COME TOGETHER, SINGAPORE

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Come-together-Singapore
01 Aug 2017 | COMMUNITY

COME TOGETHER, SINGAPORE

This year’s National Day Parade (NDP) theme is a rally call to unite all Singaporeans, despite our differences, so we can grow stronger together.

Report // Thrina Tham & Tan Jun An

Photos // PIONEER photographers & courtesy of interviewees

Melayu 华文
Melayu 华文

The hashtag: a symbol to generate buzz; the phrase following it: an expression of the thoughts and feelings we wish to convey.

And the symbol is not just for social media junkies. In celebration of its 52nd birthday, Singapore has chosen its own hashtag, #OneNationTogether, as its rally call.

The NDP organising committee has included many groups of Singaporeans from diverse backgrounds among its participants. They range from four-year-old Shaista Eman, who will be performing a skit in the final act, to 81-year-old rock guitarist Mary Ho, fondly known as Grandma Mary.

PIONEER speaks to five groups of Singaporeans who have come together from different backgrounds. They share their stories of unity — from bonding as a family to connecting as a tight-knit group in a foreign land — and of what togetherness means to them.


Adrianna (left) and Makayla are proud to be different.

A love of family

As a trainer of Armour Officers, 2nd Warrant Officer (2WO) Veera Raj has been trained for combat, live firing and tank operations. More interestingly, the Army also trained him for a challenge every married man faces — meeting his in-laws.

Although the 35-year-old only celebrated Chinese New Year for the first time with his wife’s family two years ago, “things like giving mandarin oranges and saying lo hei phrases when you pour this and pour that” were all quite familiar to him.

“In the Army, you also have Chinese New Year celebrations and other festive events where you get to learn about different cultures,” explained 2WO Veera.

Although it was out of the ordinary for his in-laws to welcome an Indian into their family, they were eager to meet him, said his wife Ms Shirley Yan, 37, who is an Indonesian Chinese turned Singaporean.

“They went, ‘Finally!’” the communications manager said. “One of my uncles calls him Obama, and they said, ‘Obama 终于来了’ (which means “Obama has finally arrived” in Mandarin).”

True to their (mixed) roots

The Chinese-Indian couple and their two daughters sometimes get curious stares from strangers who encounter them.

“It doesn’t bother us and the girls quite like the attention,” said Ms Yan. “Even in kindergarten they know about different races and they are rather proud to be different.”

The parents keep their girls, Adrianna, 7, and Makayla, 5, close to both sides of the family. Chinese New Year is a big family affair at Ms Yan’s hometown in Jakarta, while the girls double their ang pows (red packets) with the red or purple ones they receive during Deepavali.

The children are registered as Indian in race, but they study Mandarin as their mother tongue.

Said 2WO Veera: “I took Malay in school, so I didn’t learn my own mother tongue. We thought it would be better for them to learn Mandarin so my wife could teach them.”

His own family comes from different backgrounds: his father is Tamil while his mother Punjabi, so they speak different dialects.

In fact, 2WO Veera has a decent understanding of Mandarin, which he picked up through interactions with his Armour mates.

“When my wife is conversing with her mum, I actually understand the conversation. I’ll just listen. Sometimes I’ll add my own two cents’ worth in English!”

Celebrating as a family

While 2WO Veera is no stranger to the NDP — he commanded the Presidential Lance Guard in 2007 and was part of the Show committee for the SG50 celebrations — it is his first NDP with the family that he remembers most fondly.


The family celebrated NDP at the National Stadium for the first time last year.

“It’s good to celebrate the nation’s birthday, and watching the parade is also a good time for family bonding,” said 2WO Veera.

I think it’s also important that (the kids) know what their country is all about and that we need to love our country,” added Mdm Yan.

“When you ask me where I’m from, the first thing I say is Singapore — it’s a sense of pride and belonging.”

The young girls also understand that their father is a soldier who defends the country.

“They know ‘bad people’ are real because they always ask if Daddy is out there to protect us from ‘bad people’”, said Ms Yan. “They are proud that their dad is doing something really important for our country and our family.”

A home across borders

Being miles away from home does not dampen these young Singaporeans’ enthusiasm when it comes to celebrating National Day.

In fact, the celebrations are comparable to some of the celebrations back home, claimed Ms Regina Lai, a Year Three student from the University of Queensland Singapore Students’ Society (UQSSS) in Australia.

“Every year, we hold UQSSS’ most symbolic event: the live screening of the NDP.

“This enables us to celebrate National Day together with our fellow Singaporeans and loved ones back home, and it makes us feel like we’re back in Singapore again,” said the 21-year-old.


