Wong Chew Wee knows the idiom "it never rains but it pours" all too well. Ms Wong joined the People's Association (PA) after she graduated from the university. She was appointed Chingay's chief liaison officer for international performers. Little did she know the challenges she would have to face.
In 1995, twelve international groups had agreed to join the Chingay Parade that year. They hailed from many countries: the Philippines, Macau, Cambodia, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, France, Italy and more. A year before, PA had sent invitations through the various Tourism Boards and embassies and these groups had confirmed participation well ahead of schedule.
With nothing more than a fax machine, Ms Wong efficiently plodded on. Not only did she make sure she understood the basic needs of each troupe, she also took note of the specific requirements of the teams that were coming. Her meticulous attention to detail went right down to even remembering who needed vegetarian meals.
The Chingay Parade was divided into two segments - one featuring local performances and a smaller segment on international shows. Ms Wong was the leader of the team tasked to look after the international guests and their schedules. To properly host these foreign guests, each international contingent was assigned one or two liaison officers. Ms Wong together with two other team members supervised these liaison officers.
Finally it was all systems go. On the day of the Parade, at around five o'clock, all the Parade contingents were already lined up and on standby at the junction between Orchard Road and Scotts Road. To everyone's horror, it was as if a party pooper with the sole intention of spoiling the show suddenly arrived on the scene. The skies opened in fury, and rain pelted down in sheets. In an interview more than a decade later, Ms Wong could not remember the exact magnitude of the storm. However, she could remember the crew and performers going into a state of frenzy.
Ms Wong stayed composed despite her distress. Through rapid exchanges over the walkie-talkie, she consulted her senior colleagues and sought their advice. Together, they came up with a quick solution - send some of the participants immediately to a sheltered area nearby to take refuge. The others should go back up their buses and wait it out.
For many, the rain did not seem to have dampened their spirits at all. Ms Wong remembered the Macau contingent entertaining themselves and performers from other countries with their accordions as they waited. "They were still merry and cheerful even as they waited," she recalled.
At around 7.45pm, Ms Wong received the long awaited go-ahead on her walkie-talkie. Even though the storm had by no means abated, the Parade had to go on as planned. The audience, apparently undeterred by the rain, had opened up their umbrellas and did not look like they were about to budge. They were not going home without a show. Ms Wong and her team then rounded up the Parade contingents once again. The show had to go on, rain or no rain.
By 8pm, the music played and the performers, oblivious to the rain, put up the show of a lifetime. The rain had not quenched the passion of the performers one bit. "They were so professional. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the performance. For them nothing was as important as to present the best show ever!" recalled Ms Wong.
Ignoring the heavy downpour, the crew stood by the side of the road, cheering the performers on. Each international contingent stopped by the central stage and executed their performance before marching down Orchard Road. Seeing their dedication, and wanting to give them moral support, the crew, people who usually only worked behind the scenes, decided to walk alongside the teams, accompanying them the entire length of the procession which ended at Centrepoint. The sense of camaraderie and support certainly warmed hearts despite the chill of the tropical night storm.
"Together, we braved the storm," declared Ms Wong, her pride still apparent more than a decade later. The performance groups and the crew forged a strong bond after this incident. This particular Parade, perhaps precisely because of the difficulties, helped bring out the best in the team - a spirit of unity and encouragement. No one felt they could have done it alone. Together though, not only did they succeed in presenting a great show, they had also found lasting friendships and shared fond memories.
Adapted from: Tales of Chingay – Celebrating 40 Years of Chingay
Written by: Goh Ting Cheng
Translated by: Lim Fong Wei