Thank you Mr. Lee Kuan Yew
“The first of our founding fathers is no more” said our Prime Minister on 23rd March 2015 and with that statement, signaled the end of an era.
When such a monumental event has occurred, it is difficult not to reminisce, to remember and even to feel a little nostalgic about a Singapore long past.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister from literally the day I was born. At the time, we lived in a very different Singapore. I remember frequent power failures when the lights would suddenly go out sometimes for hours at a time. I also remember finding these events rather fun. We would rush to get candles to light up the house then look out the balcony and saw Singapore bathed in darkness. There was a certain romantic charm about it. At the time, I was still a child and thought power failures were normal and would be a perpetual part of our lives. Very rapidly, power failures came less and less frequently and very soon stopped happening all together. I must admit I was a tad disappointed but as I grew up I realized that a stable power grid was essential for the development of Singapore. One of many essentials that Mr. Lee helped bring about.
I was extremely fortunate to have met the late Mr. Lee. At the time, I was very young and had just won the National Micro-Mouse Competition. We had to build a self-contained robot that could find its way about a maze then zip through it at the fastest speed possible. Anyway, I won that competition and was asked to be present when Mr. Lee visited the school apparently for the program director to expound the virtues of the robotics course. We were all waiting in anticipation and admittedly a bit of fear when the door suddenly opened and in swarmed at least 20 security people all looking extremely stern. Mr. Lee followed close behind. His walk was brisk but unhurried. He walked like someone who had something to do. I remember when he sat down on his chair, he grabbed the front edge of the seat with his 2 hands and rocked backwards on his chair such that his 2 feet left the ground then settled back down. When he did that, he had a smile on his face. I remember being surprised at such almost boyish playfulness in a leader who could make his opponents cower in fear. All too soon, a constantly smiling, very well groomed lady with a clipboard reminded Mr. Lee of the itinerary and he was whisked away to the next venue. That was the closest encounter I had with the man and till today, I remember it with vivid clarity.
I brought my entire family down to Parliament House yesterday to pay our last respects to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Waiting 3 hours in line gives you a lot of time to think about things. And this is what I thought: the entire wake and funeral is a microcosm of the Singapore that Mr. Lee created. First, organisational efficiency. Yes the organizers underestimated the number of people who wanted to visit Parliament House but literally hour by hour, they changed, rearranged and re-organised to make things better. I was shocked and impressed that they could plan a route to accommodate hundreds of thousands streaming into 3 different queues combining into 1 security screening site then into Parliament House. This level of organisational efficiency and excellence is typical of the Singapore Mr. Lee brought about. Second, community spirit. Regardless of race language or religion as our pledge says, people of all races, all languages and all religions quietly queued together and supported each other. Volunteers tiredlessly gave out free food, free drinks, free fans and free umbrellas. In fact, that became a point of conversation in the queue. “ Yesterday when I came with my company got Tao Huay leh! The Tao Huay very nice!” I heard someone say in the queue. I didn’t get to try the Tao Huay. Third, queueing! Yes if it is one thing that defined us Singaporeans, it is the ability to queue. I think this a complement to us. It shows, patience, fortitude and will.
The Singapore we have now is so different from the one I grew up in. In many ways it is better. However, the charm, the homeliness, the spirit of everyone suffering together to have a better future together I feel is slowly being eroded away. Back then in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, we had Mr. Lee Kuan Yew to show the way. The rest of us put our heads down and worked hard and pushed hard. Now we have to walk the next lap without him. To follow and ride the rainbow without him.
Thank you Mr. Lee, may you rest in peace.