Me, I have an uncomfortable relationship with my island home. It is where I was born, where I grew up and collected fond (and not-so-fond) memories over the past 37 years, where I got married, where we built our home, where my two boys were born, where we are bringing them up.
It’s everything I have ever known and loved, and yet it’s also a place which gives me dissonance. Home is where my family, my friends, my food (I am a Singaporean after all…) are. Home is beautiful. Home is also run by a government whom I feel strongly for and against in so many different ways.
In my own little way, I try to imprint the changes I want to see, in the area that I am most familiar and skilled in. And that is one reason why I remain in public service, in education, because I feel a strong pull to try to put in changes from within. There have been many, many times when I feel completely out of place in public service because I do not fit the typical mould of what a government employee should behave but I also know that an organisation needs variety – strange people like me – in order to thrive. And so I stay and try to fit in where necessary and push against boundaries when I can.
Two weekends ago, I was given tickets by my god-brother to see the first public rehearsal of the National Day Parade (NDP). He, through the connections that he had built in the army, had received four tickets but chose to give them to me as his babies were too little to attend. Family rocks. :)
So off we went, me and my boys and the husband, and sat ourselves down in the Marina Bay Floating Platform. And I daresay that this is really one of the best NDP that I have seen.
Look, we all know that while part of the purpose of having a parade on the day of our independence is for us to show off our pride in our country, a lot of it has also to do with propaganda (for the lack of a better word). There is a nationalistic message that needs to be sent out to the citizens and the rest of the world: we may be little but we have plenty of might, just look at our tanks and our armed forces. This is usually the part in the parade that I skip.
This year, while there is still some element of that, much of it has been removed or shown in unbelievable subtlety. Much of it has to do with the creative direction of Boo Junfeng – there is so, so much less of that LOOK AT MY MUSCLES AND LOVE ME bellowing and pounding on the chest, and more of that gentle, introspective feel. The films were exquisitely shot and edited (needless to say), and evoke emotion and thought. I was wiping away my tears while perched on the tiny yellow plastic seats at the platform. The performances were less cliched (giant Aedes mosquitoes, remember?) and less showy, and that is honestly an amazing feat in itself.
The best part – to me! – was the music. If you had seen that video of We Are Singapore and loved it, then you’ll be happy to know that many of the songs that we know and used to sing as kids in school have received the same treatment. I won’t spoil it for you but I just want to say that Aisyah Aziz’s rendition of The Water is Wide brought tears to my eyes. Her voice soars effortlessly and is packed with the right balance of ethereal lilt and gravitas.
So. I count myself lucky to have been able to catch this NDP “live” and to experience all the works on the spot. It was a masterstroke from the organising committee to get Boo as the creative director and I think it’s more than paid off. If you have the chance to watch either the rehearsals or parade live, yay! Otherwise, don’t forget to catch it on TV. It will be well worth your time.
Just make sure you have some tissues near.
Once in a while, something happening in the block that we live in scares me.
Once in a while, we would hear a man shouting so loudly that it echoes across the block. There would be sounds of things – doors, cupboards, tables – being thrown or slammed. And sometimes, there would be sounds of somebody sobbing or screaming in return.
The ruckus would go on for a bit and I would freeze in the midst of whatever I was doing – bathing my baby, or putting him down for a nap, or cooking. And then just as I resolve to do something about it, the noise dies down into a strange silence. And I am left wondering if I had imagined the entire episode.
Most of the time, it happens in the day. Sometimes, it happens at night. Each time, I would wonder what was going on.
It happened today.
The man’s voice seems louder, somehow. The crashes, too, sounded explosive. I stopped for a moment, my heart beating fast. As I tumbled into the room to ask the husband to do something, I saw that he was leaning out of the window, trying to ascertain where it was coming from.
That was it.
I told him that I was going to call the police and handed the baby to him.
“You don’t even know which floor it is,” he pointed out.
I dashed out of the room. “I don’t care. What if someone is being killed right now.”
