August 9th marked the 55th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from Malaysia. Unlike other countries who have fought battles over the desire to be independent, Singapore’s journey was rather different. The very short version is that Singapore was caught in the middle of tensions between Malaysia and Indonesia and unexpectedly became a sovereign nation. Despite Singapore’s achievements in the present day, this success was by no means guaranteed 55 years ago. Singapore’s leadership was devastated by the turn of events. Singapore was a tiny country (600km squared at independence, about the size of Toronto), with a small and relatively uneducated population (less than 2 million at independence) and very few natural resources. Last year I wrote an abridged history of Singapore after visiting the National Museum, if you’re interested in reading more about Singapore’s history.
National Day celebrations are taken quite seriously by the Singaporean government. The day includes a military parade, fighter jet flyovers, evening show and speech from the PM. There is even a National Day song that gets played in the month or two leading up to the day. The organizer is typically a senior member of the military, and events unfold with military precision. Last year, I remember trying to take calls from the office and needing to mute when the fighter jets were practicing in nearby airspace. Roads would be closed around the downtown core on weekends leading up to National Day, so there could be dress rehearsals of the parade, complete with practice fireworks displays.
This year was a different kind of National Day, with more subdued celebrations conducted remotely across the island. The Singapore government arranged for all citizens to receive a National Day fun pack (including Singapore masks, flags, temporary tattoos and even a red phone filter to flash red lights from your balconies). Sadly, as a non-citizen I wasn’t eligible for one of these packs, so I had to source a few of my own Singapore souvenirs to celebrate. The parades and shows were broadcast live on YouTube, so you could follow along from your own home. There were fireworks set off in 10 different locations around the city at varying lights, to give residents different vantage points to catch the show without gathering in a big crowd (we could see two from our balcony).
Overall, it has been interesting to watch and experience Singaporean patriotism. The National Day show unironically included lyrics like “Singapore, Singapore / So convenient, tropical, some more / Singapore, Singapore / Full of tourists and department stores”. I can’t think of an equivalent to this type of show in Canada or the USA. There were some heart-warming moments too, as they interviewed COVID survivors and featured people working on the front lines. I was happy to celebrate alongside my (adopted!) country… but still missing everyone in Canada.