(From left) Mr Xian, Ms Wong and Ms Lai feel that the UQSSS has helped them feel closer to home while in Australia.

In addition to the annual NDP celebrations, which are co-organised by UQSSS, Queensland University of Technology Singapore Students’ Association and Overseas Singaporean Unit, UQSSS holds regular Makan Nights, where vendors and students set up stalls to sell Singaporean delicacies on campus.

“Such events help us feel connected to home as they allow Singaporean students to buy their favourite dishes…as well as students from other countries to have a taste of our local food.”

Ms Lai added: “It really gives us a sense of pride when they love the food and want even more!”

Network of support

Good food aside, being homesick was what compelled Ms Lai to join UQSSS. “Coming to this country alone, it is inevitable to miss home once in a while. Therefore, I wanted to surround myself with fellow Singaporeans to provide support and encourage one another.”

Like Ms Lai, Year Two student Tedmond Xian joined UQSSS to be part of a support network while overseas. “It gives me the comfort of knowing that other Singaporean students are going through the same kind of challenges as I am, and that I’m not alone.”

He added: “It also expands our social network so that when we return to Singapore, we will have friends who will be able to relate to our experiences and memories.”


(from left) Ms Wong, Mr Xian and a UQ student from Hong Kong at the UQSSS SG50 photo booth in 2015.

The Vice-President of UQSSS is looking forward to this year’s NDP celebrations.

“I want to be able to interact and bond with my fellow Singaporeans and bask in the atmosphere of national pride while watching the NDP live stream,” said the 24-year-old.

After watching their SG50 celebrations in 2015, Ms Nicole Wong decided to join the society so that she could “give back to the community that made me feel like there is a home away from home”.

“The grand scale of the celebrations held in the middle of Brisbane at King George Square made me immensely proud of my country’s unique culture. I was so proud to call myself a Singaporean,” said the 21-year-old Year Four student, who is part of the UQSSS Sponsorship committee.

Her UQSSS orientation programme is also a memory that she holds dear to her heart. “It was through this orientation that I was given the opportunity to make friends with other Singaporean students who would later become my greatest pillars of support throughout my university life.”


Ms Lai (first row, far right) with her friends at the Brisbane SG50 celebration, which holds the record as the largest overseas SG50 celebration, held at King George Square.

Her UQSSS orientation programme is also a memory that she holds dear to her heart. “It was through this orientation that I was given the opportunity to make friends with other Singaporean students who would later become my greatest pillars of support throughout my university life.”

When asked how she was going to celebrate one of her last National Day celebrations as a student of the university, Ms Wong replied: “I will be sticking to my tradition of celebrating alongside my friends, indulging in roti prata and other Singaporean dishes, and belting out National Day songs at the top of my voice!”

Kampung in the city

Mr Nicholas Longstaff had just reached home after touching down in Singapore late at night. Exhausted from his long flight, the Canadian-born Singapore permanent resident left his keys in the front door.

For many, this could have been a security nightmare.

But to the resident of Eastville Apartments in Joo Chiat, there was nothing to worry about. A kind neighbour helped to safekeep the keys and dropped him a message to collect them whenever he was free.

The kampung spirit is very much alive here.

Neighbours hold playdates for their children; trust each other with their house keys while they’re travelling; and readily pop over to help with home repairs.


(From left) Mr Dittrich, Mr Wong, Mdm Ong and Mr Chandran Vellakkannu are part of the Eastville community of neighbours who look out for each other.

Spirit of sharing

“We definitely look out for each other and, even for new neighbours, there’s a strong sense of hospitality,” said the estate’s chairman Simon Wong, 43.

For instance, Mdm Sandra Ong, whose home is known to the Eastville residents as “the source of good food”, often goes around giving out cakes, noted the British-born Singapore permanent resident who works as a creative director.

On other occasions, Mdm Ong cooked extra food for a neighbour whose husband was travelling and offered cookies to new neighbours who were moving in.

“It’s a natural thing I just felt like doing, because we’re all living here and we all know each other,” said the Singaporean freelance producer, 39.

Meanwhile, when resident fitness buff Marco Dittrich heard his neighbour complaining of backaches, he decided to whip him into shape — helping him lose 18kg in two months.

The German-born fitness instructor, 49, had refused any payment, save for a bottle of wine to share. “Sometimes he’s there when I pass by his place, so I just drop by and we chit-chat.”

Among the things that the neighbours share, their WhatsApp group chat takes the cake for being the most handy tool when help is needed.

Residents who are not home to receive a delivery only have to drop a text in the group chat and someone will be around to help. Neighbours are also quick to alert each other if anything has happened around the estate.

