SINGAPORE - The Marina Bay floating platform was this year's party central for the annual National Day Parade (NDP) on Wednesday (Aug 9), with a 25,000-strong crowd entertained by performances such as the return of the Red Lions, a drone display and a electric guitar solo by 81-year-old Grandma Mary.
Early birds were eager to beat the queues, and for the opportunity to snap shots of Singapore's photogenic city skyline before night fell.
Due to tighter security measures in place for SG52, queues formed as parade-goers made their way onto the floating platform.
They were made to go through security screening and bag checks before entering The Float.
Marine operations executive Khairul Azhar Rosawi, 29, was spotted waiting in line at Marina Square just before 3pm even though the gates to enter the floating platform were not open yet.
He said of the security checks: "I feel that it's necessary, especially with all the attacks around the world. It can be a bit of a hassle since we came here early and now have to wait in the hot sun.
"But we wanted to beat the long queue later on and also get the chance to get a seat near the front."
Points of entry to the floating platform were located at the Helix Bridge, Temasek Avenue near Promenade MRT station, Marina Square and the Esplanade driveway.
The floating platform, which was initially built as a temporary venue, has since 2007 wormed its way into Singaporeans' hearts.
It not only offers parade-goers panaromic views of the bay, it is also the only NDP venue that allows for the inclusion of land, air and sea military displays as part of the show.
Touted as the largest of its kind in the world, the platform can seat up to 25,000 in its grandstand, but was deemed to have staged its last NDP in 2014.
However, Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung had last month (July) dangled hope that the platform will continue to feature in future parades, saying details would be revealed later.
Among the early birds were Mr Mani Ramanathan, 67, and his wife Shyamala Mani, 63, who joined the queue at around 3pm to get good seats.
The couple last attended the 1984 NDP at the Padang but said they preferred the open space of the floating platform.
"I'm looking forward to the multicultural dances, which show Singapore's harmony," said Mr Mani.
Moods were high at the floating platform despite the heat and humidity.
In line with this year’s NDP theme, #OneNationTogether, the crowd wove with their voices a multicultural tapestry, as they sang along to NDP songs in various languages, such as Munneru Valiba and Home.
The NDP this year also saw the return of the Red Lions skydivers, a crowd favourite, after a two-year break.
The parachutists made falling from a height of 10,000 feet look like a breeze, and were welcomed back onto solid ground to cheers from the audience.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Parachute Team, also known as the Red Lions, could not parachute down the National Stadium due to safety reasons. And during the SG50 celebration at the Padang in 2015, the jump had to be called off because of poor weather.
Cheers from the crowd were temporarily silenced only by the roar of the F-15SG fighter jets when they took to the air, performing tricky manoevres such as the shackle, where two jets criss-cross each other in close proximity.
The Republic of Singapore Airforce’s show of military might was closely followed by similarly spectacular displays by the navy and army, including a helocast joint display involving naval divers jumping into the waters surrounding the bay from a helicopter.
This year’s NDP was also a poignant one for President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who arrived at the floating platform during the parade and ceremony segment to much fanfare. Dr Tan will be celebrating his last NDP as head of state.
During the parade, Dr Tan also inspected the contingents of soldiers as reviewing officer. As a mark of respect, four 25-pounder howitzer guns on board the Mobility 3rd Generation (M3G) raft fired 21 times in salute to the President as a military honour.
To mark NS50, which is the 50th-year milestone of national service in Singapore, the first round from each of the four guns on board the M3G raft will be fired by operationally ready national servicemen. The rest of the shots were fired by full-time national servicemen.
Servicemen past and present were also recognised for their contributions to the nation. After the screening of an NS50 tribute video during the parade, they were invited to stand as the marching contingents saluted them.
Spectators at this year’s NDP also got a closer look at the nation’s security forces as parts of the Dynamic Defence Display (D3).
For the first time, performers fired blanks in the seating gallery to add to the show’s realism, drawing gasps of shock from some members of the audience.
The D3 segment featured Singapore’s whole-of-government and community response to a terrorism threat. It also showed how cyber-security agencies deal with cyber attacks, followed by how the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team respond to terrorist threats here.
The stage and the bay area lost none of its charm even as night fell. It lit up in an array of colours as the show segment of this year’s NDP commenced.
The show segment, which involved more than 3,000 performers in all, aimed to showcase the collective strength and determination of Singaporeans, starting with the nation’s efforts to clean up its physical environment and blue areas.
For instance, there was a song and dance symbolic of the Republic’s fight against mosquitoes and vector-bourne diseases such as Zika.
The audience were invited to join performers on stage in vanquishing a 4m-tall mosquito puppet by doing the “mozzie clap” – a clap choreography taught to audience members by motivators in a bid to make the experience more interactive.
Other highlights of the show included a dance by aerial dancers suspended up to 20m above ground; a rap penned by actor Tosh Zhang, 28, on his family’s experience overcoming the 1997 Asian financial crisis; and a five-minute drone display.
Three hundred drones took to the air at the same time, winking and dancing against the Marina Bay skyline. The Purple Symphony, an orchestra made up of people with and without special needs, also gave a rousing rendition of We Will Get There, the NDP 2002 theme song.
The parade ended on a literal high, with the stage revolving to reveal a “mountain”, symbolic of the challenges Singaporeans have overcome.
Swimmer Joseph Schooling, who clinched Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold, and Paralympic champion Yip Pin Xiu were on its summit.
Four other Singaporeans who overcame the odds were also up there near the summit: Michelin-starred hawker Chan Hon Meng, 52; indoor skydiving champion Kyra Poh, 15; top female police officer Zuraidah Abdullah, 55; and skills upgrader Rama Kerisna, 70.