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Audrey Tan
Monday, Aug 11, 2014

Singapore

Where there is a wheel, there is a way

The Straits Times | Audrey Tan | Monday, Aug 11, 2014

Then: (Top) Stephen Leong - seen here with his father (wearing glasses) - was three and standing on top of a trishaw at Bras Basah for a better view of the National Day Parade in 1968. Now: (Above) Mr Leong, 49, back in the same spot, recalls his yearly ritual of watching the parade with his father.

SINGAPORE - Watching uniformed troops march through his neighbourhood in Bras Basah, barely a kilometre away from the iconic Padang, during the National Day celebrations in the 1960s and 1970s, was always a thrill for Mr Stephen Leong.

The revving motorcycle contingent, the pomp and pageantry of the military band, and the imposing Gurkhas made a big impression on the toddler.

Now 49, the regional tour operator recalls how his mother had dressed him up for the display of patriotism and Singaporean pride: She had helped him don a shirt, powder his face and slick back his hair with Tancho pomade.

"She said I had to dress up before I left the house with my dad, especially since it was the National Day Parade," said Mr Leong.

In a black-and-white photograph in 1968, he was three and dressed in his best, when Straits Times photographer Mak Kian Seng snapped a shot of him perched atop a trishaw for a better view of the parade.

For Mr Leong, who is married to housewife Tintin Widjaja, 38, the photograph rekindles memories of more than the glamour of the parade, the infectious enthusiasm of the crowds thronging the streets and his younger self's excitement at being there. It also reminds him of the yearly ritual of watching the parade with his father, just the two of them. His father, Mr Ignatius Leong, then working as a senior clerk in an insurance firm, died four years ago of lung cancer at the age of 73.

Said Mr Leong: "The girls (his mother and elder sister) didn't join in, it was just dad and I.

"I will always remember the sense of anticipation when the mobile squad started clearing the roads for the parade - people would start shouting 'lai le, lai le' ('they are coming' in Mandarin) and everyone would crane their necks to look out for the contingents."

Like the country whose independence it celebrates, the parade has metamorphosed over the years. From simple mass performances, such as displays of motorcycle stunts and visual spectacles of torch-lit umbrellas, today's National Day Parades are now high-tech, slick productions - complete with laser beams, grand acoustics, and blitzes of colour and technology.

Still, one thing has not changed: the parade's ability to move Singaporeans of all walks of life, to make them laugh, cheer and swell with pride. It is a rallying point for the entire nation.

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