It was a wet start to National Day Parade (NDP) rehearsal preparations early this morning after a Sumatra squall drenched hundreds of Mobile Column participants and messed up the Red Lions' morning parachute jump practice.
The thunder and lightning in the real world was matched by a storm in cyberspace, triggered apparently by a notice from a shopping mall that banned "NDP uniform personnel" (sic) from its premises.
Pasted at the entrances to the Leisure Park Kallang mall, which is next to the car park used as a staging area by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team personnel whose 177 vehicles (not counting reserves) form the NDP 2015 Mobile Column, the notice unleashed a cyber storm against the mall's management.
The notice didn't stay up for long. By mid-afternoon, it was apparently taken down.
Alas, the damage had already been done.
The early morning rainstorm that swept across the island may well have left many Mobile Column personnel drenched. Dripping wet, some may have sought the comfort of the mall's washrooms or atrium to dry off. And if the mall's management did not like the sight of SAF and Home Team personnel dripping wet and ruining its ambience, it should have sought a more amicable way of resolving the issue.
Being private property, the mall's management enjoys full freedom of action dictating who can enter its esteemed premises. It is, however, puzzling why it posted the notice as any thinking person would see that its words have far wider ramifications than simply keeping soggy boots and dripping uniforms out of the shopping mall.
National Day Parade Mobile Columns have used the car parks around the National Stadium as a staging area for decades.
Indeed, some eateries in the area - off the beaten track and somewhat quiet on weekdays before the advent of the Stadium Circle Line MRT station - saw the combined rehearsals as a boon to their respective businesses. To be fair, such rehearsals were a bane to business owners as road closures may have driven away some customers.
But such rehearsals are transient. In the case of the NDP Mobile Column, the assembly of SAF war machines and Home Team assets resurfaces at the car park only once every five years. It is a rare sight whose presence should be celebrated and not chastised.
One would hope that the management of Leisure Park Kallang should, by now, be used to the business cycle that results from NDP rehearsals. They ought to have adapted accordingly and adroitly to shifting sands - as one would expect astute business folks would.
Not only is the Mobile Column no stranger to the area, neither are rainstorms that drench NDP participants.
In fact, records show it rained buckets during the NDP 2010 Second National Education show. On that wet Saturday morning, there was even a flash flood that damaged some of the private cars belonging to Mobile Column participants. But there was no cause for terse notices barring NDP uniformed personnel from the mall. Click here for the 2010 report.
Marketing campaigns aimed at making customers come back again and again could be one way of keeping the SAF and Home Team audience as one's customers long after the NDP is over.
Singaporeans love freebies. So why not encourage NDP personnel to collect receipts/stamps/stickers/whatever on a loyalty card from CR1 all the way to the 9 August 2015 parade and win something? What about tiered discounts? How about a lucky draw? How about special sales of stuff NDP personnel would need or want - like snacks and water?
With a creative touch, the hundreds of SAF and Home Team personnel become a captive audience and can be enticed to come back to support the tenants in the mall.
Alas, the "No" notice its irksome because it fans hostility when a shopping mall should display customer-centric hospitality. It breaks a golden rule in customer relations by starting a notice with the dreaded word "No".
Don't forget: Families members and well-wishers of SAF and Home Team personnel are known to visit them at the staging areas in a show of support. More poorly-worded notices from Leisure Park Kallang and Singaporean shoppers are likely to brand the mall as a social pariah.
What's more, the notice damages the mall's future customers. Bear in mind that the full-time National Servicemen who are part of this year's display were probably in lower Secondary the last time we saw the car park crammed with military, police and civil defence hardware. How do you think any school-going teens who see that notice will feel, knowing that they will one day serve NS themselves or have a brother who will do so?
Rub them the wrong way and they will take their money to spend elsewhere.
This year marks Singapore's 50th year of independence. That independence is underwritten by the SAF, which has SAF50 on its calendar albeit in a more modest, localised form.
Give SAF and Home Team personnel the respect they deserve.
For the record, the NDP 2015 Mobile Column did well at Combined Rehearsal 2 on 27 June 2015. From the first vehicle to the last, the time taken to leave the car park was 45 minutes - a marked improvement from the one hour and 40 minutes clocked for the first departure during CR1 a week earlier.
The departure from the staging area is no Daytona circuit. It is not a clarion call for a speedy departure. But the improved timings do indicate that the Mobile Column team is working more cohesively by achieving attaining a smooth and safe execution of its assigned tasks.