by Bertha Henson
Cupcakes and taco chips were being given out – gratis. Men and boys from a ukulele group were strumming away. Children were swimming in pools of balls. All in, it was a very Disney morning at Hong Lim Park today, complete with a magic castle. It was a “young people” event, mostly the English-speaking and the educated. A fair number were in red or white tee-shirts bearing the words Stand Up for Singapore, the group behind the event, which concluded at about 1pm.
It was billed as a picnic to show the positive side of being part of a community, an appreciation ceremony so to speak.
The organizers said so unabashedly in the flyers that came with a game card and a red picnic mat: “Today we would like to focus on the possibilities that we can achieve together and hopefully inspire each other by demonstrating that there are many Singaporeans who care deeply for our nation and will go out of their way to bring happiness and abundance to everyone that we can connect with. And hopefully just to encourage you to love each other just that little bit more.”
The group of 14 had sunk money into this project, its third. It wasn’t a sit down and enjoy the nice weather event. The key idea was for total strangers to interact. Hence, games were built around starting conversations with each other and ending with each participant writing down three qualities that they feel would make Singapore a country to be proud of.
Now, does that sound too cuddly to you? Or is that the cynic in me talking?
Standing round the edges of Hong Lim Park, I wondered at the energy and enthusiasm of the young people who were busy making balloon animals and pushing cupcakes on people. So sweet, I thought. Just wait till they are out of school and in the working world, that idealism would surely wear off…
Yet, the organizers themselves are a bunch of 30-somethings in various professions. I recalled what one of them had said to me: “We are not cynical people.” The turn-out, at most 400, was not as large as expected, given that it achieved a higher profile after a minor fracas had erupted over the group’s decision to stage the event at Hong Lim Park, on the same a May Day protest event was being held. Mr Tong Yee pronounced that he was happy enough.
As the morning wore on, white tents were being set up at the other side of the park. Sound systems were being tested.
The picnickers stuck to their corner.
More on that flyer: “And with this day, we hope to start a legacy for future Singaporeans. That we be known as a community of loving and gracious people, who continue to look out for each other and rest with the knowledge that we can trust our community to see us through… It is possible for us to play, to love, to genuinely connect with each other, and still be the great little nation that we are.”
A young man came to my side as I was watching a group break out in song. He introduced himself as Edward. Aged 20, he saw the group’s work on its Facebook page and decided to volunteer to help at the event. Nice-looking with a buff bod, he said: “Isn’t this nice?” He hadn’t come across an event like this, he said, a citizen-initiated event with no other agenda than to do good. I looked at this young man and his honest, open face. May he remain like that, I thought. Always looking out for something positive. And keep that buff bod!
A somewhat older woman passed by and handed me a tissue. “You look like you need one,’’ she said before walking away. A young woman called Eunice pressed a box of cupcakes to me. I declined. I am not a “sweets’’ person. Then she wanted to take a picture with me, this total stranger.
A photojournalist who was with me said he felt uncomfortable. All that smiling, happy faces and red balloons. Everyone was like a child, even the old uncle on the ukulele. Some balloons had words scribbled on them: the qualities that those who took part in the games want for Singapore. The usual virtues were listed: kindness, patience, understanding et cetera. One balloon had this: “Less cynical”.
I caught myself smiling.
Following this event, Breakfast Network also stayed for the May Day protest. Find out what happened then.