Wednesday, 7 August 2013

After 48 years, what is the Meaning of Singapore's National Day?

"How will you be celebrating National Day?"

“Singapore celebrates its 48th birthday with a nine-part extravaganza, dazzling fireworks, and a singing competition where dreams will come true.” Caption and picture taken from here.

Amongst the group of random friends I polled online and offline, almost half are taking the 4-day 'holiday' to go overseas. Some say that will be catching up on their sleep. Some have plans to make use of the NDP discounts at local attractions or eateries. A few mentioned family gatherings or spending time with their kids. A couple of friends (workaholics, admittedly) sheepishly admitted that they haven't thought about it yet because they have been so overwhelmed by work lately, and will probably be working from home over the long weekend. Most of my ex-students will be using the time to catch up on their schoolwork with a few sullenly complaining that their parents have scheduled extra tuition lessons in that period.

Actually, none of them answered my question, if you think about it. Based on the responses gathered, no one I polled is actually celebrating National Day - people were simply using the public holiday for their recreation or other personal agendas. 

No, there is definitely nothing wrong with pursuing personal recreation on 9 August!

Personally, I see a great contrast between the celebration of National Day compared to the celebration of the other festive public holidays in Singapore. Take Chinese New Year (CNY), for example. Months leading up to the actual day, locals will be preparing for the festivities by buying new clothes, stocking up on CNY goodies and preparing for annual spring cleaning. Everywhere we go, malls and restaurants will be piping CNY music in the background. During the actual 除夕,初一 and 初二 , a majority of the ethnic Chinese Singaporeans will be busy with reunion dinners, visitations, collection of Ang Pows and wishing one another 恭喜发财 (a prosperous year ahead with a pair of Mandarin oranges. Yet another example:  during the celebration of Hari Raya, we often see our Malay neighbours and their families brighten our HDB heartlands with their colourful new (and matching!) clothes. During that festive season, our malls are decorated in green, Kampong Glam comes alive and our local supermarkets are filled with wonderful kueh-kueh and Halal tidbits.

In short, during these festive public holidays, most of the locals involved are actually celebrating the holiday.

What about National Day? How do Singaporeans celebrate our Nation's Independence?

A quick stroll in the HDB heartlands affirms my suspicions on how the significance of National Day has eroded greatly over the years. These days, we have to resort to our grassroots and Residents' Committee to coordinate the hanging of the National Flag in the HDB heartlands. To add to the irony, the people actually hanging the celebratory flags and banners in the HDB estates are mostly foreign workers paid to do the job. As far as I'm concerned, the only ones still playing past National Day songs are the local schools. The National Anthem and Pledge have lost its meaning amongst our youth, being little more than a part of the daily morning routine. Our youth have lost interest in National Education. Those participating in corporate celebrations are from the civil service (no surprises there). The NDP songs are purportedly getting worse from year to year. Many who attend the official NDP celebrations do so to watch fireworks or because of the freebies.

Reason why (kiasu) Singaporeans attend NDP? That's sad...

Gone are the days I remembered as a child, where most Singaporean families hung the National flag on our balconies on our own will. The days where the people worked hand-in-hand in nation building. The days when the government genuinely cared. The days where the people had pride in the country and a sense of belonging. The days before we were labeled as 'pessimistic' and 'emotionless'. The days when Singapore belonged to Singaporeans. Deep down, I feel a profound sense of loss. 

What is happening to us, Singapore? Has National Day lost its meaning? Does being Singaporean still bear any significance? Considering that the nation is less than 50 years old, this rate of decline is alarming indeed!

I share the sentiments of local blogger Andrew Loh (you can read his excellent post here) and concur that at this point in our nationhood, the meaning and purpose of National Day is to reflect on our past, consider the present circumstances and seriously start thinking of the future of the country. Or if you want to be pragmatic, what future do you see for yourself (and your kids) in this country? Will our future generations survive in the Little Red Dot? What can be done if migration is not an optionSomething for 'stayers' to think about, perhaps?

