Singapore has a lot to be proud of. For a 53 year-old city state smaller than New York City with no natural resources and only 5.5 million people, Singapore can go toe-to-toe with Western nations in multiple international standards. This August, familiarize your inner kiasu self with some rankings – just one of the 10 ways to honor Singapore during our birthday month!
1. Know where we stand in the world.
According to latest available data, Singapore has the world’s third-highest GDP per capita (at PPP), surpassing Luxembourg, Switzerland, and even oil-producing countries like Norway, Kuwait, and the UAE. Singapore continues to be the most transparent nation in Asia, consistently being in the top 10 since Transparency International began its index.
Singapore is also 5th on the Human Development Index. Our 15-year-olds top the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), beating Japan, Finland, and Canada in reading, math, science, and problem-solving. Our two major universities, NUS and NTU, were ranked 11th and 12th respectively in the 2019 Quacquarelli Symonds worldwide rankings. Very respectable still, considering they beat every other Asian university, and most Ivy League colleges.
Singapore was named Top Maritime Capital the third year in a row, for its continued innovation, and strong maritime services environment. Changi Airport is Skytrax’s best airport in the world for the sixth year, while Singapore Airlines was named best airline by TripAdvisor. Singapore is also the fourth most visited city in the world, meaning to say people around the world appreciate how well we’ve done for ourselves too!
2. Know your National Day songs.
Corny as they may sometimes be, which kid can really resist these romanticized, saccharine, unapologetically positive songs, especially when sung at the top of our voices during NDP? Home by Kit Chan is my favorite by far, with Tanya Chua’s Where I Belong and Stephanie Sun’s We Will Get There tied at second. Do you remember all the words? Can you sing along without looking at the subtitles? Shoutout also to older songs like 1969’s official NDP song Five Stars Arising, We Are Singapore (1987), and the classic “pantun” (folk song) Di Tanjong Katong!
3. Visit the National Gallery.
Prepare to be overwhelmed, if you haven’t already been. It’s a beautiful combination of the colonial-style former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, with an ultra-modern atrium designed by French architectural firm studioMilou. It houses the best collection of Southeast Asian art, including some pieces you’ll recognize from our banknotes. It’s a great place to get familiar with Singapore art and its history, those of our region, and to experience the sheer grandeur of architecture and interior design that’s comparable to the world’s best cities.
You can also enjoy a fancy Peranakan meal at the luxuriously appointed National Kitchen by Violet Oon, which looks like a Parisian bistro with Peranakan accents. Better yet, you can get an unobstructed view of the Padang that stretches to Marina Bay from Aura and Smoke & Mirrors on the top floor! General admission is free for all Singaporeans and PRs.
4. Finally memorize a list of all the Presidents we’ve had.
We’ve had eight, which is many more than our three prime ministers: Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, and Lee Hsien Loong. For your convenience, these are our Presidents, in chronological order:
- Yusof bin Ishak, whose face is on our banknotes;
- Benjamin Sheares, the namesake of the bridge across Marina Bay;
- Devan Nair, who helped found NTUC and has a training center named in his honor;
- Wee Kim Wee, after whom my alma mater is named (NTU’s School of Communication and Information, rated 6th in the world);
- Ong Teng Cheong, our first elected President and patron saint of the arts (SSO, NAC)
- R. Nathan, who’s honored with an NUS professorship, an education fund, and a fellowship in a local policy think tank;
- Tony Tan, who had been in politics since 1979 and became Deputy Prime Minister in 1993;
- Halimah Yacob, who was an MP, and Speaker of Parliament, and is now our first female President.
5. Have a meal at a historic food center every weekend of August!
A passion for food is possibly the greatest unifier of Singaporeans. Everywhere in the world we go we look for the best things to eat (don’t lie, you’re guilty of it too), and when we’re in Singapore we plan our days around the meals we’re going to have. This month, visit the historic food centers and support our small-time hawkers, and soak in the (humid) atmosphere of these places where generations have gathered for a simple meal!
The obvious ones are Tekka Centre (the original was built in 1915), Lau Pa Sat (its original iteration first built in 1823), Maxwell Market (opened in the 1950s), Tiong Bahru Food Centre (opened in 1955, the first neighbourhood food centre), Old Airport Road Food Centre (opened in 1973), and Amoy Street Market (opened in 1983).
6. Learn about a historical site in Singapore that’s no longer around.
Singapore’s landscape is constantly changing. In the fifty years since independence, reclamation has increased our land mass by 22%. Space comes at a premium, and that unfortunately means tearing down old, sometimes historically significant structures and installations to make way for new ones. It’s that much more important, then, for Singaporeans to know about its past, along with where important, popular buildings once stood.
One such place was Great World Amusement Park, which stood where Great World Shopping Center is now. It housed a nightclub called Flamingo, a haunted funfair ride, and four Shaw Brothers cinemas. You can learn more about it from Kelvin Tong’s A Great, Great World, a film based on the park’s history. Sentosa is a treasure trove of erstwhile pioneering sites, like Volcano Land, Fantasy Island, and Musical Fountain. There’s also the old National Theatre, built in 1959 to commemorate Singapore’s newly won self-governance, which looked super cool with a façade of five diamond spikes, and attracted luminaries like Louis Armstrong – wow!
7. Engage in charity.
And I don’t mean just giving money. Donations are important, but actually physically engaging in a charitable cause can be much more fulfilling for you. Maybe it’s giving blood, or maybe it’s bringing food to the less fortunate among us. It could even be organizing a bunch of friends to pick up and recycle trash in our parks and beaches. Spreading a little kindness could be all it takes to make this National Day that much more memorable.
8. Recognize Singapore’s many talents.
Remember when Joseph Schooling beat Michael Phelps at the 2016 Olympics and brought home our country’s first Gold medal, and set a national, Asian, and Olympic record? Remember that pride we felt as a country, finally making it on the international stage?
There are many talents in other fields who have made waves outside of our shores, and deserve our support. That could be buying their products, or at least being well-versed with their names and work. If you think Moleskines are cool, try Bynd Artisan, which was founded by Singapore’s oldest bookbinding and paper press Grandluxe. If you’re a Traditionalist sworn to Savile Row, try Kevin Seah, Benjamin Barker, and CustomMade. If you’re more Normcore, check out Biro. If you like cool watches, try HyperGrand. If you love modern, minimalist furniture, check out Nathan Yong and Jarrod Lim.
9. Plug Singapore on your social networks!
And while you are looking these talents up, why not share them on your social networks and let the world know about them too? Share their websites and product photos (and link them to us, pretty please)! There’s so much “Instagrammable” in Singapore – yummy-looking food, spectacular architecture, beautiful greenery, dramatic storms and sunsets, lovely night lights, and so much more. Share that beauty with the world on your social media platforms, and you’ll be surprised just how many people are interested and love what they see! You may even make it big on YouTube – there are many successful content-makers out there posting Singapore travelogues, and getting tons of views!
10. Go abroad.
Singaporeans may be victims of our country’s meteoric success. We have it really good here on our small sunny island, and yet we have the reputation for complaining. Take a trip abroad, I say, and you’ll come back appreciating Singapore a little more. Sure, we don’t have lush forests and snow-capped mountains, or Medieval castles and Renaissance sculptures. But Singapore does many things better than anyone else, and they’ll all come into focus when you explore outside our borders.