Thought of the day

I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul. / I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul. ~William Ernest Henley, Invictus

Government's promises are like the Ringgit, they depreciate with time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

National Day Rally speech (Part 4 - How we've transformed Singapore)

If we stay cohesive then we can overcome our economic challenges and continue to grow. We can strengthen our society safety nets. We can shape Singapore together. And this is how we've transformed Singapore over the last half century- solving problems together, growing together, improving our lives.

Words fail when you want to describe such an enormous change. So best to see the changes through pictures. I've gathered some assembled from the archives, from the media who were very generous, from the ministries and agencies. I also got a few from Mediacorp which ran a Then and Now contest, which lots of Singaporeans participated and they gave some very nice pictures and stories which I hope to share with you. Let's see what has happened to Singapore over the last 5 decades.

We will start where it all began, with the Singapore River. This is what it looked like. Lots of dirt. I'm afraid I can't bring the smell with me to show you. But our mother's office used to be near the Singapore River. Malacca Street still there.The street that is. And she used to have a blind telephone operator who came to work by bus every day. And the telephone operator told her that he always knew when to get off the bus! Because he could smell the Singapore River.

There were coolies on the Singapore River slogging away, carrying heavy loads, rubber, copra, rice from the tongkangs to the godowns and back slogging for a better life for themselves, at the same time the basis of prosperity for Singapore's entrepot.

Today this is all gone. The river has become transformed. The skyline has changed. No more tongkangs. We have got electric boats on the water. Boat Quay has no more coolies. You go there to enjoy yourself and have a drink, vibrantly. This must be early in the evening because everybody still looks sober! Coolies are also gone. But just to remind ourselves of where we came from, I suggested to STB and they did. They built some bronze sculptures of the people who used to work there, so we can remember them.

Housing has completely changed. Singaporeans used to live in terrible living conditions. This is Chinatown in the 1970s. People were desperately poor and families often squeezed into miserable tiny cubicles. This is not a double-decker bed. This is one cubicle below and another cubicle above, another family.

Mr Lim Kim San used to tell a story of how he went to visit these cubicles because he was chairman of HDB and he wanted to understand what the conditions were like. And he met a man living in one of these cubicles in Chinatown and he was seated in a bed covered with a blanket. And he said to the man, is something the matter with you? Are you sick? It's so hot, why are you covered with a blanket? And the man says, no, I'm not sick, I'm doing this out of respect for you because my friend and I share on pair of trousers and he has gone to work wearing the trousers.

So the PAP was quite determined to move people out of slums and to build public housing for all Singaporeans and one of the first projects it built was Tanjong Pagar Duxton Plain, Cantonment Road, to show the voters in Tanjong Pagar and in Singapore what the PAP government could do. And these buildings were coming up in 1963 during the elections, this is the opening in 1964 and you see pictures of MM visiting the houses such as MPs do now.

They were very pleased with those little flats. But it showed people what we could do and it helped to win Tanjong Pagar in the 1962 general election, without which Singapore's history might have become different. Duxton Plain today has changed again. These blocks of flats have gone. Today we have the Pinnacle. This is a photograph, not a computer visualisation. The building will be ready by the end of the year, the tallest and I think the most valuable HDB flats in Singapore.

We went ahead to build entire new towns and among the earliest of our new towns was Toa Payoh. Originally just market gardens, some squatters, some villages, we cleared the vegetable farms and the kampongs, we put up a modern town taking shape, high-rise living, and we moved people into the high-rise flats.

And they brought with them their kampong spirit. So if you went to the flats, their doors were open, neighbours knew one another, they shared food, they chit-chatted, sometimes extended families on several floors in the same building. And here you see them friends with one another, this is good but sometimes they also brought their kampong chickens upstairs.

HDB and the MPs worked hard to improve the estates, to raise the standards of social behaviour. We are still trying but we have made progress and with continuous upgrading, Toa Payoh now has a vibrant town centre, Toa Payoh Central and with MUP, SERS, IUP and all the other initials, the new housing blocks look quite good too.

So we've transformed Singapore physically. As the economy prospered our lives have improved. For the residents of the HDB flats, what's most important is not just what's outside the flat but what is inside their flat and the kitchen is the closest to people's heart.

So I have a very interesting pair of pictures sent in by Mr Ivan Kang to "Then and Now". And he used to live in a kampong house in Jalan Sembawang Kechil. And here you can see him starting to, trying to light a fire in the traditional way. I think it must be a charcoal fire or wood and he's taken a new picture of his current HDB flat in Yishun. He looks as trim as ever.

Toilets tell an even more dramatic story. Used to be like this. This is then and now. This is what's called a jamban. And the lady lived in a place like this till 1985. Fifty metres to the house and inside that there's a tiny space, a hole in the ground and a bucket. Minister Yaacob tells me the last bucket in Singapore is now in a museum in MEWR. To bath, the families would just use an open area. So you see a little girl and she's sitting in a pail, standing in a pail and this is what the Cantonese used to called pei tan gong. If you're old enough, that means "century egg jar" which is what it was, came from China and we used to use this to bath. I used to use this too. Now, contrast this with a standard issue HDB toilet today, the toddler is not included.

