With the fragrance of laksa, Hainanese chicken rice and satay wafting through the air, mixed with the singing of The Sam Willows, it was easy for crowds to mistake Singapore Day (SG Day) at San Francisco's Pier 70 for a weekend at Esplanade - Theatres by the Bay.
Singaporeans living and working in the United States (US) were out in full force at the old port warehouse in the historic Dogpatch neighbourhood to celebrate SG Day on 24 Sep. This was the first time the event went to the West Coast of the US.
Like bona fide Singaporeans, thousands waited patiently in the blazing sun for a familiar taste of home. With food in hand, some began picnicking outdoors while others gathered indoors to enjoy the Concert by the Bay, hosted by Hossan Leong.
The Dim Sum Dollies and cast of The Noose tickled many funny bones while Dick Lee, Taufik Batisah and The Sam Willows serenaded the crowds with popular local tunes. They were joined on stage by guest of honour Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who took the time to meet and speak to the attendees.
Playing their part
For some overseas Singaporeans, volunteering at SG Day was even more important than simply being there. These volunteers helped guide guests through three zones in the SG Day showcase. "We the Citizens" celebrated Singaporeans and the Singaporean way of life; "Our People, Our Possibilities" featured the nation's culture of innovation and entrepreneurship; and "Your Dreams and Future" invited all to imagine the Singapore of the future and play their part in building their dream home.
Among the volunteers were Lieutenant (LTA) (NS) Jerry Hu, Private (PTE) (NS) Ryan Ranjiv Singh, Corporal (CPL) (NS) Chan Ching Kit and Ms Rosary Lim, four friends who had travelled from Massachusetts.
To get to San Francisco, 23-year-old Boston University undergraduate LTA (NS) Hu had to endure a 10-hour flight that took eight hours longer due to a flight delay. "That's as long as it takes to fly back to Singapore!" he exclaimed. "But SG Day only takes place in the States once every four years, so I wanted to take the opportunity to help out."
His college mate, PTE (NS) Ryan, 24, added: "It's very rare to see thousands of Singaporeans coming together, especially in the States. I even met someone from my secondary school at the volunteers briefing, and I haven't seen him in six or seven years! It's a good platform to reconnect with people."
News from home
Despite being more than 13,000km away, the overseas Singaporeans made sure to keep abreast of the latest developments at home.
CPL (NS) Chan, 25, a Northeastern University alumnus, felt that the new Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) format was a welcomed change: "I find that it's easier to train for it now."
LTA (NS) Hu added thoughtfully: "But it still retains the core of what's important for soldiering."
Parents with pre-enlistee sons also remained attuned to updates in National Service (NS) matters, such as the newly-launched initiative for pre-enlistees to indicate their vocation interest.
"If it gets soldiers to be more interested in what they do and be more passionate about it, then I think that's good," said LTA (NS) Bernard Chao, a PhD student studying in Los Angeles.
Although his son Elijah is only 12, the teenager has already expressed his interest in flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. With the new initiative, he hopes to learn more about the various vocations available: "It will (make NS) more interesting, but it will only be effective if the person enlisting is well-informed and ready for what will happen."
As for Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (NS) Goh Peng Lee, he is planning to return to Singapore next year so that his 17-year-old son, Kiev, can take his IPPT in preparation for his enlistment the year after.
Kiev said that serving NS was his responsibility to the nation, and LTC (NS) Goh, a father of three sons, added: "It's important to me that my sons return to Singapore to serve NS, especially since I used to be from the force. It will be good training for them."