“We don’t need to pay for a doorman or an intercom, we just use our WhatsApp chat,” said Mr Wong.

A home in Singapore

Mr Wong feels that the open layout of the walk-up apartments gives the neighbours more opportunities to interact. The group occasionally gathers to celebrate festive occasions as well as to have impromptu durian feasts.

“We have this entire carpark space... We set the tables outside like a street party and good food comes out from the various houses.”

Despite their different nationalities, the neighbours also gathered to celebrate Singapore’s National Day last year with a barbeque in the compound.

“We have this entire carpark space... We set the tables outside like a street party and good food comes out from the various houses.”

“Now is an especially good time to be proud of Singapore,” said Mr Wong.

“We have all these things happening in our country like new skylines and many projects.”

But it’s really the warm and friendly people who have made him feel at home in Singapore, he added.

Mr Dittrich agreed: “Here, I chat with the neighbours. Everybody makes sure everybody is safe… It’s fantastic.”

The Singapore permanent resident first moved here for work in 1996. “I was supposed to stay for two years. But I never left.”

In good company

Many claim to be best friends forever, or BFFs for short, but this group of camp buddies has a bond that has not weakened even after 45 years.

Kranji Connect, a group made up of former Armour officers from the pioneer batch of 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (41 SAR), still meet up every month to exercise.

“As you can see, we are old but we still look good,” the coordinator of the group, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Ret) Raymond Tan, said unabashedly to this writer.

“Kranji Connect started with the desire to keep in touch,” the 66-year-old explained. “And of course, exercising and keeping fit was a good excuse for that.”

Since they were commissioned together upon completing the first Armour Officer Cadet Course in 1972, most of the pioneers have kept in touch till today.


The Kranji Connect buddies walking at Bukit Panjang Park in July as part of a recent gathering.

What’s in a (WhatsApp) name

“Kranji Connect” was coined from Kranji Camp, where the men spent one-and-a-half years going through their recruit and section leader (now known as specialist) training.

“We lived in Romney huts with no concrete floors — only mud,” described former Lieutenant Quek Mui Seng, 65. “They were tomb-shaped huts that the British used to keep ammunitions.” As the barracks were not built yet, their toilets were field latrines.

Under those conditions, the Armour recruits lived and trained together.

“When we are doing training exercises, there are many military tactics and manoeuvres in which we must work well together in order to capture the enemy section,” said LTC (Ret) Tan. “Every section must play an active part.”

After every mission, they also had to perform vehicle maintenance. “So there are a lot of opportunities for us to work together all the time, to build up the esprit de corps and bond,” he added.

The teamwork of the Armoured Infantry worked like a chair. He explained: “When one of its legs is broken, it is unstable. So if somebody chao keng (Hokkien for skive), we all have a problem... With those strong work ethics, we bonded very well.”

It is with this attitude that LTC (Ret) Tan initiated the Kranji Connect WhatsApp group chat about two years ago.

Walking together

The chat started with a group of six, out of the 42 Armour officers of the first 41 SAR batch. “After ORD (Operationally Ready Date), it took a long time for us to get together,” admitted LTC (Ret) Tan. “But finally we realised…there’s meaning in gathering.”

Now, Kranji Connect has 35 members. The chat even includes those who have gone overseas and settled down in countries like Australia, England and the United States.


(From left) CPT (Ret) Ng, LTC (Ret) Tan and Mr Quek, a former Lieutenant, are part of the pioneer batch of Armour officers who meet for walks monthly.

Those who are in Singapore meet for their “Buddies for Life” walk on the second Saturday of every month.

“The concept is to meet at a different park connector (each time),” explained LTC (Ret) Tan. “When we have a new environment, people will be more encouraged.” The pioneers get up early for their walks that begin at 7am. They cover around three to four km before ending off with breakfast at a nearby hawker centre.

Wives and children are not allowed. “The playing field would be different,” explained LTC (Ret) Tan, who preferred to focus on reuniting the old friends.

“We catch up and we share; it’s wonderful. It’s good to reminisce about the good old days.”

Nation-building memories

Of the memories that the group fondly shared, one of their proudest moments was their participation in an NDP.

“I remember National Day, 1972. (One of the) first times the mobile column was displayed,” recollected Captain (CPT) (Ret) Ng Boon Teck, 65.

“I was there, on the V200 (Armoured Personnel Carrier). The whole company took part, with the AMX-13 tanks in front, followed by the V200.”

CPT (Ret) Ng described the pride he felt in participating, as though it were just yesterday. “It is the pride of standing inside the vehicle overlooking and saluting to the President and ministers…and the hard work that went into preparing the vehicles.”