I understand that this post must appear genuinely ironic to readers who are aware of our migration plans. Some of you have labelled me as a 'quitter' or 'all-talk-no-action' based on my earlier viral post on the haze. Guess what? I did not choose to be born here but I was once proud to be Singaporean. I was once the PAP kindergarten child waving the Singapore flag singing Count on Me, Singapore from the bottom of my heart. I was once the school-going kid who performed in the NDP celebrations and danced my heart out on 9 August. I was once the passionate teenager who aspired to become a teacher, so as to make a personal contribution to nation-building (in a small way). 

And yet, my generation (Gen Y) has witnessed how our rising nation has now fallen into severe materialism, elitist meritocracy and xenophobic racism. Housing prices and COE prices have skyrocketed at a phenomenal rate over the past decade. The existing transport infrastructure (which was never meant to support 6.9 million in the first place) is breaking down gradually. Outspoken, idealistic and/or patriotic Singaporeans are censored by the MDA, sued to bankruptcy or charged with contempt of court. Where is the justice? Where is the equality? Can you blame us for being disillusioned? Can you blame us for seeking alternatives?

Survival in Singapore: Live life by default and conform to the 60.14% majority.

May the citizens of Singapore find their courage to take a stand in 2016, so that they can rekindle the national pride that has been lost and celebrate more heartfelt and meaningful National Days in the future.

- A

P/S: Received some news today that the real National Day Celebration will in fact be held at Hong Lim Park this Friday from 4pm to 7pm. More details can be found here. Do check it out!


  1. Yes, apply for AUS PR visa when still young and eligible, at the same time continue to vote "wisely" in the next GE and beyond.

  2. Keeping our fingers crossed that the next GE will be the last one we are eligible to vote in... :x


  3. Dun think so if next GE is in 2016 as min 4 yrs of residency as Australia PR is required to be Australia citizen.

    You can still vote in every GE after getting your Australia PR visa.

  4. Now 2013. Let's say we can get citizenship after six years, giving a bit of buffer time.

    How many voting chances does that give A and I? ;)

    In any case, I wouldn't be too hung up over who lords over what will hopefully be our ex-country. Just like what I've been told. Should learn to let go.


  5. Dear Neutoric Ramblings, I've read most of your blog posts and those of other socio political bloggers, and while there are some points of merit I really am supportive of, I do feel sad that every time, people like you use the opportunity to take pot shots at the "60%" who voted for the PAP.

    I am one of those 60%, in fact, have been for the past 2 elections. But you do need to understand that not all of us live in Hougang, Aljunied, Potong Pasir or Punggol East, where one has the choice of perhaps the most credible, solid, and viable opposition thus far. Look at the PE by election, voters knew exactly which party to vote for, and gave the WP 54% of the votes. There was practically no support for the SDA and RP, whom people felt had little to no credibility/ability at all!

    In one of your earlier posts you mentioned that in your humble opinion, the SDP is good as a think tank, but as a political party it has a long way to go. So do I. I still remember that "dual party control" suggestion they initially proposed to the WP for Punggol East, where the WP would work the town council, but the SDP would have the parliamentary seat. You expect us to vote for a party that does that? Wants the limelight in parliament but won't walk the ground? Which is why I refuse to let a party or election team helmed by Chee Soon Juan take hold of my GRC. Even if the residents of current opposition held GRCs gave a strong support to the opposition, it is not simply because they are gambling with their GRC to try and overthrow the PAP, it is also because they know their leaders well (Low, Chiam, Sylvia) and have seen them done the work on the ground, that they are worthy of being elected into Parliament.

    Many Singaporeans share the same concerns as you, while not as vocal. If not, there wouldn't be issues to talk about would there? But do remember the 60% who voted for the PAP did so not because we are their loyal lapdogs, as some unkind comments on the internet would suggest. Its simply because we are looking to change for the better, not for the worst.

