The annual Singapore Day, usually a boisterous event marked by fun and laughter as overseas Singaporeans gather over food and performances, was tinged by sadness this year.
Some 5,000 Singaporeans attending the event in Shanghai yesterday observed a solemn minute of silence and penned more than 2,000 tribute messages for founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, aged 91.
Among them was Mr Ian Lee, 34, a project manager who has been working in Shanghai for the past six years. He said: "He was a good leader whose hard work and wise decisions helped transform Singapore into a country that others try to copy. I believe his legacy will live on for a long time."
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who led a tribute to Mr Lee at the event in the Century Park of Pudong district, described it as a "bittersweet" reunion.
"We would not be gathered here today, as Singaporeans, if not for Mr Lee and our pioneers. Even with his passing, Mr Lee brought Singaporeans together - in Singapore and also overseas," he said.
Mr Teo, who yesterday also visited the Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Resolution landing ship tank making a port call in Shanghai, said many Singaporeans at the event felt sad that Mr Lee could not mark Singapore's 50th year of independence at this year's National Day on Aug 9.
He added that organisers had discussed whether to cancel the Shanghai event but decided to continue as "it would be something Mr Lee would want us to do in the spirit of rededicating ourselves to Singapore".
Many Singaporeans, some travelling from Beijing, Tianjin and Suzhou, were glad the event organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit took place as planned, offering them the chance to savour Singaporean cuisine such as Indian rojak, carrot cake and fried Hokkien mee.
Their spirits were also visibly high as Singapore celebrities, including composer Dick Lee, led the crowd in singing the National Anthem and National Day songs such as We Are Singapore, along with a recital of the National Pledge.
The crowd also entertained themselves with activities, such as trying out the Singapore Armed Forces uniforms and giving its physical fitness test a go.
Mr Ang Tiong Lin, 46, a business development vice-president who has been working in China for 11 years, did so and won a mobile power bank after obtaining the gold award.
"I could feel a strong sense of unity and Singaporean identity when we sang the National Anthem," he said.
Participants could also pin their favourite spots in Singapore on a map and pen good wishes for Singapore's 50th birthday on postcards that will be displayed in the Marina Bay area during the National Day weekend.
A video dancing game and a torch that can control toy cars remotely, both developed by Greendale Secondary School students, thrilled the children.
Several of them also attended a story-telling session conducted by Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, on how Mr Lee helped build a multiracial society.
"As Singaporeans, it is important to pass on the values of our founding fathers to our children and future generations," she told reporters.
Mr Billy Lim, 37, an associate director who has been living in China for the past 13 years, said what he enjoyed most at the event was the camaraderie among Singaporeans.
"I felt like I was really back in Singapore, with the food, the accent and the songs," he added.
This article was first published on April 12, 2015.
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