Remembering 2015

15 things about SG50 we will remember

SINGAPORE - Although Singapore celebrated its 50th year of independence on Aug 9, the party began much earlier with several special events, announcements, goodies and gifts to commemorate the nation's Golden Jubilee.

Even as the celebrations continue, here is a look at 15 things we want to remember from this milestone year:

1. The Golden Jubilee Weekend and the National Day Parade

In March, the Government made a surprise announcement by declaring Aug 7, a Friday, a public holiday, turning the weekend into a four-day break for Singaporeans.

Many of Singapore's biggest attractions offered free entry, or had a discounted entrance fee.

Several events kicked off the celebratory weekend culminating with a jubilant National Day Parade at the Padang.

This year's National Day celebration was the first without Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March aged 91. And celebrations on Aug 9 began on a reflective and poignant note.

At 9am, Singapore heard for the first time a recording of the founding prime minister reading the Proclamation of Independence.

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Made in 2012, it was broadcast on local radio and TV channels, and marked at 82 grassroots-led National Day observance ceremonies islandwide. It was the first synchronised National Day observance ceremony.

The three-hour-long National Day Parade later in the day at the Padang, where the first post-independence National Day Parade was held in 1966, was a grand affair melding the old with the new, celebrating the past and heralding the future.

Spectators at the SG50 National Day Parade at the Padang watching F-16 fighter jets form the number 50 as part of the RSAF's salute, on Aug 9, 2015. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

In a Facebook post capturing the mood nationwide, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Today the whole nation celebrates. Glad so many are joining in at all the events. We celebrate as One People, One Nation, One Singapore."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's absence at the parade was marked by an empty seat in his honour. A video paying tribute to his life and achievements was played as the spectators fell silent, some wiping away tears.

2. Every household gets a goodie bag

Every year, National Day Parade attendees receive a goodie bag. But for Singapore's 50th year, the gift was extended to every Singaporean and Permanent Resident household - about 1.2 million households in all.

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Of the 1.25 million funpacks that are being packed distributed in celebration of Singapore's golden jubilee, some 36,000 have been packed under the 'A Funpack From Me To You' project. Under this initiative, about 500 volunteer packers, some of whom are members of welfare organisations such as the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore and the Down Syndrome Association, have inserted a specially hand-signed note into each pack.

The special SG50 funpack came in 50 different designs and contained memorabilia from Singapore's yesteryear. They included items used for games like erasers with countries' flags on them and capteh (weighted shuttlecock) and snacks such as muruku and haw flakes.

Keepsakes like a figurine of Singa, the iconic mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement, also featured in the tote bag. Extra goodies were added by some grassroots organisations, such as booklets on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's contributions to Singapore, as well as state flags.

3. National Gallery Singapore opens

Visitors walking through the upper and lower link bridges connecting the two main buildings above the atrium at the National Gallery Singapore on Nov 27, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Singapore's Golden Jubilee party wrapped up with a series of events that kicked off in November with the opening of the National Gallery Singapore.

The $530-million gallery, which occupies the place of the former Supreme Court and City Hall, houses the world's largest collection of South-east Asian art and is also home to 19th- and 20th-century Singapore art.

Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands thronged the museum in its opening week, which was marked by a three-day art carnival at the Padang, a spectacular audio-visual show on the facade of the building from 8pm and free entry for all till Dec 6.

4. Bumper crop of Jubilee babies

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong showing a photo of Jubilee babies, twins Charlotte and Colette, during his SG50 National Day Rally speech on Aug 23, 2015. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Maternity wards around the country were kept busy on Aug 9 as 129 Singaporean babies were born. Last year, 91 Singaporean babies were born on National Day. All babies born this year will get a SG50 Baby Jubilee Gift set comprising eight items: a medallion, shawl, baby sling, set of baby clothes, diaper bag, scrapbook, family photo frame and a set of baby books.

