Students R Hanah and Nur Isziadora have always wanted to tour the Istana.
So when President Halimah Yacob visited the girls' school Bukit Merah Secondary School back in 2021 for community engagement, the two couldn't help but ask if they could visit the heritage site.
Isziadora, who is in Secondary 4 now, remembered feeling star-struck back then.
"I was speechless, honestly, because I didn't expect to meet Madam President," she said to AsiaOne.
Back then, President Halimah told the students what a day in her life was like, and that's when Hanah shyly popped the question.
"I found it very interesting, you know, like what she was telling us. So I just asked her: 'Can you invite us to the Istana?' I want to see how it's like," said Hanah.
For these two girls, they finally got their wish, albeit some two years later.
As part of President Halimah's efforts to make the Istana more accessible to all Singaporeans, she hosted some 30 students from Bukit Merah Secondary School on Wednesday (April 5) for the launch of the enhanced Swan Pond.
Said Isziadora: "So, when I came to [the Istana], I felt very honoured and thankful that [President Halimah] remembered us."
"It's really a privilege to be here," Hanah, now an alumnus of Bukit Merah Secondary School, chipped in.
She told AsiaOne she's "mind blown" over how expansive the estate is.
"I knew it was big, but I didn't know that it was this big," she said in fascination.
It seems she wasn't the only one in awe — her schoolmates Muhammad Irfan and Isabelle Thong were too.
Irfan, who is in Secondary 2, admitted that he initially "didn't expect much" but after going through the gates and seeing the entirety of the gardens, he was left "speechless".
"I don't think I deserve to be here because it's shocking. It's too much to take in," he shared.
On the other hand, Thong, who is in Secondary 4, was more impressed by the flora and fauna.
"I think there's a stereotype that the Istana is a place where the President would just work and would just hold all her meetings and such," she elaborated.
Launch of the enhanced Swan Pond
President Halimah officially opened the enhanced Swan Pond at the Istana on April 5.
The Swan Pond was originally constructed in 1968 and has been enhanced to ensure that it continues to be a conducive habitat for the native Lesser Whistling Ducks that reside there.
Two new features of the Swan Pond are a new viewing deck with more natural edging and a new garden stream planted with a variety of flowering and fragrant plants.
To commemorate the occasion, President Halimah planted a Cynometra Mannii, a tree with distinctively notched leaf tips.
During a conversation President Halimah had with a student, she shared that she hopes to spend more time at the Istana's garden.
"I did in the past but in the last one or two years, it actually got disrupted because of Covid-19.
"I used to take a walk around. It's a huge garden, so if you want your 10,000 steps you can just walk around," she quipped.
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