The Singaporean Flag…

With the 4th of July event this past weekend (don’t forget to enter the contest!), I was reminded how much we Americans fetishize our flag.  We fly it EVERYWHERE…in classrooms, in front of schools, in front of government buildings, at hotels, at some malls, people’s homes…it’s pretty hard to go through a day in the US and not see a flag, if you’re paying attention.  We’re not entirely alone in this, although I do think we take it much further than most, but as I’ve traveled around the world, it’s never been hard to snap a picture of the flag of the country I’m in.

As I idly went through my pictures of Singapore, certain I must have snapped a picture at some point, I realized I didn’t have any.  Not one.

As we approach National Day here in Singapore (August 8th) there have been street light banners put up wishing Singapore a happy 45th birthday, and some have a part of the flag as part of the imagery.  But no actual flags.

So I decided to be more proactive in my attention.  Surely I must have just missed the flag?  But as I passed government buildings, I didn’t see flags.  I sought out schools (public and private) and didn’t see flags outside (I didn’t go up and start trying to stare in windows…that would be a bit too far).  I walked past hotels and didn’t see flags….or at least the Singaporean Flag.

And yet, when my cab passed the American Embassy (which I’ll need to trek out to one day just to take the picture)…a giant grey building with the American Seal etched into the front of the building big enough to be seen clearly from space (a very slight exaggeration)…right out front was an equally giant American flag.

I find it interesting to contrast the two.

Americans, as I said, love the flag to the point of fetishizing it.  We print it on clothing, we try (unsuccessfully) to pass laws against burning it, and we burn it in political protest.  In the wake of 9/11, a large portion of the population seemed to think the more items of clothing/junk you bought with the flag emblazoned on it, the more patriotic you were.  It was actual news when President Obama chose not to wear a flag pin in 2008…for some it became part of the argument as to whether or not he was fit to be our president.  Post 9/11, many Indians, Pakistanis, and Middle Eastern business owners deliberately put up American Flags (or upped the number of pre-existing flags) on their business to be seen as more American and to distance themselves from the bombers for the morons who can’t tell the difference between fundamentalist extremist and dude with brown skin.  There is fight after fight after fight about whether or not the pledge of allegiance should be mandatory, whether it should be said every day, whether or not people should opt out, what they should be doing when they opt out.  Children are singled out and bullied when they refuse to say the pledge because they feel that all Americans (specifically gays) aren’t treated equally.  We have TONS of songs about the flag…even the national anthem is about the FLAG.

In short, it seems as though very few Americans don’t have an opinion about flag related drama.

It’s just different in Singapore.

I had to go to Wikipedia to learn that until 2004, individuals were only allowed to fly or display the flag on national holidays and only in a manner that was “respectful”

When the flag is displayed outside a building, it shall be displayed on or in front of the building only from a flagpole.[43] If the flag is flown at night, it should be properly illuminated.[44] The flag must not be displayed on any motor vehicle except on one in which the President of Singapore or any Government minister is travelling on official business.[45] The flag may not be displayed on any private vessel or aircraft.[46]

Unlike the US which is always happy to slap a flag on anything if they think it will help sales….

No person may use or apply the flag or any image of it for any commercial purposes or as part of any furnishing, decoration, covering or receptacle,[47] except in such circumstances as may be approved (by MICA) in which there is no disrespect for the flag.[48] Further, it is not permitted to use the flag as part of any trademark,[49] or to produce or display any flag which bears any graphics or word superimposed on the design of the national flag.[50] The flag or any image of it may also not be used or applied as or as part of any costume or attire.[51]

The one day that Singaporeans can sport the flag is National Day…August 9

Outside the National Day celebrations period, the national flag of Singapore is flown from all buildings housing government and government-related departments, such as armed forces installations, court houses, offices, and educational institutions. A picture of the flag is commonly found in each classroom, and schools conduct ceremonies at the beginning and the end of the school day at which the national flag is raised and lowered, the national anthem is sung and the national pledge is taken.[58]

Having lived here only 2.5 months I can tell you that NO ONE is having a discussion about whether they can opt out.  They can’t.  It would be interesting to find out if this is also true at the private schools that were created for specific nationalities, like the American School, the British School or the Australian School.

