Singapore craftsmen struggle to keep alive Lunar New Year traditions

Singapore craftsmen struggle to keep alive Lunar New Year traditions
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - As Singapore prepares for Lunar New Year celebrations at the weekend, the older generation in the fast-changing city-state is worrying who will take over traditions such as making costumes for the lion dance and baking"nian gao" steamed cakes.

Tham Wing Thong is working with 15 employees in Tai Chong Kok bakery, founded in 1935, to turn out "nian gao", a sticky rice flour cake customarily eaten during the festive season.

"Keeping tradition helps us Chinese retain our culture,"says Tham, 79, the son of the founder.

"Nowadays, society has changed with a new generation of people, so it is now on the shoulders of us, the older generation, to retain the tradition and pass it on."

Read also: Preserving Tai Chong Kok's 80-year-old mooncake legacy

Henry Ng, one of Singapore's few remaining makers of lion dance costumes, says interest in the craft spurred him to carry on the tradition, but his children show little interest.

"I think nowadays the markets are based more on technology and they are changing," he says, adding that his children would do better to get jobs making use of their classroom educations.

Ng started in the trade in the 90s, after tiring of his office job, and makes all his creations by hand, from the bamboo frame that shapes the lion's head to intricately-painted faces, producing about 60 to 70 heads for lion dancers every year.

Each costs about $1,250, roughly six times more than factory-made ones, and takes anywhere from five days to a few weeks to make.

Read also: The endangered lion in the lion city

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With no one for the craftsmen to pass their skills down to, however, their patrons will eventually feel the loss.

"I've eaten at that 'nian gao' place for almost my whole life, so it brings back very nice memories," said a customer at the Tai Chong Kok bakery who gave her name only as Jane, a student in Australia who is back home for the holidays.

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