Lest we forget

Most memories fade, but special moments from the NDP can still excite and take our breath away

Spectators in the stands waving their banners and flags at the National Day Parade, held at the Padang on Aug 9, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

If memories make us who we are, do we then lose ourselves by forgetting? Yet life flies by, so much of it unnoticed, that only a fraction of what happens, both good and bad, is etched in our minds.

Most of it is filed away into memory cabinets and forgotten, unless jolted by a familiar scent, an old photograph, nostalgic conversations with friends, or the sentimental strains of a song.

There is a picture of me with my choir mates from Tampines Junior College that brings me back to 2000, when we were part of the 35th National Day Parade (NDP).

Wearing our light green uniforms and dark green blazers, we are standing in two neat rows in the City Hall Chamber, behind former chief justice of Singapore Yong Pung How and then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong. They are sitting in the first row with our principal and teachers-in-charge.

We had the honour of singing a medley of National Day songs for the first Attorney-General's Chambers National Day Observance Ceremony.

We recorded the same medley, arranged by the late Mr Iskandar Ismail, in a studio. It went in the background accompaniment to the Combined Schools choir that performed during the actual parade. Imagine singing Count On Me, Singapore over and over again because we just could not perfect the chorus.

That year, as my family and I sat in front of our old clunky television set to watch the live telecast of the parade, I still remember getting all excited trying to identify our faint voices during the finale.

It was as close as I got to being part of the NDP before I became a photojournalist in 2007. As covering the parade turned into an annual affair, I joked that documenting the festivities was my way of serving the country.

In an interview published in today's special report, Mr Stephen Wong, the executive committee chairman for NDP 1989, talked about how people had watched the parade for 23 years, so the challenge was to create something different, to make it exciting for the viewers.

Photographers face the same challenge as they explore various techniques and look for different angles while trying to avoid getting thrown out and "red carded" for violating parade protocol.

It is said that photojournalism is a lonely profession, but shooting the NDP is one of those major calendar events where more than half the picture desk at The Straits Times is activated and deployed according to a meticulous plan. If you want to know how long we have been working for the paper, just ask us how many parades we have covered. Some lose count.

There are moments that still touch me even though I've covered eight. Fireworks still take my breath away, listening to pioneers talk about their past struggles makes me grateful, and I try not to cry when everyone sings Majulah Singapura during the finale.

Singapore celebrated its first National Day as an independent nation in 1966. That makes 50 years' worth of memories. For this year's National Day special report, The Straits Times invited its readers to share their memories in tribute to five decades of NDP. Their stories, as well as yours and mine, weave together memories that make up the heart and soul of Singapore.

My 70-year-old father, a secondary school teacher who was a feared discipline master, has a sentimental side that most of his students never saw.

I remember him insisting on printing our family pictures taken on a digital camera even if they were just printed from a basic colour printer and on regular A4-sized paper. He would painstakingly lay out the digital files, print the images and cut them out one by one before he labelled them and arranged them nicely in a photo album.

"So we don't forget," he said. So that the memories do not get lost among the thousands of images stored in our mobile phones and hard disks today.

My colleagues and I hope that the stories and pictures of past parades will be the nation's album. So we don't forget. Happy National Day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Lest we forget'. Print Edition | Subscribe