Ships don’t fly the Singaporean flag, per se

The national flag is sometimes flown by Singapore-registered vessels, although this is considered incorrect, as such vessels are required to hoist proper national colours either when entering or leaving port.[59] The ensign is red and charged with a circle enclosing a crescent surmounted by five stars in a circle, all in white.[60] The national flag is not used by coast guard ships and military warships; both classes of ships have their own specific ensigns.

Like the US, it is occasionally flown at half-mast

The Singapore Government makes announcements regarding the lowering of the flag to half-mast in the event of a death of an important personage or mourning affecting the nation.[61] The flag has been flown at half-mast during the funerals of former presidents and senior politicians,[62] and on 9 January 2005 as a mark of respect for those who perished in the 2004 Asian Tsunami disaster.[63]

And like the US, the Singaporean flag has been part of a news story…

In August 2007, a Singaporean pub, Loof, sent an electronic direct mailer (e-flyer)[68] to at least 1,500 members on its mailing list featuring a close-up shot of the crotch of a female model wearing a red swimsuit or pair of underpants bearing the crescent and five stars of the national flag. This was done as part of the pub’s publicity campaign for its National Day events. According to Loof’s marketing manager, “[T]he ad was definitely not meant as an insult to the country or anyone. I hope that the ad will be taken in the spirit of humour and fun.” A majority of people polled by The New Paper felt the advertisement was disrespectful and in bad taste. MICA said that the advertisement did not breach the law as it only reproduced some components of the flag—it did not, for example, incorporate the flag’s red and white background together. However, K.U. Menon, director of MICA’s National Resilience Division, said: “MICA does not encourage such ads which treat the national flag with disrespect. […] Symbols should be treated with some measure of dignity and we hope Loof will withdraw the ad on its own initiative.”[69]

However, I did learn that schools and government buildings fly the flag…which makes it odd, as I made a point of going and looking.  I will have to go back and see what I missed.

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8 Responses to The Singaporean Flag…

  1. Zach Woods says:

    I have thought that a good research project would be to determine when we started ascribing such symbolic import to our U.S. Flag. My hypothesis is that it became “sacrosanct” as we worked our way out of the Civil War. I do know that at least prior to the 1820’s the flag did not have all of the special handling traditions attached to it (in other words, a patriotic U.S. citizen from 1820 would not have hesitated to walk on a U.S. flag while taking it down or folding it up (and there was no special way to fold it)). I haven’t looked into it much further but I am guessing that right up to the Civil War this held true. After the Civil War we had to downplay the Confederate Flag while also boosting our Federal (Stars and Stripes) Flag. Creating lots of special handling, traditions, and etc. was likely intended to speed and affirm these changes.

    • Crystal says:

      You’re the expert on the early 1800’s…that’s really interesting that they wouldn’t think twice about stepping on it, etc…

      I’ve done a lot of research in the Civil War and Antebellum ers, but my area of interest has always been gender and race. But I think you’re right. I know someone working on their PhD..I’ll have to suggest it to him!

  2. Jim Z. says:

    I’m pretty sure the U.S. flag code prohibits displaying it in the way that many manufacturers do. But the First Amendment is sacrosanct here, so businesses can do what they want.

  3. Daphne says:

    Wow, you’ve done way more research on MY national flag than I’ve thought about…. haha…

    Guess we Singaporeans truly are led by the nose and don’t even pause to wonder why.

    Since young, I have been taught that its only allowed to fly the national flag one month before and after National Day. (Am I even remembering it correctly??? My mum is out of town so I can’t confirm)

    Hmm, maybe if you step into the suburbs (HDB housing areas) you’ll see the flag being hung outside the corridors/ buildings more often than in town… haha…

    I know my mum hangs the flag out every year. (sometimes she even forgets to keep it!!!)

    • Crystal says:

      Now that we’re getting closer to National Day, of course now I see the flags sprouting up everywhere!

  4. bookjunkie says:

    most people put out the flags here during the national day period, because they are expected to or urged to…not because they truly want to…well I guess there might be a few who do.

    Thought you might find this Singapore culture shock post interesting

  5. Pingback: Wordless Wednesday-The Singaporean Flag « Expat Bostonians

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