It is the time of the year when we, the residents of Chinatown get to see first hand, the rehearsal for Singapore's National Day celebrations. Looking at the skies, that is. Year after year, we never fail to be excited by the chut chut sounds of the helicopters as they fly overhead with the giant Singapore flag (the biggest in Singapore?) fluttering above us. And sure enough, looking at the distance, the jets would be flying past. While the helicopters seem to be consistent in their flight path, it is not so with the jets over the years. They must have been flying different formations.
Looking at the flag and helicopter moved towards the parade site, I could not help reminiscing the young days when I too was a participant in the Boy Scout contingent in the parade held in the Padang then. In one National Day parade, it was pouring dogs and cats and I could remember shivering in the rain as water gushed over our heads through our drenched uniforms. Ah, but we stood still (trying not to shive too much), proud to be part of another milestone in our tiny nation.
Just as it might be now, then, the parade was held in the morning. This meant, for most of us gathering at a place the night before so that we could assemble together in the shortest time. The then Sands House (Scouts HQ)'s Aw Boon Haw Hall was the place where rows and rows of Scouts would lay down to sleep under the spinning ceiling fans. We probably did not have much sleep as it took us a while to settle down. There were no sleeping bags then (it was still a luxury item for most of us) and so, we tried to cover with what we had, trying to shield from the increasingly cold draft from the fan. 5am, we were up, and by 5.30am, it was breakfast of bread, hard boiled eggs and drink. And the buses were waiting for us.
We assembled at Nicoll Highway and marched down to the Padang from there. Scouts were not known for good marchers but we practised hard (in the earlier times at the then Raffles Institution field) and weren't we proud when we saw our contingent in the Singapore dollar note!
The birth of modern Singapore was not a painless one. It made us all the more aware of the need for us not only to survive but to thrive. But even in the midst of a smallest achievement, we must not forget our past. Like the rings of a tree trunk or the layers of the soil, I think the events are also reflected in the history of our Chinatown. Let's look for the signs.