By TWC2 volunteer Maximilian Lim
Trying to come up with a theme for a short video, I look around the men gathered at TWC2’s Cuff Road Project, where they come to get their meal tokens. I spot a guy with a Merlion on his red T-shirt and it hits me: Yes, let’s talk about Singapore’s National Day this coming weekend.
Not long after, another guy, also with a new and very red T-shirt comes along. His T-shirt doesn’t say anything about Singapore, but Uddin says he usually buys an “I love Singapore” T-shirt every year. He’s been here six years, and he’s done the “Singapore” thing more than many Singaporeans have, usually going to see the fireworks with friends.”
“Isn’t it very crowded at Marina Bay?” I ask.
“We not go there. We go near the Marina Barrage.” He knows his way around Singapore better than many too.
Faruk Omar has been here 24 years. He’s been to the Marina Bay to watch the fireworks, though he’s also seen them on Youtube in other years, but what he recalls most fondly was the time that TWC2 volunteers organised an outing to see Orchard Road. We scratch our heads: Why would we take workers to see Orchard Road on National Day? Did Faruk mistake one event for another? But no matter, he’s clearly enjoyed himself.
This year, he doesn’t know whether he will go to the fireworks; he is unsure about the Covid-19 regulations.
Faruk likes Singapore. “Very safe, very good,” he says, which may explain why he’s stayed so long.
Barathi hasn’t realy ‘celebrated’ Singapore’s National Day like the others. He tells me that most years, he was working on the day, or if he was not working, he was too tired to do anything more than rest.
He talks about what the month of August means to him, including how it is also the birthday month of his favourite politician in Tamil Nadu. That’s one comment I would not have expected.
Sadiq has a lot to say about Bangladesh’s Independence Day. He’s proud of his country’s history, and how their “freedom fighters” fought and “struggled” in the liberation war to free their country from Pakistan in 1971. To him, Independence Day is about honouring these people who have freed and built the country.
Should he be at home during the holiday, he would decorate his house, fly the flag and invite local community leaders — union chairmen, political leaders, etc — to join in meals. “Many large gathering to celebrate our country independence,” he says.
Compared to the weight of such history — having to fight for one’s independence and dying for the cause — watching fireworks sounds rather trifling. He doesn’t seem enthusiastic when I mention this.
His strong identification with his own country also leads him to say he’s a foreigner here and he has “no right” to be part of Singapore’s event. Yet, he’s the one with the Merlion T-shirt.
Bacacu, on the other hand, having been here eleven years, says he really has “no feeling” for Bangladesh’s Independence Day. “I not go back to Bangladesh long time already.”
As for what he’ll do on Singapore’s National Day, he isn’t sure. He believes he is not allowed to go out at all because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
“What did you do in previous years?” I ask him.
“Go down [to] Sentosa, walking with my friends,” he says. When I mention watching helicopters and planes fly overhead, his face lights up.
But most important of all, with the day off, he calls his family. He has a wife and a young son, and they mean the world to him.