Marking 50 years of progress
Singaporeans turned out in force to mark the nation's 50th birthday yesterday, from joining solemn observance ceremonies across the island in the morning to taking in aerial displays over the Marina Barrage at noon, culminating with a grand parade at the Padang in the evening.
Befitting the milestone, over 200,000 people, many dressed in red and white, thronged the Marina Bay area to catch the highlight of the Golden Jubilee celebrations - the National Day Parade - mostly on large screens and enjoy the festivities. As the three-hour parade drew to a close, the crowds sang in unison to the evergreen lyrics of Dick Lee's Home.
They were joined by hundreds of thousands of all races watching the live broadcast at community centres and in their homes - as well as overseas Singaporeans on six continents - for the Pledge moment.
Hands on hearts, they committed themselves to work together "as one united people".
Some 1,200 parade performers then formed an illuminated mosaic of the national flag on the Padang while those gathered in the gleaming heart of modern Singapore sang along to a rousing rendition of the National Anthem and marvelled at the record five-minute fireworks display, the country's biggest and boldest to date. Celebrations continued around the Bay into the night.
In a Facebook post capturing the jubilant mood nationwide, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Today the whole nation celebrates. Glad so many are joining in at all the events. We celebrate as One People, One Nation, One Singapore."
Yesterday's celebrations began on a reflective note as residents flocked to 82 community and grassroots observance ceremonies.
Public warning sirens heralded the 9am broadcast of a poignant recording of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew reading the Proclamation of Singapore.
Fifty years earlier, the Proclamation of Singapore's independence read by radio anchor Steven Lee told a shocked nation that they were no longer part of Malaysia but would "be forever a sovereign democratic and independent nation".
Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not announce the Separation at the time because, as he put it in his memoirs, he had "too many other things to do in quick succession". To make up for it, he agreed to a recording of him reading the Proclamation three years ago.
Hearing that recording - months after Mr Lee's death on March 23 at the age of 91 saw an outpouring of grief - moved many, including auditor Jayapal Ramasamy, 58, who was at a ceremony in Ang Mo Kio GRC's Teck Ghee ward attended by PM Lee. "It gave me goose pimples. I was only eight in 1965, and it was a reminder of the numerous challenges our founding leaders faced back then," he said.
Retired food stall operator Mohamed Ali, 73, and his wife Absah Hassan, 65, were also touched. The couple tied the knot a few months after Separation, in December 1965, and recalled how Mr Lee's conviction and firm tone whenever he spoke at the time helped reassure many about the nation's future.
Mr Mohamed said: "We may have had our doubts about coping on our own then, but as the years go by and especially today, I am glad that Singapore went our own way."
In Mr Lee's former Tanjong Pagar GRC, some 6,000 residents lined Lower Delta Road in a reprise of how they bid him farewell.
Said Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah: "The whole of Mr Lee's life was dedicated to building Singapore, keeping her strong, safe, sovereign. When you hear the Proclamation, it encapsulates all of that... It is everything we stand for and it is everything we hope to be."
While the morning festivities were a reminder of national identity and sovereignty, they were also about the importance of family and traditions. Many had mini-carnivals with a touch of nostalgia, and grandparents joined their children and grandchildren to sample food and games dating back to the 1960s, from traditional kueh to five stones.
In Marine Parade, residents wore costumes of yesteryear to recreate the atmosphere of five decades ago, as did a section of those marching at the main parade.
At the Padang, Mr Lee's absence was marked by an empty seat in his honour. On it were two sprays of the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, a greenish golden yellow orchid hybrid named after Mr Lee following his death. A video paying tribute to Mr Lee's life and achievements was played as the spectators fell silent, some wiping away tears.
As the reel ended, the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Black Knights soared overhead in a "five-star" salute formation. The stars, like those on the flag, symbolise the ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.
Three surviving Old Guard leaders out of the 10 ministers who signed the agreement on Singapore's independence in 1965 were honoured, and sat beside Mr Lee's empty seat: Mr Othman Wok, 90, Mr Jek Yeun Thong, 85, and Mr Ong Pang Boon, 86.
At the parade were leaders and representatives from 17 fellow East Asia Summit members and the United Kingdom, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam hosted lunch for Singapore's foreign friends, and thanked them for their "steadfast support and friendship through the decades".
"As we stand on the cusp of a new era, we look forward to further deepening relations with you. Thank you for making the Singapore Story possible," Dr Tan added.
PM Lee wrote on Facebook: "We have come far in 50 years. While we enjoy today's prosperity and progress, never forget how hard we worked to get here. What we have is special and precious, and must never be taken for granted."
Echoing the words of the Pledge, he said: "Today we sang Majulah Singapura proudly. To still do so in 50 years' time, let us work together as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, for the happiness, prosperity and progress of our nation."
This article was first published on August 10, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.