What the living do during the Hungry Ghost Festival

I’m guessing some foreign readers had their interest piqued by my mention of the Seventh Month in the previous post – quite a number of clicks for the wikipedia link!

You may be interested to see how it is celebrated then. (I’ll admit, I don’t know much – a lot of it are just practices I observe year after year without understanding the symbolism behind.)

There’s usually entertainment put up for the visiting souls – the traditional one being Teochew street opera on make-shift stages.

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When there are seats laid out, the first row would be left empty for the ‘good brothers’. In this case, no seats were laid out, but there were decorated joss candles (sustenance for the spirits) and offerings being burnt.

There would be a big (again, make-shift) altar for deity worship –

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The gods depicted on the banner are FuLuShou – Prosperity, Status and Longevity. This particular ceremony was organised by the Redhill Market association. The evening would begin with prayer and invocation of the spirits for their blessing and continued support, thereafter the hawkers gather for dinner and a very noisy auction of auspicious objects.

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Those objects would have been blessed earlier at the altar and include things like deity statuettes made of gold and pots of blessed rice that you can choose to display or cook. The proceeds from the auction will go toward funding entertainment like the street opera and getai (lit. song stage) for next year’s seventh month.

While the living enjoy their food, nobody forgets about the invisible guests. Dinner is set aside for them too –

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Note the joss sticks sticking out of the rice bowls. This is why we Chinese, no matter what religion we may subscribe to, think it rude (some say inauspicious) to stick chopsticks into rice bowls. It is customary to lay them flat on the rim of the bowl.

Hope you enjoyed this slice of old Singapore, with rituals that have since died out in China under communist rule.

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Our National Pledge

Last week, in light of National Day, I used the national pledge that we in schools recite every morning as lesson material. (authentic learning!)

“We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”

Find out more about the history of the pledge here.

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Little strips in our national colours of red and white were used (mini craft therapy for myself amidst the marking). Each student would receive a random phrase from the pledge and have 4 minutes to free-write.

It made way for some interesting discussion, as I’d hoped.
The student given “to build a democratic society” echoed Churchill’s doubts about a democratic system – that it is ideal to give the public the right to vote but the stupidity she reads on social media makes her worried about putting that power in the hands of the common man.

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That prompted another student to propose that only the educated should be allowed to vote. A quick debate ensued, considering how that system will no longer be representative and will possibly make the country better in the long term, but that’s only if we get through the chaos in the short-term = no go.

The two who received “for our nation” questioned the necessity of sacrifice. One shared honestly that she is as self-entitled as the rest, and cannot see the point of having to contribute to the country. Others were sympathetic to the idea, but could see how disturbing that might be for our future.

I am quite glad that other major issues about citizenship, freedom of religion, socio-economic (in)equality, the opportunity cost of simple happiness for prosperity’s sake were briefly covered by the students’ free-write and sharing. This is a lesson I’d repeat for new students next year!

Hilarious response to a Qantas QF6 and QF36 flight delay

Summarized from Straits Times Online:

Australia’s national airline Qantas blamed Singapore’s Jubilee celebrations for the 23-hour delay of one of its flights. Singapore’s airspace was closed for a short period of time, from 6.25pm to 7.10pm on Sunday evening, to accommodate aerial displays during the National Day Parade. No planes were allowed to land or takeoff at Changi Airport.

Dozens of people were stranded overnight when the flight – scheduled to leave for Melbourne at 7.55pm on Sunday – failed to land. The Straits Times understands that the Qantas plane had to re-fuel in Batam, but a lengthy delay arose when its flight crew was discovered to have exceeded their flight hours.

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This is my favourite response from the discussion thread, by user ‘Spammyface Buk’

“I would like to apologize to Qantas and affected passengers for the long delay caused undoubtedly by the decision made 30 minutes before the plane landed, to put up an aerial display as part of our National Day Celebration. Singapore achieved national success and renown because of a culture of shoddy planning and dependence on pure luck to get us out of pickles. You can tell that our streak of miraculous luck held out in that NO OTHER airplane was affected. Thank our stars, all five of them!”

How scathing. I like!

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On a sidenote, enjoy Singapore Airlines’s beautiful livery on an A380 for the occasion of our nation’s birthday!
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Let us treasure our National Anthem – Majulah Singapura

This year’s National Day Parade (NDP) had a segment reliving past NDPs from the 60s and 70s. Watch it here! A behind-the-scenes programme revealed that some retired elderly veterans were invited to don their uniforms and march once again with the contingent. They did so with much gusto. Talk about authenticity indeed!

One of them shared a brief but powerful reflection. I will attempt to translate from the Mandarin.
“You know, I sang four national anthems. During World War II, I sang the Japanese anthem. When the colonials came back after the war, I sang the British anthem. Then when we became a part of Malaysia, it was ‘Negaraku’. And finally, in 1966, we got to sing our anthem. I hope Singaporeans will sing ‘Majulah Singapura’ forever.”
At this point, a wave of emotion overwhelmed him, and our aged warrior wept.

