Red, the blood of angry men.

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2014 at 4:54 am

I woke up on the morning of August 9, not actually remembering the date. Out of all the different coloured running vests in my closet, I threw on a red one and jogged out to the Botanic Gardens. When I got there, I saw this:


and this


and this


this too






As I surreptitiously snapped such photos, trying not to seem like a creep, I thought to myself: in the age of Singaporean cynicism, when it is trendy to be anti-government and when we are all waiting for some government screw-up, why do we bother being patriotic? Why bother making a conscious effort to wear red on national day. At every turn around the park, as I saw more and more Singaporeans decked out in red, I laughed on the inside, unimpressed. Then I looked down at my own running shirt – it was red too. Somehow, unconsciously yet outwardly, I was celebrating National Day too.

As I jogged home, I wondered if it was possible to love your country and hate your government at the same time. Especially in Singapore where most of us – no matter how loudmouthed and cynical – do admit that our achievements as a nation are intertwined with the achievements of the PAP. Somehow, when we watch that black-and-white video clip of Lee Kuan Yew weeping after we had been kicked out of Malaysia, we understand that the ruling party has been an intrinsic part of our history and our progress. But right now it is trendy to criticize, to be a little more outspoken against the government, to play with  the idea of voting more Opposition into Parliament. It is now possible to be pro-Singapore without being pro-PAP. I think I like that.

Having recently graduated from a local secondary school, National Day reminded me of the half-day celebrations typical of almost every school in Singapore. The various Uniform Groups would march past, frighteningly in sync. Singapore flags would be  distributed to all students, and at the end of the celebrations, the field would be dotted with a few flags that had fallen out of some hands. Some lightheaded students would faint on the field – too much sun and too much standing. National Day messages would be read out, so we could all recall “how far we have come” in just 49 short years. The solemn trumpet tunes and marching music, the National Day songs, the crisp uniforms and the flags – the grandeur of it all made you feel proud. Happy.

This year, for the first time in my life, I observed a National Day celebration outside of the local school system. It is debatable as to whether an international school should celebrate national day when half of its students aren’t even Singaporean, but I reckon no one was too unhappy about the half day. The strangest thing was that I found this National Day celebration multiple times more meaningful than the ones I had before in the local school circuit. For one thing there was no marching (since there were no uniformed groups anyway), but instead of flags, they distributed those blowable plastic bubbles (you know the transparent gluey stuff inside a tiny tube which comes with a yellow straw which you can use to blow the biggest damn bubble of your life). To me, that was uniquely Singaporean, and it was worth giving out to everyone because it appealed to everybody even if they weren’t Singaporean.

The flag was brought in, not to a lone trumpet tune, but to Dick Lee’s “Home”. We watched a documentary about the perils of Singapore’s independence (including that famous black-and-white clip of Lee Kuan Yew shedding a few tears), an interpretive dance about Sang Nila Utama and Raffles (it’s nice that we recognised Lee Kuan Yew is not  the only founding father of Singapore), played a few  “local” games, and yes, we too listened to Heng Swee Keat’s national day message about the Pioneer Generation. Turns out, you don’t actually need crisp uniforms and marching and formal parades and paper flags to have a meaningful commemoration of National Day. I guess National Day doesn’t have to be grand; it just has to be genuine. Human.

Last  year, around August 9, a forum letter from me was published in the Straits Times, proposing that it is time to allow the Workers Party a marching contingent in the National Day Parade. NTUC gets to march in the parade. PUB gets to march in the parade. The PA gets to march in the parade. The PAP gets to march in the parade. And so do many other organisations/companies who have stake in Singapore’s future and stability and continue to contribute to our society. Does the Workers Party – which has won a few seats in Parliament – count as one of these organisations? Or should we wait for more significant contributions on their part before we actually give them a few banners and a marching contingent in the NDP? Hmm. Ideas.

Anyway: Happy Birthday, Singapore.


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