Singapore Day 2012 is looking to be one of the biggest milestone this year for us at the Singapore Memory Project. A signature event of the OSU, this year’s installment travelled to Brooklyn, New York, returning to the United States where the first Singapore Day was held five years ago.
As a nation with a highly dispersed pool of citizens around the world, maintaining contact with overseas Singaporeans has been a key concern for the government. So when the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) and the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) of the Prime Minister’s Office invited us to participate in Singapore Day 2012, our team felt that the timing couldn’t have been better; we were just thinking about how the SMP could reach out to Singaporeans who were living abroad.
Our activities leading up to Singapore Day 2012 began with a call for contributions in March, asking overseas Singaporeans “how far they would go to feel at home?“. Responses that came in were illuminating. Unsurprisingly, our national obsession with food meant that smuggling homemade condiments or inviting other Singaporeans over for a cook-out were a common practice. With the advent of video-conferencing technologies, some also shared that a loved one is never too far away these days, and nothing warms their hearts like a familiar face and conversing in Singlish.
On the event day on 14th April, close to 5,000 visitors swarmed the booths and savoured their favourite local delicacies. Passing through replicas of the MRT ticket gantries, homesick Singaporeans were “welcomed home” by the cast of The Noose and tucked into their favourite prata, chilli crab, satay and fried kway teow. We met many overseas Singaporeans, some had even wrote in advance to welcome us at New York and offered to show us around the city. There were also many whom have settled in the US for more than 10 years and brought their children and spouses. “It’s good to be home,” some of them opined, laksa in hand.
The preparation of an event of such a magnitude would have been impossible had it not been for the organizers and the events team who helped each agency with their booths. We packed more than 700 memory slips, customized autograph books and goodie bags, five crates of old F&N bottles, and full replicas of an old telephone booth and pawn shop. We were initially worried if the replicas would be true to the originals, but seeing the positive reactions it got allayed our fears.
The pawn shop caught the attention of many Singaporeans who were curious about what “SingaporeMemory.sg” meant. Much to their surprise as they ventured in were our display cases which housed many of the things they loved and remember, including old Bookworm books, Hello Kitty soft toys and a paper replica of the iconic dragon playground, to name a few. Appended to each object was a memory submission from our holdings that recalled various facets of social life in Singapore, be it watching the Malaysia Cup finals in 1994 or queuing up at McDonald’s for soft toys.
We also gave out a really popular goodie bag that came with a customized autograph book. Many were giggling at the sight of country eraser stickers and awkward poems typical of autograph books of their childhood. Triggered by these objects, we invited the visitors to pen a memory of/for Singapore, a message documenting what they remember most fondly of our country. By 3:30pm that afternoon, we were almost out of the 700 memory submission slips.
Besides the memory collection drive, we also exhibited some photographs of traditional provision shops and vignettes of old Singapore from our PictureSG collection. Through the photographs, a Singaporean explained to her American husband what life was once like, and during our little “school shoe polishing” contest, another Singaporean also took the opportunity to teach her son about school-going life in 1970s Singapore.
The event ended on a high note when all gathered for a Mambo dance-off in the evening sun, complete with 80s pop hits and a huge dose of nostalgia for those who miss home. Everyone joined in even if we don’t really know (or understand) the Mambo moves, but there was a sense of collective effervescence, kinda like the buzz you get at the National Day Parade. The only thing is, we’re 9,000 miles away from Singapore.
I guess what they say is true: home is a feeling.
And its familiar warmth is what you’ll seek when you come home to Singapore.
Singapore Memory Project