By Daphne Seah
From New York
I confess that when a friend from Shanghai told me about Singapore Day coming to New York for its fifth edition, I wasn't excited. Being here for a few months hasn't made me homesick yet.
Then she said, "Just go for the food."
After seeing photos of the black pepper crab, char keow teow and laksa that were going to be flying half-way round the globe for the event, I registered for the event.
When Singapore Day came on Saturday, it was clear I wasn't alone in my motivation.
Food vendors like Toa Payoh Rojak, Guan Kee Kway Chap, Casuarina Curry Roti Prata, Chey Sua Fried Carrot Cake served snaking lines of Singaporeans and friends from around the world and of all ages for almost five hours before triumphantly pasting "Finished Liao!" across their placards.
Instead of watching the concert included in the day's line-up of activities, most of the attendees could be found lustily eating the "Authentic Hawker Fare from Home" amid the beautiful springtime weather and blooming trees of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. An event organiser came around attempting to persuade people to move to the concert area, but nobody moved until she said, "There's more food there."
For the entertainment, there were bands like The Great Spy Experiment, singers Jack and Rai, folks from our Emmy-nominated "The Noose", and comedian and host of TV show "We are Singaporeans" Hossan Leong. Dance club Zouk's Mambo Jambo tunes from the 80s were also played. No offense, but some foreign friends seemed amused by our interpretations of the dance music of that era.
Organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU), the event also attempted to "transport" Singaporeans home through decorations and give-aways.
The carnival entrance had MRT gantries and the crowd of over 3,000 left with "I Heart SG" bags containing a picnic mat, tissue pack and "Limited Edition EZ-link card" plastered with national icons.
But OSU also truly aimed to bring Singaporeans home. Amid frivolous fun and games stood essentially a public sector recruitment fair. After I casually asked if an agency is looking to place people here, the recruiter said their aim actually is to attract talent home. The recruitment drive will also sweep across other American cities.
All in all, it reportedly cost $4 million to hold Singapore Day in New York.
Some Singaporeans are unsettled the government spent so much on basically a big party, especially on those with no plans to "balik kampong" yet. But for me and other Singaporeans who travelled from Boston, Connecticut and even Canada to attend the event, it was just a great day to hang out with our own kind and connect with people whom we didn't have to explain that Singapore is not part of China.
For my friend Zhihui, Singapore Day gave her insight to Singapore's current culture as she could for one day experience to some extent the sights, smells and sounds of our country.
A guest from another Asian country said his government would never do something like this for them, and so I appreciate the effort made by our own government. In Singapore's current climate of questioning if foreigners are favoured over locals, maybe this assures some of our place.
There are larger questions that Singaporeans, particularly the fresh graduates and professionals in the U.S., will have to deal with when considering heading back home.
Will they find the grass is greener in Singapore? Will they find a country ready and willing to accept fresh (maybe radical) ideas?
If indeed they do, that is when we will know if $4 million was well-spent. They may, however, return out of this kind of sentiment I overheard, "The thing I miss about Singapore is bak chor mee."
Daphne Seah is a Singaporean media professional currently based in New York.