Having watched Chingay (妆艺大游行 ) countless times on television, I was pretty curious about seeing the street parade in person. Being there and having the opportunity to walk alongside the performers during the grand rehearsal was entirely a new and exhilarating experience.
Chingay was a common sight in colonial times in the form of large religious processions held by the different Chinese dialect groups to honour their deities (the earliest recorded was in 1840 to welcome the arrival of the deity Ma Zhu Po the protector of seafarers from China). The word ‘Chingay’ came from the phonetic form of the Hokkien character to describe “the art of costume and masquerade”.
Singapore’s first ‘official’ Chingay was held on 4 February 1973 with 2,000 participants from the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The procession made its way from Victoria School in Jalan Besar to Outram Park, led by a large statue of a bull to signify the Year of the Ox. Chingay has since grown into Asia’s grandest street parade featuring spectacular acts, stunning costumes and decorated mobile floats. This year saw 10,000 performers from different races, ages, backgrounds and 120 different organisations performing to the theme of “Fire in Snow” (雪中火) for a ‘live’ audience of 160,000 and 1.5 million television viewers.
It was a very memorable night of many firsts – first time at Chingay, first time photographing a street parade, first time experiencing firecrackers, first time seeing a centipede dance, and first time seeing Mr Yam Ah Mee in person. But it will definitely not be the last Chingay for me :)