Sunday, 10 August 2008

NDP 08

NDP 08I wasn't mad keen to go the the National Day Parade 2008. I had an offer of 2 tickets for myself and the Merlioness but she had other commitments and the real fun from such events is the snipping cynical chit-chat with a soul-mate. Going alone sounded like a barrel of laughs without the laughs. What tipped the decision was when I mentioned I might go and the locals reacted with amazement that I had manage to chope tickets (where was I getting them from?); it's a lottery, literally. You apply in advance and only a few get tickets, which are then valuable and can be (illegally) traded or sold on eBay. That was it; in the interests of investigative journalism, I had to go.

The NDP is a stage show at Marina Bay (where the Merlion is). A fixed seating stand looking out into the bay with a huge floating pontoon as the stage. Since the show includes a major firework show and the event is pitched as a national birthday party, the whole downtown area becomes one big party and is the most crowded it ever gets. I was warned that getting away at the end would be difficult and that security would be tight.

Undeterred, I turned up reasonably on-time (you were asked to be seated at 4:45pm) but the huge queues, poor signage for ticket holders and then a full baggage X-ray and magnetic pat-down made entry to the stands a +20min trudge with some less-than good natured sharp elbowing from the 5' 2" Chinese grannies (I was shoved off the path at one point as she caught my natural shift of weight in a move that would have drawn praise from a Judo sensei). No canned drinks allowed in and the tickets said not to bring big bags as they would slow down inspection.

You were also encouraged to wear red so you get whatever red T-shirt people have in their closet. Ex McDonalds uniforms, corporate events, and some made for the event. One chap had "Jesus is here, all of the time" which was neatly balanced by the lady 2 rows in front of me who just had "Satan" written on the back. We all ended up wearing red anyway because 15mins in, it started to drizzle, persistently and sooner or later, everyone was wearing the thin, red, plastic disposable rain cape from the free goodie bag.

It was free seating and as I was at the tail end, I was high up at the back (a better location in my opinion). Stage has huge video screens and music and odd videos were already playing to keep the crowd amused. I pulled out the iPod and a book.

The show started, literally, with a few fire bangs and the 5 MC's dressed in bright, individual coloured jump suits arrived at the front by quad-bike. All the MCs throughout spoke only English and tried to get the lacklustre crowd going with sectored cheering contests. I swear we were only a hair-breadth away from "Give us an S!".

Entry included a sponsored Goodie bag and this was a good time for a rummage; I was thirsty. Full inventory was:

An outer paper carrier bag with shoulder strap and inner pocket with postcard. Inner nylon bag containing:
Carton of Isotonic drink.
Carton of Soya milk.
Plastic bottle of Newater.
Bag of Hot & Spicy Prawn Crackers.
Bag of Cracker Crunch mixed nuts.
Halls Mini Mints (2of).
Baseball cap, white/red with NDP08 logo and battery plus flashing stars lights.
Inflatable hand glove (with battery and lights).
Singapore flag (8x6") on short stick with detachable desk stand.
100-page discount coupon book.
Temporary tattoos (Singapore flag, "Shine Singapore", and 2 lines of stars).
Plastic rain cape.
Packet of tissues.
Packet of Wet wipes.
Bottle of AXE brand universal oil (for colds and headaches).
Magnetic bookmark / fridge magnet (with instructions for flattening Tetrapak cartons on the back)
1 White paper clip.
1 Red paper clip.
Plastic rubbish bag
Lucky Draw Ticket for "Bag It to Win It"

At this point, the MCs asked us to pull out the plastic "spinner" from under our seats (image 10" petals around a shaft which unfurls into a flat flower head). Because most were red with some white ones, if everyone held them up and spun then, they spelled out the event's slogan "Shine Singapore" for the camera on the helicopter.

Then the show proper got going. About 30mins in, it would become a live TV broadcast to 18 nations but first some warm-up acts.

1. Music/dance routine with massed school choir accompanying wheelchair+able-bodied dance partners. Mainly jive steps given the limited hand-hand contact points.
2. Music/dance by massed crowd of people dressed in waistcoats that made them look like the guys with paddles that park aeroplanes.
3. Pair of paragliders (red chutes) vaguely hover stage left.

Then the show cut live so insert a load of MCs shouting about cheering and spinning the flower things.

4. Song
5. Bayshow on the water: Jet skis dragging wake boarders, then Jet skis dragging stunt kites, then 2 F1 power boats, them final parade of all of them
6. MPs arrive all dressed in white, take seats.
7. Ten skydivers from helicopter (about 2000ft) so pretty quick, for soft landing on front of stage. Pretty good with only one wipe-out landing ("he's Okay" says the MC but he'll get a right thumping from his mates back at base).
8. Military band with rifle twirling, then formed into characters "NDP08" and stayed there.
9. Inflated plastic balloons released at top of stands with sector race to get them to the MCs at the stage.
10. Song and dance: "Home" translated and sung in Tamil.
11. Ministers arrive, take seats
12. Song and dance: "My Island Home" sung this year in Mandarin
13. Prime Minister arrives in white Merc at front.
14. Song and dance: "We Are Singapore" sung in English
15. President arrives in (same) white Merc, takes acknowledgment from Parade Master, inspects front ranks on foot (cue artillery shell salute), then into the "Ceremonial Land Rover" for a drive around the rest of the massed ranks. [Note, it's no LR that I know of, probably an Indian Tata vehicle quickly re-branded as LR since they bought it from Ford a few months ago]
16. Black Knights acrobatics. Really disappointing since they've been practising over my house for weeks and they only did 4 or 5 things with lousy commentary. The easy stuff (head to head fly past) got wows from the crowed, but the cool one (a tight inside turn then vertical climb, all on full afterburner) was unappreciated. Plus, the intended re-broadcast of the inter-pilot radio chatter was just static, and was the only AV failure of the event). Shame.
17. Dance show with balloons (lit from the inside) dragged around the bay by boats.
18. Parade of floats with a wave/boat/sail theme
19. Then a series of song/dance acts that I couldn't be bothered to write down. Some better than others, some by schools, one by the Soka Association (Buddhists).
20. Fireworks from barge in the bay. Not bad. I'm highly critical of fireworks as I've seen some suberb shows and most are pretty feeble given the expertise and costs involved ($100k doesn't buy much). One green starbust blew up on the barge which I thought was spectacular but was probably alone in even noticing.
21. MCs, videos, fireworks, yadda, yadda.

I left to try and get a jump on the crush to leave. I did leave ahead of 97% of the crowd but that just meant I joined the throngs around the event earlier than most. The entrance to City Hall MRT was closed due to over-crowded right in front of me, so I took a path of lesser resistance and walked away from the MRTs and met up with the Merlioness later on. By 10:30, the trains were empty. Result!

All in all, I'm glad I went. It's easy to snipe at such nationalistic displays and they were really pushing for multi-racial, politically correct, inclusive harmony and continued success; reasonable given the swamp-to-city transformation they have achieved in 43 years.

The NDP site is broken this morning, probably by people trying to see if their trash bag won the "Bag It to Win It" prize. And there's a true lesson for working with Singaporeans; if you want them to do something, make it a competition with a prize.