Love is all around Ms Serene Goh and the feeling grows on special dates like Sept 9, Dec 12 and, of course, today – Valentine’s Day.

After all, Ms Goh, 44, works in a very special place – where one out of every three of the 22,000 couples who get married in Singapore each year go to say their vows.

This is of course the Registry of Marriages (ROM) at 7 Canning Rise, where Ms Goh works as an assistant registrar.

One afternoon 17 years ago, Ms Goh, who has worked at ROM for 20 years, was the one who got married instead, taking just half a day off work to do so.

“My solemnisation was at 4pm, I was still working at 3pm,” she recalled with a laugh, adding that she went back to work the next day.

Love and marriage have been associated with the Fort Canning area for decades, going back to a time when The Beatles and P. Ramlee movies were vastly popular here.

The ROM was run out of a bungalow on Fort Canning from 1961 to 1983, before it was moved to its current site in 1983.

  • MY TURF:

    Know of a neighbourhood with untold stories? E-mail us at stnewsdesk@sph.com.sg

The two-storey building houses both the Registry of Marriages, which oversees civil marriages, and the Registry of Muslim Marriages.

Located away from the main thoroughfares, the unassuming building is obscured by nearby monuments such as the National Museum, the Central Fire Station and the Armenian Church.

“It’s a bit hidden,” admitted 49-year-old Alex Ang, who manages the front-line staff at ROM.

But most couples can easily find their way to the building, said assistant registrar Jonathan Huang, 34.

These cupolas or domed pavilions in Fort Canning Green, designed by Irish architect George Dromgold Coleman, provide a popular spot for wedding photo shoots. This ivory white gate near the ROM, which is built in a Gothic style and dates back to 1846,
Wedding solemnisers (from left) Jonathan Huang, Serene Goh and Alex Ang in front of the “Real Love Works” sculpture outside the ROM building in Canning Rise. Originally the name of a National Family Council campaign, the words have since become synonymous with the registry. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Despite its scenic location right next to the greenery of Fort Canning – once the seat of power for both ancient Malay rulers and British governors during the colonial era – the ROM building itself gained a reputation for being drab and unromantic.

An article in The Straits Times in 1997 described makeshift offices set up in a corner of the waiting area, and a notice board with a newspaper clipping about a couple who wanted a divorce because they did not consummate the marriage.

Two facelifts – in 2001 and 2010, costing a combined $5 million – were carried out to increase the romance quotient at the building in Canning Rise.

Features such as a brighter, more spacious waiting area as well as a landscaped garden for wedding photos were added.

After having their marriages solemnised, couples walk out into a spice garden – a small-scale replica of a 19ha garden, established by Sir Stamford Raffles, that once stood on the site in the 19th century.

A short walk away is an ivory white gate built in a Gothic style, dating back to 1846.

Originally the entrance to one of Singapore’s first Christian cemeteries, the gate is now a popular site for couples to take their wedding photos after the solemnisation.

These cupolas or domed pavilions in Fort Canning Green, designed by Irish architect George Dromgold Coleman, provide a popular spot for wedding photo shoots. This ivory white gate near the ROM, which is built in a Gothic style and dates back to 1846,
This ivory white gate near the ROM, which is built in a Gothic style and dates back to 1846, is where many couples proceed to take photos after the solemnisation. It was originally the entrance to one of Singapore’s first Christian cemeteries. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Inside the ROM waiting area, a park bench, framed by flowers in the shape of two hearts, provides an alternative backdrop for couples who want to stay out of the heat.

Valentine’s Day tends to see an increase in the number of wedding photo shoots around the area.

While about 30 couples tie the knot on a normal day, today will see some 70 couples exchanging vows, though this falls far short of the record set 23 years ago.

That year, Valentine’s Day coincided with Chap Goh Mei, the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, popularly known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The meeting of the dates resulted in 1,082 couples choosing to solemnise their marriages then, the highest number of weddings in a single day in the registry’s history.

Additional service counters added during the 2010 renovation help the registry deal with the influx of couples on such dates.

Though officiating at marriages has become routine for licensed solemnisers here like Ms Goh and Mr Huang, there are still days that stand out.

Ms Goh recalled seeing a man in his mid-50s weep as he got married to his wife, also in her 50s.The couple were friends in their youth but were separated for 30 years.

After meeting each other following the decades-long separation, they decided to get married.

“I like being involved at this significant point in the couple’s lives, when they commit to each other in marriage,” said Mr Huang.

There are occasionally misplaced wedding rings and arguments in the carpark, though these are few.

Most couples are nervous, said Mr Ang, who has officiated at more than 8,000 marriages in his 14 years as a solemniser and has been happily married for 26 years.

“You can see their hands shaking,” he said with a laugh.

Outside the ROM building, a sculpture with the words “Real Love Works” stands, and is a popular photo spot for couples getting hitched. Originally the name of a campaign run by the then National Family Council, the words have since become synonymous with the registry.

The sentiment is one that Ms Goh tries to impart to couples who are getting married. “Getting married is easy. You just pay a registration fee and you’re married,” she said. “But staying together takes a lot of commitment and trust.”

Added Mr Huang, who got married in 2012: “I always tell them two things – I wish them well and I remind them to take care of each other. I think that’s the bottom line in marriage – to take care of each other.”



Source link