10 Dos for Presidents and Heads of State who wish to come to Singapore on official state visits. (So as to make life easier for us, the poor sods who have to mount the welcome honour guard.)
1. Please give ample notice of your arrival. By protocol, a Head of State or President will have a 72-man Guard-of-Honour to welcome him. So, for 72 men, not including the parade markers, Colour Ensigns and Colour Escorts, to get their drill movements to coordinate well is not easy at all. So rehearsals are needed. So we need TIME.
2. Arrive at the time you indicated. Reasoning is very simple, arrive earlier than the time you said you'll arrive, and the Aide-De-Camp will be scrambling to get the parade formed up the moment the advance warning is relayed by the CISCO duty personnel at the Istana main gate. Arrive late, and you'll have about 80 men standing in the hot sun waiting for your grand arrival. And don't forget, protocol also dictates that the counterpart will receive the guest. So if a President visits, our very own Uncle S.R Nathan will be the one who receives him. It is not nice to make an old man wait in the sun for you. No matter how dua bai you are, have some courtesy and punctuality.
3. Come with a small entourage. The Istana is landscaped like a park, not some multi-storey carpark. There's no need to come with a procession of more than 10 vehicles, with your Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister, father, mother, wife, mistress, son, daughter, uncles, aunts or cousins tagging along. And really, there's no need for 5 vehicles to be filled with just personal bodyguards. Singapore's a very safe place, no one will actually attempt to assassinate you here. And if you're that dua bai to the extent that someone might actually assassinate you, Uncle Nathan will be the one visiting you, not the other way round.
4. Adopt a National Anthem that's short and sweet. Before visiting Singapore, kindly persuade your Parliament/Congress/Senate or whatever legislative council in your country to change the National Anthem to a piece that's less than 1 minute long. As protocol dictates(again), as the Presidential Salute is presented to the visiting President, the accompanying music will be of the guest country's National Anthem, followed by the host country's National Anthem. Readers out there, you have no idea how tiring it is to stand absolutely still in the Present Arms, or Hormat Senjata, for 4 mins (South African National Anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika), followed by another 1.5 mins as Majulah Singapura plays. Arms go numb, rifles start to wobble, and bayonets begin to rattle. How unprofessional-sounding.
5. Make your way to the dais fast. When you arrive, the Guard-of-Honour would probably have been waiting for more than 20 minutes in the sun. Refrain from making small talk with Uncle Nathan after you step out of the car. Just make your way to the dais for the Presidential Salute.
6. Make the inspection of the Guard-of-Honour a quick one. For a 72-man GOH, only the front rank (out of 3 ranks) will be inspected. That means a total of 24 men to walk past, plus the paying of compliments to the Regimental and State Colours. For that, it's only a quick salute (for military personnel) as you walk past the Colours, or a acknowledging nod (non-military personnel) as you shuffle past. And for goodness's sake, NEVER EVER stop to ask a guardsman questions, since you won't remember what you asked of him 5 minutes later. You know that, WE know that.
7. Don't act blur. After the inspection's completed allow yourself to be ushered back to the dais. After that, whatever the Parade Commander asks of you, just say yes. If you can't even say that in English, just nod. Please do not stand there and act blur. Logically the Parade Commander's asking for permission to carry on with the ceremony, and not, "how's the wife and kids?"
8. Just get on with it. After you give permission for the parade to proceed and the salute's presented, just acknowledge and allow yourself to be ushered away into the Istana main building. Please do not launch into a speech there and then thanking all and sundry about how honoured you are to be in Singapore and how impressed by the Guard-of-Honour that you just inspected blah blah blah (this happens, really). You ought to be anyway.
9. Disappear, fast. After you enter the foyer of the Istana main building and the 2 sentries present arms, kindly move quickly into the building and just disappear from our sight. As long as you're within view and earshot of the Guard-of-Honour, the parade cannot be dismissed. At that point of time, all we want is to fall out and get a well-deserved break. So just make yourself scarce.
10. Don't even visit at all. Enough said.