National Day 2020

When NDP went to the heartland: How S'poreans marked nation's 55th birthday

The fireworks over Jurong Lake last night, as seen from J Gateway condominium. This year's National Day fireworks were set off at 10 locations as celebrations took place all over Singapore rather than at a central spot.
The fireworks over Jurong Lake last night, as seen from J Gateway condominium. This year's National Day fireworks were set off at 10 locations as celebrations took place all over Singapore rather than at a central spot.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
The Roar of Unity taken during the National Day Parade rehearsal.
The Roar of Unity taken during the National Day Parade rehearsal.PHOTO: NDP2020 EXCO

S'poreans across the island came out to wave to the tanks and watch flag fly-past, fireworks

Scattered across the island, Singaporeans gathered in pockets of joy despite the Covid-19 pandemic to celebrate their 55th National Day, their first socially distanced one.

The reduced festivities meant the spectacles of yesteryear were out of the question. Yesterday morning, a small audience that included many front-line workers bore witness to a sober ceremony with just four marching contingents. Smoke from a 21-gun presidential salute filled the otherwise empty Padang.

But the thought of the virus did not stop Singaporeans from taking to the streets en masse - but masked - to wave at the tanks, police vehicles and ambulances rumbling past.

They set up camp as early as 8am on the Marina Barrage to catch the first maritime sail-past in 20 years. They peered out of windows and caught their breath as F-15 fighter jets roared past, flying in a tight arrowhead formation.

Wearing matching "I Heart SG" shirts, Ms Fatema Begum, 36, and her family watched a Chinook helicopter fly the State flag over the Barrage.

"Everyone is wearing a mask but we still came here to celebrate," said the chef coordinator who works at a hotel. "At least it's still something we can do to mark National Day."

Hundreds thronged the edges of fields outside Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East and Sengkang General Hospital to catch the popular Red Lion parachutists, who landed outside these hospitals in a tribute to front-line healthcare workers.

Onlookers packed pedestrian bridges and even lined the many storeys of IMM mall's carpark.

As the drifting red specks in the clear sky became parachutists gliding in for graceful landings, the cheering reached a fever pitch.

It was another two hours before the mobile column of military vehicles and assets appeared. The day grew sweltering.

Five-year-old Lykan Ang fidgeted impatiently with a toy monster truck as his grandparents tried to entertain him. They prevailed upon him to recite the National Pledge, which he obligingly mumbled his way through, hand on chest.

Then the tanks turned the corner and he clambered excitedly onto his father's shoulders for a better view.

"I hope that Singapore will prosper and get over this Covid-19 crisis soon," said Lykan's grandfather Victor Ang, 69, who works in the freight-forwarding industry. "We have to stay united, help each other and fight through the crisis."

 
 
 

It was the second year in a row that the mobile column was making its way into the heartland, but this time, its five routes would cover a record distance of 200km.

At a traffic island in Upper Serangoon, a small crowd waited in the shade of a flyover for the mobile column to arrive.

The road cleared. The tanks began rolling by as Gabrael, aged three, and Hannah, 4½, stared wide-eyed. "Did you wave at the policeman?" their mother Agnes Woo, 41, who works in marketing, asked them. "Did you say hello?"

"It goes to your heart," remarked their father Ong Chek Kai, 44, who works in finance, of the sight. "It reminds us we need to stand together as one against adversity, that it is critical for us to stand up, move forward and get through this.

"When we wave at them and they wave back to us, I like to think that it connects us somehow."

In under four minutes, all the military hardware had gone by. The bustle of noon traffic resumed, food delivery riders zipping past, hot on the column's tail.

Some of the watchers pelted down the road, hoping to catch the column again as it looped back. Others wandered off to get started on another Singaporean pastime: queueing for lunch at nearby kopitiams.

"It's quite special," said accountant Elcie Lin, 49, who waited for half an hour to see the column. "I do miss the stadium, I miss the large screens, but it's good that all Singaporeans have a chance to look at the parade up close."

As night fell, people put red filter stickers over their phone torchlights, preparing to cast a crimson glow from windows and balconies.

At The Star Performing Arts Centre, the lights went up on singer-songwriter Charlie Lim sitting alone in an expanse of empty seats, as he gave a stripped-down rendition of his song Room At The Table.

Performers put on a scaled-down show for a live audience of 150, who were not allowed to sing along - though the millions watching from the safety of their homes could.

As 8.20pm drew near, people flocked to rooftops, corridors and the streets to catch the fireworks being set off at 10 locations.

For the second time that day, a siren sounded islandwide, this time to signal Singaporeans to recite the Pledge together.

 

Then the fireworks went off, to cries of wonder and the crackle of camera flashes from blocks of flats and condominiums. Motorists stopped along the Benjamin Sheares Bridge to gawk at the display, to the chagrin of Traffic Police.

From Jurong Lake Gardens to Tampines, from Bishan to Marina Bay, the night sky bloomed in red, green and gold. Showers of light cascaded into the dark.

The fireworks over Jurong Lake last night, as seen from J Gateway condominium. This year's National Day fireworks were set off at 10 locations as celebrations took place all over Singapore rather than at a central spot.

For a moment, the country sighed as one. Applause rang out.

Then the people went back into their homes as the festivities wound down for the night.

Additional reporting by Prisca Ang and Rei Kurohi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2020, with the headline 'When NDP went to the heartland'. Print Edition | Subscribe