A 32-year-old Singaporean’s thoughts on this year’s National Day Rally

By August 22, 2017Current

TL;DR – Times have changed.

The year was 1990 and I was your typical Tampines 6-year-old boy. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I expected this Sunday to be like every other Sunday, with the family gathered around in the living room after dinner. My dad was reading his papers as usual while my brother and I sat in front of the telly, hoping to catch some of our favourite weekend dramas. We pretty much grew up in the era where the main source of entertainment often came from the television set seated like a prized possession in our 3-room flat. My mother, as usual, would be at her sewing machine. She’s a home tailor and makes some money altering clothes for the neighbours. The little money that would pay for my McDonald’s treats if I promise to do well for my examinations – truth is, my results continued to be dismal throughout my school years but she would still give me my Happy Meals anyway.

What I didn’t know, however, was that this wasn’t really like every other Sunday. It was actually our then prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s very last National Day Rally. I had no clue what a National Day Rally was, but I remember being annoyed by the fact that my usual TV programmes were disrupted and every single SBC channel was showing that one single programme. I also remember asking my father why was the president speaking on every channel and he told me that this isn’t our president but our prime minister and that every year, come August, he would go on television and share some “very important information”. I couldn’t understand a single word from PM Lee’s speech – but what would be more important than my TV shows?

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Fast forward to the 2000s, and by then, I was an apathetic teenager when it came to politics and current affairs. But I remember catching bits and pieces of the National Day Rallies over the years when we spent weekends at my late grandmother’s. She often reminded us about the importance of news but sad to say, my attitude (or rather lack of) towards politics didn’t change much until recent years when I had to exercise my right to vote.

Since then, I started following politics – both globally and locally – more closely. I can now tell Khaw Boon Wan and Henry Thia apart and understand most, if not all, of the references and jokes our current PM Lee makes in his National Day Rallies. I would even go as far as to say that I actually enjoy watching his National Day Rallies – this guy has pretty good comedic timing. Perhaps he could consider a second career as a standup comedian.

As far as I knew, the National Day Rally has always been about politics and policies. Either about the upcoming elections, succession planning, foreign policies, housing, healthcare, education and the likes. Including our favourite topic, CPF.

This year’s rally, however, was like a breath of fresh air. It felt like it wasn’t our Prime Minister on the telly, but my Dad.

Yes, you read that right.

It felt that it was my father sharing with me about the importance of pre-school education and imparting knowledge to the future generations of Singapore. This fatherly figure also shared with us about the need to stay healthy, eat healthy, combat diabetes and basically, prepare for what’s to come. Smart Nation and all.

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If you asked me, it felt weird at the beginning, it felt weird at the end and it felt nothing like the National Day Rallies that we are used to.

And not everyone was happy about it. Maybe it’s because they too were like me, resistant to change?

People were quick to jump to conclusions. There were comments about how Ayam Penyet is a healthier choice and even even went as far as to question if this ought to be the kind of national speech a Prime Minister is supposed to give. And of course, there were the conspiracy theories. Maybe all these were just to distract us from the “real issues” out there?

I’m no genius but I think it doesn’t take one to know that our PM would have anticipated such reactions but he decided to go ahead with his speech anyway.

Why so?

Why didn’t he talk about the upcoming Presidential Election? Why was there no mention about succession planning? Or why didn’t he talk about unemployment, given how gloomy our economy is set to look in the coming quarters? Or what about job security and the other topics he brought up at the recent May Day Rally? And the need to upskill, re-skill and stay relevant in such times?

Well, I would think that being a leader isn’t about pleasing everybody but doing what one feels is right and best for his country and people, at the right time. Even if these things are seemingly bo liao.

Just because he doesn’t talk about our GDP doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about it. Nor does it mean that he isn’t already working on it day in and out for the other 364 days a year.

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Times have changed. Things are now different.

From the times when we watched the National Day Rally on the TV set in my Tampines home, I now caught it in the comforts of my Punggol BTO over Facebook Live, reading the comments people were leaving on his Facebook page while my 18-month-old son tumbled on the floor. Maybe in a few years, he would be the one asking me why do we have to rush home from dinner to watch “some important man talk”.

It’s not just us that’s changing. The world is changing too.

But it doesn’t necessarily means that things are more trivial than before. They are different – and we have to accept it.

It’s never easy to accept change wholeheartedly, but like they say, change is the only constant.


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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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