Preparations and rehearsals for the upcoming National Day Parade (NDP) are ramping up to ensure that everything runs without a hitch.
And given that this year is also Singapore’s bicentennial year, efforts to produce a show to remember have been nothing short of meticulous.
But as perfect as a nationwide fiesta can be, the NDP’s history has shown that it’s often the unforeseen shenanigans and candid moments that end up being most deeply etched in the minds of Singaporeans.
Here are seven unexpected NDP moments and bloopers from recent years – and one from almost two decades ago – that Singaporeans still find hard to forget.
2018: Sneaky performer plays “Circle Game” on live TV
The first act of 2018’s NDP saw local R&B artiste Gareth Fernandez singing a contemporary version of “We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles as he moved smoothly through the crowd of performers on the Marina Bay floating platform.
Unbeknownst to the singer, a mischievous performer in construction worker attire dancing near him was stealing the spotlight by repeatedly and sneakily signalling an upside-down “OK” hand sign in front of the camera.
The seemingly innocent hand gesture is actually part of a game popularly known as the “Circle Game” where someone makes a circle with his thumb and index finger and tries to trick another person into looking at it. If that person sees the circle, he or she loses the game.
In this case, the performer seemed bent on getting the highest score possible by subtly showing the sign four times in a short span of 10 seconds.
And just when you thought his high jinks were over, he showed it one final time right before Fernandez finished his number.
Yes, we lost that many times.
2017: Wrong Tamil translation of NDP theme on pamphlets
Although it wasn’t a mistake that happened during the show itself, an incorrect Tamil translation of the NDP 2017 theme on widely distributed publicity brochures was enough to spark online furore a month before the parade that year.
In early July 2017, a Facebook user – who identifies himself as Thamil Selvan – posted an image of the pamphlet highlighting the translation error.
According to The Straits Times, the pamphlets were distributed to Primary 5 students from 162 primary schools ahead of the National Education (NE) show that month.
The Tamil phrase was reportedly supposed to read “let’s come together as one nation”, but jumbled and omitted characters left the sentence intelligible.
The NDP organisers for that year apologised for the error and new souvenir booklets containing the correct translation were given to the students afterwards. But the damage was done, and the blunder was serious enough to warrant a parliamentary question filing by Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok Murali Pillai.
2017: Child actor picks up “ammo” during simulated terrorist attack
Good child actors that can keep in character throughout a performance are hard to come by, especially with all the action happening around them.
During a simulated terrorist attack at NDP 2017, a boy in red acting as a hostage was seen on live TV reaching for and picking up what was supposedly a dropped ammunition round.
The “kidnapper” didn’t seem to notice the boy’s actions as he was busy reloading his dummy rifle and engaging counterterrorism forces.
2017: Netizens say PM Lee looked confused during “yam seng”
For the most part, politicians attending the NDP have to keep up a professional image as the cameras are trained on them from time to time.
But not all are spared from unintentionally comical moments on TV.
Nearing the end of a song and dance segment at NDP 2017, five leading performers concluded their item by rallying the audience for a “yam seng” (Cantonese for “a drink to victory”) toast using bottles of NEWater.
While the performers and most of the audience seemed hyped for the moment of celebration, netizens say Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong looked confused by the segment.
In spite of the apparent awkwardness, he seemed to be trying his best to play along with the audience.
2017: Young boy makes vulgar gesture in front of cameras
Perhaps the most unforgettable moment of NDP 2017 was when a student performer from Henry Park Primary School nonchalantly flipped his middle finger in front of the camera during the show’s finale.
Videos and screengrabs of the boy making the rude gesture soon went viral on social media, causing him to quickly gain infamy for his act of mischief.
A photo of the boy being talked to and supposedly being disciplined by two adults – one of whom is the former principal of the school – was also widely circulated online.
— -ZhuoHao- (@kingahbearz) August 9, 2017
— Syahrul Asyraf (@TheNotoriousMCG) August 9, 2017
However, this was not the only time a performer flipped the bird on live TV.
In 2016, another young male student – whose identity remains a mystery – could be seen making the same offensive sign during the finale of the NDP as well. No known disciplinary action was reported at the time.
2016: Singapore flag projection goes missing
No national anthem singing and pledge recitation is complete without the Singapore flag.
In 2016, the NDP organising committee decided to up the ante by projecting a massive image of the national flag on the retractable dome roof of the new National Stadium where the parade was held. It was meant to be visible on both sides of the roof which doubles as a giant projector screen.
Here’s what it was supposed to look like as seen during the finale of a preview show.
- The Straits Times
However, the projection failed to show on the dome ceiling during the actual NDP event.
This left members of audience and some performers inside the stadium noticeably puzzled as to where their attention was supposed to be turned to as they sang the anthem and recited the pledge.
2000: Parade commander forgot to order third round of “Fire of Joy”
During the military parade inspection segment in 2000, then-parade commander Lieutenant-Colonel Adam Hamzah was supposed to order three rounds of the “Feu de joie” or “Fire of Joy”, a French medieval custom that involved the firing of muskets in celebration of battle victory.
After giving commands for two rounds of gun salutes, Hamzah apparently forgot to order the last round to be shot.
Instead, he gave the command for the guards-of-honour to withdraw their rifles early, causing hesitation among some in the contingent, leading to them putting down their weapons in an out-of-sync manner.
Even the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew seemed to have sensed something amiss as he could be seen turning his head slightly to mumble a few words to then-deputy prime minister Tony Tan.
Awkwardness quickly ensued as the audience and contingent waited nearly 30 seconds in relative silence for something to happen, before aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force appeared for a flypast.
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