaysia on Thursday (Feb 9) to celebrate the annual Thaipusam festival, with many piercing their bodies with hooks and skewers to showcase devotion to the deity Lord Murugan.

Massive crowds descended on the stunning Batu Caves temple complex on the outskirts of capital Kuala Lumpur to participate in the festival, which commemorates the day when the goddess Parvathi gave her son Lord Murugan a powerful lance to fight evil demons.

Armed with gifts including milk pots and coconuts which are eventually smashed as offerings, worshippers walked barefoot up 272 steps to reach the temple – an important religious site for Tamil Hindus.

Many displayed their fervour by carrying heavy ornate metal structures called kavadis, affixed to their bodies with sharp metal spikes that are hammered into the skin.

Some devotees appeared to be in a state of trance as they carried the kavadis, which can weigh as much as 100 kilogrammes.

Others pierced their faces with tridents or hung multiple hooks and chains from their bodies in an act of penance.

“My brother is carrying a kavadi today to help the family and … also for our other brother who is suffering from a neurological disorder,” said A. Yuven as a group of men chanted prayers and percussionists gave encouragement.

Prior to Thaipusam, devotees will typically hold daily prayer sessions, abstain from sex and stick to a strict vegetarian diet for weeks.

“I have no special demands. I am just here to offer my prayers,” said Aiyya Valmundi, who has been taking part in Thaipusam festivities for more than a decade.

Most of Malaysia’s roughly 31 million people are Muslim, but the country also has around two million ethnic Indians.

Most are descendants of labourers brought from ethnic Tamil areas of southern India by Malaysia’s former British colonial masters.

Lord Murugan is particularly revered in southern India and among ethnic Tamil communities in South East Asia, with Thaipusam also celebrated in India and Singapore.

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Two shows involving 'excessive nudity' withdrawn from M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

SINGAPORE: Organisers of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival on Monday (Dec 5) announced that they have decided to withdraw two shows from the upcoming edition of the festival in January, after the performances were deemed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) to have “excessive nudity”.

In a media statement, organisers said they had been in consultation with the artists of Undressing Room and Naked Ladies – by Ming Poon and Thea Fitz-James respectively – following IMDA’s assessment that both works had exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code.

“While the artists have expressed their willingness to amend their performances to meet IMDA’s classification requirements, the festival believes that any adjustments and abridgments to the art works to fit these guidelines will result in significant changes that will affect the original artistic intent,” organisers said. Those who have purchased tickets for the shows would be given full refunds.

“WORKS JUDGED ON NOTION THAT NUDITY EQUALS PORNOGRAPHY”

Undressing Room, starring dancer Ming Poon, is described on the ticketing website as a “one-to-one performance where the performer and an audience-participant execute a ritual of undressing each other in total silence”.

Naked Ladies, meantime, is billed as a performance lecture about the history of the naked female body in performance; combining striptease and storytelling, and one where performer Fitz-James uses her own body as a canvas, projecting images of nudes across her own skin.

Organisers of next year’s Fringe Festival – themed “Art and Skin” – said they did not want to compromise on the artistic integrity of the performances and hence axed them. “Both works, in their original forms, are well-crafted pieces exploring issues of vulnerability and identity. We want to reiterate our stance that we do not believe the works to be ‘lewd’ – to use the term bandied around by some complainants – nor was there any artistic intent to titillate. Both pieces are thoughtful and sensitive; they advocate body positive messages as well as a sense of personal candour and community trust.

“Sadly, these works have been judged based on the preconception that nudity equates pornography. The unfortunate irony of IMDA’s assessment of the works having ‘excessive nudity'” is that both works actually make deliberate attempts to distinguish nudity from sexualised connotations. Ultimately, the licensing process – along with the online furore surrounding these works – deems that society at present is not ready for these cutting-edge, intelligent works.”

In a statement to the media, IMDA noted the withdrawal of the applications to stage the shows. “Even though the original performances clearly exceeded the Arts Entertainment Classification guidelines, IMDA was prepared to consider a modified performance which could be performed under an R18 rating,” a spokesperson said.

IMDA said it cited specific examples of how the performances exceeded the guidelines, in its Dec 1 reply to an open letter from a group of arts practitioners known as Arts Engage.

In IMDA’s response, the spokesperson noted how Undressing Room involves the performer and audience-participant completely undressing and then touching each other. “Disallowing these scenes can hardly be considered retrograde moral policing; it is an objective application of existing guidelines,” the spokesperson said.

“WE BELIEVE IN CONSTANT DIALOGUE”

Last month, a blog post surfaced, accusing the M1 Fringe Festival of hosting pornography disguised as art. Referring to Ming Poon’s show, the post on the “Singapore Affairs” blog said: “If the Government allow this (sic), isn’t this a solicitation for a public sex act? This is as good as prostituting the performing art sector and is downright revolting.”

It also questioned the motivations of festival director Sean Tobin, saying: “As a foreigner who has no vested interest in Singapore’s well-being, why is he allowed to meddle in such divisive issues?”

The post was shared on the conservative Singaporeans Defending Marriage And Family Facebook group with a call to members to write to ministers to stop the shows.

In response, organisers of the festival defended Mr Tobin, calling him a “champion of Singapore arts, community theatre and arts education” who has curated a “thought-provoking and diverse programme”.

They also said they believe in having constant dialogue and engagement with detractors. ”While we do not agree with their strategy of writing anonymous letters, we would like to understand their concerns better, and come to a better understanding – if not acceptance – of each other,” they said, inviting those who have queries about the festival’s works to get in touch.

“We have been moved and encouraged by the numerous supporters who have spoken up for the spirit of the festival, and who recognise that celebrating diversity means respecting one and all-including those who differ from our ideals. Clearly, our public is more progressive and open-minded than some would want us to think,” organisers added. 

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Singapore River Buskers’ Festival ? Street entertainment at its best

Be prepared for endless hours of fun and entertainment when attending the famous Singapore River Buskers’ Festival in the scenic and beautiful island of Singapore. Reputed to be one of the biggest buskers’ gatherings in the whole of Asia, this popular event features a wide range of top notch street performers from all over the world. This annual festival is held during the month of November lasting for a period of 9 days. Many of Singapore’s most popular venues come alive with vibrant and entertaining street performances that are sure to amaze and delight visitors of all ages.

The Singapore River Buskers’ Festival was first held in 1997 at the scenic Clarke Quay and Riverside areas of Singapore. This initial festive celebration featured comedians, a face painter, acrobats and a musical act among many other highlights from professional buskers from different parts of the world. The incredible success of the first festival led it to become an annual event in Singapore that is attended by streams of tourists and performers who congregate for a short period of excitement and endless fun.

Today, during the celebration of the Singapore River Buskers’ Festival, various key places in the island such as Orchard Road, Clarke Quay, Marina Bay, Roberton Walk and the Riverside are packed with amazing performers and enthralled onlookers. Acts such as sword swallowing, miming, comedy performances, dance routines, juggling, acrobatic performances and magic shows can be enjoyed at leisure. Offering visitors unlimited street entertainment, the festival is truly an unforgettable event to witness!

The Singapore River Buskers’ Festival can be enjoyed in all its fullness when staying at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore. This Singapore hotel in central business districtis recognized as one of Asia’s top 5 star hotels offering guests lifestyle accommodation in an elegant resort like environment along the scenic banks of the Singapore River. Enjoy lavish comfort and indulge in stylish elegance at this luxury hotel Singapore.

Pushpitha Wijesinghe is an experienced independent freelance writer. He specializes in providing a wide variety of content and articles related to the travel hospitality industry.

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