As the shouts continued, I rang the neighbourhood police centre and a lady picked up. I explained that there seemed to be a domestic spat and I was worried. She took my name and my number, and promised to send someone over to check. As I hung up the phone, there was a sudden silence.
It was over.
I don’t know if what I did was right, I don’t know if it would help in any way. I mean, by the time the police showed up, they would have absolutely nothing to work on. Maybe I should have gone out to check, floor by floor. Maybe I should have tried to ascertain which apartment the fighting was happening in.
Oh, I don’t know. I reacted instinctively, I wasn’t thinking straight. But I knew that if we did nothing, someday, someone would get hurt.
That afternoon, Aidan asked me why I had called the police. I didn’t even realise that he had overheard our conversation. I explained that something bad was happening and I wanted the police to help. And I decided to turn it into a learning point for him.
“We need to be the people who help, if we can,” I said. “It can be simple ways. Like if your friend is crying in school, you can give him or her a hug and ask him to play with you. Or if someone is being bullied, you can step forward to help him. We help when we can.”
I don’t know how much of it went into his head but it’s a good start.
My heart is still heavy from the episode today. Whoever it happened to, I hope that he or she is fine and safe.
I literally grew up here.
Back in the ’80s, My aunt and uncle owned the snack/drinks store at The Cathay and my mama worked for them. Weekends were spent at the cinema. In the mornings, I would board SBS number 25 with my mum for that one-hour ride into town. Of course, buses were not air-conditioned then but I don’t remember being put off by it. In fact, I loved to sit by an open window, feeling the sting of the wind whipping on my face. I still love that sensation now, come to think of it.
At the store, my uncle was kind enough to let me sit on the counter top, behind a dizzying array of snacks that were on offer. He used to let me scratch those lucky draw cards that came with cartons of packet drinks, which was SO! MUCH! FUN! for a tot. And when I was done with running the business, the cinema attendants would quietly sneak me into the theatre. Inside the darkened theatre, I would perch on the steps to watch movies.
One movie that remained steadfastly in my memories was The Fly. Because it FREAKED ME OUT SO BAD. I was terrorised and had nightmares for ages. In fact, I can still vividly remember some scenes from that movie. TRAUMATISED, I WAS.
Mmm, not the best movie to show a preschooler, on hindsight. Clearly nobody thought, then, to think about the movies that a little person could sit in on. (Note to self: Do not screen shows featuring man transforming into a human-sized, gooey mess of a fly to my children.)
When the owners closed the cinema for renovations, my mum and aunt and uncle lost their jobs. And when it eventually reopened again, it had become nothing like the Cathay that I knew. Everything was so new and snazzy and shiny and bright.
BUT. The greatest thing was that the owners re-hired some of the old cinema attendants whom I grew up with. There was once my cousins and I went to watch a movie at The Cathay and the attendants recognised them! It was so amazing.
Come to think of it, it was a pretty simple childhood that I led. But wow, some of the memories that I still retain after so many years – who would have known? Something to keep in mind as I totter along this parenting journey which has no instruction manual and no back button to push.
The past two weeks have been quite a crazy whirlwind.
The week after the epic SG50 National Day was the last week of the semester and it was chock-a-block full of assessments and assignment deadlines. We hardly had time to breathe and then it was over. It felt like I had barely pushed my head out of the water for a quick gasp of oxygen before I had go back in again, to tackle the mountain of marking that awaited.
In the midst of it all, the littlest started teething AND jumped into his next Wonder Week. So sleep was not forthcoming.
Okay, what I am trying to say is, I IS TIRED. And therefore no bloggity blog.
It’s getting better now. I’ve cleared two-thirds of my work. I’ve been shopping online like crazy and stress binging on chips and chocolates. The husband got off work early yesterday and surprised us by being at home by bath-time. We had so much fun before the babies went off to bed. And I was so stressed and tired that I declared a holiday was much needed and we are off to a beach holiday next month.
YAY YAY TRIPLE YAY.
