Every year, on the 9th August, Singapore celebrates its independence from Malaysia in the form of a National Day Parade. Anticipation for the day has been building for weeks now as the city slowly rolls out colours of red and white. While residential blocks and schools are draped in flags, public buildings proudly support banners and signs wishing Singapore a Happy 52nd Birthday. It is impossible to miss this display of national pride when even the lamppost across from my room bares a banner proudly proclaiming this year’s theme: One Nation Together. Hence, it was with much excitement that I looked forward to yesterday’s celebrations.
In keeping with the spirit of the day, I donned my red and white before making my way to the Marina Bay Waterfront with a group of fellow exchangers. We left with plenty of time to spare, aware that access to the Waterfront would close if it became overcrowded. While this allowed us to find a seat on the wooden decking with relative ease, we were left exposed to the beating sun of Singapore until it sank behind looming skyscrapers. Thankfully, we were able to put our umbrellas to best use and were sheltered from the worst of the sun’s rays, if not the oppressive heat.
The cries of the crowd drew our attention as everyone rose en masse, bringing their phones to bare. The helicopter is little more than a dot in the sky and remains so as figures begin to leap from it. Slowly they drift down jetting red smoke, tiny figures gradually growing larger on their parachutes. As they land out of sight, the crowd returns to their conversations; where we are seated offers no commentary and the main performance is out of sight so we sit and talk while we wait for the next feature: the flyby.
I have heard the planes practicing overhead every day since I arrived in Singapore and on a couple of occasions had even spotted the F-15 SG fighters at a distance. However, nothing could have prepared me for the thundering roar that shook my bones as they flew directly overhead before sweeping up in a twisting show of the jets’ capabilities. Sweeping away, the two jets are replaced by two Apache helicopters and a Chinook who perform a sweep of the bay. The Apaches fly off, leaving the Chinook as it lowers itself towards the water, sending up a swirling spray of water as figures dive into the water.
Next in the Dynamic Defence Display (or D3) was a high-speed jet ski versus RIB chase, complete with the crack of gunfire and small explosions. With the conclusion of the chase in a towering fireball, we were forced to wait while the display continued out of sight. The occasional firework would startle everyone to their feet in time to see the final flash of colour and smoke. The conclusion of the display was comprised of two parts; another flyby from the three helicopters in which the Chinook bore a huge Singaporean flag and a thundering 21-gun salute from a military raft that had slipped into the bay.
Something that struck me in that moment was the relative silence and motionlessness of the crowd. Where once upon a time helicopters baring a national flag would have been met with loud cheers and vigorous waving, here it was met with barely a raised voice as everyone jostled to get the best photo. As I looked around, faces were obscured as everyone pointed their phones to the sky. Indeed, this was the case for the majority of the event. The only exception was the fireworks. My somewhat cynical hypothesis on why is that after the first few photos everyone despaired of taking a none blurry photo and was instead forced to watch and experience the display through their eyes instead of through a screen. This phenomenon of viewing life through a lens is something I know I am equally guilty of but to encounter it on such a large scale was eye opening.
But I digress, with the display finished we were left to watch as the sky faded through pink and orange to black. The light pollution, as in any city, blocked out the stars so I was confused when a swarm of stars seemed to move and hover over the bay. They hung out over the water, waiting to catch everyone’s attention before changing colour and shifting to form ever changing images. Some were indistinct, such was our angle of viewing but other were more obvious. My favourite, a ring of people holding hands as they rotated through the sky, captured the theme of One Nation Together perfectly before the drones returned to white and flew away. This show was yet another example of how technology captures what I imagine magic must be like, though on this occasion my imagination was led more down the path of a futuristic sci-fi than that of a fantasy.
And then, finally, at last, at last – not that I like to describe myself as impatient or anything – the fireworks. There is just something so thrilling about flaming bursts of colour exploding across the sky. However many time I see fireworks I shall never grow bored off them, whether it’s straining to watch them from an attic window or watching with a front row seat as they erupt over the Singaporean skyline. At last the crowd was properly enthused as they oohed and aahed over the fleeting lights. Bangs and fizzes roared out, preceded by the lights that produced them and echoing around until they had no start or end. Dancing lights and fiery rain fell to Earth, fading to darkness and lingering smoke as the show came to an end.