The First National Day

It’s Singapore’s 52nd National Day today! Majulah Singapura! On this very exciting day, we thought we’d share a piece of writing that didn’t make it into The Little Singapore Book because of space constraints. We had wanted to include a bit more fun details about Singapore’s first national day in 1966. So here goes…

“Singapore’s first national day parade took place at the Padang on the morning of 9 August 1966. It rained that day but no one left their seats or position on the parade ground. Like today, the national anthem was sung, there was a 21-gun salute, performances and a huge march past. The finale was huge lion and dragon dance featuring 60 lions and dragons in total — the biggest ever in Singapore. At night, fireworks were set off at Fort Canning and lots of people went to enjoy it. The fireworks could be seen from the Istana, too, where Singapore’s first President Yusof bin Ishak was holding a party for 1,000 guests. Out at sea, there was an illuminated ‘sea dragon’ that was towed by boats across the waterfront off Princess Elizabeth Walk, near where the Esplanade is now. It measured 152m long, 12m high and was lit by 12,500 light bulbs! What a grand sight!”

If you want to find out more, see this video link below and watch the original participants reminisce about that amazing day!





An Infestation of Rats and Centipedes

Do you see lots of rats in the scene of early Singapore on page 14? Why do you think the artist drew so many rats? There is good reason for that. Read on and find out.

Early Singapore was a colourful place, with merchants and pirates, coolies and colonials. But it was also full of animals. Sometimes there were so many of them, there would be a plague and the people had to deal with them as best as they could. Munshi Abdullah, the famous scribe and linguist of 19th century Singapore wrote about such an occasion.

Rat infestation by Pipi - Copy - Etched - Correct


In the 1820s while William Farquhar was still governing Singapore, there came a great infestation of rats. Do you see them picking at food and crumbs on Pg 14 of The Little Singapore Book? There were so many rats they overran warehouses and homes, chewed through the wood, stole food and ransacked the godowns. Even Munshi Abdullah’s pet cat was attacked by a pack of large rats one night. So big were they that their hefty weight could knock a person down if he wasn’t careful out walking at night.

They were a real nuisance and people began to complain.

But without rat catchers and pest busters then, what could Farquhar do? First, he asked everyone to try to catch the rats. But all they did was complain and hope their neighbours would do the deed.

Seeing that the rat problem was still there, Farquhar then offered to pay one ‘wang’, or coin, for every rat caught and killed. With this reward, everyone sprang into action and started catching rats with every ingenious idea they could think of. For about a week, thousands of dead rats were brought in every morning, and Farquhar was kept busy paying the people a wang for each dead rat.

But the numbers never fell. There were as many dead rats brought in every morning. Could people be bringing the same carcasses in day after day?

So Farquhar ordered a large trench to be dug and all the dead rats were buried. This seemed to do the trick. From that day, fewer and fewer rats were caught every day and soon, the plague of rats was over.

But it was peaceful for only a short while.

Soon after, people in Singapore became bothered by centipedes. Have you been bitten by one before? It can be very painful.

That’s what happened to lots of people when they were walking along Singapore River, or even when they were at home. The Munshi complained that all he had to do was sit at home for a while, and a few fat centipedes would drop from the ceiling onto his lap and promptly give him a few good bites.

When Farquhar heard about this problem, he again offered a reward of a ‘wang’ for every centipede caught. This plan worked again as people once again devised ways to catch the offending creatures and made every effort to hunt them down. Hundreds of centipedes would be brought in every morning. This time, they were promptly buried. After a few days, the numbers dwindled until finally, the Munshi wrote: “The lipan (centipede) war was also ended and people ceased to mourn from the pain of their stings.”

When Singapore Queued For A Week

Queuing is a very Singaporean trait these days. We like things to be done orderly, and queuing is the fairest way to take turns. You’ll see Singaporeans queuing at food stalls, at the cashier, for buses, etc.

But from 25 to 28 March 2015, Singaporeans queued like they had never queued before! You’ll see a picture of how we queued on page 64 of The Little Singapore Book.

A few days before, on 23 March 2015, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and founding father, passed away at 91 years old. Everyone in Singapore was very sad and lots and lots of people wanted to pay their respects to this man whom people knew as the “Father of Modern Singapore”. When his body lay in state at the Parliament House, massive queues of people formed on the first day, as tens of thousands of people waited to see him one last time. The line snaked all around the business district of Shenton Way, along the historic Singapore river, in front of shophouses and office buildings, until it reached the Parliament House. The queue was eight hours long, and  whether in rain or under the hot sun, Singaporeans were willing to wait in line.

For four days, volunteers, policemen and army soldiers helped to organise the queue which now wound its way many times around the Padang, to the floating platform at Marina Square, and back again. The queue went on non-stop day and night for four days, with people often waiting for as long as eight hours. The only time the queue was closed was when the crowds grew too large and the organisers needed to clear those who were waiting.

Old people, pregnant women, the handicapped and little children had an ‘express queue’ which was a little shorter. For that, they still had to wait for over an hour.

During this national week of mourning, Singaporeans of all shapes, sizes, colours and ages came together to help each other, handing out food and water and umbrellas for those patiently waiting. It was an amazing sight. It also showed how much people respected Mr Lee, the country’s first Prime Minister, who took us from Independence to First World success in 50 short years.

By the time the queue was closed on 28th March 8pm to prepare for the State Funeral,  over 415,000 people from all walks of life had queued to say farewell to Mr Lee.