In the past 46 years, the dress code of the ruling party has been white-on-white on National Day. Thanks to a gentleman by the name of Ronald Seow who wrote in to the ST forum page last August 2011 suggesting “One people, one dress code, please”, this year’s National Day is a refreshing combination of red and white. One rotund politician came in light red (almost pink) chequered shape, prompting my son to exclaim: “dad, that looks like a walking picnic mat”. That was rude, I barked. Some appeared off-white. A handful stayed on well-tested white-on-white code.
Our national mascot, in a complete red T-shirt, received the loudest applause, beaming ear to ear, gunning two thumbs up. His presence was a sigh of relief to many despite rumblings from multitude of ill chatters in cyberspace leading up to National Day.
I was asked the same question multiple times prior to 9Aug. Has he passed on? I guess humans love gossips. My standard response is simply: "our practice has always been never to flinch or hide from any news". Someday, it will come to pass and we will know as sure as the sun will rise.
We were watching the parade on TV and I witnessed the joy of my guests, especially the older ones, when LKY told measured steps toward his seat. They cheered, clapped as if on parade. A family friend sheepishly told me she cancelled her overseas trip just to ‘see for herself’ that LKY appears. All said, I guess he can only be as well as can be for a man almost 90 yrs.
When PM appeared in a stunning short-sleeve shirt of more red than white, it signals change is possible. It is a celebratory shirt, chic and suitable for any happy occasion.
Several years back, I wrote (in capacity as private citizen) to then President Nathan to consider wearing something ‘more comfortable’ and in line with the festivity of our National Day Parade. Furthermore, why not have his wife seated next to him to enjoy the proceedings. Everyone attending the national day parade is seated next to somebody and the President is all on his own!
For those of us who have been around a bit, you may have recalled the late President Ong Teng Cheong and his many batik shirts. Back then, these were ostentatiously worn on special occasions and some considered ‘national costumes’ standing.
Gradually, these disappeared completely and we are back to wearing Western based suit. Having to wear a suit in our hot, humid climate with a silly tie is close to walking into a bikram yoga class fully clothed.
Apparently, my request to the President was referred to MINDEF. Some weeks later, an officer wrote back with a terse no. As parade organiser, they had the final say. So to this day, the President continues to suffer in that suit whilst the whole of Singapore celebrate in mostly red and white short sleeves. Looks like this practice is fossilized.
Let me jump into another story of change. This must have been more than six years ago. There were these distasteful ‘$1,000 fine’ signs at five underpasses along Singapore river. You are not supposed to cycle through these thoroughfares, each wide enough to take one MRT train and more. Often times, cyclists would simply cycle through, never mind the signs. Because of such explicit signs, pedestrians are more inclined to glare and reprimand cyclists resulting in tense situations.
I wrote to one agency thinking they were in charge. Instead, it ricocheted twice before another Government agency grudgingly replied. They said no flatly to remove these ‘fines signs’. As it was not exactly a life threatening matter, I did not want to sweat the small stuff and let the matter rest.
Earlier this year, I was invited to the opening of Bishun-AMK park by NParks. During the break, I was cajoled forward to engage PM in small talk. Somehow, the conversation drifted to my peeve of six years ago. PM, I said: "the most scenic tourist route today along the Singapore river on a bicycle can set you back by $10,000". Why so, he asked? I related the details, he gave a suggestion and we all had a good laugh. I subsequently wrote “Humourously Serious” on my blog.
The relevant agency picked up this story and contacted me. We dialogued. They remain adamant in not explicitly allowing cycle through. However, after several months of huff-and-puff, those ‘$1,000 fine signs’ were finally removed. But the ‘cross out’ cycling signs remain. So I would argue that change is possible, timing matters.
Onto my final story on change, two weeks back, I was in the Old Parliament house listening to Quek Leng Joo, MD for CDL, presentation on his photo exhibition entitled “Flora Exotica”. He donated 18 photos for sale and raised $150,000 for charity.
The rare treat was his “black-and-white” photos of The Malaysian railway network (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) which ceased operation in Singapore on 30 June 2011 after 80 years service. It took him all of 8 months and was nearly run down by a train.
I was first seated at the fourth row and as usual the first row was empty. The organizer waved to us to move forward so the place does not look sparse. Several of us rumbled forward and to my right was an audit partner in one of the big 4. There was an empty seat to my left followed by Professor Karpal Singh.
Towards the end of the presentation, I turned to the empty seat on my left and notice a small plaque. Under dim light conditions, I could still make up the name “Lee Kuan Yew”. Instinctively, I shifted my butt, turn around to read whose seat I took. It read Toh Chin Chye. So I turned to this gentleman on my right and said “LKY seat is empty”. He shot back readily: “why do you think it’s empty?” Trust an auditor to ask you a question when you needed an answer.
As we were about to leave, I jumped into LKY empty seat, stretched out, enjoyed the leather and muttered: “thank goodness for change”, our new Parliament house is now next door. It was momentarily surreal.
As a student over thirty six years ago, I visited Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire. All these huge towering blocks of stone were accessible and visitors were even allowed to touch them. Today, the site is rightly cordoned off to minimise damage. So, I guess it is a matter of time before our historic front bench in Old Parliament house will be cordoned off as well. So what are you waiting for?