Credit: Rogan Yeoh/Unsplash

Since the inaugural National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, every 9th of August is celebrated with a considerably huge show in Singapore—bar 2021, when the pandemic meant that the NDP was postponed two weeks from the actual day.

In many ways, the yearly affair, which includes aerial displays, military parades, multicultural performances and fireworks, has come to signify as the main event that most Singaporeans expect when celebrating the nation’s birthday.

This year’s NDP is the last time that the show will be held at Marina Bay, as it will be heading to The Padang in 2023.

After two years of scaled-down shows on a by-invite-only basis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s parade marks the return of a centralised show that’s open to the public, with an estimated ​​25,000 spectators expected to fill up the Marina Bay floating platform. The ​​National Education shows, where Primary 5 pupils around the island are guaranteed an invitation to watch a preview of NDP, as well as the full-scale preview shows also made their respective returns.

In the lead up to the August 9 birthday bash, I attended the second—and final—preview show for NDP 2022, and was struck by a sense of nostalgia. The last time that I watched the parade live was nearly 13 years ago, when I was a Primary 5 student attending the mandatory National Education show. As it turns out, experiencing the NDP show live through the eyes of an adult as compared to a pre-teen has its differences.

For one, I have much more appreciation, albeit less excitement, for the NDP packs, given every year to people attending the live shows. The funpack for the NDP 2009 show that I previously attended was one of the most popular editions that came in the form of a messenger bag. As far as I can recall, the only item of interest back then were the temporary tattoos and the snacks.  

This year’s NDP pack, which features 22 varied designs by people with disabilities, definitely held more of an interest (and usefulness) to adult me. I loved the foldable fan, which I fully utilised by fanning myself vigorously while waiting for the show to start under the scorching sun; the hand sanitiser was incredibly handy; and while I do miss flipping through the voucher booklet, the e-vouchers accessed via a QR code as well as the boxed NEWater carton are both indications of the small strides toward sustainability.

As an adult, the total defence segment also proved to be more enthralling. When I was younger, the aerial display, for example, was just a bunch of planes flying around. Very cool, but not very interesting for an 11-year-old girl who was more preoccupied with chatting with her friends and gorging on free snacks from the NDP pack (I was a greedy child, I know). 

Now, I understand the impact of the high g-force (gravitational force equivalent) that the pilots have to go through (thank you, Top Gun: Maverick) and definitely have a lot more appreciation for the six F-16 fighter jet pilots as they perform difficult manoeuvres. I also felt a rush of pride when it was announced that for the first time ever, the F-16s will be led by a female officer, Senior Lieutenant-Colonel (SLTC) Lee Meiyi, the commanding officer of RSAF’s 140 Squadron.

This year’s show also includes ​​dispatching naval divers into the waters of Marina Bay from a helicopter and the first time that the SAF will stage a hostage rescue demonstration from a “hijacked” public transport bus.

The performance segment is also a lot more immersive as an adult. Technology has improved by leaps and bounds over the past 13 years, and this year’s show, which tells the story of how Singapore battled the pandemic and emerged from it through five chapters, was impressive with its large screen and special lighting effects.

It definitely also helped that adult me actually knew who were key performers, which include DJ Tinc, singer Aisyah Aziz, and hip-hop artist Shigga Shay, as well as the hosts radio presenters Joakim Gomez and Sonia Chew, theatre actress Siti Khalijah, and comedian Rishi Budhrani.    

That’s not to say that the entire experience is completely different. Just as I did when I was younger, I cheered hard for the display jumps by the Red Lions parachute team, and I sang my heart out when iconic ​​National Day songs were played. I was also equally fascinated by the fireworks display that lit up the Marina Bay skyline (although now, I can commemorate the moment forever with my Apple iPhone while back then, all I could do was capture the moment with my eyes as my Nokia brick phone was not up to standard).   

Strangely enough, the 2009 NDP show was held when the country was grappling with the H1N1 pandemic outbreak, while the 2022 NDP show will be held as the nation is battling the tail-end of the current Covid-19 infection wave, which has been driven by the Omicron variant BA.5. Another common thread between the two shows that I watched at varying ages is the display of the steely strength and determined resilience of our small nation. 

While attending the NDP show as a pre-teen and as an adult has its differences, the celebratory atmosphere of the in-person show also definitely solidifies our national spirit—whether young or old. 

Happy 57th birthday, Singapore!