Sunday 15 March 2015

Golden Jubilee Weekend: SG50 surprise holiday on 7 August 2015

Four-day weekend packed with Parade, concerts and discounts at major attractions
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 15 Mar 2015

The National Day long weekend just got longer. In a move which surprised many, Aug 7 was yesterday declared a public holiday by the President, as part of Singapore's 50th birthday celebrations.

The extra holiday falls on a Friday. With Monday already a holiday since National Day falls on a Sunday this year, Singapore will have a four-day Golden Jubilee weekend from Aug 7 to 10.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam shared his hope on Facebook that Singaporeans will use the time to take part in the many activities lined up and "come together to commemorate this special milestone year in our history".

This year's National Day Parade will be the biggest ever, with a main parade at the Padang and a bayside show at Marina Bay.

Aug 7's main attraction will be the Sing50 mega concert at the National Stadium to celebrate the best songs and music composed, performed or made popular by Singapore artists.

The weekend will also feature carnivals and picnics, special bus tours, free admissions to places such as the Science Centre and even free cable car rides at Sentosa on Aug 10.

Attractions such as the Jurong Bird Park, and the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay will halve their admission prices that weekend. Museums will stay open all four days.

Besides the myriad activities, all Singaporean and permanent resident households - about 1.2 million in all - will each receive a National Day Parade funpack.

The extended break will also allow Singaporeans to show their appreciation to the pioneer generation and celebrate the nation's multicultural and multiracial heritage, said Mr Heng Swee Keat, who chairs the committee overseeing the SG50 celebrations.

He urged Singaporeans to spend "this special time with your loved ones".

Mr Heng, who is the Education Minister, spoke to reporters before a concert at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park - the first of a series organised by the National Parks Board to mark SG50.

Singapore has 11 public holidays in a typical year - cut from 16 in 1968 to boost the country's economic competitiveness.

Since then, extra public holidays have rarely been declared, except for elections.

Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who has been in Parliament since 1997, applauded the move to have a special holiday, saying: "It is meaningful to have it with SG50."

Singaporeans were quick to share the news online after it was announced at around noon yesterday, and some were soon making plans to take advantage of the break for a quick trip abroad. Travel agents said they expect a boost in business.

Others, however, were happy to have more time to celebrate the jubilee. "My wife and I will try to join in the free activities," said contractor Andy Ng, who is in his 50s and has two grown-up children.

Retailers and food and beverage outlets can expect more business that weekend, although some said the extra holiday will mean having to pay their workers more.

But Mr Wei Chan, business development director of The Pine Garden bakery, said: "One day in 50 years - we can absorb the costs and celebrate with the country."

Planning starts for extra-long weekend
MPs hope Singaporeans would stay and celebrate Jubilee weekend
By Lester Hio, The Sunday Times, 15 Mar 2015

At first, some thought it was an early April Fool's joke. Then, as the news spread that Aug 7 will be a public holiday to mark the country's 50th birthday, the planning started.

For some, the extra-long weekend - four days stretching from Aug 7 to 10 - promises a welcome break from work and school, and for others a chance to go on SG50 outings with their families or even a trip abroad.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, hopes Singaporeans would stay and celebrate the Jubilee Weekend.

She said her residents were surprised by the news yesterday. "They are happy, and some were even asking if it's true or not," she said, laughing. "I hope people will take the time to celebrate National Day with their friends and family - at home, in Singapore."

Freelance writer Geraldine Wee, 34, is looking forward to taking advantage of the various activities planned for the weekend. "The holiday means more time for family bonding. The discounts and free admissions to attractions will be appreciated by families as well."

Medical sales representative Jace Tan, 31, is already planning four days of unwinding at home. "It will be like an extended rest for me," she said. "I'll watch TV, do yoga, maybe do some shopping."

Travel agencies are confident their business will get a boost. "I think we will definitely see people make use of long weekends for impromptu travel plans," said Ms Alicia Seah, director of marketing communications at Dynasty Travel.

She pointed out that with just four days of leave from Monday to Thursday, one can enjoy a 10-day holiday from Aug 1 till Aug 10.

Engineering businessman Frederick Wong, 40, said: "I'll probably take my family on a short trip within the region, maybe to a nice beach in Thailand."

While it may be inevitable that some will go away, Mr Zainal Sapari, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, urged Singaporeans to stay and celebrate SG50 as one nation. "This is Singapore's 50th birthday - it's not every year we have such an occasion - and I'd like to see Singaporeans show solidarity and celebrate as a nation," he said.

Singapore Management University associate professor of law Eugene Tan saw the additional holiday as a nice gesture to mark the occasion.

"The Jubilee celebration is a special occasion, and I see the holiday as a very nice gesture," he said. "The many positive reactions to the holiday reflect the very hectic pace of life in Singapore, and this provides a rare opportunity for people to spend more time with their families."

The news set social media abuzz yesterday, with many netizens cheering the unexpected gift, even as some grumbled that they will have to work on Aug 8, a Saturday, and so will not get a four-day break.

With a whole host of activities taking place across the island during the Jubilee weekend, some were already anticipating a crush. Sales executive Francis Tan, 46, said: "I would like to take advantage of the discounts and free admissions to places, but I'm worried about the crowds."

Some parents went to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat's Facebook page, where he announced the holiday as chairman of the Singapore 50 (SG50) steering committee, to point out that students have common tests soon after the National Day break. They urged him to tell teachers to give less homework and let children enjoy the special weekend.

For 66-year-old Mogan Kali, a food stall helper, the extra holiday is a chance to reflect on Singapore's progress into a safe, advanced country. "It's good that there is a holiday - there should be something special for Singapore's 50th anniversary. It is a chance to enjoy ourselves but also remember what the founding fathers have done. I'm proud to see how Singapore has grown over the 50 years."

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