Among new parental perks announced by PM Lee at the National Day Rally were an extra $2,000 in baby bonus, an extra week of paternity leave and an extra $1,000 in the Medisave Grant for newborns. All families with babies born on or after Jan 1 2015 would be eligible for the new perks.

5. 7 Letters film project

Directors of 7 Letters, which premiered at Capitol Theatre in July: (from left) Kelvin Tong, Eric Khoo, K. Rajagopal, Royston Tan, Tan Pin Pin, Boo Junfeng and Jack Neo. PHOTO: 7 LETTERS

The home-grown cinematic project by seven of Singapore's award-winning film directors was declared an acclaimed hit within days of its limited release in July. After hugely popular sold out charity shows, it went on to enjoy a successful commercial run across the island, made its international premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea and is now Singapore's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at next year's Oscars.

Sponsored by the Media Development Authority, the anthology features seven shorts by Royston Tan, Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Kelvin Tong, Tan Pin Pin, Boo Junfeng and K. Rajagopal on the theme of personal stories connected to Singapore.

6. Sing50 music concert

A fan of Tracy Huang waving a lit placard during the Sing50 concert at the National Stadium on Aug 7, 2015. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

Celebrating songs performed, composed or made popular by Singaporeans in the 50-years of independence was the 160-minute Sing50 concert.

The event kicked off the Jubilee Weekend in August with a star-studded line-up of more than 250 artists, who performed more than 70 iconic Singapore songs in the four official languages.

Top names included Mandopop superstars Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin, veterans Ramli Sarip and Tracy Huang, jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro and Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

They were joined on stage by a 1,000-strong choir, the 92-strong Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, 50 pianists and 14 aspiring rappers.

Highlights of the Sing50 concert included a moving tribute to the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during a three-movement concerto by composer Kelly Tang, as well as a stirring rendition of the national anthem Majulah Singapura at the end.

Organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times, and produced by The Rice Company, it was staged at the National Stadium and attended by more than 40,000 people,

Not wanting to limit the grand experience to one night, the concert has fuelled the Sing50 Fund, which seeks to promote and preserve Singapore's pop music heritage via schools, performances and educational platforms.

7. Package for seniors

A group of senior citizens exercising at Bishan Park. The SG50 Seniors package was announced in May this year. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Health Ministry in May announced goodies for seniors, thanking them for making Singapore what it is today. Ranging from 50-cent hotel buffet lunches to $50 worth of transport vouchers for use on the MRT or buses, the SG50 Senior package had more than 200 discounts and freebies given by over 100 organisations. More than 700,000 people aged 60 years and above were eligible.

Some goodies were for all Singaporeans and permanent residents who are 50 years and older. Others were only for smaller groups, such as those born in 1965, the year Singapore gained independence, or those of the Pioneer Generation, or Singaporeans aged at least 65 last year.

The validity period also varied from a couple of months till the end of the year.

Announcing the package, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "Singapore is what it is today because of the blood, sweat and tears that our pioneers have contributed to nation building."

8. Esplanade's 50 Singapore plays

Actress Karen Tan in a revival of Stella Kon's Emily Of Emerald Hill as part of the Esplanade's The Studios: fifty series. PHOTO: TUCKYS PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY OF ESPLANADE

The ambitious retrospective, The Studios: fifty, saw 50 Singapore plays performed in just five weeks in April and May.

The undertaking allowed the national arts centre to survey the landscape of modern Singapore English-language theatre, from the 1960s to the present, charting its theatrical milestones alongside Singapore's journey from tumultuous pre-independence to gleaming contemporary city-state.

This expansive line-up was part of the Esplanade's year-long efforts to commemorate Singapore's Golden Jubilee and featured 21 directors bringing new perspectives to the works of 32 Singapore playwrights: from the late Lim Chor Pee's keen observations of relationships and gender in Mimi Fan (1962) to 27-year-old Joel Tan's tender coming-of-age convent drama The Way We Go (2014).