Commemorating National Day is all part of nation-building, added LTC (Ret) Tan. “It brought joy that we participated in nation-building as part of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and that we played a part as pioneers. “As the first batch of Armour, we really championed bonding. Like we said — and it caught on — ‘Once Armour, Always Armour.’”

A united force

A series of terror attacks has broken out across the island — a mass shooting incident, a hostage situation, and a homemade bomb hidden in a bag and planted in the city.

Heavily-armed troops from the SAF and Home Team agencies are quickly activated.

From securing the affected areas to taking down the terrorists and rescuing civilians, the agencies work hand in hand to combat the sudden threat.

This may sound like a dramatic scene from a blockbuster movie, but it could happen in our city at any time.

This multi-agency counter-terrorism simulation will be displayed at this year’s parade, the first such showcase in NDP.

Taking place during the second segment of the high-intensity Dynamic Defence Display (D3), these simulated attacks will demonstrate the close collaboration between the SAF and Home Team.


(From left) 3SG Lian, standing with his Talon UGV, INSP Gan and LCP Izzuan come together from different agencies and units to participate in the NDP D3.

Behind the D3 scenes

“Having a great partnership among all agencies is key in securing such operations,” said Lance Corporal (LCP) Muhammad Izzuan Bin Mohd Yusoff.

As part of the D3 counter-terrorism segment, the 22-year-old Army Deployment Force trooper will be deployed from the Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle (PRV) as “one of the first lines of defence”.

“Where there are terrorists, we are tasked to do an inner cordon. Our job is to not let anyone in or out of the affected area.”

Also taking part in D3 is Singapore Police Force Inspector (INSP) Gan Mei Huey who noted that the agencies are equipped with different skill sets and knowledge.

“To harness the full strength of Singapore’s security capabilities, it is important for the Home Team and the SAF to work closely and seamlessly with each other.”

As Emergency Response Team (ERT) leader, INSP Gan, 29, leads the police officers in responding to the simulated attack, taking down the terrorists in a shoot-out and rescuing the civilians.

The ERTs are needed to clear the vicinity before the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team is able to proceed with its D3 mission.

A member of the EOD team is Combat Engineer 3rd Sergeant (3SG) Aloysius Lian. He controls the Talon Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) that disarms the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted by the terrorists.

“Once we reach the bomb site, we need to jump into action and tackle the IED,” said the 20-year-old Full-time National Serviceman.

“The ERTs rely on us in the sense that we have the knowledge to take care of the IED. So we work together to ensure that all threats — both the terrorists and the IED — are neutralised.”

Ready and prepared

Playing a part in NDP holds a different meaning for each of the participants.

For one, it is to showcase the abilities of the counter-terrorism forces.

3SG Lian said: “What my (EOD) unit does is very risky and behind-the-scenes, so this is an opportunity to showcase what we have… It’s an honour that I’m able to represent my unit.”

LCP Izzuan, who volunteered to participate without hesitation, hopes his mother will be able to spot him on television.

“I’m proud to take part in NDP, and it makes her proud too... It’s also a good chance for anyone who does not know what my job is, to see what I do.”

The display is an important message for Singaporeans to know that the nation is well-prepared against terror attacks, said INSP Gan.

“We are trained for such situations and in this year’s NDP, the audience can witness how (all the agencies) come together.”

NDP 2017 HIGHLIGHTS

What’s new in D3?

The Dynamic Defence Display (D3) will be showcased in two segments for the first time. Making their National Day Parade (NDP) debut at the floating platform are these Singapore Armed Forces assets:

Belrex Protected Combat Support Vehicle

Equipped with a Remote Machine Gun and Smoke Grenade Launcher, the Belrex provides protected mobility to the Combat Support and Combat Service Support forces.

Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle (PRV)

Watch the PRV storm in to join the combat against terrorism in the second segment of D3!

Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Audiences will get to see the capabilities of the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s latest “eye-in-the-sky” which was just announced to be combat ready this March.

In full flight

For the first time in an NDP, 300 unmanned drones will take to the skies in the largest such display in Southeast Asia. The drone show is part of a performance that aims to inspire Singaporeans to innovate as the nation progresses into the future.

NSmen, we salute you!

The parade will feature a special tribute to mark the 50th year of National Service. The marching contingents will salute all national servicemen, together with their families and employers, and invite spectators to stand and join in the salute.

We have 10 NDP 2017 Funpacks to give away! For a chance to win one, visit www.mindef.gov.sg/pnr/contest by 11 Aug and tell us about your most memorable NDP moment!

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