A different National Day


It is 4 days to Singapore’s 48th National Day. Unlike other years, however, this year’s occasion seems to be different. There is a palpable sense of … disinterest among Singaporeans. A walk around the neighbourhood and observations made elsewhere around Singapore show that fewer households have put up the national flag this year. Of course, this does not mean that Singaporeans do not feel anything for the country – but it does raise the question of whether they indeed do.

I recall earlier years when my block of flats, for example, was decked out in flags, and this was not because of any “coercion” by grassroots members. I know friends who personally went out to buy the flag to hang at their balcony. Besides, it was not only about hanging the flag which gave you the buzz that Singaporeans were excited by the nation’s birthday. It was also the chatter, the faces of the people you meet, the general atmosphere of the country.

Recently Singapore was ranked the most pessimistic country in the world. It is no surprise, although one person tried to rubbish the findings by saying that there is a difference between the Eastern and Western idea of happiness. A hilarious suggestion, of course. But I digress.

I myself am not surprised at the lesser sense of excitement about National Day this year. It is quite easy to understand. Life is not happy here. It is hard. And I am not just talking about the poor, the sick or the elderly. Even parents, especially single parents, are feeling the strain. Our PMETs workers, our SMEs. The erosion of our physical havens and heritage.

The endless and mindless construction and de-construction; the ubiquitous work sites around Singapore; the traffic; the squeeze on our public transport.

The new restrictions on our freedom; the legal threats from the government against those who speak out online; the new legislations to curb our speech; the continued harassment of those who speak up, such as Leslie Chew; the continuing cases of corruption; our lack of a sense of security as we grow old; the insane prices of flats for us to start a home; the continued influx of foreigners; a growing income gap; the need to depend on government handouts for some.

And a government which has lost its soul and its way.

There is little to be happy about – despite all the shine and glitz around us.

It is a far cry from the earlier days when we all looked forward to a future which we all worked hard for. It was the promise of a “bright future”, where we could look forward to when we’re old, or as we grow older. But look at what our elderly folks have to do just to survive now – cleaning up after others at the coffeeshops, hawker centres, foodcourts, and having to compete with foreign labour too.

This was not the future we worked for, surely – a future where we are forced to place our infirmed and elderly folks, our parents and grandparents, in nursing homes overseas, far from our sides.

So, what does this National Day mean?

To me, it means only one thing – that we need to think of a new future. One where we do not incessantly build and build, where we mindlessly destroy our heritage and our memories, in effect cutting off the relationships and connections we have with our forebears and the future with our children. We must envision a new future where our country is a home and not a concrete jungle, constructed by the elites to be a fun park for the rich and famous.

Look around you today – we are imprisoning ourselves in a concrete jungle. Every inch of land is being built upon. Every plot has a condominium sprouting up on it. Do we really need all these?

So, for this National Day, my thoughts will be on the things we are erasing, the things which mean something. As I pondered on the places which meant something to me during my childhood, I find that virtually all of them no longer exist.

And then I wonder how I am going to pass on the sense of belonging to the boys, and to share these memories with them. And as they grow up in an ever-changing environment themselves, what is going to root them? For when their time comes, and they are old and grey, they too may ask the same questions I am asking now – where are the places of my memories to pass on to my children?

Unfortunately, the present government is one which pays only lip service to such things – things of the heart. And thus, my National Day thoughts are for a different government, so that in our not too distant future, we could perhaps have a different – and a more meaningful – National Day.


25 thoughts on “A different National Day

  1. Reblogged this on Jerrick Lim and commented:
    I’m not sure I entirely agree with this author’s perspectives. Not because I believe or feel that Singapore’s government has done a great job, but because it seems to ignore the fact that life is not easy for a government anywhere anymore. No longer is it enough to be good, you must be unique, different, innovative, talented, and a whole list of attributes that are just plain hard to come by. To cap it all off, you have to protect freedoms, but maintain security, to be uncorrupt, but also deliver cheap, and efficient services to all. The thing is, these are problems facing all governments, and all governments have faced and will continue to face these problems. I do not deny that the government may have taken some misteps, or that the old paternalistic instincts have completely died away, but to expect perfection is the height of cynicism.

