“This year, on Aug 9, I will have celebrated National Day 52 times,” Jeffrey Goh – let’s call him Uncle Jeff – declares, waving his Singapore flag. The National Day tattoos on his face crinkle adorably, 70 years’ worth of laugh lines running beneath them.
“In the early days of National Day, we did not have a display segment with dance and all that,” he tells his son Shaun, 34, who’s a teacher.
“It was very regimented – all the soldiers marching. We also had decentralised parades instead of one big main one, so that more people could see the Parade. But it was very difficult to organise.”
Shaun has a very different view on what comes to mind when thinking of celebrating National Day. “It’s a holiday!” he replies, without missing a beat.
“When we were still in school, you got a half-day the day before, and there will be some kind of celebration where we sing National Day songs. It was a really fun time of coming together to celebrate the nation – a really united spirit.”
For Uncle Jeff, the season has also always been about personal reflection.
“Having seen the development of Singapore from the early days, we can see the change all over. Just have to look at our skyline! In one of the years when I took part in the National Day Parade and we marched in town, I looked at the bank buildings, the financial district, and a sense of pride welled up in me to see how far we’ve come.
“Singapore has progressed so much under good government and the hard work of the people.”
NATIONAL ANTHEM VS NATHAN HARTONO
But what about the younger generation, who didn’t get to witness the country’s most significant changes from third world to first world nation in 50 years?
“The younger generation is pretty indifferent towards National Day,” Shaun laments. “But beneath that exterior, we do feel something for the nation. After all, most of us grew up here and live here. Our communities, our families are here.
“Singapore will always hold that special place in our hearts.
“We may not be too hot about singing the National Anthem, or even know the lyrics or what they mean, but we still have a certain pride – whether we’re quibbling over national foods with Malaysia or celebrating when Nathan Hartono made it to the Sing! China finals. We just take pride in different things from my dad’s generation.”
But are these “things” really that different across the generations?
“We have a country where we experience freedom of worship and that is something really wonderful,” Uncle Jeff says, eyes sparkling with pride. “And I have friends of all the major races. Malay, Indian or Chinese – we work together, fight together, train together.”
PATRIOTISM ON TAP
He goes on, barely pausing to think.
“We have the cleanest water in the world. I remember one time I was in New York and they told me not to drink water from the tap. I thought to myself, this is the great United States of America and I can’t even drink water from the tap the way I do in Singapore.
“There was another country I visited in Southeast Asia and when I checked into the hotel, the receptionist told me that there would be a power failure that day. It was just something that happened every day.
“And do you know that our rubbish is collected every day of the year, even on Chinese New Year and Hari Raya? In other countries, garbage is only cleared twice a week!
“All these things we seldom pay attention to, we take either take for granted or don’t care.”
By now, we’re also realising how oblivious we are to the “things” that are so obvious to us, we don’t even feel thankful for them in the day to day. It’s not that we take pride in “different things” – we’ve just grown indifferent to many things that the pioneer generation saw firsthand as precious differences that were made over the years.
“There’s a sense of entitlement with the younger generation,” Shaun agrees. “Just by nature of being Singaporean, we think we deserve certain things. Good grades, good education, a future … But we must remember it is a privilege, not an entitlement.”
So, what do the pair wish for Singapore in her 52nd year?
“A good group of leaders for the next 50 years. People who will put the country before themselves and uphold traditional values,” Uncle Jeff muses.
“I really want to see more heart in our leaders,” Shaun adds. “We push for economic growth and more influence and financial success, but compromise on the heart and soul of our people.
“If we can look past short-term monetary goals, I believe we can groom a generation that is prepared to invest in other people’s lives and find greater direction apart from just making money.”
His dad agrees wholeheartedly. “In our singular pursuit of competency, whether we are raising a people of character has greater implications for the future of Singapore.
“My favourite National Day song is Count On Me, Singapore – because it talks about my commitment to the nation. Count on me.”
We walk away from this chat happy to know that Singapore can count on at least one father and son pairing to stand up for the country. The generations may have very different reasons for national pride – but it’s still pride in the nation.
To all Singaporeans, Happy National Day!