Tuesday, December 08, 2015

meeting the president

The kids and I stood in a corner of the marbled room, which was awash with golden light from the chandeliers. The aroma from the food which was on the table right next to us smelt warm and salty, and at 4pm in afternoon was right about the time the kids collectively open the fridge and raid the cupboards at home for a teatime snack.

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* The food table

But they knew they couldn’t reach out and grab a bite even if their tummies were rumbling. Day, Jo and Lu had just endured a Very Serious 30-minute ceremony during which they sat three in a row just behind the President, his wife and me, and they had to keep quiet because they looked to be the only kids in a sea of Very Serious men and women who were appropriately still. 

Every time I turned around to silence chittering Day and Jo with killer glares in the hush before the President arrived (Lu was a paragon of silence), the entire audience could see my black face because I was right in front.

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Now we were all in the corner to await Dr and Mrs Tan, as we were the first Presidential pit stop. The men in uniform next to us were stone-still, and so was everyone else in the room, as the couple slowly made their way over.

And then they were there. 

Dr Tan’s hand is soft and dry and he is the living embodiment of someone in the pink of health. He thanks me for writing the book on the Istana he just launched during the ceremony.

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I blurt out undiplomatically: But did you read it? He says, “Of course, and I enjoyed it.”

Mrs Tan’s handshake is firm and brisk.

“The book must have been a labour of love! And are these your children? Children, do you know how hard your mummy worked on this book?”

I mumble something about how their memories of the Istana start today, because they’ve never been in it.

She says, looking at each of them in turn, “Well next time if you all come into the Istana again, you will remember this time, yes?”

By this time, a queue of other people the couple are supposed to meet have formed around us. We take the obligatory photo, say thank you, and the kids hit the food with a vengeance.

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* With Singapore's first First Lady, Puan Noor Aishah, the President's wife and the President

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* With one of my favourite interviewees, Puan Noor Aishah, because she lives just behind me and plies me with all sorts of food during our interview. I love people who feed me. (Pix by Seah Huan Yuh)

I suppose one of the best things about writing a book about the Istana, is that the kids get a VIP pass to the President’s official residence (although no one has stayed there apart from Yusof Ishak and Devan Nair) and office.

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* Pix by Seah Huan Yuh

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* Pix by Seah Huan Yuh

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I normally wouldn’t blog about work in this space, which is reserved for the things closest to my heart. But what surprised me about this job, was that I was invited to the book launch. And that when I decided to be thick-skinned and ask if I could bring my kids along, the Istana folk generously said yes.

The kids knew they’d be in the same room as the man and woman whose photo is up in their school hall, and that they’d be going to Singapore’s “palace”. They were excited and got dressed in their usual concert attire (ie. the same set of clothes they wear every time to the Esplanade / Victoria Concert Hall etc).

What we didn’t expect was how much we’d enjoy it.

Getting to drive into the Istana via the Orchard Road main gate and being waved through by guards in full uniform, driving down the long and winding road from the main gate past the Istana’s beautiful gardens with not one person in sight.

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* The main Istana building

Being placed right next to and behind the President and his wife, when I thought we’d be standing somewhere at the back. (actually this was a tad stressful)

Using the Istana’s toilets, especially the girls who kept going because it was air-conditioned and so swanky. (it’s actually very similar to Raffles Hotel toilets)

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Smiling at all the Aides-de-Camps and men in uniform who seemed very tickled by the kids.

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* Obligatory photo at the red staircase, a fav photo spot, with my musician friend Seah Huan Yuh who I interviewed for the book and who is also a kick-ass photographer

Getting an autographed copy of the book from the President.

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Going on an hour-long tour of the Istana’s grounds after the book launch with a veteran guide, during which the kids are bitten relentlessly by the Istana’s power mosquitoes. One Foreign Services officer I interviewed said that in the past, a planned garden party was brought indoors due to the fear that the foreign VIPs would all get bitten on their ankles. I see her point.

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* The front lawn, on which more work is being done (rolls of grass)

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Doing the tour of the Istana grounds (Pix by Seah Huan Yuh)

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* Jo scratching her leg with the other leg (Pix by Seah Huan Yuh)

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* In the Spice Garden, the latest addition to the Istana's grounds

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* Just a few of Jo's more than 10 bites

Jo, who’s been going on about how we didn’t go on a long holiday to nice countries like the rest of her friends, says – I think I’ll tell my friends that I met the President instead.

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* Girls with the book

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Picts all very nice. Sharp with vivid colors. PS: those are rolls of grass. I've never seen rolls of soil..lol Jun

Karmeleon said...

Woah - all the pics by Huan Yuh?

Sher said...

nope. if they're taken by him i say so in the caption.