In the meantime, I still need to clear my head and make some tough decisions/plans. But that can wait – because my clunky mental CPU belongs to the noughties and simply lacks the capacity to think straight these days.
So I’ll show some pictures. During the long Jubilee Weekend, husband was dying to watch The Black Knights in action. On the first day, everyone got rained out and horror stories of crazy queues were spreading fast and furious on the social networks. When it started to pour on the morning of the second day, I was NOT IMPRESSED.
But he was really looking forward to it. And so I swallowed my skepticism, packed the boys into the car and we zoomed down to Gardens by the Bay to see if we could get a good view of the aerial display. Luck was on our side, the rain had subsided and there were parking lots.
After 90 minutes of waiting under the hot sun and sweltering in the humidity, the show started.
Did I say I wasn’t keen to catch the show? STUPID ME. It was amazing. Breathtakingly amazing. My jaw dropped open right from the start and by the time it ended, it had reached the ground. It was EXCITES MAXIMUS.
I shot these with my humble 17-50mm lens with Zac in a wrap on my hip. Picture this: he was sitting on my hip and I had my left hand pressing his ears into my body to prevent the noise of the planes from getting to him. I was virtually shooting with my right hand holding up the DSLR. Not the best set-up, I guarantee!
Bonus: the kid fell asleep as we were walking back to the car after the show ended.
So all in all, great show. We were thrilled by the spectacle and it was absolutely worth the wait. Thank you RSAF and thank you Black Knights for giving us something that we will remember for a long, long time to come.
After much fanfare for the past year or so, we are FINALLY here: August 9, the day that our forefathers declared our independence from our noisy neighbour up north.
While many Singaporeans chose to make use of the long weekend to travel, we opted to stay home. Strangely enough, it never occurred to us to go for an opportune holiday, we simply decided that we wanted to remain in Singapore to celebrate the golden jubilee of our nation.
Maybe we are patriotic, I don’t know. I never thought of us as that. We are just Singaporeans who love our nation deeply. At the same time, we are not entirely blind to the faults of our leaders and our government. But we know that it would be a massive injustice to equate our home with our government.
Like most Singaporeans, I love many things about this country. The food, for instance. The well-connected public transport system. The cleanliness. The greenery. The crisp air. The Singlish. The malls. The parks and playgrounds. The convenience. The relative safety. The education system. And like most Singaporeans, I dislike many things about this country. The education (yes, it’s a love-hate thing). The kiasu parents. The one-track way of evaluating and assessing our young. The crazy car prices. The ridiculous property prices. Policy makers who live in ivory towers and have no clue of the struggles the rest of us face. Social media lynch mobs whose mouths are larger than their brains.
But as I stood at the bridge connecting Gardens by the Bay, Bay East to Marina Barrage while watching the Black Knights take to the skies, I was moved. By the stunning and thrilling performance, of course, but also by the infectious joy and happiness that connected my fellow countrymen and me.
Despite what many critics and naysayers proclaim, Singaporeans are not a bunch of emotion-less, joy-less people. As a nation, we may not be adept at showing our emotions but this does not mean that we do not feel. I only have to look back at the past seven months to find great examples that show just how good and kind and compassionate we can be: the kindness rendered to us when we paid our last respects to Mr Lee, when Singaporeans rushed to pull up a truck that was pinning a man down, those who helped out frustrated commuters stuck during the massive MRT breakdown.
As we take a step towards the next 50 years of our short but fulfilling history, I think it’s time that we aspire towards Singapore 2.0. While the past 50 years was all about economic viability and progress, now that we have achieved that, it’s time we look at the heartware and build a better Singapore.
A home that is more compassionate to those who may not be measured by the same yardsticks as everybody else. A home that allows for responsible, open conversation without the fear or threat of being incarcerated. A home that accepts, encourages and allows for divergence. A home that respects all individuals, regardless of who they love, where they studied, what they look like.
Happy birthday, my beloved Singapore. It has always been you, and it always will be. Let’s make the next 50 years a beautiful one together, shall we?
Love letters to my nation: