John Ang / Guest Writer
National Day to me has always been simply a day to spend staring at the television.
The only thing that I looked forward to was the fly-past of the F-16 fighters and the fireworks. I didn’t sing along to the national songs, nor the anthem, and I didn’t really give two hoots about it being the celebration of the successes of Singapore. In fact, my apathy went so deep that some years I do not even know which birthday we were supposed to be celebrating.
This year didn’t look like it would turn out any different. NS hadn’t made me love Singapore more in any way (rather, the opposite was true). My decision to dig deeper into our policies and politics had stripped away my illogical conclusion that if Singapore was clean, safe, and had buses and trains that ran on time, everything else had to work out fine too. So, when one of my old friends invited me to a National Day party at his house, I reluctantly accepted out of courtesy and dragged my feet every step of the way, dreading the imminent moment where I would have to force out a display of nationalism.
Oh, how wrong I was!
His house was brightly lit, and Singapore flags (yes, flags) and red/white decorations abounded. Everyone was wearing red, red wine was being served, and bottles of Archipelago and Tiger floated in a bucket of ice (both are homegrown brews). When the doors of the kitchen opened, out came trays of fresh-from-the-stall Punggol Nasi Lemak, homemade “shio bak”, and various Nonya kuehs and curries. At that very moment, as I contrasted the grim soldiers standing at attention on the parade on the television with the atmosphere of the party, the true meaning of “Celebrating the Singapore Spirit” occurred to me.
As it happened, the people at the party didn’t pay attention to the parade on television at all – they did, however, spend ten minutes on the balcony watching the fighter plane acrobatics, which could be seen from the house. They were more interested in drinking the beer, singing (non-national) songs and filling out a 20 question “National Quiz”; in which questions such as “Which town has a name which means Back Of The River?”, “What does OG stand for?”, and “What are you referring to when you order rochor mee? The answers filled in, no less, on the grid of a 4D betting slip*.
The imminent moment came in the end, as they called everyone to sing the National Anthem. What I did not expect, however, was the appearance of a gigantic block of “agar agar” (jelly) in the form of the Singapore Flag, and the subsequent drunk mangling of both the National Anthem and the Pledge. In the end, I laughed, sang the anthem loudly and cut out a star from the agar block and ate it with relish.
As I drove home, I thought about how all these years, my view of being patriotic had been shaped by the media and the government as an adherence to the law, to the submission to authority, to the support for governmental plans and policies and how an opposition to any one of them would deem one unpatriotic. But that night, I found that a celebration of our culture, the essences of the city we live in, and of course, our food made me feel a real attachment to this little piece of rock; and that, I think, is a demonstration of real patriotism.
*The first prize for the quiz was a National Day goodie bag, which nobody wanted.
Picture from beconfused.com http://beconfused.com/tags/art/