Owning our SingaporeAs Singapore celebrates her 54th birthday, here’s a look at how six National Day Parade (NDP) participants have contributed in their own ways to make the nation a better place.
// STORY Teo Jing Ting
// PHOTOS PIONEER photographers & courtesy of interviewees
Beyond the dazzling fireworks and pageantry of NDP, what truly matters is why Singaporeans choose to call this tiny nation home.
It is not about gathering once a year to sing familiar NDP songs and reminisce about how far Singapore has progressed. It is about the everyday actions of Singaporeans and how they can make a difference — from things as simple as spreading the love for charity work to defending the country.
This is exactly what this year's NDP, themed Our Singapore, is about. Apart from reminding Singaporeans of the pioneer generation's contributions, this year's bicentennial celebrations hope to inspire Singaporeans to take ownership of Singapore and their future, said Chairman of the NDP 2019 Executive Committee Brigadier-General Yew Chee Leung.
The theme song Our Singapore (2019), for instance, features performers across different generations and comprises a medley of timeless NDP songs such as We Will Get There and Our Singapore.
Explaining the reason for having an intergenerational cast, Music Director Dr Sydney Tan said: "Whether you're 92 or three, we're all part of (an ongoing) journey (as Singaporeans). What better way than the bicentennial to see that picture: that we're all playing our part in this journey."
Meet six NDP participants across different generations who work to make Singapore a better place.
INSPIRING THE YOUNG
Syah Riszuan, 14, NDP theme song performer
At 14, local singer Syah Riszuan already has a significant fanbase. He has more than 5,000 followers on his Instagram account, an official fanpage and even his owntrending hashtag — #smoothsyah.
The young singer shot to fame when he made it to the semi-finals of Asia's Got Talent (AGT) Season 2 in 2017. But no excitement could compare to the moment when he received the news that he would be one of the singers of this year’s NDP theme song. In fact, he was literally jumping up and down in happiness.
"I was overwhelmed. I don't think I'm an artiste yet, so when I was called to be a part of the music video with the rest of the artistes, I felt very honoured," said Syah, who is the youngest of four sons.
During the filming of the music video, which features an intergenerational cast of almost 300 Singaporeans, he was especially eager to meet the pioneer generation of local singers such as Mr Ramli Sarip and Mdm Rahimah Rahim.
"I really wanted to meet them as they are legends and I wanted to see how they work together with others so that I can learn from them," said the Secondary Two student from Assumption English School.
It is perhaps no surprise that his favourite part of the song is when the pioneer generation sings the opening lyrics. "It reminds people of their own childhood and brings back memories — I was very touched when the veterans sang the first few lines."
Born to sing
Syah's love for singing began at the age of four. He joined and won his first competition two years later.
Since then, he has participated in more than 20 local singing competitions and won almost all of them — an amazing feat considering that he was always the youngest participant.
But the fame has not gone to his head. Though he tried to keep a low profile about his budding singing career, there was no hiding when the NDP music video was released.
"My science teacher played it in class and everybody started calling me 'abang (brother in Malay) popular'," said Syah sheepishly.
Beyond competitions, Syah has also taken part in charity concerts such as ChildAid in the last two years.
He was introduced to the fund raising show a few years back, when one of his elder brothers was a participant. That was when the young talent felt that he could be doing something more than just joining competitions.
"I wanted to be part of giving back to society, help the less fortunate and make people happy through my singing and entertainment acts."
His dream came true in November 2017, when he made the cut for ChildAid. The experience widened his social circle and he found many like-minded friends. It was so meaningful that he decided to audition the following year.
"I want to be an example to the younger generation and show that we can do our part by helping people," explained Syah.
"Helping others is one of the ways that we can become a better society, that we are all Singaporeans regardless of race, religion, health and wealth."
It's about Singapore
Come 9 Aug, all he wants is to bring joy to the audience.
His excitement is infectious. During rehearsals, he is often seen running around, interacting with performers and singing with so much gusto that he brings a smile to all who meet him.