    Maybe it’s because of my optimism, or at least my plain refusal to see everything as bleak, but to be cynical about our prospects is hardly a great starting point for any future government either, be they the same as our current administration, or one run by any other party. Wouldn’t the bar be set impossibly high for them as well? Wouldn’t they be expected to solve all that ails us immediately? Who is to say that some other party can or will be less authoritarian, or more able to face the challenges of an aging population. Maybe the time has come for a bit more optimism, and hope for the future.

    1. Dear Jerrick, I agree mostly with your comments. However, governments everywhere do not draw the exorbitant salaries like our ministers do. They do not claim to be the creme de la creme of society, nor do they see themselves as elitist, a cut above the rest. If our government is the same as any government, why are we not paying them the same as any government?

      1. oh goody! another person claiming that our ministers are the only one’s who draw large salaries!

        surely he’s already read up on how presidents and other ministers in other countries DON’T receive more than their paid right? Like America and how you CAN’T possibly pay your way into the country via lobbying? Or how in Brunei and some middle east oil rich countries draw extremely LOW salaries compared to Singapore? Surely he has so much certainty that only Singapore gets paid the most because of all the good examples other countries are showing!

        Come! I clap for you! You really did your homework and have shown how much of the world around you you know! good job man! You should run for PM!


    2. Actually, I am not pessimistic. I am in fact quite hopeful that we will see greater political change, going forward. It is something whichjust 10 years ago, I could not even imagine. So, in this regard, I am quite positive.

    3. For a government who pay themselves so high, Singaporeans expects them to be able to deliver and manage the country well, but have they? The least the government can do is to protect and help its citizens, but have they? This is uniquely Singapore.

    4. it isnt too hard. they are making things hard. seriously. does any one need an underground railway in tampines? i dont think so. since the construction i have to leave home for school earlier and have been late everyday. does tampines need 3 malls in the central? does any interchange need an aircon? please dont say these are to create jobs because we all know who are taking up these positions.

      look even in microbiology when nutrition is low due to cell density being too high they kill each other. they dont put up a welcome banner saying hey algae join us!

      so why is it that the government want a larger population? why cant they leave the population at equilibrium? i am not saying that we should slowdown or regress. however we should set our priorities straight. personal agendas are not political agendas. it should be the needs of the people.

      also saying that we should be happy with the governing party just because it is a tough task is very silly. in that case we shouldnt critiques on movies. dont judge your hawker when a roach is in your food. dont complain when your teacher sits around giving you problem based learning only so ever.

      you took up the task noone is asking you to do it.

  2. Always a silver lining out there. With destruction, comes creation. Except that this time, hopefully people lead the change, not the government. A country is only as good as her people, not just government.

  3. I have only been in Singapore 4 years but I feel it is not a happy place for many. In the last 3 months I have had to counsel 2 friends who have suffered depression and anxiety attacks. They are both in their 20s and just not happy at all for various reasons. One is from the UK so was able to resign from his job and get back to London, but the other is Singaporean and I am more worried about her as she cannot see a way out or anything changing for the better. As far as I can work out, with both of them, it is mainly the environment here. With my friend from the UK it was being trapped in a network of 8 lane roads that meant it was very hard for him to walk anywhere and get any meaningful exercise. For my Singaporean friend it is working long hours and not having any form of release from the drudgery of work.

    From my window I have a view of a massive highway which is worthy of Los Angeles or somewhere a lot bigger. Last year I was watching a little old lady in her 60s or 70s trying to find her way across the road. She was probably wanting to go shopping or visit a friend. The traffic is very fast moving and it would have been suicidal for her to attempt to cross, so after about 20 minutes of waiting for a break in the traffic she gave up and wandered back to where she came from. She could have walked to somewhere where there was a crossing but this was probably too far for her. This got me thinking about how stressful her life must be. When she was a little girl the highway would have probably been a small grass path and she would have been able to get to where she wanted to get to with no problem. Now she probably feels cut off from society and friends and I can imagine she feels very anxious; I know I would. For this old lady progress has probably come at too high a cost.

    1. It is very sad to see more mentally disturbed people on the streets. Observation started back in 2007. Now it is a very sobering experience taking public transport. I meet at least one new mentally disturbed person when I take the public transport. At night, prostitutes loiter the streets in downtown and police noting down names.

      We weren’t that poor in early 2000s I don’t want this kind of prosperity that is out of reach for majority of Singaporeans but with it brings all the pollution of morals and insecurity.