9. Commemorative notes

A set of six commemorative notes - a $50 note and five $10 notes to mark the country's Jubilee year. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A set of six notes, comprising one $50 note and five $10 polymer notes of different designs depicting significant milestones and achievements in Singapore's history, were launched in August by PM Lee to mark the Jubilee year.

Like the current series of notes, the SG50 commemorative notes feature a portrait of Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak on the front.

The $50 note shows an iconic image of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew on the steps of City Hall in 1959, with a raised fist and leading the crowd with a rallying cry of "Merdeka!".

The back of the note features Singapore's first National Day Parade on Aug 9, 1966, and the latest new town of Punggol. The note highlights Singapore's history, transformation and future, while the gold colour reflects the country's golden jubilee, MAS said.

The five $10 notes have a common front design and varying back designs reflecting values and aspirations such as multiracialism, meritocracy, peace and stability, strong families and active citizenry.

The new bills have security features that are the first of their kind to be used on a currency note, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore. For example, the $50 note has a security stripe featuring the numbers "1965" that switch to "2015" when held at a different angle.

A set of three commemorative coins were launched in April.

10. Singapore Memory project

Ms Penny, who is visually impaired, in a video shown at the Unseen Memories exhibition. The exhibit aims to showcase a slice of Singapore from the perspective of an individual with impaired vision. ST PHOTO: MIKE LEE

This project has amassed almost 750,000 "memories" since it began in 2011. Singaporeans were encouraged to share their memories and moments related to the country in the form of texts, audio files, video files or images.

Some of the short videos the project produced based on the contributions went viral after they were posted on the irememberSG Facebook page. One was on the moving love story between a British woman and a Singaporean man who have been married for 46 years.

The project, driven by the Ministry of Communications and Information and led by the National Library Board, fueled several other creative pursuits and exhibitions. One was the Island Nation, a documentary project by photographers Edwin Koo, 36, Zakaria Zainal, 30, and Juliana Tan, 25.

It recorded the oral history of life on 12 of the southern islands: Sentosa, Pulau Seringat, Pulau Brani, Lazarus Island, Kusu Island and St John's Island on the eastern part, and Pulau Bukom, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Seking, Pulau Sudong, Pulau Senang and Pulau Satumu on the western side.

Another was the Cabinet Of Curiosities, an interactive art installation at the National Library, which showcased a carefully sourced collection of items - from an old-school typewriter and cellphone to vintage toys and a hand-sewn patchwork quilt.

11. SG Heart Map initiative

The SG Heart Map Festival at the Float at Marina Bay. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The SG Heart map project was a year-long initiative which collected more than 80,000 personal stories of spots in Singapore which represent home to the contributors. Fifty of the most endearing places, based on the frequency of mentions, were used to create a first-of-its-kind, crowd-sourced "heart map" which includes Changi Airport and Toa Payoh, the first satellite town in Singapore.

Seven artists from the visual and literary scenes came together to bring to life some of the stories shared by the contributors for the SG Heart Map festival in November.

12. 50 Pioneer stories

Ms Joycelyn Yeo (left) and Dr Yap Swee Cheng documented the stories of 50 pioneers and compiled them into a book. ST PHOTO: AW CHENG WEI

In a five-month labour of love, two women sought out 50 everyday pioneers to detail their lives in early Singapore. The free book, An Extraordinary Ordinary Story, was compiled by Dr Yap Swee Cheng, 48, a self-employed trainer on active ageing, and retiree Joycelyn Yeo, 62.

Ms Yeo, who worked in finance for 25 years, said: "We wanted a book that commemorates our pioneers' contributions. A lot of books are on famous people and politicians. We wanted to do something for the everyday people."

The authors hope the book, which is in English and Chinese and was launched in November, will help the pioneer generation recognise their contributions to the nation.

"Some (of the elderly) who were housewives, midwives or nurse assistants felt that they did not play a big role in nation building," said Dr Yap. "We wanted to change their opinions with something concrete, a book, that they can show to others.