When asked he if he wanted to take part in NDP again, Syah nodded without hesitation — even if he does not hold a lead role.
"It's not about me, but about Singapore. I love my country and I just want to be part of the celebrations."
CONTINUING THE LEGACY
CPT (Ret) Loh Kwan Boh, 63, Merdeka Generation Participant
CPT Charles Loh, 26, Hunter Vehicle Commander
When Captain (CPT) Charles Loh approached his father to join this year's NDP mobile column as a Merdeka Generation participant, the latter agreed immediately.
"My first thought was 'Wow!'," said CPT (Ret) Loh Kwan Boh with a chuckle.
"Both of us are tank officers and we're going to be in the same column — it's a very special feeling."
The 63-year-old is already looking forward to wearing his vintage tank overalls — an outfit that ignites a sense of pride and brings back fond memories of his time as an Armour officer.
"Fifty years ago, the AMX-13 tanks rolled down the Padang. Today, the Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) is taking the lead.
It shows how far the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Army have progressed," said the AMX-13-trained officer from the early batches of servicemen at 40th Battalion, Singapore Armour Regiment (40 SAR).
They are the only father and son pair to participate in the column this year. CPT (Ret) Loh will be riding on the Bionix while CPT Loh commands a Hunter.
Like father, like son
There is no doubt that CPT Loh was influenced by his father to join the SAF.
As a young boy, he often attended Army open houses with CPT (Ret) Loh and that opened his eyes to the world of tanks. His father was also the first person he called when he signed on in 2015.
"He taught me the values of responsibility and leadership by example, and I make sure to instil these values in my daily life as well as in those I lead," said CPT Loh.
Whenever he returns from overseas training, the 26-year-old Staff Officer from Headquarters Armour shares his experiences with his father. Whether it's dealing with the cold weather of Germany or the dusty terrain in Australia, no details are spared.
CPT (Ret) Loh is undoubtedly envious: "During my time, our (exercises) were all local, small-scale and mostly simulations.
"It's good for the soldiers today to train in a more realistic environment and have the opportunity to do so overseas, so that they will be better prepared and know their platforms well."
In the past, CPT (Ret) Loh took his son to visit Army open houses; now, it is CPT Loh who takes the lead and introduces him to the latest assets.
"He showed me the Leopard 2SG at the Army open house and it was so big! Last time, the tanks were so small — one leap and I can go up already!" said CPT (Ret) Loh with a laugh.
Commitment to defence
As a family, they have never missed a single NDP. Their favourite segment? The colours party and the mobile column.
"The moment I see the armoured platforms roll down the parade, I feel very shiok and proud 'cos I'm from Armour," said CPT Loh.
For CPT (Ret) Loh, it's a trip down memory lane. He remembers watching the very first mobile column in 1969 and always looks forward to seeing the next.
"I've seen many different types of vehicles over the years and every time the tanks roll out, it brings back so many memories for me. I'm very proud seeing how far we've come."
And as his son commands the Hunter down the parade, it almost feels like the end of one era and the beginning of another.
"My generation saw how Singapore transformed and it is very precious. We have built something to be treasured and we need a strong SAF to protect this," said Mr Loh.
CPT Loh is more than ready to take on the challenge. "One thing that has remained unchanged over the years is our commitment to defence. We've built up a good deterrence force which is capable of defending Singapore when the time arises.
"My father's generation has done its part. It is my duty now to instil the same commitment in the younger generation — to serve, to protect and to defend."
My generation saw how Singapore transformed...we have built something to be treasured and we need a strong SAF to protect this.
NDP 2019 BY THE NUMBERS
IT BEGINS WITH ME
SV2 Neo Li Fang, 34, Volunteer Contingent Commander
Every NDP, the parade and ceremony segment brings tears of joy to her eyes.
