One Shy Of Fifty: 49th National Day

It’s National Day, not quite the big one, which is next year (good luck Dick Lee).

But knowing us, this year’s NDP will be a spoil market spectacle. If there’s a lesser known Singaporean trait, it is this: We are good at shooting ourselves in the foot.

Just look at our Singapore Airlines – ever since they launched their “biggest business class seats the world has ever seen”, first class passengers who are not on the A380 Suites have been wondering why they’re paying double for essentially the same sized chair. (OK, nicer champagne and all that, but you get my point).

So, after today’s parade is done and dusted, we should get down to planning what we want to see for next year’s SG50 NDP, to make sure it’s better than this year’s.

MILITARY ITEMS

The Commandos (whose motto must surely be changed from “Who Dares Wins” to “Every Year Also Best Unit”) and Armour units get all the glory every year, marching and rolling down the tracks in their fierce machinery. Enough ok? It’s time we got the General Supply & Maintenance Base PES C,D & E mechanics and other non-combat NSmen to march in the parade. They deserve their day in the setting sun. Any unit that once had the motto “Strive To Maintain” does.

CIVILIAN ITEMS

There should be a Hello Kitty Queue contingent, sponsored by McDonalds, because it’s their fault for starting the craze. The contingent marches in single file, and the highlights include sporadic fighting between contingent members.

Parking Aunty Contingent – because now with LTA and Cisco outsourced officers who don’t “pung chan” as much as the Aunties do, they’re soon to go the way of the Samsui Women. We salute you.

Tissue Aunty / Uncle Contingent with their fanny packs will wave three packets of tissue paper in your direction as they march past.

School kids will be represented by a TAF Club Contingent. Because fat kids should be shamed nationally just as they are at school level – running and exercising while their fitter peers enjoy their recess / public holiday.

STAT BOARDS

Parades and other spectacles should include things to jeer at – so there should be a tax collectors’ contingent from IRAS.

And given the increased chatter about and awareness of our Central Provident Fund, the CPF Board should also have a contingent. Imagine the commentary:

“And right at the end of the parade’s march past, because you have to wait long long before you can take out your money, is our very own CPF contingent, led by Madam Minnie Sum, who has been with the Board since its inception. She doesn’t look like she’s retiring any time soon”…

Happy National Day!

Three More Interesting Facts About Singapore

1. Singapore is home to 3,971 species of vascular plants, 364 species of birds, 295 species of butterflies, 98 species of reptiles, 52 species of mammals, 28 species of amphibians, and 255 species of hard corals.

2. A two-part episode of Hawaii Five-O was filmed in Singapore, featuring a thrilling scene on the Sentosa Cable Car.

3. Including Tan Howe Liang, every Singaporean Olympic medal winner was born in China.

If you haven’t already, do read the other 44 facts about Singapore I wrote three years ago.

My National Day Parade

I remember National Day Parade 1990 the most because it’s the NDP I was involved in.

It was held at the Padang, and it featured the most impressive mobile column display since independence, involving all the military hardware and soldiers (like us) of the day.

At the beginning of that year, my battalion mates and I were in our second year of National Service – and for some reason, there was a what was called a “lull period” in our training program. By May, it became clear why that was so, as plans for the Padang parade were passed down through the combat and support companies. Our battalion was to supply one company sized mobile column/marching contingent and three companies of construction labour to build the spectator stands for the parade.

I’m not sure how it works these days, but in our time, the method of divvying up the work was this: the worst performing combat company got the marching duties. It might seem strange that the worst get rewarded by being in the limelight. But look further and you’ll realise that the mobile column/marching contingent has copped the rawest deal – hours and days of rehearsals, starching of uniforms, polishing of boots and armoured vehicles.

We moved in to the Padang in June, helping to unload the metal tubes that made up the grandstands, and then building the grandstands. It was like a giant Ikea assembly project as our sergeants and officers argued over the engineers’ manuals and instructed us to build the several storey tall structure by trial and error.

When night fell, guards were mounted from our ranks and we patrolled the Padang to ensure no one stole or sabotaged the grandstand. It was great fun.