13. 24hrs video project and the SG50 e-book

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Every hour of Aug 9, 2015 is captured in this special video celebrating SG50. Watch how Singapore celebrated her 50th across different parts of the island.

Every hour of Aug 9, 2015, was captured in a special Straits Times video celebrating SG50. Short videos, marking every hour since midnight on the day unveiled how Singapore celebrated her 50th across different parts of the island - from a rainy morning to increasing excitement as dusk and the time for the parade approached.

Also recapping the SG50 celebrations was The Straits Times' Home: Aug 9, 2015, a free e-book, which captured 50 Truly Unforgettable Moments Of Singapore's Golden Jubilee - from the SG50 goodie bags, to 7 Letters, to the amazing capabilities of the elite Black Knights who zoomed over the Singapore skyline at noon every day over the Jubilee weekend.

14. Marking 50 years of diplomatic ties

Two of the four koalas at the Singapore Zoo on loan from Australia to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Singapore's foreign friends too lined up a slew of commemorative events to make 50 years of ties with the Republic. In April, Australia, which was the first country to recognise Singapore's independence in 1965, loaned four koalas to the Singapore Zoo.

Under its "50 Bridges" programme, a series of arts and community engagement events were presented to Singapore. It included the "50 Walls" project that saw Australian street artists painting walls in hawker centres, Housing Board blocks and schools in heartland locations, 50 performances by Australian theatre companies across Singapore and 50 barbecues islandwide, where 10,000 steaks were given out to Singaporeans.

In November, PM Lee launched a three-month-long showcase of the arts from both sides of the Causeway to mark 50 years of friendship between Singapore and Malaysia. The music, theatre, film and art extravaganza, called Titian Budaya, or "cultural bridge" in Malay, involves artists from both sides.

Joint stamp issues marked ties with Thailand and India, which was the second country to recognise Singapore. The stamps issued by the national postal service providers of Singapore and Thailand featured the traditional Thai dessert mango sticky rice and the ice-cream sandwich commonly sold on Singapore's streets. Istana and Rashtrapati Bhavan - the respective official residences of the presidents of Singapore and India - were the subjects of the joint stamp issue with India.

15. Future of Us exhibition

Images being projected on a screen at The Future Of Us exhibition. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

While the SG50 celebrations heralded the past, honoured Singapore's Pioneer Generation and helped Singaporeans to relive their childhood memories, they also encouraged citizens to think about the future, and the next 50 years.

Driverless cars, holographic telecommunications and urban farming designs - these are among ideas being showcased at The Future Of Us, a free exhibition envisioning what daily life in Singapore will be like in 2030.

The three-month exhibition at Gardens by the Bay consolidates the Government's plans, the research of agencies and institutes, as well as the ideas of ordinary people. They are then retold as stories and scenarios in everyday life in the year 2030 and beyond.

"The exhibition hopes to get Singaporeans thinking about how they can contribute to Singapore's future by providing glimpses into the possibilities and plausible scenarios for the future," said its creative director Gene Tan, from the Centre For Liveable Cities.

Some honourable mentions:

Go50 Run:

Ultramarathoners finishing their 49th leg of the GO50 run. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Ultramarathoners Lim Nghee Huat and Yong Yuen Cheng ran 2,500km in 50 days to mark Singapore's jubilee and honour late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. They ran 50km each day for 50 days from April to June this year.

Singapore to London:

Larry Leong and his family proudly bearing the Singapore flag on a 14-year-old Land Rover Defender on Aug 9, 2015. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Driving enthusiast and IT consultant Larry Leong drove to London from Singapore with his wife Simone and five-year-old daughter Lucy. Marking SG50, he set off on Aug 9 in his Land Rover Defender and arrived in London on Oct 11.

Endurance feat:

Dr William Tan handcycling at Temasek Junior College. PHOTO: WILLIAM TAN

In August, Dr William Tan marked both Singapore's jubilee and his sixth year as a cancer survivor by beginning a feat of endurance - handcycling non-stop for 50 hours.

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