The white chair had a small label with the words 'Gong Li'.
But no one arrived to sit on it.
At the Supreme Court Auditorium last night, 150 new Singapore citizens gathered to receive their citizenship certificates from Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi at the National Citizenship Ceremony.
|Gong Li married Singapore businessman Ooi Hoe Seong in a star-studded wedding held in Hong Kong in 1996.
Indian-born scientist Colin Gerard D'Silva, 42, was in the chair next to the one for 'Gong Li'.
He wondered: Could it really be the acclaimed Chinese actress, star of movies like Red Sorghum, Curse Of The Golden Flower and Memoirs Of A Geisha?
'I thought it might be her, or someone with the same name,' said Mr D'Silva, who works in Proctor & Gamble as its associate director of external relations.
Well, the answer is most probably 'yes'.
Sources had tipped off The Sunday Times that Gong Li, 42, one of China's most famous actresses, had applied for Singapore citizenship and was supposed to collect her pink IC at the event last night.
She married Singaporean tobacco businessman Ooi Hoe Seong in 1996. He is said to be based in Hong Kong.
When contacted, the authories were tight-lipped about the identity of 'Gong Li' although an official expressed surprise that we had heard about it.
An Immigration and Checkpoints Authority spokesman said she was unable to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality issues.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), which organised the event, would only say that 'a person by the name of Gong Li was supposed to be at the event'.
Still, some officials at the event were clearly expecting the superstar to show up. Two were overheard discussing the actress. They even pointed out the actress' seat - No. 133 - to The Sunday Times.
But she didn't turn up in the end.
|Gong Li was apparently supposed to attend the National Citizenship Ceremony on Saturday but she was a no-show.
When The Sunday Times contacted Gong Li's friends in Singapore, some were shocked to hear that the actress has become a Singaporean.
Photographer Wee Khim, 44, who last worked with Gong Li in June for a L'Oreal commercial in Thailand, said it was 'quite a big move' to switch citizenships.
But celebrity hairstylist David Gan was not surprised at all. He said it was 'old news'.
'I knew about it a few months ago. She told me she applied for a Singapore passport. I told her it's good and I even congratulated her,' he said in Mandarin yesterday.
Gan, who is in his 40s, revealed that Gong Li had stayed in Singapore for a week in May to apply for the citizenship. He did not ask her why she decided to become a Singaporean.
Noting that he also became a Singapore citizen, the Malaysian-born hairstylist said: 'Singapore is a good place. She travels a lot and it's convenient to hold a Singapore passport. A lot of stars like to stay here too. There's no paparazzi. When I walk down Orchard Road with Gong Li, nothing happens.'
Both Singapore and China do not recognise dual nationality.
To become a Singaporean, an applicant is required to renounce his foreign citizenship at his embassy in Singapore.
The final step would be to attend a citizenship ceremony to collect his Singapore identity card. All new citizens are required to do so and if they can't attend one ceremony, they will be rescheduled for another.
The ceremony is held at the constituency level or at the national level. In the latter, selected groups are chosen to get their papers in a more formal setting.
Gong Li, who was born in east China's Shandong province, is most famous for her acclaimed Zhang Yimou movies like Red Sorghum and Judou. She broke into the Hollywood scene in 2005, playing a Japanese geisha in Memoirs Of A Geisha. It was the first of three big English-language productions she has shot since.
Her wedding to Mr Ooi was held at the top-floor restaurant of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong and guests included Lin Ching-hsia, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui.
Mr Ooi has a daughter, now 30, from a previous marriage, but he keeps a low profile.
In earlier reports, the actress had told the media that she did not intend to make Singapore her home. 'No, I doubt it. Hong Kong and Beijing will still be my bases because of my work,' she said in 1996.
She is said to fly to Singapore two to three times a year and enjoys the shopping and food - like bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) and prawn noodles - here.
It is not known how her new identity will affect her work.
Besides her filming commitments, she is also reported to be an elected member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's lower house.
Last year, she attended a session of the CPPCC in which she made a proposal on environmental issues.
Some were more than happy to have the Chinese actress become a Singaporean.
Said China-born Jasmine Li, 33, an assistant secretary who became a Singapore citizen last year: 'Now Singapore will have an extra star.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 24, 2008.