From ‘Thanks, but spending $4m for S’pore Day is too much’, 14 April 2012, ST Forum
(Liang Kaicheng): I AM one of thousands of happy Singaporeans based in the United States who will be making their way by plane, car or bus to New York City today for Singapore Day. But I am also embarrassed to discover that the event will cost $4 million (‘New York to draw 4,000 on S’pore Day’; last Saturday).
Much as I am looking forward to stuffing my face with chicken rice at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I find it bewildering that the Government is prepared to spend such a considerable sum to woo overseas Singaporeans home and boost the local talent pool.
There may be far better ways to spend $4 million of taxpayers’ money than on a bunch of Singaporeans living abroad, many of whom have their eye on lucrative, prestigious opportunities in their adopted countries and have no plans to return to Singapore in the foreseeable future.
No amount of fried carrot cake, 1980s music or (local TV show character) Barbarella’s preening can pull people away from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, top university professorships, or the myriad other reasons why some Singaporeans choose to live abroad.
If the aim of the event is merely to remind overseas Singaporeans of their home, it may be even more overpriced. I am grateful that the Government has me in its thoughts, but I am also uncomfortable that Singapore Day may inevitably be an expensive exercise in futility.
A similar piece was written on Singapore Day being more of a showcase of local gluttony by Siew Kum Hong in 2007. According to the ex-NMP, National Day Songs were played at the inaugural event in New York, with a ‘singular emphasis on food’, although another Overseas Singaporean (OS) Colin Goh commented that the local fare flown over could already be sampled in New York except for ‘chwee kueh’. With more than a million PRCs living here, I’m surprised no one has thought of a ‘China Day’ in Singapore yet, though it would probably feel just like ‘Any Other Day’ to most of us.
This year, Zouk’s ‘Mambo night’ is being marketed as something of a uniquely Singaporean past-time, though synchronised gesturing to cheesy 80′s retro music is not that far off from sending in a Great Singapore Workout contingent. It’s like reminding the Spanish about Macarena, though one must admit it’s at least better than launching a mobile National Day Parade at Singapore Day like we used to.
In 2011′s event, Kit Chan was flown to Shanghai to sing ‘Home’ (truly, where know I MUST be). It also featured kampong games like chapteh and five stones, which comes across as an propagandist exercise in inaccuracy rather than ‘futility’ since our kids are too busy swiping iPads or attending weekend enrichment classes to play pick up sticks anymore. In 2008, Melbourne, a NATIONAL SERVICE showcase was presented, featuring ‘various simulators and high-tech training equipment to display the prowess of the armed forces’. Reminding our boys of what they moved overseas to escape from, or what some may be forced to face if they ever return, is a terrible idea regardless of how advanced our laser weaponry is, painting the event with the sour, parasitic tone of a ‘recruitment drive’ rather than a nostalgic funfair. Covert enlistment aside, perhaps the festival is also an annual million-dollar, grovelling, elaborate apology for Goh Chok Tong’s ‘quitter’ label some years back.
You don’t need to fly the Noose team or Phua Chu Kang to major cities to help Singaporeans ‘RE-CONNECT’ with the local scene. Thanks to the Internet and social media, if I want to see Kit Chan sing ‘Home’ I’ll just Youtube it. If I want to preserve my Singlish I’ll view Mrbrown podcasts or Dr Jia Jia. If I’m the sort who can’t wait to serve NS, I’ll Google Mindef. If I want to keep in touch with friends back home, I’ll Skype, Facebook or Tweet. Still, the fact that tens of thousands of OS have flocked to Singapore Days suggests that there’ s more to it than just hawker food or multimedia history lessons plucked out of recycled NDP montage video clips. Maybe it’s simply hanging out with people who speak your lingo, with whom you’re guaranteed something common to talk about (lah punctuated no less), nevermind if you’ve never Mambo-Jamboed in your life, or haven’t the faintest inclination to pack your bags. If anything, this annual diaspora bonding may even deter OS from ever returning, given that Singapore Day always seems to oversell itself as a fun, vibrant, dare I say more ‘Singaporean’ , jamboree than the actual Singapore itself.
In my opinion, the OSU should keep it subtle and simple, ditch the NDP songs and ridiculous dancing, the vain attempts to make Singapore or its SAF attractive again, and just rename the awful sounding Singapore Day to ‘Shiok (Food) Festival’. Don’t even attempt to sell Merlion keychains.