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Travel & Holiday

New York to draw 4,000 on S'pore Day

Hawker fare, local celebrities and Zouk's Mambo Jambo await overseas Singaporeans
The Straits Times - April 7, 2012
By: Jermyn Chow & Amanda Tan
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New York to draw 4,000 on S'pore Day Singapore Day was held in London in 2009. -- PHOTO: OVERSEAS SINGAPOREAN UNIT

IT WILL take some travelling by van and train but student Tan Siyou will not let that deter her from attending Singapore Day in New York city next Saturday.

'I'm looking forward to jabbering away in Singlish with friends and strangers and also being able to address older people as 'auntie' or 'uncle' without getting an accusatory look,' said the 23-year-old film student in Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which borders New York state.

She will have plenty of company, for the event, which celebrates all things Singapore, is expected to draw 4,000 Singaporeans based in the United States.

This is the second time the event, which costs $4 million to stage, is held in New York, where the first Singapore Day was celebrated in 2007.

The event, organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU), which is under the Prime Minister's Office, has also been held in Melbourne (2008), London (2009) and Shanghai (2011).

Organisers have spent more than $20 million to stage all the Singapore Day events, with the aim of engaging Singaporeans - more than 190,000 - who live abroad.

For the upcoming new get-together in New York, the theme is 'My Home, My Future'.

Besides chomping on hawker fare like chicken rice and black pepper crab and lapping up entertainment from celebrities Hossan Leong, Michelle Chong and Chua En Lai, the crowd can also explore job opportunities in Singapore and meet the guest of honour, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

They can also boogie to familiar retro tunes.

Nightspot Zouk has been roped in to replicate its popular weekly dance event, Mambo Jambo, at the park in Brooklyn.

Organisers and participants said Singapore Day has proven popular, and it is a good way to stay connected to home.

The London and Melbourne editions each attracted up to 12,000 Singaporeans while last year's event in Shanghai drew 5,500 people.

OSU director Wong Kan Foo said Singapore Day keeps overseas Singaporeans 'emotionally connected with home and one another'.

Asked why New York was selected again, he linked the decision to the 'sizeable' Singaporean community in the east coast of the US. There are about 27,000 Singaporeans in the US.

Visual artist Wee Hong Ling, who has lived in New York for 20 years and attended the first Singapore Day in 2007, said the event is more than just a free-for-all food fest.

'People don't just eat and leave. We meet so many different people, many for the first time, and bond. So we may be strangers but knowing that we share something common - Singlish, the food - binds us together,' said Dr Wee, 47, who returns home twice a year to visit her mother and two brothers.

Other cities are in talks with organisers to stage the event.

One example is Perth, where its roughly 17,000 Singaporean population makes up more than a third of the 50,000 Singaporeans living, working and studying in Australia.

Mr Anthony Quahe, president of the Singapore-Western Australia Network who is spearheading engagement efforts in Perth, said: '(Singapore Day) not only strengthens the ties among the overseas Singaporean community but also raises the branding of Singapore as government officials from the host country will take notice. That's a big deal.'

But there are those who feel that there can be cheaper alternatives to engage overseas Singaporeans.

Mr Michael Tan, former president of the Singapore Club in New Zealand's Christchurch city, said OSU money can be spent to help smaller overseas Singapore clubs stage 'smaller and more grassroots-type events' that cater to about 300 to 400 people.

But whether the venue is in a big or small city, there are those, like Brown University student Stephanie Teo, who are grateful about the efforts to engage overseas Singaporeans.

The 22-year-old, who has studied in the US for eight years, said: 'It's comforting to know that people back home still care about us and are willing to spend money to bring us closer together and arrange such face-to-face interaction.

'That is something you can never replicate with any online platform.'

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