ON LABOUR Day yesterday, the Istana opened its doors to some 15,000 members of the public.

For many, it was a family day out, with small children tossing frisbees, climbing on playground frames and dipping their fingers into the Istana’s central fountain. A telling sign was a row of prams parked beside the building.

Madam Yuen Ping Ping, 30, and her husband took their three young children, aged six, four, and six months, and sat on the grassy slopes snacking on fruit. “It was a choice between the Botanic Gardens and the Istana, and visiting the Istana is something you don’t get to do every day,” she said.

Mrs Lyn Tan, 34, was explaining the President’s official residence to her daughter and son, aged five and four. “You have to explain it in terms that kids understand,” she said. “So, we told them this is a sort of castle where the king of Singapore lives.”

At 4pm, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, his wife Mary and the crowd were first welcomed with a rousing performance by Malay traditional percussion band Nadi Singapura, followed by a Zumba dance and “cheerobics” sequence by the NTUC Club U-Live for “active ageing” seniors aged 55 and up, carrying pom-poms.

They were also treated to a performance by the River Valley High School concert band, and serenaded by a chorus of U-Live members strumming on ukuleles.

Members of the public could also enjoy the sight of Falabella miniature horses from the Singapore Zoo, take a guided tour of the Istana building or go on a nature walk to spot kingfishers, hornbills, trees and plants on the Istana grounds, while children could have their faces painted.

The Istana holds its open houses on selected dates each year to mark Chinese New Year, Labour Day, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, National Day and Deepavali. Entry to the 40ha Istana grounds is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents, while others pay $1.

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