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Jan 7, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Firecrackers

Children under 16 years old in 1971 may not be allowed to let off firecrackers, there was no law to say that their ears cannot shut their ears and grimace expectantly and enjoy the noise of the occasion. Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore.

Children playing with firecrackers outside their houses in 1967 (Photos shown above and below). Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore.

What were the ways Chinese New Year celebrated in Singapore in the past?

Hercules Lim's father, Mr. Harry Lim, lighting a string of fire-cracker in front of his house to celebrate Chinese New Year in the 1960s. Photo Credit: Hercules Lim.

I can still remember my childhood days in Bukit Ho Swee, the thrill of leaving the house early in the morning on the first day of Chinese New Year with my pockets filled with firecrackers and a joss-stick in my hand. It happened to me once how I learn not to get burned. The firecracker exploded while I was holding it on my hand and blood was oozing out from my right hand index finger. That was my first childhood experience playing with firecrackers.

How to remember the explosive sound of firecrackers in Singapore since 42 years ago during Chinese New Year?

I can't remember the sound of the past, the smell of the past, the visions of the past... "remembrance in the past".

Here with the help of an extract from a section of Simon Tay's book "City of Small Blessings", with thanks and acknowledgement. I am inspired by this excerpt on "memories" quoted from his book:
All these thoughts come to me. Old thoughts and memories I did not know I remembered. Ones that are with me constantly like a book I have read many times. And new ones. Yes, even at my age: new.

I am a historian and a teacher. I have different views of how things happen, how they flow and split, one from another. There are always more than two ways ahead, two ways behind. There are always many perspectives, many futures and many past histories. Some are remembered, like the lives of great men. I have had my career, acted my part, and I know the histories of men who are reckoned to be great. But I am still enough of a historian to know that many more lives are forgotten. After all these years, I cannot change how I think of things, even if I wanted to. A dialectic of two may be good enough for computers, for the ease of drawing up flow diagrams. But it is too simple for life.

...I remember (Marcel)Proust and his book, "In Remembrance of Things Past". It begins with scent. The scent of cooking onions (was it onions?) brings back memories of his childhood, to a man almost asleep, and he remembers his home in another place. The first memory brings the man down a path that leads to another memory and then another. Each thing seen in recollection triggers another memory. At the same time, the man remains conscious that he is not reliving that time or travelling into another space. He knows he is lying there, in the present, recollecting. This past is not revisited; it is the act of remembering that is explored. The nature of memory itself, not the memories, becomes the work.

...the book refers not just to memories, but might be rendered as lost memories, those things we had forgotten but uncover whether after much efforts or in a moment, an epiphany, provoked by something that is so trivial as the scent of cooking onions. So it is, not with just memories that are personal, that belong only to one man, but also with the public memories, which we call history. We tell some stories. But others are left untold, then forgotten, lost. Lost histories: especially of those who are not considered great and, therefore, not worth remembering. Yet, perhaps, even these are worthy of redemption to some.

I remember this, just now. I remember the country that I have left, the city that I grew up in, and the house that I lived since birth until the day we left. I remember the good things, the blessings of life in that place, at that time. I try not to think of other less happy things.
In this series of "Ways Done in the Past" blogs, the blogs are split into "bitesize portions" based on separate topics...not "Way Done in the Past - Chinese New Year Celebration" which is cluttered and crammed. The first blog topic is on "firecrackers".

The sound of firecrackers in Singapore could be heard during the period from Chinese New Year eve to 15th day of the Chinese New Year for the "Chap Goh Meh" celebration.

Firecrackers was lit during festivities for Chinese New Year, Christmas Eve, Deepavali and Hari Raya.

The use of fireworks is centuries-old in China, where they were first used to scare away evil spirits with their loud sound and to pray for happiness and prosperity.

Today, the only sign of firecrackers during Chinese New Year are as long streamers of dummy crackers serving as doorway decorations.

The old photos of firecrackers here are posted with credit to National Archives of Singapore (NAS), with thanks and acknowledgements.

Setting off firecrackers at Chinatown during Chinese New Year on 13 Feb, 1970.

A long string of firecrackers to hang from the top of the building and set on to burn from the road below.

What were the children doing after the burning of the firecrackers?

They were looking for the unburnt leftover firecrackers for them to play.

The use of firecrackers, although a traditional part of celebration, has over the years led to many injuries. There have been incidents every year of users being blinded, losing body parts, or suffering other injuries, especially during festivities that customarily involve firecrackers such as Chinese New Year season. Hence, many governments and authoritarians have enacted laws completely banning the sale or use of firecrackers, or banning the use of firecrackers in the street, primarily because of safety issues.

In Singapore, a partial ban on firecrackers was imposed in March 1970 after a fire killed six people and injured 68. This was extended to a total ban in August 1972, after an explosion that killed two people and an attack on two police officers attempting to stop a group from letting off firecrackers in February 1972.However, in 2003, the government allowed firecrackers to be set off during the festive season. At the Chinese New Year light-up in Chinatown, at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the Lunar New Year, firecrackers are set off under controlled conditions by the Singapore Tourism Board. Other occasions where firecrackers are allowed to be set off are determined by the tourism board or other government organizations. However, their sale is not allowed.

Besides Singapore, other countries which banned the use of firecrackers are Australia, Canada, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdow and United States of America.

A 2-hour "Chap Goh Meh" (fifteenth day of Chinese New Year) fire started by firecrackers razed a number of shops along North Bridge Road.

Photos shown below some of the firemen trying to save the "Million Goldsmith" shop.

A victim of the fire cracker mishap which occurred during the "Chap Goh Meh" on celebration on 1 March, 1970.

Crackers firing restricted to specific area. Policemen stationed in Toa Payoh, one of the 153 defined areas marked by red flags with a yellow letter 'P' for for firing crackers for "Chap Goh Meh" on
26 Jan, 1971.

Firecracker fun now a thing of the past for individuals to play privately. The ways for firecrackers to play in the past has changed to a new, safer spectator game.

Nowadays, the firecrackers are replaced by firework display for celebration here .



Blogger lim said...

Firecracker and new shoes for the Chinese New Year are two things I always looked forward to as a boy. The deafening sound of crackers going off on the stroke of midnight to announce the arrival of a new lunar year was always music to my ears.

Now, many countries set off elaborate fireworks to usher in the new year. What is interesting is that China for the first time has decided to stop firework display for the new year, replacing it with a laser light display at the Heavenly Temple.

January 8, 2012 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Mr Lim, the atmosphere of Chinese New Year at the Bukit Ho Swee kampong during the carefree days where I grew up is memorable. Maybe it was because many of my kampong buddies would gather around to fire crackers, some playing cards, lots of cookies and drinks offered by everyone to treat us kids on these special days during the Chinese New Year.

I agree that the firecrackers we played in the past was full of fun. However, fire hazard caused by firecrackers and the scary experience of the Bukit Ho Swee fire realised many former homeless fire victims would support the banning of firecrackers. Its the real thing...not fake firecrackers which are safer without playing with fire.

January 8, 2012 at 8:45 PM  

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