Report from Tomorrow - Vol 39

1USD = S$1.71 (S$1 = 0.58USD)

National Day

August 8th is a big deal here in Singapore as it's the anniversary of Singapore's independence from Malaysia. This year was their 33rd birthday. The 4th of July for American's is a very low key event - mostly dedicated to vacations and family gatherings. If a parade is involved, only the vaguest reference is made to the founding of our country.

Not so here in S'pore. 'National Day' is a **big** deal here. It begins several months in advance when they start practicing. The primary event of the celebration occurs in the evening at some central place that can hold lots and lots of people. A few years ago it was held downtown on a large grassy area by the courthouse, but more recently they've moved it out to the National Stadium where traffic is less congested.

They plan and practice the event with meticulous care. In 1998 the theme was "the river" - in reference to the S'pore river and the impact it's had on the island. It's always been the center of commerce and life since the first settlement in the 1300s.

Weeks before National day, the streets and buildings are filled with S'pore flags and colorful banners with the national symbol, the Singapura Lion. We heard they give flags away to people in the HDBs who hang the flags out on their windows and from the balconies.

The event itself reminded me a great deal of the half-time extravaganza you see at the football games around New Year's Day. It started with some army troops marching in formation and a "review" by the Prime Minister of S'pore. The paper explained that when they practiced this, the stand-in for the PM studied how he walked so he could pace the rest of the reviewing committee. Serious stuff here!

This was not overly military show and in short order the troops marched off, to be replaced by numerous groups who streamed on the field to wave banners, sing, dance, and march in unison. There wasn't much in speech making - as PM Goh had given a short speech on TV earlier that day.

The whole shindig was televised, of course, and we watched the entire two hour show. The commentary was in Mandarin, so we didn't know what they were saying, but it was pretty clear what was going on. Take that as evidence of the value added by commentators in general. :-) A few days later, we discovered that the show was commentated in Tamil and English too, on other channels.

I found the obvious show of patriotism surprising, but did not get any sense there was anything fake about it. Later it was pointed out to me that with the country being only 33 years old, a very large number of people lived through the tensioned filled days when S'pore broke away from Malaysia in 1965. The two countries still continue to have arguments over a wide range of topics even today.

This S'porean pledge is recited at the start of each school day:

We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

There are five principals themes you'll find represented by various symbols here - democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. These five are presented by the five stars on the flag and the five partings of the Singapura lion mane.

So unlike for Americans, Independence Day here is much more of a national activity. However, the celebration is confined for the most part to the one evening event - not even warranting a holiday from work. Go figure.

Military Service

All S'pore male citizens are expected to serve two years in the military. You can either do this right after high school, or defer until after college, so this means the incoming group is either about 19 or 23-24.

After all accounts, the military service here sounds pretty much like in the US. After two years until 35, you are part of the S'pore version of the National Guard. This is not an option. Once a year you go off to do soldier things. In addition there are regular meetings (once a month?) and every so often there are practice emergency drills.

We've seen these drills announced twice. Each group has a name like "Dragon" (I just made that up) and then on TV and all over the media, you'll see little soldier symbols labeled "Dragon". This means you must report in. The first time we saw this, Indonesia was having a lot of problems and we thought it meant more than it did - nah, just practicing.

I think, in general women do not participate in the military here. I have seen nursing staff in military looking outfits, but I do not believe that S'pore woman do more than this.