25,000 enjoy festivities at Botanic Gardens

He is twice the age of independent Singapore and yesterday, retired photographer Heng Kok Kai, 101, joined thousands at the start of the jubilee weekend to celebrate the country's 50th anniversary and cheer another treasure: the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Mr Heng, who left China to find a better life in Singapore in 1936, enjoys music and being out among the lush greenery of the Gardens.

Said his daughter Betty, 58, who is self-employed: "When we heard that the Botanic Gardens was holding a public concert, we decided to bring him here."

Joining them and others at the Gardens, which attained Unesco World Heritage Site status on July 4, was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who noted in his off-the-cuff remarks that many of the trees and plants there are more than 50 years old.

"One generation plants the trees, and the later generations enjoy the shade," he said, quoting a Chinese proverb. "Let us continue to improve and enhance the Gardens so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy it."

In the same way, Singaporeans should nurture and build the country for future generations to enjoy, he added.

At the afternoon ceremony, Mr Lee unveiled the Gardens' Unesco World Heritage Site plaque. The honour is a first for Singapore, and the Gardens is only the third botanic gardens to get on the list. The plaque will be installed at the Tanglin Gate entrance to the Gardens.

"I think it is a well-deserved award, because it has a long and rich history," said Mr Lee, who thanked all the officials and volunteers who worked hard and made the award possible.

He added that the Gardens was a place where many Singaporeans have precious memories. One of his own was of a cultural concert "Aneka Ragam Ra'ayat" - Malay for the people's variety show - in 1959, which he attended as a child with his father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Yesterday's large-scale multicultural performance was reminiscent of that 1959 concert, with 13 local artists such as Taufik Batisah and Corrinne May singing in English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.

A total of 25,000 people visited the Gardens yesterday, undeterred by the heavy afternoon downpour.

Mr Lee officially named the SG50 orchid the Singapore Golden Jubilee. The pink-and-purple hybrid traces its lineage back to Singapore's national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid.

The new hybrid inherited the Vanda Miss Joaquim's resilience but has slightly larger blooms, signifying Singapore's growth.

Mr Lee also launched a series of Singapore Post stamps, featuring icons such as the Gardens' gazebo at the Bandstand, to commemorate the Botanic Gardens' Unesco World Heritage Site status.



This article was first published on August 8, 2015.
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