Don't rain on my Parade

SINGAPORE - When I read that this year's National Day Parade (NDP) would feature the first woman in the Red Lions parachuting display, I made a mental note to catch that moment on TV.

But I tuned in late on Aug 9 and thought I had missed seeing Third Warrant Officer Shirley Ng whip off her helmet after landing to reveal her neatly bunned hair, gather up her parachute, and wave to the crowd.

It was only later that I found out she was denied her chance to make history as the Red Lions' jump was called off due to poor weather.

A few days later, I remarked to a friend how disappointed she must have been, but he sniffed: "Does anyone still care about the NDP?"

Every year, when August is around the corner, pockets of cynicism sprout as surely as Singapore flags.

This year's National Day song is just plain awful, they cry. Burning up good money on fireworks, some say. Pure propaganda, others sneer.

Well, I'm not the most ardent fan of the NDP. I've never balloted for tickets and have attended just one preview show - about five years back - only because a friend had an extra ticket.

Neither do I make it a point to catch the NDP on TV every year, and stay glued from start to end.

Still, when it comes to a show of pomp and pageantry to celebrate the nation's birthday, I think people do care.

Otherwise, why would tickets for the NDP and the previews be snapped up year after year? Some tickets even end up on sale online.

The spectators show up hours early, and almost everyone dresses in red, some sporting mini-flags on their faces. Then you see them waving light sticks, flags and banners throughout the show.

The last time I was among the spectators, I could feel the energy of a crowd bubbling with delight. We stood to cheer and held our flags high every chance we got.

Rolling out the military hardware, and having a song and dance, may seem a little contrived after almost 50 years of nationhood. But if the United States - almost 250 years old and the world's sole superpower - isn't above marking its Independence Day with a parade in Washington and a blast of fireworks, why should people be dismissive about lighting up the Marina Bay skyline with a pyrotechnic display of our own on Aug 9?

Sometimes the naysayers give the impression that any form of enthusiasm for the NDP means one has been brainwashed, but that's as unfair as labelling those who don't watch it as unpatriotic.

And surely we don't have to fall neatly into pro-and anti-NDP camps. There are moments during the show that I enjoy and segments I frankly find a bit dull.

This year, I watched the show from the point when the tanks started rolling out.

The military demonstrations are always my favourite, especially the naval elements featured since the venue shifted to the floating platform. I served two years in the army and while its bells and whistles on display bring back memories of my time in uniform, the navy's capabilities are a novelty to me.

The sharp turns and manoeuvres of the speed boats also always remind me of the one time I was on a military vessel for a few hours and had to fight the urge to be sick.

The skits and mass dances during the latter part of the NDP usually do less for me.

But this year, I got excited again when our sports heroes took to the stage, including Paralympic medallist Laurentia Tan and the LionsXII football team.

The footballers huddled on a pedestal for a brief moment, and they appeared as if they had just won the Malaysian Super League all over again. Their expressions were of unbridled joy.

That's the NDP for me. Much as I know it is all choreographed and rehearsed, there are always poignant moments sprinkled throughout. Some bring a smile to my face, others put a lump in my throat simply by celebrating the familiar and endearing aspects of life here.

If I could submit an early wish list for the NDP next year, it is that 3WO Ng will be given another shot at making her record-making skydive.

If that happens, I'll be sure to tune in. On time.

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