By Low Sieu Ping
The Hoffman Agency, Singapore
Writing this might mean that I’m contributing to the gamut of SG50 articles, and allowing conversations of “simi sai also SG50” to happen. But, it is a thought that I had to express. Personally, I am excited to celebrate the nation’s 50 years of remarkable progress and going all #local.
But, ever since the SG50 campaign started last year, a slew of activities have been initiated, whether officially or unofficially. As a professional in the media/creative sphere, it’s hard not to notice the numerous commemorative events and activities that happened or will be happening.
Client: “Let’s think of something for SG50.”
Media: “SG50 again?”
SG50 is like a memo that the entire nation has received.
Everyone wants a slice of this pie, from advertising campaigns to organizers of film screenings, exhibitions and concerts. The emblem of ‘SG50’ can be seen screaming on various products and decals.
Including the Bobo fishcake.
As much as I love my country, I have to admit that I started to grow dismissive of these events as the SG50 drum beat went on fervently and continued to get louder. As journalist Ong Sor Fern aptly put, “The cynic in me snorts and dismisses the whole slew of events as just advertising malarkey riding on the coattails of a national event.”
As I was close to shutting my ears out to any activity about SG50, a series of unexpected events held me back – the conversations and trips that I had overseas.
While I was in Sichuan, my friends and I had a conversation with a taxi shifu. Normally, I’d very much prefer to lounge in the backseat and bask in the sights during the hour-long ride. But when he knew that we were from Singapore, questions such as cost of migration and living came up. He had expressed hopes of shifting over, because of the many opportunities within the country.
Most poignantly, he remarked, “I’m very impressed and in awe that despite it being a tiny island, Singapore has an operationally-ready army to boot. You guys are very fortunate.”
That stopped me short, and got me thinking.
While I was in Bangkok, my Thai colleagues lamented that despite being educated, young people in Thailand were nothing like Singaporeans. I thought they were being too kind to us, because I had Thai peers who were as outstanding, if not more. But, my colleagues were harsh enough to generalize that most Thai graduates were “childish” and could not hold up to big decisions – Singaporeans were different. There was a tinge of exasperation within their choice of words. To give some context, I was working with her to organize a press conference in Bangkok. Prior to that, we were liaising via emails, calls and Whatsapp in separate countries, and various decisions and courses of action had to be decided on my end.
Again, that set me thinking.
While I was in Vietnam, I had the chance to visit the War Remnants Museum. What struck me was the Vietnam War – a colonial war which happened in more recent times, in fact, just sometime after Singapore had gained independence. Political turmoil and various reasons led to the war. Granted, there were probably a lot other factors that contributed to the resistance. But, my point was, what if that happened in post-independent Singapore – how would things have changed?
That, once again, got me thinking.
Growing up in the post-independent landscape, I experienced a city-state that was already an economic hub, and one that saw political stability and social security. Did I come back with a refreshed perspective of SG50?
While I believe that more than half of what I have today – a home, an education, and a bilingual tongue – might have been far-fetched if I were to be born into another country, I have never questioned this privilege. Not until those overseas conversations transpired.
The trips I took to the neighboring countries were a reminder that SG50 is a remarkable feat for what was once a fishing village. These people whom I met and who spoke highly of Singapore and Singaporeans, provided a timely reminder amid the clamor from the SG50 marketing activities within the country. I count myself especially fortunate that I did not have to go through any particularly difficult paths.
The fact of the matter is, the hype over SG50 is here to stay. And it will ring louder this month, or week, as the Jubilee Weekend kicks off. It is after all, a year-long celebration. Fifty momentous years of achievements condensed into a year of celebrations is arguably disproportionate, no?
Maybe what would be valuable is having brands review their SG50 associations, and whether it is relevant to their messaging, so that negative brand sentiment would be less amplified. But at the risk of digressing into another topic that’s about branding, I’d like to think, for now, that brands just want to show support to Singapore and SG50.
And of course, they too, want to wish the country, a happy birthday.