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50 years of NDP: Cupid strikes at NDP

Like in a television drama, two well-timed nudges during the marching segment of the National Day Parade (NDP) in 1998 brought Madam Zhang Shupei, 36, and Mr Zhou Wei, 37, together.

She was an 18-year-old marketing student at Temasek Polytechnic looking to join some fun activities after the examinations.

The leaflets placed in the reception area of Toa Payoh Community Centre caught her eye.

Hoping to make new friends and try something new, she signed up to be part of the People's Association marching contingent.

After countless hours of rehearsals, the day finally came when everyone was standing on the parade ground at the old National Stadium waiting for their turn to march.

The marching was almost over when she suddenly felt unwell. Feeling faint, she felt a nudge on her shoulder from behind. Then, she felt another, this time harder.

 
 
 
 

"No words were spoken. I also did not turn my head because the march was ongoing, but the light push encouraged me to press on and complete the march. It would have been embarrassing to faint in the middle of the parade," she said.

To this day, the customer service officer is not sure why she almost blacked out. Maybe it was fatigue or the stress of being involved in a parade for the first time, or maybe it was just Cupid at play.

The minute the contingent turned the corner, she sat down and rested, but not before turning around to thank a man she barely knew, Mr Zhou Wei, who had sensed her discomfort and nudged her along. "We never spoke much during the rehearsals. We came from different walks of life, and could have easily gone our separate ways, but our paths crossed, and this national event brought us together," she said.

The two went for supper after the parade and exchanged pager numbers. They kept in touch later and discovered a mutual love of outdoor activities - swimming, kayaking, hiking and rock climbing. They dated for five years.

In 2003, they celebrated her birthday at her favourite Italian restaurant in Bugis Junction.

After the meal, they walked towards City Hall, where he hinted at applying for an HDB flat together. There were no teddy bears, no flowers, no diamond ring and no kneeling. He surprised her with a caricature of the two of them, presented her with a necklace engraved with their initials, and asked her to marry him.

Both the eldest offspring in their families, they tied the knot in 2004. Daughter Kristine was born the following year, and son Kaleb in 2006. Mr Zhou now runs his own business in adventure training.

Their children know how they met, and that Aug 9 is an anniversary of sorts. All of them try to be near the parade grounds for a meal or to catch the fireworks together, usually from the highest floor of the block next to the one where Mr Zhou's parents live in Bendemeer estate.

Several NDP milestones were set in the 1990s. The funpack was introduced in 1991. The National Education Show - which lets Primary 5 pupils watch NDP rehearsals - started in 1997. A logo was selected to represent NDP on all fronts starting in 1998.

That was also the year Kit Chan sang Home at the parade. Although singer-songwriter Dick Lee did not write Home as a National Day theme song, the ballad won the hearts of many Singaporeans and has become a classic National Day song.

For the Zhous, of course, 1998 will always have a special place in their hearts as the year in which the rest of their lives began - with a bit of a nudge.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Cupid strikes at NDP'. Print Edition | Subscribe