National day has always been a reminder of how old I am. I was born in the year of our independence, though not on the same date. I am as old as modern Singapore. The celebrations will splash the age of our nation which is now a reminder to me that my age is adding up.
My parents came from Malaysia to find work in Singapore even before Singapore achieved self-independence. They met at Teachers Training College (now NIE), got married and settled down to work and raise a family here. When I was young, I moved frequently and freely between Singapore and Malaysia. I spent my first 2 years with my grandparents in a sleepy town called Gopeng just south of Ipoh. Sometimes, I visited my maternal grandparents in Muar, famous for durians, otah and fried oysters.
My life is in a way a reflection of the development of Singapore. As a child, life was simple. Kampong Chai Chee was just behind my home at Opera Estate. It was really a kampong back then. There were pig farms and vegetable farms. I remember pig farmers collecting waste from our backyard for pig feed and giving us gifts of eggs during festive occasions. The farms must have been removed when I was young. When I started primary school, I remember frequenting Chai Chee library and the bus interchange, both of which were later moved to Bedok.
The earliest national day celebrations I could recall were those with lots of marching. The shows with smart uniformed men, guns, tanks and airplanes were reminders in the volatile environment at that time that Singapore was not to be messed around with. National day was holiday time from school. Celebrations in school were simple. I don’t recall getting mementos from schools for celebrations. We watched the parade from our small black and white television set. Some years, when the parade went into the streets, I would go and watch on the streets. In later years, fireworks were added and that was the highlight of each show.
In secondary school, I joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. One year, I took part in the parade and we marched through the streets of eastern Singapore. It was a proud moment, marching through the streets with many watchful eyes, including those of my parents as our contingent went past the back of my own home. There were no frills at these parades. We put in lots of practice in marching and the parade was all about marching. There were no shows and fancy performances.
When I grew older, I paid more attention to the National Day rallies. The rally that had the strongest impression on me was in 1983, when then-PM Lee Kuan Yew spoke about the graduate mothers’ scheme. We had gathered to play board games at a college classmate’s house while watching the live telecast of the rally. Our reactions were unanimous. Even as 18-year olds, we were surprised at what the PM had said. It sounded so wrong.
I served my national service and helped at one of the parades. When I started work, I became more interested in the Prime Minister’s rally speeches than in the parades, though I would still watch the parades each year from the live telecasts. I would not miss the rally speeches. I had begun to travel more frequently and was becoming more politically and socially aware. I began to write in to the forum pages of newspapers, initially once every few years and later more frequently. It felt good to see the letters published though it was sometimes frustrating to see letters edited beyond my recognition.
The parades became more interesting again when I had children and they attended rehearsals which all children must at primary 5. The goody bags became nicer each year. I was unlucky in all my balloting for tickets for the parades but I did once win 4 tickets through a radio quiz and our family attended a parade at the now-demolished national stadium. It felt good celebrating with my family even though we had to brave crazy traffic and huge crowds. This is their country and it is good to make my children feel proud to be Singaporeans.
This year, national day will have a surreal feeling. I will no longer be watching on TV or in some corner amongst the crowd. I had not envisage that one day I would become active in politics, even though I had been watching Singapore’s political developments with increasing interest over the years. GE2011 came and I became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament on my first attempt. I will be with the policymakers of our country that I had watched from afar since young. I will be sitting in the same area as former PM Lee Kuan Yew, whom I had watched as a kid growing up. Even more so than in previous years, I will be listening intensely to the Prime Minister’s rally speech. This time, it will be in the auditorium and not from a television set.
Presidential hopeful, Dr Tony Tan has said that Singapore’s politics has entered a new normal, a strong party in government matched by an effective opposition. Parliament will sit again on 10 October. We will see how this ‘new normal’ will shape up. It is a progression no one can fully predict but one which all parties must play their roles in.
For me, national day will not be the same again. I remain proud of my country, even more so now donning the colours of WP blue, and ever mindful of my role in the new normal that our country has arrived at.
Happy 46th National Day, Singapore.
Post event note:
I was seated with Lina Chiam of SPP on the back row of the MP gallery. The show was enjoyable. It had the usual display of military power coupled with displays by the Home Team as well as the usual march past by various contingents. The stage was magnificently set up. The show was performed with a colourful mix of live singing, dance, animations, sound and lights. It was also refreshing to have a woman as Parade RSM, a first for Singapore.
Wearing WP light blue with our badge amongst the many Men In White, I was ever conscious of the new responsibility thrusted upon us by the people of Singapore. During the show, I received various SMSes from well wishers happy to see the blues amongst the whites. These were from my supporters in the Joo Chiat campaign who sweated it out with me on our many door-to-door visits. I feel the weight of responsibility to the many that had pinned their hope for change on us. I know we will meet our MIW counterparts again, the next time in October when we will spar in parliament. It is an honour for me to be able to play a bigger role in this country that I call home all my life.