Jan 29, 2009

Istana Open House 2009: How the Early Bird Catches the Worm

After years of following the same routine, I decided to try something new to break the monotony of Chinese New Year. This 初二 (second day of the lunar new month), I visited the Istana during its annual open house.

Usually closed to the public, the Istana grounds are open on five occasions – Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, Labour Day and National Day. Admission is free for citizens and permanent residents. Foreigners pay an entrance fee of $1 per person. For the first time in months, I feel proud to be a citizen.

The plan was to reach the Istana before its opening at 0830. However, the night before, back from Chinese New Year celebration, I was still finishing up my research and sending them for printing. As a result, I slept a little late and thanks to the nice weather, I got up at the time I should be on the road.

I arrived at the Istana Gate a little after 0900. There a queue – less than 10 people – had formed in front of a small booth. A lady volunteer was gesticulating to the approaching visitors, “citizens and permanent residents this side”, referring to her left (my right). Apparently the booth was a ticket booth and, as a citizen, I could skip it. However I couldn’t help but notice there were more people at the booth than skipping it. It was an ominous sign.

A male volunteer stood at the gate. I knew the ritual. Out came the pink card; I didn’t even stop for him. Up to this point, the card appeared to have magical powers. It was exhilarating too when a fellow civilian – not a police – checked your card.

Past the gate, another ritual greeted me. This should be no surprise. I laid my bag onto the conveyor belt and crossed the gate. Luckily, it did not beep.

Istana Main Gate
Istana Main Gate at 0914. They have hidden the tentage for the second ritual behind the gate, to the left of the photo, away from public sight.

Istana Main Gate SignIstana Main Gate Map
Notice and map after the main gate. The map shows you the public areas (shaded) and forbidden areas (presumably what’s not shaded). Looking at the sheer number of Men in Blue in the previous photo standing idly behind the main gate, do you expect any less in the Istana Domain?

I had great fun inside the Istana Domain, doing what I do best and trying not to get caught.

Two hours later, I decided I had enough of the voices that sounded so unsingaporean.

At 1130 I was out and WOW WHAT A SIGHT!

Istana Main GateIstana Main Gate
Left photo shows the queue waiting for their second ritual behind the gate. Right photo shows the queue outside the main gate. Remember the queue was less than 10 originally?

Istana Main Gate
The human snake outside the main gate. The last stretch must be the most demoralising. From just outside the gate, the queue turns right, all the way to Plaza Singapura before making a U-turn back to the gate.

I captured the whole spectacle from Istana Park across the road. The crowd outside was beyond my expectation. There was this indescribable feeling - I was finished, ready to go home and these people were still queuing under the midday sun. Should I pity them or laugh at their stupidity? It feels good to be an early bird, doesn't it?

Istana Main Gate
The spectacle from across the road. If you want to laugh, better do it here, away from the crowd.

Do you know how long the queue was? See below.

The Atrium
The Atrium@Orchard. You have to admire those who are last in the queue. Last in the game, but never lose sight of their goal.

Judging from the crowd, the Open House was overly successful. You have people who are dying to shake Nathan’s hand (I did not meet the President inside) and you have people – like me – who are curious about what’s inside. Or maybe it is the cheapest way to ‘escape the New Year’ (闭年).


Anonymous said...

WOW. So many people! That's crazy... I didn't think there would be so many people keen on visiting the Istana. Oh well, if it's open so rarely why not, huh. Good choice on getting there early!

And I've shaken President Nathan's hand before and said a few words to him. He's a nice guy lah. :)

Adelin said...


Wow, Istana also crowded.

Icemoon said...

Wow, you two ladies are the early birds. :-)

Victor said...

What? You needed to do research before going to Istana!!!???

I was there on the same day but at about 4.30 - 5.30 pm. The President made his rounds then and I have some photos of him.

The last time I went to the Istana was 3 years ago.

Ya, left, right and centre I heard Chinese voices.

Icemoon said...

Victor, the Istana is historical so the Open House is a rare opportunity to get some historical shots.

Wah, you went late and got the President.