SINGAPORE: An impressive 1.3km-long mobile column rolled past the Padang on Friday (Aug 9), showing off Singapore's military might.
While new assets were on display, it was Singapore’s older assets, the 39 Merdeka Generation servicemen waving to the crowd from atop their vehicles, that elicited the greatest cheers.
This was the 2019 National Day Parade (NDP) in a nutshell - a celebration of old and new.
“Our Singapore” was the theme of Singapore’s 54th birthday celebration and it aimed to tell the country’s story from past to present.
It also emphasised the collective ownership of Singapore – how today’s citizens are living the dreams of yesterday’s pioneers and will in turn become pioneers of the future.
The parade was held at the Padang to mark a milestone in Singapore’s history - 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed on the island.
There were elements of the past and present coming together even before the six-act showcase officially began.
Take local musician Clement Chow crooning Count On Me, Singapore - 33 years after he first sang it at the NDP - and rappers Yung Raja and Fariz Jabba delivering a remix of Stand Up For Singapore.
Egged on by hosts Sonia Chew, Joakim Gomez, Ebi Shankara and Siti Khalijah, the crowd of 27,000 at the Padang stirred to life, participating in games like a singing contest in which selected audience members had to guess the lyrics.
Kick-starting the NDP’s prologue was the parade’s theme song, also titled Our Singapore, featuring the lyrics of NDP 2002's We Will Get There and the 2015 edition of Our Singapore.
Led by the hosts, more than 800 youth and children clad in fluorescent shades of green, pink, blue and orange performed a lively rendition, busting out choreographed moves.
The appearance of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Red Lions is always appreciated, but not always guaranteed - their jump at the 2015 NDP at the Padang had to be called off because of poor weather.
But four years later, it was blue skies, green light and red plumes of smoke as the parachutists circled the venue set to be gazetted as a national monument.
Eyes were trained to the skies and smartphones were at the ready as the tiny speck of a Chinook helicopter appeared.
The rumble of anticipation turned into thunderous applause as the Red Lions maneuvered their way to solid ground from 3,048m, before waving to and saluting an admiring crowd.
A procession of eight floats brought the prologue to a close in a segment titled Our Bicentennial.
The vintage-looking structures represented the likes of Singapore General Hospital (established in 1821), General Post Office (1819) and Tanjong Pagar Dock Company (1864) - a tribute to these institutions’ contributions to Singapore.
There was warm reception for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as visiting dignitaries such as Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who were attending on PM Lee’s invitation.
After a spectacular “bomb burst” by five F15-SG fighter jets in which they soared towards the Padang in formation before splitting up into different directions, it was time for President Halimah Yacob to inspect the parade.
DISPLAY OF STRENGTH
Act One comprised a number of firsts and the hulking A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (A330-MRTT) was the main draw.
Next, from the north roared two F15-SGs, swerving to cross paths in mid-air to the delight of the crowd.
In a fitting finale to the aerial display, an additional F15-SG executed a sharp turn before soaring high into the evening sky in a daring move.
Also new was an appearance by the SAF and HomeTeam volunteer group in their first showing at the NDP as a marching contingent. They joined five other supporting contingents to represent Military Defence and Civil Defence in the parade and ceremony segment.
The second act, fittingly titled Our Strength, saw the impressive display of 171 platforms from the SAF as well as the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
The drive-past, which lasted close to 15 minutes, featured new assets such as the SAF’s Hunter Armoured Fighting Vehicle and the RSAF’s ASTER-30 Missile System.
As tanks growled by, there were wide smiles and warm applause for the veteran servicemen, who had been part of the first few batches to enlist in National Service.
“I felt very touched - my dad is also in the Merdeka Generation ... Imagine the number of weekends that they must have burned to be part of the parade,” spectator Amanda Choy told CNA.
“Now, we can appreciate more of what they have gone through,” added 22-year-old Tony Yap.
As evening blended into night, the crowd’s LED wristbands flickered to life, lighting up in synchronisation with the third act.
Celebrating Singapore’s multicultural heritage, more than 400 dancers dressed in intricate ethnic costumes performed four different traditional dances.
Accompanied by giant puppets designed in the style of wayang kulit, the act proved a feast for the eyes with the crowd morphing into part of the colourful backdrop.
LION IS KING
A moving montage that told the stories of four different Singaporeans and how they had overcome various adversities kick-started Act Four.
These tales of courage took centre stage and were interspersed with an exuberant performance from 600 performers on the drums, as well as rappers Yung Raja and Fariz Jabba.
Rushing out onto the stage next were around 850 students from Hua Yi Secondary School, Juying Primary School, Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School and Temasek Secondary School.
Radiating an exuberant energy and clad in shiny silver, they formed landmarks such as the Changi Airport and the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, remarkably in sync with the video on the giant screen above.
As a spectacular 30-second laser show ran its course, the lion appeared - a six-metre-tall, eight-metre-wide, 1,000kg glittering behemoth.
“I feel like this year’s parade was very lively,” said 19-year-old NSF Adam Dhiya’ulhaq. “It was more aesthetically pleasing (than previous years'). I liked the use of graphics and the lion for instance ... looked really cool. I didn’t expect the lion to move at all.”
The metallic beast let out a resounding roar before striding to the centre of the Padang, and a volley of fireworks then marked the end of the act after a second rendition of Count On Me, Singapore.
A fitting finale to the show was the musical final act, which saw another rendition of the theme song, before the reciting of the pledge.
Capping it all off was the raspy voice of veteran rocker Ramli Sarip with a movingly earnest rendition of the national anthem - backed by the gentle strains of the guitar, with his eyes closed and head tilted back.
It was as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had said in a recount of rehearsals he posted on his Facebook page: "Raw, gritty and visceral."
And as a crescendo of fireworks popped in the distance, marking the end of the show, Majulah Singapura reverberated around the Padang and resonated in the heart.
“The parade was terrific, amazing and awesome,” said 38-year-old Iskandar Sudarman. “I was so moved by his singing that I almost cried.”