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Feb 22, 2019

Young Generation of Singaporeans Who Grew Up Without Firecrackers

Usually on the first day of Chinese New Year, most streets were carpet with thick red layers of burnt out crackers. And on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, cracker wars are staged in streets so tycoons from rival groups can display their wealth and reputation by letting off strings of crackers just to see who can outlast the other.

I have written on this topic as a guest blogger in the blog "Good Morning Yesterday" with courtesy of my blogger friend Mr Lam Chun See.

I was born in Bukit Ho Swee kampong in 1948 when Singapore was a colony under the British rules.  A pioneer generation before the independence of the Republic of Singapore and have grown up with the sound, sight and smoke of firecrackers during the Chinese New Year.

My mind was tickled with a question:  "How did a younger generation of Singaporeans who never had the chance to celebrate Chinese New Year to hear the sound, the sight, the smoke of firing crackers decades ago before firing of crackers was banned in Singapore.

When asked by the young generation of Singaporean after 1971, they said that Singapore is known for its strict regulations and laws in place to maintain peace and order.

Lighting firecrackers may be an auspicious activity for Chinese Singaporeans as part of their culture, but the loud, cracking act has been banned in Singapore.  Today, Singaporeans are only able to set off firecrackers during festive seasons.  If we are hoping not to miss a pyrotechnic display, be sure to travel to Singapore closer to its National Day celebrations and witness its majestic firework display as part of the celebrations.

In 1957 when I was 9-years-old on Chinese New Year day, I had the first experience of playing with fire ..... playing with firecrackers.  Early that morning when the family were still sleeping, I sneaked out of the house in Bukit Ho Swee, I brought a few firecrackers and a joss-stick.

I have seen older neighbourhood boys firing the crackers and thought that it wouldn't be difficult to do it.  There was nobody to guide me how to use the firecrackers with a loud bang and the fun to play this game.  With one hand holding a lighted joss-stick and another hand holding a firecracker (the bigger one in red), I lighted it and held it for too long that the firecracker just blew it.  Blood ooze out from the finger and I had a shock.  I quickly ran home and my mother used a cloth to stop the bleeding.  She did not scold or beat me.  She knew I was in shock and told me the danger of the firecrackers and don't play with it.  I was dumbfounded and did not know what was happening to me.

This is my personal experience and childhood memories to play with fire without telling anybody this kind of game to play as a child.  Was I foolish or just curious?

In 1971, the Year of the Pig and synonymous to prosperity for businessmen, did not go off with much of a bag.

Reason:  16 big importers of crackers and fireworks did not import any that year because of the government's ban on 30 different brands from Hong Kong, Macao and China.

The only firecracker manufacturer in Singapore, Forwin Fireworks (S) Pte. Ltd., was producing mainly for export.

The government's firecracker restrictions were applied because of the tragedy in 1970 when 6 people died after being burnt in traditional cracker wars.

Chinese business tycoons, who usually take part in massive cracker wars in the Chinatown areas, were viewing last year's celebrations with a tinge of sadness.

"Don't forget reasons why firecrackers were banned"

I would like to point out the fallacy in Mr Andy Tan's argument, "Bring back those noisy, wonderful crackers" (ST, Feb 3, 2000) to bring back firecrackers.

He believed that firecrackers will "strengthen emotional bonds", and will induce Singaporeans not to go on overseas vacations.

I think these reasons are without foundation.

Surely, it is too simplistic to think that a noisy and dangerous ritual will have a profound emotional impact on Singaporean culture.

As for keeping Singaporeans at home, I think he is wrong again.

I am old enough to remember the time when the sound of firecrackers went on all day and all night.

My young children were kept awake all night, crying from fear and exhaustion.

Firecrackers were bursting right next to their window, having been thrown down from the upper floors of our apartment.

In addition to the serious noise pollution, it caused injury to people as well.

I was working at the Singapore General Hospital in those days.

The casualty department was filled with burn patients every Chinese New Year.

The Fire Department was also kept busy when Chinese New Year came along.

As for Singaporeans going abroad for holidays, firecrackers had the opposite effect.

At that time, firecrackers made Singaporeans go abroad to escape the noise pollution and the danger.

When the Government banned firecrackers, Singaporeans heaved a great sigh of relief.

The majority of rational Singaporeans were behind the Government in its enlightened move to do away with a superstitious and dangerous ritual.

Please don't repeat past mistakes by re-inventing the wheel.

If you play with fire you will get burned.

We have experienced what it was like.

I will not recommend it nor wish it on the future generation.


[Quoted this letter in the Forum Page, The Straits Times, 4 February 2000]

Why Singapore banned firecrackers in 1972

I refer to the letter "Bring back those noisy, wonderful firecrackers!" (ST, Feb 3, 2000).  During the Chinese New Year (CNY) festivals in February 1970, firecrackers killed six people, injured 68 and caused over $350,000 worth of damage to property through explosions and fires.

Because of this, the Government, in March 1970, imposed a partial ban on the firing of crackers.

During festive occasions like CNY eve and Chap Goh Meh, the firing of crackers was permitted for adults in certain refined areas and within specified hours.

However, sections of the public did not cooperate or observe the conditions under which firecrackers and fireworks could be discharged.  The result was more tragedies.  In 1971, nine persons were injured during the CNY festival.

In 1972, during CNY, members of the public became even bolder.  There were 376 incidents reported about crackers being fired indiscriminately outside stipulated places and times.

Despite vigorous police action, the firing of crackers still resulted in 26 being injured.  In addition, two unarmed policemen were attacked brutally when they tried to prevent a group from letting off firecrackers.unlawfully.

The loss of life, limb and property as a result of firing crackers was senseless.  It led to much grief and unhappiness for those who loved ones were killed or injured.  There was a public outcry for the ban on firecrackers.

Alternative way to create the sound of firecrackers

Although the young generation today did not play with firecrackers, please see how they have invented an alternative way to create the sound of firecrackers in this video . This is a safe and innovative way which is not illegal.  The loud sound of the "balloon crackers" would also bring prosperity for every festive occasions.


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