What a perspective on citizenship indeed! Singing the anthem every morning sometimes feels like a chore, a part of a not-entirely-useful identity building ritual. It is not until now that I begin to realise that having a National Anthem that I can call my own and sing with pride is a privilege – one won by the hard work of the Old Guard and the Pioneer Generation who [loved Singapore deeply and] dedicated their lives to building our home.

I share here the now famous video of how Singaporeans continued singing our anthem when the PA system broke down at a victory ceremony of the recent 2015 SEA Games.

Majulah Singapura – Onward Singapore!

A brief reflection on the Prime Minister’s National Day Message 2015

For the 8th of August, 2015 – PM Lee shares

“My Fellow Singaporeans

50 years ago, on this very night, Singapore was on the eve of a momentous change. The Cabinet had already signed the Separation Agreement. The Government Printers were busy printing the Separation Agreement and the Proclamation of Independence in a special Government Gazette. The Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the army units had been told by the Malaysian Government to take orders from the new government the next day. But all this happened in strict secrecy. Our forefathers went to bed oblivious of what was about to happen, still for the time being citizens of Malaysia.

Then morning came. The 9th of August 1965. Our world changed. At 10 a.m., a radio announcer read the Proclamation. Singapore had left Malaysia and would “forever be a sovereign, democratic and independent nation”. The Republic of Singapore was born.”


(Read the full transcript here.)

I found this particular portion to be the most poignant of all –
“Year after year, we have kept the promises that Mr Lee Kuan Yew made on the 9th of August 1965: that we will be “one united people, regardless of race, language or religion”; that we will always have a bright future ahead of us.”

* * * * *

The stuff that makes the news indicates a world filled with people who are not very friendly towards someone of a different race, someone who speaks a different language, and particularly someone who worships a different religion. After seeing for myself how the Christians and the Muslims are restricted from practicing their religion in China, after being a victim of racist comments and rude gestures on Australian streets – I consider myself glad to come from a society that celebrates unity despite race, language or religion, and considers it sacred enough to be enshrined in the National Pledge. I feel thankful that, as a Singaporean Chinese, I have close friends of different races and differing religions. I feel proud that I teach students of varying races, nationalities and religions, but who nevertheless live, study and play together (but with the occasional non-malicious racist joke).

Case-in-point: After the recent National Day Observance ceremony in school, my class gathered to bid farewell to another teacher of my class who is leaving for maternity leave. Someone made brownies. While serving them out, she suddenly exclaimed in mild anguish, “OMG! I am so sorry – I just realised that my brownies are not halal! Halal ingredients but not baked in a halal kitchen. I’m so sorry, can you still eat it?” The Muslim students politely declined, but they hung around to socialise anyway. I thought that was a brief and beautiful slice of inter-faith, inter-racial interaction in Singapore.

Of course, there is still an embarrassing amount of ignorance about other cultures and each racial harmony day brings much cultural (mis)appropriation. People still commit faux pas in these matters, but we are not in conflict, and I think we are continuing to learn with each day, with each year.

Happy 50th, Singapore. I am so proud to call you my country.

The Black Knights celebrate SG50!

I’ve always been a fan of the Black Knights, Singapore’s very own aerial display team. Became even more of an avid follower after realising an acquaintance flies for them! Check out the awesome livery for this jubilee year
(most photographs in this post taken from news sources) –

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So beautiful and patriotic! They performed today and people turned up to watch despite being drenched in a torrential rain –

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(my dad took this. omg omg omg fangirling because they look startlingly close!)

Here’s what’s planned for this weekend leading up to the grand Jubilee –

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And here’s the super exciting special formation that I’ve watched over several rehearsals –

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20 planes in salute to this young 50 year old nation! My breath is taken away whenever I watch it. So proud of the Black Knights!!!

The National Library Celebrates SG50!

All decked out in red and white!

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And an arch, a patchwork of uniquely Singaporean iconography. There’s the nod to the predecessor, the demolished and still beloved old National Library, the teh tarik man, the tingkat (tiffin carrier), Sir Stamford Raffles…

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And more lovely red and white banners!

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I love our libraries. It is undeniable that our libraries lack the prestige and grandeur of old dames like the Trinity College Library of Dublin and the Bodleian or Radcliffe Camera of Oxford, not to mention their priceless collections of manuscripts and rare books. Yet, I think we can take comfort in the fact that this library is not a hallowed hall of elitism, exclusion and general stuffiness (yes, yes, suffering a clear case of the sour grapes here).

Our libraries are approachable and have on occasion been a cool place to see and be seen. This can be a tall order in our day and age where libraries in other developed countries suffer from subsidy cuts and low memberships.

Thank you, dear country, for supporting literacy and reading!