Writer: Jonathan Chan
Pictures by writer’s camera phone until KE Vision puts up its items
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Darkness hung over the NUS Sports and Recreation Centre. Spotlights traversed the field, flooding the area with brilliant light and dark shadow. And in these shadows loomed the stark shapes of the different Hall floats. 6th August 2010 – Rag Day 2010 as well as the Flame Arrival Ceremony for the Youth Olympic Games. Venue provided by NUS, energy provided by the Halls of Residence. The first night rag performance in recent history was about to begin.
Electric currents flowed and the KE S(e)oul, the Korean-themed float of KE flared into radiance, ready for action as the preceding Kent Ridge Hall cleared the stage. Muscles tensed, deeps breaths were drawn and the Hall prepared to put on the Best Performance of its life.
The day started much earlier than that, for many of the people involved. At 9pm the night before, the floaters were already shifting small props to the SRC, followed by the main structures – the tiger bus, the bell and the drum. The Best Float was on its way.
Morning broke over the SOC Carpark, the holding area for the different floats. KE’s float looked magnificent between those of Eusoff Hall and Engineering, a colossal effort of the float team. From the body of the lorry rose a korean castle, cunningly shaped to adopt the body of a tiger complete with a tail, lovingly scaled in colours of red, orange and yellow. The rotating drum was decked out with a stylized dragon wound around it, and the bell was decorated with tessellated flowers which blended seamlessly.
8 am found the turquoise clad float members applying the finishing touches feverishly, aided ably by some returning seniors, veterans of Rag Days of old. Some of them could be seen helping to paint or to glue, before dropping their tools and rushing off to work at the last minute, such was their dedication. Much of the heavy lifting was also done by the freshmen who were down to help. For people like Simon, Li Ching, Yong Jun and Hanisah, this would prove to be a very novel day for them. Emma flitted about anxiously, constantly warning the floaters of the amount of time left. Everyone’s spirits was boosted by the appearance of Hall Master, Dr Seow and Mr and Mrs Jenson Goh as they came down to cheer the floaters on. Geri Fooand Xu Nan made sure all the lunches came on time while Zhou Shuo, Kok Pun & Zhuangli provided expert photography & videography with their huge cameras and a variety of lenses that would have shamed an optician.
The clock ticked to 1.45 and it was time for static display, no mean task in the sweltering heat. Sien Long and his team wrestled the side props into position, Lisa hastily dried off her hanbok, victim of a last minute water spill, and JJ sweated beneath his tiger costume while the seniors speculated which would come first – the static display judges or JJ’s heat-induced loss of conciousness, as we fanned him with pieces of cardboard hastily torn from drink cartons. But with the two of them, Ben Tham, Kai Lin and the other performers’ perseverance, static display went smoothly. Lisa delivered her lines with the same smoothness usually associated with the G2 corridor on a rainy day and the confidence of constant practise. One hurdle cleared and we were ready for the next segment of the performance.
We now moved everything with all possible speed and least possible grumbling over to the field, full of energy after lunch. The smiles became a little frayed as the sun scorched us and we attempted to take shelter beneath the side props, the Coca Cola signs, and the larger members of the float team. Finally, at 4.15 pm, Rag Day was finally declared open. Helium balloons bobbled into the air, the School of Computing came on stage with the first of many colourful floats, and the fun began.
The faculties then rolled out one after another in rapid sequence. As the dancers leapt and spun and the floats moved, we all clapped politely and waited anxiously, for no KEVIIan could enjoy the performance without thinking at the back of our minds that our turn was yet to come.
The clock rolled to 7.05 pm and with startling suddenness, the sun dipped and the stadium darkened, even as the Guest of Honour, Mr SR Nathan, President of the Republic of Singapore, arrived at to officiate the Flame Arrival Ceremony. Each of the halls represented one of the countries that the Olympic Flame had passed through as it went around the world before coming to Singapore. Temasek Hall, with Greece as its theme, was first to go and off we swung into, to us, Rag Day proper.
The KE performers congregated, each looking splendid in their K-pop costumes or traditional hanboks. Last minute instructions were issued, Xing Ying encouraging the freshmen in her own way, telling them that by being in charge of laying out the props and the dance mat, they were important and that the day belonged to them. Jerwin, in turn, encouraged them by saying “if you make a mistake, we may have to kick you out of hall.” Nick Chai was encouraging his dancers by yelling “Dancers! Please be sexy!” evidently about to lead by example himself. And so Kent Ridge Hall cleared the stage, and it was our turn. The last performance. The best performance. We had absolute faith in our item. After all, we had the Best Float didn’t we?
To the tune of SNSD’s “Chocolate Love” and “Run Devil Run”, The K-pop girls got into the swing of things as they stepped, spun and hopped in their short jackets and skirts. The guys were equally good. The quality of the K-pop element smoked to the extent that the fire extinguisher-heavy Engin float looked like a cigarette puff in comparison. So too was our mascot, who had the audience going “I show you KoREEA!” together with him. The music then slowed to the familiar strains of the “Da Chang Jin” theme, as our more traditionally dressed girls in hanboks came on with their fans, floating and posing with ethereal grace. The mechanism of the float moved smoothly and the tiger bus flexed its muscles, moving its legs and virtually purring with pleasure at the stellar performance being put up.
