SINGAPORE: At 6.35pm, just 10 minutes before the mobile column was due to arrive at Bishan, there was an explosion of excited murmuring.
“It’s here, it’s here!” cheered the crowd waiting by the road, as the entire mobile column rolled in, from the intimidating Leopard tanks to the familiar red-and-white Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) emergency vehicles.
Uniformed soldiers greeted Singaporeans in the crowd with waves and smiles, which the red-clad crowd enthusiastically returned.
Among them was engineer Marvin Quek, who had been waiting for one and a half hours with his wife and son at the carnival opposite Bishan MRT.
“I’m here because my son wants to take a look at the Leopard tank,” he said. “I’m quite excited; it’s just like a recap of the mobile column in 2001 … during my NS days.”
Mr Peter Tay, 53, came with his twin sons, Shane and Sherwin.
“It’s a happy occasion,” he said. “(We are here to) see how strong the Singapore army is. I feel proud to have such a strong army protecting us and it’s a good experience for the children.
“The songs make me feel very proud to be a Singaporean.”
Bishan was just one of the neighbourhoods the mobile column passed through on Saturday (Aug 10), in extended National Day Parade (NDP) celebrations in the heartlands.
As part of its 50th anniversary, the mobile column visited five neighbourhoods – Bishan, Jurong East, Woodlands, Punggol and Geylang Serai – and has been noted by the NDP committee to be a “traditional crowd favourite”.
FROM CITY CENTRE TO HEARTLANDS
The mobile column began its journey at the F1 Pit Building at about 2pm, according to spectators waiting by the road.
Mr Patrick Wee, 22, had been waiting at the pit since noon, as he expected a large crowd.
When asked for his thoughts on the mobile column, he said: “Just acknowledging that Singapore has a strong defence. With increased threats, Singapore has to be ever-ready.”
For Mr Wafi, 35, he brought his family to the F1 pit to “catch most of the action” at the start, while indulging his son’s interest in vehicles.
A CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE
At each of the five heartland destinations, carnivals set up by grassroots organisations lent a party atmosphere to the occasion, as residents waited for the mobile column to arrive.
The excitement was intense at Woodlands as Singaporeans living in the area came in droves to participate in the carnival’s activities.
In addition to regular food and beverages, there were also stage performances by students.
Ms Wong Wei Sum, who was with her husband and two children, said her son and daughter wanted “to see the army tanks”.
“I try to go somewhere fun in our country (with my children), and to let my daughter and son get to know Singapore better.”
Others, such as Ms Lee Sai Luang, 76, went to watch the fireworks. This is the first time in more than a decade that fireworks have been set off in the heartlands.
“We’re happy spending time (together),” said Ms Noriza Mohd Salji, 31, who was there with her family of seven. “We want to celebrate and bond with each other.”
Mr Aldwin Teo, 49 - who has failed to ballot successfully for NDP tickers in 15 years - said: “(There is) much more NDP atmosphere here. It’s good for family bonding – young and old come together, of all races.”
“THANK YOU ... FOR WALKING THE JOURNEY”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was present at the celebrations in Bishan, where he arrived with several MPs including Ms Denise Phua, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, and Mr Ng Eng Hen.
Speaking in Mandarin and English, PM Lee acknowledged that while the mood at the NDP celebration on Friday was “very very good, not everybody could go to Padang”.
“So today, the parade has visited all of you in Bishan, and I think it has also gone to Woodlands and gone to Tampines and Jurong – all over Singapore,” he said.
“One of the most heart-warming moments in the parade yesterday was when the mobile column stopped, and we invited all the Merdeka Generation people who are at the parade to stand up so that we could salute them.
“Thank you, you all, for walking the journey from third world to first and bringing Singapore here,” he said.
He concluded his speech by expressing his hope for younger generation to take Singapore forward.
Twins Shane and Sherwin, 9, could potentially answer that call.
“My heart was beating so fast (when I saw the column), and I was smiling very weirdly,” said Shane.
His brother Sherwin declared: “I’m going to grow up to be a soldier.”