  6. Hi Anon.

    Your views are respectable IMHO even though I wholeheartedly disagree. But that's democracy for us. :)

    I think it's important to give the opposition as much support as possible, unless they have proven to be complete nincompoops. You mention SDP's gaffe, but PAP is far from perfect too, leaving me no qualms choosing SDP in a straight fight with PAP.

    Another reason is to register as much displeasure against the PAP at the ballot box as possible. For that I am personally willing to sacrifice whatever 'perks' a PAP constituency receives. In any case, my estate is quite poorly-maintained as a PAP stronghold, so if I were a very fussy resident, there's nothing to lose by voting in a new party. That's even without considering our upcoming emigration plan.

    Ultimately, do what you deem best, and we will do likewise. If we totally didn't care, we'd not even blog about things like this, or not even bother to vote in 2016 when we are on Melbourne. It's a possibility which remains to be seen, so if you are against voting opposition for the sake of it (as I deem necessary at this stage), rest assured that we are doing our best not to care as it is ;)

    - S

  7. Another aspect of voting for the PAP is this. By voting for them, you give them the mandate to continue on their previous trajectory.

    It should not be seen solely from the perspective of voting for the 'leaders' of your constituency.

    Some people support the PAP and their policies through and through. These are the people whose vote for the PAP I would completely respect. But you may have noticed that others vote for PAP then bitch about everything they do!

    Even the PM himself has said that the 66% of 2006 represents a "strong mandate", and 60% of 2011 represents a "clear mandate". So it's not as if the PAP themselves have not made the situation crystal clear.

    Ironically, A and I benefited greatly from the PAP's management as we are way above average in terms of disposable income (not having kids and buying a 3 room flat did help a lot). But our misgivings with the PAP stem not so much from the lot it has dealt us, but from the way we see the country as a whole regressing.

    Once again, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to clarify. I genuinely respect your views and appreciate your comment! :)

    - S

    1. Dear Neurotic Ramblings, thanks a lot for your honest reply. As you mentioned, its a democracy, and we are entitled to follow through with our opinions.

      There is no doubt the PAP has regressed, and not moved on from its brand of politics. Since you are voting in 2016, perhaps you could share what sort of parliament you would hope to see by then. Its easy to say "anyone but the PAP", but my fear is that the future Parliament would be a hodgepodge of political parties each occupying 10-15% of seats, all seeking to push through their agenda. Nothing would get done. Aside from my doubts about the SDP of course, I'd also list another example from the Reform Party, who suggested on their facebook page that the government should repatriate Indonesians working here in retaliation for their country causing the haze. You tell me if putting pressure on the PAP is worth letting pockets of characters enter Parliament and chart the nation's future.

      We can put more pressure on the PAP in 2016 by letting the Worker's Party win more seats. Thus far, I feel that while their suggestions, eg. alternative white paper, are not perfect, they are a mature and moderated opposition, who pursue change but are not extreme or opposing for its own sake. In the NSP, candidates like Nicole Seah appear promising as well.

      If you ask me, a 2016 parliament where the PAP occupies about 2/3 of the seats, with the others hopefully a WP/NSP dominated majority would send the signal to our government that we are no longer a 1 party parliament. And yes, being the pragmatic Singaporean, I would say that while the financial strength, resources, manpower of the parties remain as it is, it is perhaps only the PAP, and maybe only, the WP, who are able to effect the changes that Singapore needs. If of course, the PAP realizes it has to change in time.

      At the end of the day, I want a government that continues to stand for what is great about Singapore. Our multicultural background, the caliber and language abilities of our people, the achievements of Singaporeans over the years, and our garden city. Working in a foreign MNC, it gives me pride to listen to foreigners praise the abilities of their Singaporean colleagues. We need a government who continues to trumpet us in this way, yet preserve our soul, our way of life. Lets hope for one in the future.