  4. This post is based on the author’s perception and personal feeling. There is no proof of his claim. I reckon he could be a pessimistic person as such he is oblivious to the festive mode around the country. Anyway this is another site that proofed otherwise with hard fact. This year’s NDP is indeed more “Happening”.

    1. @insdarly. I think it spiked when everyone were trying to Google 4 the terrible NDP song. By the way, you write like a North Korean Rodong Simun journalist. You may want to tone down on your unmistakable tone of condescension if you really want to be convincing to anybody.

  5. Things change all the time. The old singapore may never reappear but I look forward to the future where we as citizens have a greater say in the working of our government and our country. National Day is what we as citizens make of it by being inclusive, friendly and tolerant towards others including immigrants, the disadvantaged, the minority. The physical buildings, the monuments of old singapore may be gone but we can all impart the values of neighbourliness, tolerance, friendliness towards each other. That is something that can never be taken away from us.

  6. My exact sentiments. I can’t even be bothered with the fireworks. Makes me sad looking at it. Burning tens, hundreds? of thousands of dollars while people struggle. The govt I so respected is mutating into a greedy junta. Efficiency, productivity, meritocracy, equality, values ingrained in me from young are used as excuses to bring in hordes of mercenary voters and a guise for exploitation of petrified uneducated poor lured by empty promises of employment. Legalised unethical wealth hording safe haven for tax evaders/avoiders. I once said proudly to outsiders that Singapore is lucky to be without resources because it makes our people resourceful and Singapore is home where meritocracy rewards hardwork where dreams can come true as long as you work hard.
    Now, it is based on connections, how your boss likes you, if you are from branded schools, if your parents are somebody.

    Made clearly unwelcome in my own homeland, listening to foreigner colleagues telling me that Singaporeans are lazy when I’m one of the Singaporeans who are working so much harder than them. Was told by a foreigner that she thought most residents in the condo are foreigners.

    Nowhere to go where I will not feel like an orphan. National day used to be a day when I would catch the national day parade live on the internet, watching it with goosepimples as the helicopter flies the big flag over the stadium. The flag sewn together by the female soldiers in the army. National day now is like an outsider opening the door of my home asking if I want to enter.

  7. Brilliant article. It is almost as if Mr Loh knows what the majority of Singaporeans are thinking.

    No matter which side of the fence you are on, you can’t deny that hardly anyone is putting up the flag and that thousands of Singaporeans have already made plans to leave the country during the National Day long weekend.

  8. I think its important to realize that a lot of Singapore’s wealth has come from ripping off our neighbors and the rest of the world. We are a tax haven that helps people avoid paying their fair share of taxes in their home countries. This form of shallow existence relying on cheating others eventually catches up with us – its karma. Its hard to be so proud of this nation’s achievements when they have been funded in a significant party from ill-gotten gains.


  9. National Day is about the day people come out and celebrate, with friends and family. It is not about the government, coming out to tell people of the achievements and promises of better things to come. It should be non political.

    It is a holiday, like a birthday and people from all walks of life coming out or staying at home and celebrate. There should be events of merry making organised by communities, clubs etc…

    Its not about our National Day Parade where the government/PAP showcasing their propaganda by displaying WMD and the Arm Forces and/or relevant organisations dressing to the nines and parading in the sweltering heat.

    Everything should be put aside especially politics. PAP should put aside any political agenda/propaganda aside. Just Celebrate the Birthday of Singapore.

    Do like the Australian do on Australian Day. People are happy for the holiday by celebrating at the beach, park or at home. And one common thing they do, is firing up barbecue, and do what they do; eating, drinking and just celebrate.

  10. Generally I think the govt dropped the ball probably during the last 10 years.. we started seeing the effects during the last 5 years..

    I do feel that this present govt is trying to change to get it back to the old path yet probably with some differences. I think that we are currently at a knife edge.. the policies can go either way. I am hopeful that we will do well.. personally I hope that as a society we will be more caring especially for the old and poor.

    That’s my wish for this National day. Happy NDP to everyone!

  11. A very thoughtful and mind provoking commentary. As much as I agree to the point of view, we also have to look at it from a different perspective. The government has also tried to improve the lives of the people. The reason why they are constructing more condominiums lies in the reason that they are providing more homes for the public at large and in my opinion it is more than just condominiums, they are also aware of the heavy pricing and give alternative solutions. Nevertheless, the fact that more And more Singaporeans are voting for the opposition just drives the current government to work harder, nonetheless a very interesting perspective

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