Madam Chingay's Still Got It

A People’s Association veteran staff shares her colourful memories of organising the Chingay Parade since 1973.
Highlights from different Chingay parades remain vivid in Mdm Lim’s memory, and keep her raring to go for future parades. Planning for next year’s procession starts even before the final rehearsal for the year’s event, she shares.

“The word ‘retirement’ is not in my dictionary,” Mdm Lim Ah Yook tells Challenge, and it’s ob­vious why. The diminutive 75-year-old not only walks with a spring in her step, but also talks about her work with inspiring passion. The People’s Association Chingay spe­cialist officially retired in 2004, but has been re-hired as a full-time staff every year since.

“My voice is loud… I’m an Ah Huay kind of person,” jokes the sprightly grandmother of three. Her “can-do” at­titude and friendliness has stood her well in the Chingay Production Team since the parade’s inception in 1973. She handles various roles, including liaising with and providing support to the various grassroots organisations and performers involved in the annual parade.

These fans were created by the PA WEARHouse team as props for Chingay performers.
Madam Chingay's Still Got It
Mdm Lim tracks the location of every Chingay parade in this notebook that she carries with her.
Asked about anecdotes from her 45 years of planning Chingay, she replies, “Too many!”, before rattling on about the year a rooster float had its beautiful feather flowers pilfered by the public looking for a souvenir. Another year, a fire broke out at Lucky Plaza, near the Orchard procession. (Thankfully, the flowers were restored within 24 hours and the fire was put out in time for the procession to go on.) She fondly recalls 1995 as the year of the “wet” Chingay – the first time the skies rained on the parade though that did not dampen participants’ spirits.
Madam Chingay's Still Got It
Mdm Lim (sixth from left) with colleagues from the Chingay Production Team and the float contractors, who worked on this rooster-themed float for the 1981 parade. Photo courtesy of Mdm Lim Ah Yook.
Madam Chingay's Still Got It
Mdm Lim (third from left) with other Chingay staff before the 1983 procession at Bukit Merah. Photos courtesy of Mdm Lim Ah Yook.

She also reminisces about the time she found cars parked along the Chingay route because the team had forgotten to put up a sign. So, they had to get the tow truck in. “We just keep learning from experience, from the days when the public could touch the performers to now when we have crowd control,” she adds.

Mdm Lim does not remember how she first got the name “Madam Chingay”, but it stuck. She has since become a walking dictionary for all things Chin­gay – ask her about the first parade and she can even tell you the exact time it started (11am on February 4, 1973).

Madam Chingay's Still Got It
Mdm Lim tried on this mask for Chingay performers during a costume testing session in 1984. Photos courtesy of Mdm Lim Ah Yook.
Madam Chingay's Still Got It
Mdm Lim being held up by Chingay performers at the former PA headquarters in 2000. Photo courtesy of Mdm Lim Ah Yook.

The meticulous officer carries with her a little notebook with details of the various years’ Chingay and their significance – “so I can reply quickly when anyone asks”; a 1973 black-and-white photo of her looking out of a PA truck; and a stack of old two-dol­lar notes featuring Chingay, clearly proud.

When asked what keeps her going, she turns just a wee bit serious. “Other countries parade to protest, but we parade to celebrate our diversity, our racial har­mony… and I’m privileged to be part of it.”

    Aug 2, 2017
    Yvonne Cheong
    Norman Ng
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