Nostalgia, pride mark Singapore celebrations on turning 50

Happy, smiling faces. These kids will remember this celebration for a long time to come.

Half a century after Singapore gained its independence, tens of thousands of Singaporeans came out to party at a National Day Parade that was topped off by by the largest NDP fireworks display ever.

It was the culmination of more than seven months of celebratory activities that began with the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown on 31 December last year.

The festivities reached a climax this Golden Jubilee weekend, with free admission to many museums and tourist attractions, as well as free bus and train rides on Sunday.

And while the plethora of SG50 activities, promotions and celebrations in the long lead up inspired a weariness that led to the #SimiSaiAlsoSG50 hashtag, genuine pride and emotion were on display.

Sherley Servos, 44 (left) attends the NDP 2015 celebration with her family.
Sherley Servos, 44 (left) attends the NDP 2015 celebration with her family.

Mother-of-two Sherley Servos, 44, and her family were attending the parade for the first time, after years of only getting tickets for the preview performances. She told Yahoo Singapore, “Singapore has come a long way and we are proud of that."

Retiree Gerard Tan, 61, noted that the half-century of statehood has been a “remarkable achievement”. He said, “What we see here today is a testimony to the resilience of our people and government.

Despite the hype, NDP 2015 was the usual combination of highly choreographed routines, kitsch and heartstring tugging. Besides old favourites like the mobile column – with some 1,500 participants – and the loop-de-loop aerial acrobatics of the Black Knights, there was a large appeal to nostalgia.

There were references to, among others,  90’s sitcom "Under One Roof", Mandarin variety sketch show Gao Xiao Xing Dong and the courtesy and water conservation campaigns of years past. There was also a Vintage Parade, which saw some 450 participants marching in iconic outfits like the Singapore Police Force in their khaki shorts.

There was even a float shaped like the iconic dragon playground, atop which singer Corinne May was wheeled in to belt out Song for Singapore. But she could not match the evergreen Kit Chan, whose rendition of the evergreen, heartrending "Home" got everyone singing along with gusto.

Perhaps for the first time ever, Singlish was even incorporated into the parade. One float was shaped like a giant LAH, while another took the shape of a packet of tissue emblazoned with the word CHOPE.

Lee Kuan Yew's shadow

But there was also a somewhat sombre mood, as the shadow of late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew hung over the parade. His presence could be felt everywhere, from the flowers on the empty seat where he would have sat to the short tribute film about the former Prime Minister.

More than a few audience members, especially the older ones, could be seen wiping away tears as footage of Mr Lee played. It was the first National Day Parade conducted in his absence.

"We definitely feel that something is missing this year, and I still feel the pain in my heart,” says mother-of-one Wenn Booi, 33.

The end of the parade was marked by pyrotechnics set off at the Padang, the roof-tops of seven nearby commercial buildings and the Marina Basin. Golden fireworks and rainbow arcs filled the sky, and confetti rained down from above.

In his National Day Message on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that Singapore can look forward to "new peaks" ahead. "The journey ahead is uncharted. But we must press on, because we aspire to do better for ourselves and our children," said Mr Lee.

Among the 26,000 people who were also watching the parade at the Float @ Marina Bay was public officer Brian Patrick Tan, 35, who shared Mr Lee's optimism. He says: “
We have excellent infrastructure , talent and spirit. I'm confident that Singapore will honor our pioneers work and strive with the same kind of fortitude and foresight to build on what we have.”