Rag & Flag Skivers @ Raffles Hall

Rag & Flag Day 84-85

After a hectic and trail blazing year at RH@Nassim Road, gladly without any “re”, I was accepted and returned to the new RH@Kent Ridge as a senior. Senior Gentleman, mind you, Que sera sera, what will be will be. Some 400 freshmen & freshettes were welcomed and Orientation 84/85 began in the earnest. Many appeared confused, some blur, some lost and only a handful exuded confidence, and they all asked me whether I was sorry with so many “re”, Que sera sera. And I replied “choy” for I had no “re”, Que sera sera. Some cheeky ones tried to be funny and I got nasty, Que sera sera, what will be will be.

One of the more significant and memorable highlights during Orientation was the NUSSU annual open house Rag & Flag Day, a uniquely NUS tradition which had remarkably remained both enduring and endearing for over half a century, since 1958. All NUS students, from all academic faculties and in particular Halls of Residence, were rallied for a day of to engage the community to donate to charity and celebration. Many faculty staff members too joined in the fun.

Empty cans and stickers were checked out to the various faculties and Halls of Residence on the night before Rag & Flag Day. Many slept fitfully that night.

At dawn the following day, the impatient and enthusiastic hordes were unleashed. They quickly swarmed the whole Island like a foraging army ants on the rampage. By first light they were everywhere ubiquitously positioned throughout every nook and cranny of Singapore, and they were locked and loaded for the day’s action. They were omnipresent. They stood out amongst the crowd, easily identifiable from their colourful T-shirts, holding tin cans and stickers.

Rhafflesians were not just competitive. They were thoroughly combative. It was not, and had nothing to do with, Charity. It was War, outright War. Spare no quarters, ask none. Military tactics and strategies were adopted, plans of action formulated and targets identified days prior with one objective in mind, to collect as much donations as possible within the time and number of tin cans allocated. Battle lines were drawn, ranks arrayed, picket lines formed and ambushes set awaiting the green light.

As with most military operations, reconnaissance teams were sent out in the cover of darkness to reconnoiter the Island the night before Flag-Day. They were actually sent out to have an early start for collection, still within regulations as vehemently defended by many advocates in the making at RH.

At 0800 hour on the morning of Flag-Day, the klaxon horn blared throughout RH. All hands on deck! Muster the RHafflesians! Finally, the eager and anxious Purple Tide was unleashed, both proud and fearless. What a magnificent sight to behold. They stormed out adrenaline-charged onto pickup trucks and buses or on foot to their respective designated drop zone. So confident, so mighty and in such military precision and discipline that would make the much revered General Patton of WWII proud.

Street-smart ones usually hovered strategically around busy crossroads and bus interchanges. A rather energy efficient exercise if I may add for they needed only to smile and hold out their cans, and most if not all passersby who would automatically fish out some coins or notes and dropped them into the cans proffered. Perhaps by street witchcraft or just half a century of conditioning or some sort of subliminally communication or just mistaken for beggars.

Finance savvy ones preferred purposeful meandering amongst the Central Business District crowd to seek out high-value targets for larger donations, or so they thought. Shopaholics favored shopping belts especially along Orchard Road to kill two birds with one stone, so they claimed. They window shopped and preyed on unwary foreign workers and tourists. Some “no-eye-deer” just went back to their old schools to repeat history. Of course, the “Siau On” hyper active few, high on some drugs, were always scurrying around and wading into throngs of pedestrians like there was no tomorrow. All donors were in return given stickers as tokens of appreciation which also acted like some sort of radioactive repellant against other collectors, somehow.

Soon cans filled to the brim with coins started pouring back to RH Command & Control Center. As coins were bulkier than notes, they were removed, exchanged and replaced with notes, preferable higher denominated ones, before stuffing them back into fewer cans than before. The remaining empty cans were sent out again for further collections. Everything went like clockwork throughout the day.

At the stroke of 1700 hours, all cans were promptly returned to NUSSU collection centre for tally, and just to brag, RH came out top with the highest collection not just amongst the Halls of Residence but also the academic faculties.

On the same morning, as a gesture to thank the community for their generous donations, dazzling and colourful floats constructed in secrecy were mounted on lorries and unveiled as displays amongst the food, drinks and games stalls to celebrate the University’s Rag Day. Rag was adopted from the use of recycled materials to construct the floats during the nascent years of this tradition when scroungers reign supreme. Designing and constructing those floats provided an excellent opportunity for lasting bonding and camaraderie amongst the undergraduates from the various Halls of Residence and academic faculties during the 2-week long of preparation. Yeah right, more to just show off.

Anyway, did I say I was already a senior? As a senior, I must set a good example. I volunteered for the night before “illegal” covert black-ops reconnoiter. The police permit was valid only for one day on Rag & Flag Day. We were ferried to the Singapore’s bustling night spot of Bugis Street, famous for her scrumptious beef noodles. Banish your naughty thoughts for we went for a good cause, for charity, not for her raucous nocturnal charm and transvestite activities.

We immediately sprang into action and proffered our cans to any streetwalkers, jaywalkers, night stalkers, hookers and their likes soliciting donations. Our hearts and tastes stayed true for we were neither tempted nor distracted. Such tale of fervor and enthusiasm at the infamous Bugis Street if to be believed was best kept for grandchildren.

Almost immediately upon dropping off, no sooner had our feet hit the ground our minds were already beckoned elsewhere, not Suzie or Rosie but Rambo. “Rambo” was screening at Bugis that night. We headed there as if led by some divine hands. Of course, we pretended to collect donations as we ambled our way circuitously avoiding more than friendly transvestites towards the cinema. In our haste, we conveniently left one behind who went about collecting donations blissfully oblivious of our absence. So much for the “No One Gets Left Behind” motto.

In the cinema, Karl, the German exchange student wanted to pass his can around for collection. Gratefully he changed his mind when the lights suddenly went off, for had he done so, the can would had most likely gone AWOL and disappeared into the darkness. Typical of all Rambo movies, our hero prevailed at the end against innumerable opposing forces, always with lots of blood and gory, unlimited bullets and rockets, and deafening explosions. Our one-man army always triumphed unscathed against all odds. It was just a mindless Hollywood movie of a mindless hero with lots of mindless slaughter of mindless enemy for mindless enjoyment by mindless people.

Soon we were fatigued and battle hungry, and quickly found ourselves enjoying supper of what else but the famous Bugis Street beef noodles. The taste was just heavenly delicious. Two bowls each. After supper, we quickly gathered at the pick-up spot, satisfied and contented for the night well-spent, all cans, except one, still half empty.

On the back of the pick-up truck bed, with cool winds caressing our hairs, we began to sing, “We skived last night. We skived the night before. When we skived, we’ll be happy as can be. We’re members of the Raffles family, the Raffles family, the best in Singapore, on top of the other halls.” Only one sat brooding.

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