My first time… attending the National Day Parade

PHOTO: Ndp 2022 Expo

“....for fun?”

“You’re going to feel so patriotic afterward.”

“Bring sunblock!”

These are just some of the comments I received when I told my friends that I was attending the National Day Parade (NDP) for the first time. (Okay, technically, it was a preview show but same-same right?)

As someone who didn’t spend any part of her childhood in Singapore, I missed out watching NDP as a Primary 5 student. And as someone who despises crowds, the sun, and loud noises, I figured I wasn’t missing much – why ballot for tickets when I could catch it on TV in the comfort of my air-conditioned living room?

But according to those same friends, squeezing with throngs of red-and-white-clad parade goers is a rite of passage, so when I received a media invite to NDP Preview 2, I decided to see if it would live up to the hype, especially after three years of Covid. 

I met my colleague, Farhan (a born-and-bred Singaporean who has attended NDP four times) at the crossing before Raffles Boulevard, where we took a long and sweaty walk to the Float@Marina Bay. Around us sat couples in matching visors, aunties holding portable fans, and young parents placing wet washcloths over their children's heads. I checked my watch. Two and a half hours to sunset. I instantly regretted not wearing a cap. 

Fast-forward to the end of the parade. The heat had abated, and the last vestiges of fireworks danced across the sky as we prepared to recite the pledge and sing our anthem. Earlier that evening, Farhan and I had agreed to beat the crowds by leaving before the final act, yet there we stood, unable to resist the spectacle and the sense of solidarity. 

The walk back to the MRT took twice as long as it would have had we left earlier, but it afforded us just enough time to relive the evening’s most memorable moments. 

Farhan: Congrats on watching NDP for the first time! 

Diane: Haha, thanks! Watching it in person hits different, especially since this is the first time since 2019 that we’ve been able to have it with such a big crowd. I can understand why you’ve watched it four times now. 

Farhan: To be fair, all four times were compulsory (once in P5, once in NS, and twice for work). But it’s certainly a privilege to be able to attend it multiple times when others have to ballot just for a chance to get seats. It’s always a spectacle and a positive reaffirmation of how lucky we are to live in such a safe, prosperous country. What expectations did you have going into watching the live parade? What was your impression of NDP all this while?

Diane: Honestly, I can count the number of parades I’ve watched on one hand: China’s National Day Parade, North Korea’s Military Parade, New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the 4th of July Parade at Disneyland.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect for Singapore’s, especially since I’ve never even watched the whole thing straight through on TV. I guess I expected a lot of dance performances, emotional music, and a sea of red and white clothing.

I low-key expected it to be totally cheesy, but even the most apathetic people I know told me that NDP got them hyped about Singapore, so I was curious to see how it’d make me feel since I grew up abroad, but fully intend on settling down here.

Farhan: I’d love to hear your first impressions. 

Diane: Call me suaku but I didn’t know that so much time would be dedicated to the Parade and Ceremony (P&C) portion! Or that the Total Defence Display (TDD) would be so badass. I legit felt like I was watching "Top Gun" during all the aerobatic manoeuvres.

(Ed's note: NDP 2022’s P&C and TDD segments were combined and renamed as ‘Strength of Our Nation’.) 

Farhan: What was the biggest surprise about the Parade and Ceremony segment for you? You kept asking me about all the different contingents. It must have been really confusing for you. 

Diane: Sorry for quizzing you on the 36 regimental colours in the Regimental Colours Party. In addition to seeing all the military contingents, I was also surprised by how many civilian sectors there were. The contingent from Grab was impossible to miss, haha. 

Farhan: I must say the Total Defence Display segments always get me hyped! The Red Lions Display is always a fan favourite while the Army showcase this year was pretty cool. How did it feel to be up close to the action?

Diane: Maybe it was the heat, but when the RSAF CH-4F Heavy Lift Helicopter descended on Marina Bay, I thought I was hallucinating.

I’d always associated NDP with the Show segment, but seeing the Naval Divers jump into the water, plus all those explosions, was one of my favourite parts - I didn’t expect it to be so thrilling! I hardly ever think or worry about how well-protected we are as a nation, but watching the SAF and our assets in action was a good reminder to not take our independence for granted.

PHOTO: NDP 2022 Exco

Farhan: What were some of your other highlights of the rest of the show? 

Diane: THE COSTUMES. Aisyah Aziz’s gown literally lit up the stage. The Blackpink aunties’ void deck dance battle was pretty cute. The student performers were so enthu. And can we talk about the short films?

I totally cried during the video montage about the families and couples who dealt with things like cancer and a downsized wedding ceremony during the pandemic. And finally, I loved seeing the crowd of spectators sing and get all emotional together. After the past three years of social distancing, seeing us able to celebrate each other as a collective is something I’ll never take for granted again.

Farhan: What is your biggest takeaway from experiencing NDP in person?

Diane: It was a lot more fun than I expected. Maybe it was the fireworks, the music, or the vibes, but just being there filled me with a swell of pride and affection for this country. I’m not sure how soon I’ll go again, but it’s definitely worth going to at least once.

Farhan: What advice would you give first-time NDP-goers?

Diane: Hydrate, wear a cap, and apply an extra layer of deodorant. And prepare tissues, lest you start crying on camera. 

Farhan: Finally, on a scale of 1-10, how patriotic do you feel after watching NDP in person?

Diane: At the peak of the parade, 10. Maybe a 2 after braving the crowd on the MRT, but it’s also sort of heartwarming seeing how many people showed up to celebrate our nation after a tough three years.

PHOTO: Diane Lim

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.