Singapore National Day Parade 2011

Our nation has turned 46 and this year’s celebration was extra special for me because I was enlisted as one of the official National Day Parade photographers! I got to go behind-the-scenes of the rehearsals and have access to restricted areas and vantage points that scores of photographers would salivate over. Totally exhilarating experience!

But in case you think this is oh-so-very-glam… to be allowed onto the parade grounds, get onto the roof of Marina Bay Sands, and being let in to the Marina Promontory while the crowds were held back, turning green while glaring at us… it’s really not. Imagine lugging around 5kg of camera equipments from 12 – 9pm every Saturday for 3 months. My collection of cam gear is modest. The masters weigh on themselves much, much more with 2 or 3 camera bodies and lens the size of bazookas.

The afternoons were hot as hell and we had to walk a lot, climb up and down, sometimes run, while keeping an eye out for things to shoot. I so pity the persons sitting next to me on the bus home at the end of each shoot. Yet, my ‘hardships’ were nothing compared to all the performers, marshals, motivators and crew who made this NDP work.

3 Months of Hard Work

Now, all the 30 of us appointed NDP photogs have an agreement with the organising committee that we will not post any of the photos taken on Facebook, albums or anywhere else online. The photos were exclusively used for NDP publications and official website until the release of the NDP 2011 coffee table book later on. After that, we can post our photos online. But I asked for permission and have been graciously allowed to share these shots with you on this blog!

They are very simple shots, probably the worst amongst all the photogs, but I hope you can see The Singapore Spirit as I saw in them…

Rehearsals started at various schools and camps around Singapore in May before coming together for combined rehearsals at the Marina Bay Floating Platform. This photo was taken on 14 May 2011.

Stunt skaters added a great sense of movement and speed to the show. The guy in the black singlet is a choreographer for one of the show segments. Having to bark instructions at the performers, no wonder his face is drained of smiles.

The photogs were engage to follow the rehearsals 3 months prior to the actual show on 9 August but I believe choreography work, planning, and training started way before. Before this NDP ended, the committee for next year’s parade has already been formed and brainstorming for ideas! I have the good fortune of being asked to shoot again next year. Woohoo! Another great opportunity to learn!

Circle of friends. Thanks to the students of Ngee Ann Poly for this great shot. Psst... I'm a graduate from Ngee Ann Poly too!

Do you know who are the best friends of any photographer? Cam whores! I am one myself. Hahaha... Love this pic!

Chairman EXCO, Col. Alvin Kek with street dance performers that opened the NDP show. Fantasticfabulisticgrooverlicious moves they have!

Col. Alvin Kek with the lions of Singapore.

Am I seeing 2 Clark Kents?

Another photographer's BFF! Her smile brings so much joy and glee!

The opening act running onto stage during casual rehearsal. Even though it wasn't for real, they put in such energy and commitment to what they do. *Applause*

Portrait of a Nation

The NDP is a celebration by Singaporeans for Singaporeans. And non-Singaporeans. Foreign talents have been a hotly debated issue during the recent General Election. Personally, I welcome foreign talents be it the brains that Singapore is still ‘catching up’ to or those who are doing what we don’t want to do. Singapore started and prospered as a colony of migrants to begin with. If the current incoming FTs are threatening our way of life, is it because our identity isn’t strong enough to convert assimilate them in the first place?

It’s not an easy issue. We are a very small country with no natural resources. To sustain growth and the current way of life for Singaporeans, we need to build critical mass internally for consumption leads to spending, leads to incoming investments, leads to sustained growth against an increasingly homogenous global economic backdrop. And Singaporeans are not producing more Singaporeans. The low birth rates have been the side effect of high cost of living and the need to spend more time to earn the dough rather than knead it.

So what now?

I’m not running for presidency so I’ll leave the intelligent questions to the smart people. All I think I know is this… we import water and a lot of stuff because we don’t produce them. It seems like people are our latest imports. It’s no longer about protecting our Singaporean identity, but how to extend it to our new members. We need to be united for the good of all.

Despite the controversy that the Fun Pack Song attracted, I love the designs. The bags were also of sturdy built with many pockets within rather than just a high-class designer recycle bag to hold goodies.

But one thing that’s not good, is mishappened plagiarism! During the rehearsals, I heard the doctored Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. I thought to myself, “No, no, no, no, no.” It’s filled with so much cheese, the Piped Piper of Hamelin could just overfed the mice to kill them instead of using his flute. A popular song with a strong fan base won’t survive being dumbed down like that.

I actually took a video of the Fun Pack Song during rehearsal because of its absurdity but deleted it as I thought there’s no need for me to keep since I cannot post. Thank goodness that doctored song didn’t go on. Even if full rights were obtained.

But it was a good effort in trying to inject popular culture and be HIP-hop. Hopefully, future attempts won’t flop. HIP = Honour Intellectual Property.

Whatever the hits and misses, being there at so many rehearsals and the main show, I can really feel the sense of pride Singaporeans have for our tiny red dot. It gave me many goosebumps moments!

I always think, “Who would want to watch NDP live? The long wait to the start of the show, it’s hot and sweaty and packed with people. Such a hassle. So much trouble.” But I was so wrong. When I posted on Facebook that I’m a photographer for NDP 2011, I got a slew of messages from friends asking me for tickets.

