Sunday, August 06, 2006

Singapore National Day 2006

The events are in full swing in preparation for the 2006 Singapore National Day celebration on the coming Wednesday 9th August. Channel News Asia has constant coverage of the lead up to it

I can't help but compare the 2006 Singapore national day celebrations to what we've been doing here in Malaysia for almost 50 years.

Before I go on about what's different, let me tell you what's the same. The climax of the celebration will be the National Day Parade. There'll be fireworks, lots of presentations, dances and cultural showcases. The march past is the central component of the parade, as is the air force's fly past. Uniformed units and various government agencies will have prominent contingents. There's a national day theme, official national day song and of course the obligatory lead up events like road shows, TV presentations, flying the national flag on buildings and vehicles and the decoration of major thoroughfares with banners and flags.

So, it all seems very similar. But what are the differences? What is Singapore doing that we're not?

In a sentence,... they're looking forward. We're looking back.

Malaysia's concept of nationhood is still very much based on what happened in the 1950s and 1960s. And the national celebrations, I feel, are to celebrate events that occurred way before most Malaysian were born. It does not celebrate our future and what we'll be doing to make that future bright and sunny.

I always felt that the national celebrations were old fashioned. The same old concepts are rinsed and repeated every year. Even the TV trailers and theme songs feel like they were composed by career soldiers with a vocabulary limited to 'patriotic' words and writing mission reports. And the overall feel of the promotional activities is very 70's, very retro. It almost appears like RTM and the Information Ministry (who are responsible for the songs, feel-good TV trailers etc) do not possess any modern film equipment. The grain, resolution and colour of the TV trailers look like they were filmed using the same equipment that Hong Kong filmmakers used in the 1970s. Even the hairstyles of the actors are 40 years old. The official song usually sounds distinctly military, like a dirge, always about saluting correctly and the glory of losing your life in defense of the country.

In contrast, Singapore's 2006 theme talks about how their home is now a global city and how all Singaporeans adapt to being successful global citizens. The official song is about how global Singaporeans, no matter if they're at home or trotting the globe, Singapore will always be home. Young people plan the national day celebrations. Young project managers (some only 20-30 years old, from what I can see on TV) plan the events, design and implement the concepts. Everything feels vibrant and optimistic.

And one very, very important thing you notice is the absence of overwhelming racial, cultural and religious influences dedicated to any single race or denomination - on any theme, concept or event. And this is the one, single factor that unifies all Singaporeans unreservedly in the celebration.

Like I mentioned in the blog about England's unofficial world cup theme song, Malaysia can do much better with our national day theme song. Something more upbeat, cosmopolitan... YOUNG, VIBRANT, that makes us feel good, positive and glad to be Malaysian. With the relative abundance of musical talent in Malaysia (I say this confidently after comparing 2 seasons of Malaysian and Singaporean Idol, and the outstanding talent in Malaysia's "One in a Million"), this should not be hard to do. Give a good songwriter a simple concept, like Unity or the Future, and then give him a free hand. Don't try to do too much... no need to have everything from Tunku's negotiation with the British, the communist insurgency, the NEP, Proton, the Constitution, Rukun Negara and the kitchen sink all in a 3-minute song.

Gosh... I hate having to say Singapore has another one up on us, but they do. Have a listen to the excellent 2006 Theme by Kaira Gong, called "My Island Home". I'm not even Singaporean, but I feel good everytime I hear it on TV.

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