    2. On reading my reply you might think, aha, here's one of those who would not mind the PAP in power but still has something to 'bitch' about them.

      But we in Singapore have little political ideology to choose from anyway. We fortunately do not have to deal with groups that incorporate race or religion into their politics, as in Malaysia. Our parties don't even have as much differences as the Democrat/Republican in the States, or the Conservative/Labour in the UK. Like I mentioned, Singapore has a set of values, qualities that make it great and constraints that are known to all such as lack of natural resources, need for defence, and at least among the more mature parties, they know that.

      We need the PAP to rethink its strategies when it comes to providing an adequate social safety net, how it manages the influx of foreigners, and for it to change its carrot dangling to the voters before and after election periods. To me, although the PAP has remained little changed year after year, these are actually not difficult things to take note of and alter. It certainly would not go against its manifesto, and even some of its backbench MPs would already have felt the stirrings of such sentiments.

      And again, if those changes can be made, currently, the PAP still retains the most power, financial strength, political connections and clout to effect those changes. Eroding their % of seats in parliament but still keeping them in power may seem like a greedy Singaporean hoping for the best of both worlds, but I say this as a citizen who fears the possibility of there not being a strong, unified political party ready to step into the power vacumn vacated by the PAP, should they be voted out. I fear the anarchy that might result from it.

      There is a likelihood of course that the PAP still will NOT change over the next few years. We'll have to see then how it goes.

  8. Ha.. I will not presume to know whether you complain about what the PAP knows.

    I offer another option. Spoiling your vote if the opposition really cannot make it. Some people somehow KNOW that so and so opposition is incompetent. I don't know how they know and if I were to stay here long term, I would dare to give them five years to try.

    Honestly I don't think too highly of WP, although I appreciate their efforts and intention as much as any other opposition party's. In a straight fight (say opposition against opposition, somehow no PAP in picture), I might choose some SDP or NSP candidates over WP.

    In a three way, I would vote tactically and give it to WP. No doubts.

    Either way, I do not have long term confidence regardless of election outcome. Call me a pessimist. That's why we are bailing out ASAP.

    Your views are very balanced and I would admit that there would be a bit of chaos if everyone thought like me. However IMHO Singaporeans as a whole are to cautious and misinformed (not u, IMHO) and that has led us to our current state

    1. For my balanced views, I merely give credit where its due. Having read your history, with you being in the SAF and a teacher, I think you are a typical Singaporean who had given things a lot of thought. This is as opposed to those comments I've seen on other blogs/forums, coming from people who only know how to be rude, biased and sometimes well, don't even spell right. Their arguments make little sense either. Given that I don't actually know many such people in real life, I can only hope they are the minority of wannabes and ne'er do wells that are not a reflection of today's youth.

      Anyway, you probably are following the Australian political scene right now. As a parting shot, a video by Nicole Seah, if you have not seen it before.

      The PAP could have incorporated some of her approach in the media licensing thing to make it come across better. If there were more like her, I'd be glad for a strong, unified opposition to "try for 5 years".

      All the best with your future life in Aus

  9. Spoiling your vote might as well dun vote at all.

    Voting is a duty of a responsible citizen.

    Voters in the "founding father's" GRC have no chance to vote for many GEs.

    Never forget that PAP was once an opp party before 1959.

  10. I agree with you that nowadays, I wont say no one but there are lesser people 'willing' or do it out from their heart to hang the flags... those were the days... It is quite saddist as well that the current generation kids spend their childhood staring at ipad of laptop etc... Only during PH or unless parents apply for leave then they can go for family trip... Then Singaporeans current hobbies are to eat, eat and eat.. Stay at home rot, go places that need to pay or squeeze with others on rest day... Too much changes, glad that both of you will be getting out of here wishing both of you all the best. :) Too bad that I will still stuck in sg... sian.