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National Day


National Day (9 August 2004)

by Kenneth Lyen

Singapore celebrates its 39th National Day today. It is exactly 39 years ago that we were separated from Malaysia, and this is marked by a public holiday.

I met up with a writer friend to discuss scripts for a forthcoming TV series that I’ve been invited to write. Topics we talked about revolved around loneliness, depression, and death. Not exactly cheerful stuff for a National Day celebration. Then I spent the afternoon recording the piano part of a new song I had written. Yes, I did make a backup this time. Otherwise, quite an uneventful day.

In the evening I watched the re-broadcast of outgoing Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s speech. Quite emotional. I was almost on the verge of tears. He is a popular prime minister, and has guided Singapore for the past 14 years. He talked about the first 7 years of plenty followed by 7 lean years. Fortunately the economy has turned around and grown 10% in the first half of the year. This signalled the time for his departure (go when the going’s good!).

Then I watched the National Day celebration on television. I had only attended the celebration at Kallang Stadium once, in 1997, when I was invited to write the music for the celebration. It was exhilarating to have one’s music heard by 60,000 people at the stadium, and broadcast nationwide.

But today, when I watched the celebrations, I did not feel the enthusiasm. Somehow, watching the same celebration over the years has somehow lost its lustre. The same little kids dancing slightly out of step with each other, the same army of special interest groups displaying their cliched marching and dancing, the same hackneyed songs, the same overenthusiastic comperes, and the same tired fireworks. It’s like watching an old movie once too often. The only difference is that it’s the last time the Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong will be there as leader.

Next year Singapore will turn 40, and I think it will face a midlife crisis. The population is shrinking because of an over-successful birth control policies of the 1960s which didn’t get corrected until it was too late. This, together with the increased longevity of the population will lead to a greater percentage of the population getting older. The burden to the younger generation will be heavier. The problem is that there is no safety net for the sick and elderly, and they will suffer greatly in the future.

The other problem is that with globalisation and with its high cost of doing business, jobs are leaving Singapore and relocating in places like India and China. The unemployment rate has been slowly climbing.

The younger generation has rising expectations. They want more freedoms and they want more comforts of life. But they have not lived through the hard times, the time when malnutrition, poverty, and illiteracy were rife, the time when there were racial riots and lawlessness. Not having suffered, they do not know how to behave in an economic recession. They retain their proclivity for spending, and they do not know how to save. For them the future is too far away to be of any concern.

The challenges facing our new Prime Minister are daunting. I wish him the best of luck.

Happy Birthday Singapore!