The National Day Parade is an occasion where the state holds a large birthday bash, smothers citizens in feel-good patriotism and binds them tightly to its definition of national identity.
In Jeremy Tiang’s It Never Rains on National Day, the characters in its 11 short stories all grapple with a sense of drift and a distinct lack of meaning in their lives. Singapore’s well-worn narratives of success and material wealth wash over them uselessly. In fact, the author dispenses with the standard Singaporean tropes about the “heartland”, with many stories not even situated in the island itself.
Instead, they evoke some of the unease that lurks beneath the veneer of sanitised success that Singapore has become infamous for. This is most stark in the story Harmonious Residences, where a Chinese migrant worker dies in an accident on the worksite of a new executive condominium. The well-worn bureaucracy initially hums with clinical efficiency and pragmatism in handling the aftermath, but flails against the raw emotions of the worker’s widow.
In National Day, we share an evening with migrant workers on an excursion to St John’s Island. There, they banter about which building projects they worked on and marvel at the extravagant expense of the National Day Parade. When a local comes up to warn them to put out their campfire, the dialogue highlights an unacknowledged reality that has only recently surfaced with the coronavirus outbreaks in the dormitories.
We let you into our country and you just take advantage, shouting and making noise and leaving your rubbish anywhere. When will you learn that we have laws here? If you don’t like to obey our rules you can just go back, go away.Unnamed Local
You think you’re so clean, we’re the ones who clean up after you.Migrant Worker
The author excels in penning captivating dialogue, as Trondheim demonstrates. An MOE scholar on the run from work bumps into another scholar on a Norwegian train. In the course of the journey, the former shares her intense dissatisfaction with life while the latter admonishes her for her lack of gratitude at having a seemingly bright future to look forward to.
Singapore is so easy to live in, low taxes and low crime and nice food. Isn’t that enough? Where else do you want to be?Protagonist
Anywhere. Anywhere except where I am.Fleeing scholar
During a time when questions are being asked about what it means to be Singaporean, as well as about the many myths that underpin our state and national identity, It Never Rains on National Day is a book that invites you to ponder whether the status quo (represented and celebrated by the NDP) is truly inclusive of human and ideological diversity.
Yogi’s Verdict: ★★★★