Across the road from the Padang, where the Esplanade now stands was a hawker centre known as the Satay Club. We’d stray from our route and buy food and drink (with the blessing of the guard commander ensconced in a command tent on the grounds of the St Andrew’s Cathedral) and eat till our hearts’ content.

With the wee hours came some unusual encounters for the patrols. A group of transvestites used to frequent the Satay Club nightly, and it wasn’t because they liked to eat satay a lot. When day broke on one of the first few days we were at the Padang, our Regimental Sergeant Major had inspected the construction site and discovered condom wrappers, used condoms and other associated debris strewn around the grandstand area – people had been using the nooks and crannies made by our stacks of building material to explore their own nooks and crannies.

The order was put out unequivocally – we were not to allow any such monkey business to happen, and we were to apprehend (nicely) any civilian who were caught doing so, and ask them to leave the area and get a room. If they were to resist, we were to call our guard commander via our walky talkies, who would then call the cops via telephone at the cathedral.

So we patrolled a lot more diligently, shining torchlights into dark places and asking couples in various degrees of undress to leave the area for their safety. Thankfully, on my patrols, most did without resisting. But there was the incident of a patrol who encountered a group of belligerent transvestites who threatened them with bodily harm. By the time the police arrived, the guard commander was cowering under his table while the ladyboys sat on top and ransacked the things that were there.

I also celebrated my 21st birthday while serving a weekend guard duty at the Padang. That night, my buddies left the compound to buy a cake, some satay and lots of beer. We passed out drunk somewhere on the field and only got woken up when some transvestites wanted to trespass again.

More good times were had after the grandstand was built and when the other participants in the parade arrived for dress rehearsals. After being asked to test the grandstand by jumping up and down on them (and not causing a collapse and killing ourselves) we hung out near the Singapore Airlines contingent and asked the Singapore Girls how they had been selected to march – whether they had been rated the worst among their peers or something. They mostly ignored us.

On National Day itself, I was tasked to take my recce motorcycle and station myself at a car park somewhere in Raffles Place and guide VIP vehicles in and out of the area.

So, apart from seeing the aircraft of the RSAF perform their flypast, I missed the entire parade.

Troopers from 46SAR celebrating the completion of the spectator stands, July 1990 (I'm 3rd from left)

When once the flag flew me

Flags for sale

Once, during NS, me and two other guys were made the battalion’s flag raising party for one of many early morning parades.

This task entailed picking up the flags from the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office, checking the cords to make sure nothing was frayed, and rehearsing our marching to the flag poles at the top of the parade square, and then doing it for real during the actual parade, complete with raising the national flag and the Army flag.

We were told several times to check and make sure that the loops for the flags were attached properly before raising the flag during the national anthem, and told in no uncertain terms, on pain of pain, that we should never, ever, raise the flag upside down.

To our horror, as the anthem played, the white portion of the national flag appeared to creep up the pole as we hoped against hope that the flag was merely impossibly crumpled and would unfurl itself soon enough.

It didn’t, and it was the longest Majulah Singapura I had ever heard. Our lives flashed before our eyes as we contemplated a long stint in detention, and we felt the ridicule and then the pity heaped on our backs from our battalion mates standing in parade behind us, as we raised the upside down flag the best we knew, and only took it down once the parade was over.

Article: 44 things you may not know about Singapore

The nation turns 44 this week. That’s an inauspicious number to some, but there’s always a way to turn that around and make it a little more positive. My mother-in-law tells me you could say it’s 4 + 4 = 8, and that, to the superstitious optimist, says something to the effect of “die die also prosperous”.

Prosperous or not, you could also say, “every National Day, die die sure have articles on the number of things about Singapore based on the number of years of independence”.

So, here it is – 44 things about Singapore you may not know about, or didn’t see it that way.

1. We fought independence, and independence won.
If Lee Kuan Yew is to be believed, then we are probably the only country that gained nationhood by not wanting it. Of course, the other founding fellows have been quoted as saying that leaving the Federation (of Malaysia) was the “best thing that ever happened to Singapore”….

Read on at Insing.com