To build a nation we not only house the people but also strengthen the ties with one another. So we built community centres all over Singapore. The early ones were very basic, just a simple building, zinc roof and inside you have a ping pong table, a community hall, maybe you can play carom or checkers. Star attraction, black and white TV set with benches outside, whole families, whole kampong gathered because people didn't have TV sets. They came to watch. You don't need a lot of TV sets because at first there was only one channel, so we can all share the same channel.

Now, today's Community Centres (CC), sometimes you see them, you don't know what they are. I won't ask you but this is Marine Parade CC and if you go inside the CC, you can see people doing line dancing and wine tasting. There's the wine there and the line dancing there and many other exciting things. It's quite different.

Our mosques have changed. Once upon a time, we had suraus, simple, primitive structure. A surau is a little prayer house. This one was, picture was provided by Muis. Muis told me this was at Jln Angkap. I said, where is Jln Angkap. Muis says they didn't know. So I checked up. Jln Angkap is where there was once a gang fight and we think that it's somewhere in Kranji but I think it's gone now.

Today with the MBF we have new modern mosques and the most pretty one, I think, is the one I visited recently, the Singapore Islamic Hub and the Muhajirin Mosque, newly rebuilt. This is the Muhajirin Mosque. This is Muis and behind that, there's Madrasah Irsyad. Greatly admired by overseas visitors. Not just as places for prayers but also social centres for the community. So many things happened. This was Al Amin Mosque at Bukit Panjang. I visited them last year. They had a Rahmatan Lil Alamin event, Blessings To All Day, so children dancing, they were taking, doing blood pressure tests, doing blood donations and so on. Vibrant centre.

We've created opportunities for our people. In the past, young people had to find their own ways to amuse themselves. So when it's flooded, there was a chance to take a swim. This is Then and Now and the picture was sent in by Ruhaya who is the girl on the right-hand side. Today our young people still swim but now they train in covered pools and they excel and win medals. Asian Youth Games this year, we hope similar photograph, YOG next year. Please take note, national teams. And I hope many more young people will volunteer to become YOG volunteers next year and show the world what Singaporeans can do.

Our youth are already volunteering, fulfilling their ideals, venturing out, helping people all round the region. Here you see them in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand building a community hall. They're on the YEP, the Youth Expeditionary Programme.

So Singapore has changed. And what has enabled us to make this change and kept us safe and sound all these years is the SAF. We've prospered in peace, we've managed to maintain confidence in Singapore and we've deterred any potential aggressors. In the old days, we had the SAF but we depended on the soldiers and what they carry. And the firepower you could carry was a rifle. If you wanted more, you had the machine gun, if you wanted more, the biggest thing you could carry was the 120mm mortar. And this is, I used to be in the Artillery so this is, I chose this picture.

Today, we have the 3G SAF and if you see the soldier, which you shouldn't because he's wearing new camouflage uniform, he's just one soldier. Advanced Combat Man System and he's linked up and he should be able to call upon the firepower of the whole of the SAF. He should have a UAV somewhere, should see what's happening. He should be able to have an F15 on call, if not enough, Apache helicopters. Not enough you have a stealth frigate. Not easy to see because stealth. If still not enough then we will bring our big guns, the Leopard tanks.

And it's not just words. It's a network system all connected together, all integrated able to fight as one tri-service combined armed force. We've invested in the hardware. But the key is the man or woman, his training, his courage, his commitment.

The regulars and the NSmen have served the nation well and we're particularly grateful for the services of generations of NSmen who have sacrificed and endured considerable hardships and inconveniences for the country. From time to time we have a committee to recognise the contributions of Operationally Ready National Servicemen to Total Defence. Very long name but it's the Record committee. And the Record committee has convened every few years and they've had good ideas on how we can recognise and reward NSmen.

For example, they've recommended us to build Safra Clubhouses. And we've built a number. The most recent one, this one is at Mt Faber. And you see the National NSmen. I chose this picture because behind every NSman there's a wife and children, and they carry maybe more half the burden of the NSman service. More than just ironing the uniform. Providing him moral support and encouragement to do his duty.

RECORD V, chaired by Prof Koo Tsai Kee, has been meeting this year. The committee is completing its work finalising its recommendations. It should have some good news to announce soon. So we should look forward to announcement within a couple of weeks.

We're continuing to renew our city, to build our future Singapore. Even in the middle of this recession we're working hard at it. And again it's not just the hardware but also the opportunities, the institutions, the heart-ware, the memories which we are creating, which is what makes Singapore tick.

Let me give you an update on what's happening right now. We're delivering a first-class education system. We've made heavy investments in education at all levels, building new schools, equipping them with computers, labs and so on.

I'll just show you 2 things which schools today which we never imagined. Media Production studios - so that even primary school children can make movies and productions and DVDs. Indoor sports halls - big enough, roomy enough to play all kinds of activities. Hence you see all the different coloured markings on the ground because all games possible. Beyond the schools we are investing in our ITEs and polys to provide a first class post-secondary education. This is ITE College East. It looks like a university. It's as good as a university in many other countries in the world. Republic Polytechnic in Woodlands, set in beautiful gracious grounds. Here they are doing some adventure training.