Then with flips, somersaults (and an outrageous split by Kan Fong), on came the taekwondo fighters, to the thumping beat on the drum. Grace was replaced by energy and dynamism as they showed that KE was not all feathers and fluffiness, but contained an iron fighting spirit beneath. As the music swelled to its crescendo, it was just a matter of if the performance could get any better.
The answer was given in a most conclusive manner. Finally, the float showed its true splendour (I did mention we had the Best Float, right?). The roof raised and the walls fell open to reveal a full dancing stage complete with lights, glitter, Ben, Jenny and Kai Lin, as the watching KEVIIans matched the scene with a triumphant “K-O-R-E-A! KE7, FIGHTING! K-O-R-E-A! KE7, LET’S GO!” and the stage burst into life as all elements of the float combined to put up a stunning climax. Every second was a testimony to the efforts put in by the performers and floaters over the past months. Every stunt drew loud cheers and every slickly executed move made us surer that this was the performance to beat. As the lights dimmed momentarily and the hanboks blazed with light, courtesy of cunningly placed lights in their hems, we thought there could be no better performance. When the music came to its dramatic conclusion, as Irene saluted the crowd mid-flight, as the dancers froze into their final poses, we cheered ourselves hoarse, deafening each other and stepping on each other’s feet as we danced with glee ourselves. There couldn’t be any question. NUS had saved the best for last.
The Olympic Flame was lit. Let us not forget that particular piece of history. But it was the results that captured our attention. There were two wonders of the world at the SRC that day – Temasek Hall’s Acropolis and the fact that the Best Float was not among the names called. One thinks that it was because a particularly Dazzling Float might have so pained the eyes of the judges that they didn’t notice the following performances, which included our Best Float, as well as the Float-Slated-To-Win-If-We-Hadn’t.
But still we cheered. Even if the judges couldn’t say that we had the best float, no one would ever be able to say that we didn’t have the best floaters or performers. As hugs were exchanged, as tears flowed, the immortal cheers still rang out through the din “STAND TALL! BE PROUD! SAY YOUR NAME! OUT LOUD! WE ARE FROM KE! MIGHTY MIGHTY KE!”
It was much later, gathered beneath the lights of the float so lovingly created from nothing, that the two Float Heads finally poured out what they had to say to us. They were tired, sleep-deprived for nearly 48 hours, but with voice hoarse with emotion and exertion, Xing Ying began, “I’ve seen you all for 2 months every day. I’ve seen how we got better and better. We showed how manpower is not a problem because one KEVIIan is better than two [average] humans! Every rehearsal we did our best. I just want to say I’m proud of you. Thank you everyone!”
Sien Long added, “What we have done today is another bit of history. I know what you’ve sacrificed. But it’s worth it because what’s hard to bear is always sweet to remember. You’ll always remember this part of your life. You are all winners at heart. This is what KEVIIans are”
Xing Ying possibly put it most simply, yet most profoundly when she concluded, “You won’t forget this tiger. Or the hanbok. Or your friends. You won’t forget how you put up the best performance tonight.”
There would always be the following year to try again, but for now, the friends made, the effort put in, and the memories shared, as we piled in front of the float to take a final photograph, those probably are the sweetest rewards for now.
What did KEVIIans have to say? This is what some of the input from various participants was:
“Awesome! It was an awesome experience!” – Fang Min, KEWOC member
“I feel very honoured to cheer for them” – Jason Lim, KEWOC member
“Awesome!’ – Terence Koek, KEWOC member
“Well, seriously with 15 people, this kind of quality, I’m speechless! I don’t know why we can’t win and well, we should” – Louis Lim, KEWOC head 0910, with bad accent
“It was a good experience and I’m very proud of us” -Yufang, K-pop dancer
“Well ok lar. AWESOME!” – Shereen, K-pop dancer
“Speechless. All of us worked very hard. This is the furthest we’ve ever come. All we’ve been through, all the friendships we’ve built, all the teamwork we’ve had, how we started from scratch but managed to come this far, it’s wonderful” -Sien Long, Float Head
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Even if we’ve didn’t win, everyone seems happy and that’s very good to see” – Simon, freshman helper
“Its really a big improvement. We have never dared to challenge Kent Ridge Hall in flag. This year we just let loose. We were so close. Unfortunately the judges had a different view regarding our float. But never mind, we have the foundation, next year we can build on it” – Qing Song, JCRC President
“I think this is the best float that KE has ever done. It’s the best performance KE has put up since I’ve been in hall” -Irene, 5th year student, K-pop dancer
“Actually I found rag this year is a good start for KE7. We actually improved a lot. In terms of performance, in terms of flag, in terms of bonding. Although we didn’t have as many lights as the other halls, but on the whole ours was actually quite good” – Nick Chai, co-choreographer