I’ve been a participant in the National Day Parade – and here are the life lessons I learnt

Performing at the NDP is not as easy as it seems.
Shin Min

Every year on Aug 9, many Singaporean households look forward to crowding around their TV sets to watch the National Day Parade (NDP) play out on their screens.

I’ve been on the other end of that screen as a participant in 2013, and so has more than a dozen of my family members from as far back as 1986 to 2016.

So yes, you may call us a patriotic bunch but there’s so much more that the experience gave us, in addition to playing a part in Singapore’s biggest annual party.

It is an experience that every participant will remember for life, so here are some lessons we’ve learned that could be extrapolated to everyday life.

Be serious about your commitments

The Chinese have a saying, that three minutes of glory on stage requires 10 years of work off-stage (台上三分钟,台下十年功). Being part of the NDP was no exception.

As early as May each year, participants train twice a week for about two hours and the frequency and duration of training only increases as the National Day approaches.

Juggling work and school commitments is tough enough in my experience, the addition of an NDP commitment – which is a long-term one – overwhelmed me with exhaustion and a sense of reluctance to attend training.

This was an experience I voluntarily signed up for. So I reminded myself that the onus to complete the commitment was on me and it was my responsibility to show up for training and rehearsal sessions.

I always kept one thing in mind: My mother (a 16-year NDP veteran) stuck to her guns and went on with the show despite being pregnant with my younger brother in 2002. It made my complaints seem mediocre in comparison.

One interesting fact is that her costume had to be constantly altered to accommodate her growing belly as she progressed to the later stages of pregnancy.

At work, I’ve learned to follow through tasks assigned or ones which I commit to finishing. Ditching it halfway is just not an option to me anymore.

There is no “i” in “teamwork”

When I performed at the NDP, I was part of an 800-strong contingent of “human LED lights” which would coordinate the movement of our costumes to tell stories of Singapore (think: Sang Nila Utama) through a massive pictorial display.

Can’t visualise it? Here’s a video clip of our segment.

As you can see, a single mistake made would be very obvious on screen, especially if the lion we were trying to form had an unexpected third eye.

Every NDP alumnus will tell you of the importance of working together as a team in a mass performance.

My cousin, Joy Keong (who participated in 2001 and 2014), had this to say: “When everyone has a common goal, even with different generations and personalities working together, we become just like a family at that moment.”

The same applies in a workplace environment when different teams work towards a common goal or objective. There really is no “i” in “teamwork”.

Embrace your differences

You may not know this, but the NDP does not solely consist of Singaporean participants. There were foreigners from China, South Korea and Japan as part of my contingent when we participated in the show.

Our performance was a success and it is a testament to how everyone was able to embrace cultural differences and work together as a team.

Likewise it’s now common to find similar mixes of people at the workplace and seeing past differences could be a key driver in getting the job done well.

Don’t complain so much – others could be going through much worse

In addition to having different nationalities, participants also come from all walks of life.

There were two participants who battled terminal illnesses while fulfilling their commitment to complete the NDP in the year I took part.

Learning of their struggles made whatever problems or complaints I had seem small in comparison and ones that I knew I could definitely overcome.

Build your sense of endurance

For a performance that took up only 5 minutes of the entire show, we had to be on standby for more than six hours at the holding site to get our hair and make-up done and to have final rehearsals.

But that wasn’t the most trying bit.

We had to stand in the heat, covered head-to-toe in our stifling costumes waiting patiently for our turn to burst onto the scene.

Combined with the body heat of 800 others in our contingent, it was definitely one of the most arduous challenges I’ve undertaken but I can take comfort in the fact that I completed it.

That sense of accomplishment is unsurpassed to this day, and serves as a reminder that good things come to those who keep calm and carry on.