"For some reason, I get emotionally overwhelmed. Witnessing the teamwork and camaraderie of the marching contingents really touches me," said SAFVC Volunteer (SV) 2 Neo Li Fang with a laugh.
This year, the 34-year-old will finally be part of her favourite segment as she leads the Volunteer Contingent, which will be making its debut at NDP.
Beyond being a contingent commander, what makes the experience more memorable is that the contingent comprises a mix of 73 volunteers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Volunteer Corps (VC), the Singapore Police Force Volunteer Special Constabulary and the Singapore Civil Defence Force's Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit.
"(This) highlights the whole meaning of volunteering — that it's not about one Service but people from all walks of life coming together," said SV2 Neo, a senior clinical psychologist from Alexandra Hospital.
"We don't do it as a job but we really believe in our role and (have that) passion (to) step up over and above our daily work."
Rehearsals began in April and each session was an opportunity for the volunteers to interact with one another and form new friendships. They would learn about the different roles, share experiences and encourage one another when training got tough.
"Hearing about other people's volunteer experiences really touched me, and the fact that we are coming together to represent various organisations makes the whole experience even sweeter."
Best of both worlds
Growing up, it was always SV2 Neo's ambition to be a soldier. So she wasted no time in signing up when the SAFVC scheme launched in 2015.
The two weeks of basic training was mind-blowing and gave her a glimpse of what a uniformed vocation entails. After graduating from Basic Training, she was posted to the Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF's) Defence Psychology Department (DPD) to learn to contribute in her role as a defence psychologist.
Her first deployment? A sharing session with DPD defence psychologists focusing on the challenges and concerns of young adult males, mainly Full-time National Servicemen.
SV2 Neo, who has a doctorate degree in psychology, recalled: "We were sharing solutions and trying to work through constraints. It was really meaningful to see what we could do based on our skillsets — mine from a hospital setting and theirs from a military point of view."
Other call-ups include participating in NDP to provide support. She was a para-counsellor in 2016 and assisted in medical evacuations in the next two years.
When she has time, SV2 Neo volunteers to help with ongoing SAFVC basic training. During these week-long stints, she helps to watch over the newer batch of trainees and coach the female SVs.
"Joining the SAFVC is like having the best of both worlds. I can use my skills and training (from my job) to play my part in national defence — it's like a dream come true," she said enthusiastically.
Her love for Singapore is also the very reason she signed up to be an SV. Having grown up in a safe and secure environment, she wants to ensure the same for the next generation.
"You feel that sense of duty that you have to play your part as a Singaporean," said SV2 Neo.
"The things we do will make a difference in the future and that will mean the safety and prosperity that the younger generation grows up in.
"This is an ongoing process and it begins with me."
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
1WO Vijaikumar Rangabashayam, 45, Lead Aircrew Specialist for State Flag Flypast
The sight of the Singapore flag billowing in the wind and flown by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF's) CH-47 Chinook helicopter every NDP never fails to impress.
It is an extra special moment for 1st Warrant Officer (1WO) Vijaikumar Rangabashayam. As the lead Aircrew Specialist (ACS) for the State Flag Flypast, 1WO Vijaikumar has to ensure that the pickup and unfurling of the flag is done smoothly and efficiently.
And when the 30m x 20m flag is nearing the Padang, it must look perfect. "I have to constantly guide the pilot, through my communication set, to ensure that the flag unfurls properly," explained the 45-year-old ACS from 127 Squadron.
Throughout the flight, it is 1WO Vijaikumar's job to keep a watchful eye on the state of the flag. This may be his sixth year doing the flypast, but every flight has its own challenge.
For instance, depending on the wind speed and direction, he has to instruct the pilot to either speed up, slow down or even adjust the flight path so that the flag can fly in the optimal manner. The level of stress is high, but seeing the moment flawlessly unfold more than makes up for it.
"When you see the flag fluttering majestically in the wind over the Padang, it's a huge sense of achievement for not just me but my squadron as well."
In the heat of things
The father-of-two joined the RSAF in 1995, out of a passion to fly and save lives.
