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A Digital NDP 2020: Is This Home?

You might be able to take the Singaporeans out of the Padang, but if this national day was any testament, you can’t take the Padang out of the Singaporean.

I mean that completely metaphorically, of course.

If it wasn’t already obvious by March this year, 2020 is clearly fated to play host to some “first times” in Singapore’s history. With the pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures still in place, Singaporeans have had to find creative ways to work around these limitations — and it’s no different for the folks behind National Day.

In addition to being the single biggest physical event of the year, the National Day hype is further spotlighted this year thanks to it being the 55th anniversary of our nation’s independence. Unfortunately (depending on how you see it), the current situation has caused a necessitated simplification of the usually grand celebrations, and the National Day Parade team has had to consider a unique approach.

And for the most part, it’s worked out remarkably well. “Well” is subjective, but the festivities did take place with no hiccups.

With a seemingly successful “digital” parade, the question is now: could this be the better future of National Day festivities? After all, while the grandeur of the celebrations was certainly reduced in response to the pandemic and its entailing conditions, there have been some benefits to this new approach to National Day.

The Digital NDP 2020

The key to safety in recent months has been in preventing large gatherings where possible. And while a bulk of Singaporeans have mostly only ever watched the parade from the glowing screen of their living room, the iconic Padang, National Stadium, and Marina Barrage were all out of the running as the heart of this year’s National Day Celebrations. Instead, connecting us all across the island, and even across continents, would be the power of television and social media.

While tradition has been compromised for the safety of the nation, there are just some things that cannot be skipped. In addition to the Prime Minister’s National Day Message, a condensed parade of around 200 participants occurred at the Padang with a minimal audience.

And as is customary, the parade was reviewed by President Halimah Yacob. Singaporeans were still a part of this portion of the parade with the participation and call to attention requested when the National Anthem was played.

As much as I’d slept like a log through the public warning system that was sounded at 10:30 am in the morning, the novelty of hearing the round at 8.20 pm warmed the cockles of my heart…just a little bit.

Beyond this early-edition of the mini-parade, however, almost all else of the National Day festivities were given a unique 2020 spin.

Do It All… But with Safe Distancing

Divided into multiple components, the festivities began with drive-bys, fly-bys, and awe-inspiring feats of daring by the Red Lions as they guided their parachute-enabled descent into the heartlands of Singapore (and most definitely also the hearts of Singaporeans).

“Getting to watch the Red Lion while standing with a crowd (not at Padang) was fun as it would usually be on TV,” said Arati Tan, a 31-year old mother who brought her two children to watch the column near her home at Sengkang. The young mother’s two and three-year-old children (seen in the featured image of this article) were treated to an experience that most of us would have been lucky to have when we were children.

If I had to choose between hearing my ex-classmates belt tone-deaf NDP song renditions and watching the Red Lions below my block, the latter would be my choice, by a mile. But there’s no telling that to a younger me, who cherished any excuse to miss classes. Extended assemblies spent singing NDP songs that ate into class time were a definite treat.

Still, NDP celebrations in schools help instil a sense of patriotism, unity, and pride that may otherwise be hard to come along.

Accompanying the heroic Red Lions were the military and civil defence vehicles. While this is no means a new addition to National Day, its profile’s been upped with more effort put into getting as many citizens as possible to witness it from their own streets. Watching military tanks roll past your very ordinary street is a special kind of thrill. And while these alone are pretty impressive, NDP 2020’s seeing a parade staple continue its long-lasting legacy brought straight to the people: the fireworks display.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t make you any less of a Singaporean if you generally tune in to the Parade just for the fireworks. Who doesn’t love fireworks? But with the centralised parade largely out of the equation, the fireworks became an island-wide spectacle, visible to most from the convenience of their windows or void decks.

While most of the National Day Parade’s key features were brought to the heartlands where possible, local artistes and entertainers still collaborated to upkeep the long-running tradition of National Day performances.

Gathering in the Star Performing Arts Theatre in Buona Vista’s The Star Vista, iconic Singaporean talents revived classic National Day numbers along with Nathan Hartono and his new National Day theme for 2020: Everything I Am.

Like all previous National Day Parades, this year’s show was also built around multiple themes that created a narrative of sorts for the audience to follow. This concept allowed for local talents and favourites to grace the stage and usher viewers along with an entertaining look at the trials and tribulations faced by the Singaporeans of today and yesterday while also celebrating our achievements and progress.

The enigma that was Shigga Shay’s fluorescent green hair-do and the awkward musical mergers were part of what made this reminiscent of any other NDP show. Riddled with its own amusing quirks that aunties would never notice (though Twitter most definitely would), this year’s show was everything that it needed to be: familiar.

Say what you want about this year’s parade being an unnecessary expense amidst these testing economical times. But it’s clear that National Day is a lot more than just the high budget spectacle and the singular gathering for Singaporeans.

Every year, Singaporeans without NDP tickets watch the parade from their homes. This year, they gathered in void decks and corridors to watch the night sky near them glisten with fireworks. They beamed their torchlights out of their windows and balconies and they sang their hearts out. Those who recited the pledge beamed with the pride of solidarity as they heard the echoes of their neighbours resonate with their own.

People like Arati also took the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with the community even before the day itself, partaking in a National Day song competition organised by the People’s Association.

“Singing ND songs online and submitting for CC ND celebration was exciting as you get to see yourself as well as people you know singing in a public platform instead of just the usual celebrities,” she said.

“It was nice to see that even with the virus, the performances were not cancelled and were actually rather unique! This was definitely an NDP unlike any other,” said Kyle Ong, a 24-year-old who claims to be generally nonchalant about patriotism and other things of the like.

With its “bring the mountain to the people” approach, this year’s on-ground National Day events resonated with most Singaporeans but have also proven that even a conservative effort can truly uphold the Singapore spirit — perhaps even more so than the exorbitant parades that we’ve gotten used to.

No amount of digitisation is a good enough excuse not to wear face tattoos.

While we will certainly defeat the current pandemic, and life is sure to continue, it’ll be a year, if not more, before the nation’s and the people’s financial stability can make a recovery. So maybe the possibility of a few more “stay home” National Day Parades may not be such a bad idea.

After all, it’ll be a pretty epic SG60 if the milestone anniversary saw our return to the traditional parade.

And you just know it’ll have to be at the Padang.

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