But even beyond schools we want Singaporeans to seek out and absorb knowledge because you must keep on learning and relearning. Therefore we are building modern libraries in our new towns. You may not have seen this one but this is in Bishan. And this is also a photograph, because it looks so perfect but inside there are people and we can see them in a good environment. Somebody is browsing WiFi presumably, reading, chatting, finding a good spot to absorb information to keep up to date with the world, and maybe to chat with their boyfriends and girlfriends.

We're making a Singapore which is clean, efficient, reliable, safe. A train system which is clean, efficient, reliable, safe. MRTs in Singapore if you go on them you can sit on any chair, no chewing gum. And it's safe, it's on time. We've opened 5 Circle Line stations. This is Serangoon station, just opened in May. But we are building a lot more because the Circle Line will be completed within the next couple of years. These are the existing lines.

We are going to have many more within the next few years and by 2020 we will have even more - Tuas Extension, Thomson Line, Eastern Region Line, North-South Line Extension - doubling the network which we have in Singapore. But you don't have to be underground all the time.

We need fresh air, green spaces, parks and gardens all over the island and that's what Environment is doing, NParks is doing. We have Park Connectors or this one, Telok Blangah along the southern ridges. The parks will be green, the waters will be blue. ABC Waters (Active, Beautiful and Clean). This is Kallang River which used to be the same standard as the Singapore River but now it's clean with the banks landscaped and beautiful. I know this because I walked there. The last time I was on leave I walked all along from Bishan down to Kallang and it does look like this. But the water itself I think the public still needs to be a little bit cleaner. Don't drop so much rubbish in.

The city centre is becoming vibrant. I show you one of the buildings. This is a real building. It's Orchard Central, colourful but the attraction is the road and the activities and the life along the street - buskers playing, people seeing and be seen, seen and being seen, all times of day and night. The centrepiece of our city is a new Marina Bay. Last time I told you about it, it was a gleam in our artist's imaginations and impressions. Now we can see a new skyline taking shape. This is the existing buildings but if you go around the Bay, the Sail is here, NTUC Building is here with a U, the banking and financial centre is taking shape and if you turn round a bit more, this is what you would have seen - the IRs - already reaching the top and getting joined up.

I will show you how the Bay will look soon but rather than showing you more photographs, let me take you on a sail by and fly around starting on the Singapore River.

Here we are going down the Singapore River, under Anderson Bridge and the Esplanade Bridge into the Bay. So you can see the IR and all round. And you fly out, the Grandstand, the floating platform, Flyer, coming out to the Marina Barrage down here. And next to that you have the Gardens by the Bay including the cool houses which will be interesting features. Trees, you see the instant trees have all arrived. And up to the top of the IRs where they have the Sky Park with a splendour view, I'm getting dizzy looking at this. That's Art Science Museum and this is the Double Helix Bridge which you could have seen from the parade the other day. Along the bridge and you can take a view.

The IRs, you don't have to go in to gamble,
you can enjoy yourself outside on the Event Plaza. They'll have mist-ers to keep you cool, fountains to amuse you, fountains there. And you go across the Bay and we will have here between the BFC and the Sail a green chunk with a promontory where you can have a party.

And some of these things are built. One on the bun is already in Clifford Pier, this is a floating restaurant, this is One Fullerton, the Merlion is still there, the Durian and you come back to the Promenade and you enjoy the sunset, courtesy of URA.

From the Singapore River to Marina Bay, we've totally transformed Singapore over the last half century. 1959 was a moment of great change but nobody at the Padang in June 1959 imagined the change in today's, to today's Singapore. It was not possible. We will continue to improve our lives, provided we work together and remain a harmonious and a cohesive society so that in another 50 years, we will have built another Singapore which is equally unimaginable today. The key is to stay united through rain or shine.

We just celebrated a special National Day, not just at the floating platform but all over Singapore and in many other places too. And even on the Web where 100,000 Singaporeans left birthday wishes for the nation. Many memorable moments.

Take the first National Education show last month. They projected a clip of me recounting several rallies ago how it had rained on the 1968 parade but the participants marched on and we showed the world. They were tempting fate because as soon as they finished showing that clip, it rained on them. Poured, but even the rain couldn't dampen their spirit and the young participants stayed through the show, braved the storm together and said the Pledge.

The show on 9th August was impressive but what was most impressive is not just the performance but what it takes to put on such a show and what the show says about the sort of nation we are. The imagination and creativity which had to go into conceiving the show, the ability to organise, to execute, to make it happen.

Many national servicemen spent a lot of time packing these bags and volunteers too and organising everything so you went there, everything was exactly what it was meant to be. The commitment to excellence in all that we do and the spirit of one people celebrating our nationhood together. All this was epitomised in the Pledge moment.

Singaporeans from all walks of life, all over the island, and overseas too, said the Pledge together at 8.22 pm. All united, one voice, saying what it means to be a Singaporean and as one united people, we can continue to upgrade and build this city and make this place our home, our future and our Singapore.

Good night.

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