One of the most memorable moments in his career was when he was deployed as part of the multinational firefighting operations in Thailand and Indonesia in 2015. The former took place in March and the latter in October.
Although he had been trained for it, nothing could prepare him for the sight and heat of the raging flames.
"We could feel the heat through our boots when we landed near the water source to set up our equipment," recalled 1WO Vijaikumar, who was among 34 SAF personnel deployed to Palembang, Indonesia.
His role was to ensure the Chinook's smooth pickup of the 5,000-litre heli-bucket and to keep an eye on it throughout the flight. As the helicopter neared the forest fires, water was released to douse the flames.
During the two weeks, the team discharged more than 400,000 litres of water and doused more than 50 hotspots.
"At times, the visibility was very low due to the haze and there was plenty of smoke. But seeing the local residents waving to us in appreciation invigorated and spurred me to do my best despite the challenging environment," said 1WO Vijaikumar.
The Singaporean privilege
Beyond serving his country, what 1WO Vijaikumar truly enjoys is the privilege of being a Singaporean. Living in harmony and having mutual respect for one another within a multiracial society is a blessing, and one that needs to be maintained, he said.
As a father and soldier, 1WO Vijaikumar also takes it upon himself to inculcate a love for the nation in his children, especially his son who will be enlisting in two years' time.
"They need to understand that it takes a lot of effort to be where we are today, so that they don't take things for granted."
And anyone can do their part regardless of the role and organisation they are in, added 1WO Vijaikumar.
"You don't have to be in the armed forces to defend your country. As long as you have a strong sense of belonging and pride in Singapore, that is good enough."
When you see the flag fluttering majestically in the wind over the Padang, it's a huge sense of achievement.
A HEART FOR GIVING
Audrey Goh, 57, Show performer
While most Singaporeans usually spend their free time shopping or watching Netflix, Ms Audrey Goh prefers to spend her time helping others by either giving free haircuts or tidying up houses for the needy.
The 57-year-old freelance dance trainer explained that her passion for charity work began at a young age, when her father introduced her to the world of volunteering.
In her late 20s, Ms Goh volunteered at THK Home for The Disabled @ Eunos. Her mum would cook for the residents. After shopping for food ingredients in the morning, Ms Goh would spend the rest of the day running errands such as getting school shoes and clothes for the home. All expenses came out of their own pockets.
These days, she volunteers with a group of like-minded friends. Apart from providing monthly haircuts for the patients at a mental hospital, they clean houses for the needy.
When asked what keeps her going, Ms Goh said: "I'm blessed with what I have, so I want to share what I have and give what I can give."
When she's not giving dance lessons, Ms Goh teaches public speaking in secondary schools, and gives health and wellness talks to the public. She will also use these opportunities to spread the message of volunteering to both youths and parents.
"Singaporeans are very blessed and they are generally sheltered, especially the younger generation. Parents should encourage their children to volunteer so that they are aware of our blessings."
Doing her part for the nation
Come 9 Aug, Ms Goh will be performing Indian dance in the Show segment at NDP. She is among the 400 performers under the People's Association in Act Three, which celebrates Singapore's multicultural heritage.
This is her 10th year volunteering for NDP and every stint brings new memories and experiences.
In 2015, Ms Goh recalled performing with a heavy heart due to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's recent passing. Her team had been looking forward to his presence at the parade.
On another occasion, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong watched as they rehearsed in the rain at the Marina Bay Floating Platform. "Despite the heavy rain, he stayed to support us, that was very memorable," said Ms Goh.
Beyond these memories, it is the friendships that keep her coming back. Over the years, she has met people from all walks of life, different ethnicities and ages. Her close friends? Mainly performers who are in their 60s and 70s.
"We learn a lot from one another, just from sharing our life experiences," said Ms Goh.
"That is when you realise that age is just a number. What matters is your heart. As long as you set your heart on doing good and contributing to a cause, you're already making a difference."