Having attended my ‘first’ NDP in a long time, I can understand why people want to watch it ‘live’. The feeling of being in unison with fellow citizens regardless of race, language or religion is just awesome!

A 5-Act Musical

This year’s NDP took a fresh new approach in the form of presenting the show as a musical that traces the life and times of a Singaporean family through different eras. The show was a star-studded spectacle led by Sharon Au and Timothy Nga. Hosts for the event were Gurmit Singh, Suhaimi Yusof, Denise Keller and Berlinda Lee.

Livewires Denise and Berlinda were ever so full of energy and shenanigans during rehearsals.

Their Wonderwoman costumes spiced up the parade while Gurmit and Suhaimi provided lots of jokes and made the tedious rehearsals so very enjoyable. Sorry guys, didn't put up your pics coz the gals were chilli crab hot!

Key highlight of the stage this year was the Cube installation. The 3D mosaic piece swivels to either form a complete projection canvas or reveal performers hidden behind them.

Air jumps display by the Singapore Red Lions. Parachuting for a landing this year was much more challenging because the space to touchdown was narrow and precise.

The show included a segment that showed Singapore's military prowess and defence readiness through an integration of hardware (the tanks, the choppers, the artillery machines) and software (the people, the systems, the intelligence).

Masters of the parade. They said that when they are in ceremonial uniforms, they cannot smile and have to project a stern, no-nonsense image. But look what we managed to make them do.

Look... they are carrying their own guns! No maids to help.

The impressive colour parties of Singapore's Armed Forces.

Don't play play okay.

Following the military display, the show proceeded with a parade of floats, tall puppets and explosion of colours. Love this psychedelic elephant. So very trippy and om-inducing.

The 5 Acts were titled Present, Birth, Growing Up, Progress, and Majulah! to capture the Singapore Spirit through the eyes of a mother and son. Kinda weak and the theme song this year, In a Heartbeat, didn't raise my ECG. But the seamless blending and use of different visual elements and surprises were pretty cool. But everything happened so fast, it's hard to shoot.

This is a lousy shot but it's the best I could get. Assigned photographers were brought on stage in batches by chaperones to shoot the show. We were on stage for about a minute and then got to go. Good training for ninja photography!

Fireworks from 3 Vantage Points

The show started at 6pm sharp and ended with a pyro-musical at about 8:05pm. Fireworks were released during the 3 combined rehearsals and 3 National Education (for primary and secondary school kids) rehearsals but they were scaled down with the full force unleashed on the actual day.

I am very, very privileged to see the fireworks at three different locations and here are the shots… 

Got to go on the roof top of Marina Bay Sands and it's not at the Skypark area where all hotel guests were. We got to shoot from an extended balcony rim just below the skypark. First time I ever got on top MBS and the view is... is... is... *lost for words*

View of fireworks atop Marina Bay Sands.

View of fireworks at stage front and behind the audience. Forgot to bring my tripod that day and this was shot using handheld.

View of fireworks from the Marina Promontory. Great place to get the whole firework in sight!

Majulah! The Singapore Spirit

After months of intensive shooting for NDP 2011, I’ve learnt a lot. A big thanks to the many veteran photogs (some of them who have continuously done this ‘national service’ for 10 years) for teaching me so much and sharing with me tips on how they shoot the different show elements. My appreciation too for the Publications team for taking good care of us.

The theme this year is Majulah! The Singapore Spirit (“Majulah” is Malay for “Onward”). It seems the over-riding spirit now one of complain. But to me, nowhere in this world is perfect. So while we have our grouses, let us not forget to count our blessings and continue to strive forth in these times of volatile earth and global economy.

Happy Birthday Singapore! 新加坡,生日快乐!Selamat Hari Jadi Singapura! இனிய பிறந்த நாள் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் Singapore! These photos are my present to you. Hope you like them!

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sengkangbabies
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 15:49:40

    Nice shots, capture the moods ! Especially like those fisheye group photos !
    Looking forward to more NDP pics release.


  2. Yee Leong
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 16:28:00

    wow… impressive. 🙂 thanks for sharing. :


  3. Patrick
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 18:53:05

    Nicely done!


  4. Calvin Timo
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 12:01:12

    Nice coverage of NDP 2011! I was shooting from the media area at Marina Promontory! wish can get access to the Floating Platform =(


    • Darren Ng
      Aug 12, 2011 @ 03:51:31

      thanks calvin… i saw you at the promontory but u seem so engrossed and busy with ur camera so i didn’t say hi. i think ndp are engaging bloggers and u can go on their official website ( to register ur blog with them and perhaps next year they may allow access to floating platform for bloggers like wat the granted for Mr Brown!


  5. Marina Bay Singapore
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 16:03:35

    Awesome post! Loved the way you captured the Singapore Spirit – through the people. Great to see all the people enjoying themselves, and especially you with all the jump shots! 😉


    • Darren Ng
      Aug 12, 2011 @ 03:58:32

      wow! the amazing MBS leaving a comment on my blog! i’m sooooo honoured! thanks thanks! 🙂 i think MBS is one of the icons of The Singapore Spirit for emerging as the region’s most beautiful casino with a spectacular view of the bay area that has everyone talking. but in my case, i was at a loss for words to describe the incredible view and feeling atop MBS 🙂


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