Personal Musings

Fare thee well, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

20 Mar , 2015  

#respect #elderstatesman #LKY #sg50

“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.” – Beryl Markham

As Mr Lee hovers precariously in the gap between life and death, I find myself, one amongst many Singaporeans, desperately wishing for him to live, to make a full, complete recovery and be well. Death forces one to grapple with the idea of “no more”, as Ray would say.  It is eternal, and brutal in its finality.

In the face of that inevitable eternity, and a vision of Singapore without him, I feel a sense of loss, as many of my countrymen do. Love him or hate him, this man has dedicated his entire life to building our country.


He has enabled our little red dot to become a global player standing shoulder to shoulder with other countries, a presence completely disproportionate to our geographical size. We are who we are today because of this man, his vision, and his unyielding tenacity, belief and lifetime work, which at its root, is borne simply out of a deep, strong love a mortal man bears for the land he grew up in. Are we to deny history of what this man has achieved through countless years of toil, sweat and blood, all because of differences in political ideology? Are we that myopic and petty, to discount what Mr Lee has given to Singapore, and in turn, to us, sons and daughters of Singapore?

Let me ask you 3 simple questions before I write further.

(1) Transport: You, who complain about the state of Singapore’s transport. Have you been to western countries where public transport is not as far-reaching, and you need a car to get from one place to another? Not “need” in the singapore sense, but a real need, in order to get to the doctor’s or even to school because of the public transport void. Have you been to a place where public transport can close down unexpectedly for the entire weekend just as you have arrived at the station, and you are left scrambling and scratching your head for an alternative route?

Have you been to neighbouring countries, where a typical 5mins drive in Singapore takes an hour or 2 because the jam is that bad? Have you been to countries where a family of 5 squeezes on a single motorbike and people die on public transport daily, public transport that doesn’t stop even if people die on the tracks?

I have.

(2) $ $ $Sure, Singapore is getting expensive but isn’t it awesome that we can still get my favourite char kway teow and economic rice at $3/$4? When I was in New Zealand, the cheapest food I could get was Asian cuisine, and it cost me 10bucks for noodles, accompanied by a few miserable strands of veg and meat. Why do I have a sneaky suspicion that the ones who make the most noise about expensive food are the ones who spend money at nice cafes and restaurants?

We complain about taxes and how other countries get free education blah blah blah. Do you know that almost half your monthly pay would disappear before it even reaches your bank account? Yeah, that’s taxes my friends. The taxes paid in welfare states that should have you bitching, not the taxes we have here. If you still complain, that’s because you are earning a good pay, and if you’re still buay song, please exchange your pay with me because I’d gladly pay your taxes.

(3) Security: This is one aspect that seriously bumps Singapore straight up to the top spots on countries that anyone would want to live in. I have walked home before on multiple occasions at 3am in the middle of the night, feeling no fear, and knowing the biggest threat will probably be that dreaded flying cockroach waiting to attack me, not some rapists, not some muggers, not some murderers.

We are generally safe in our little home, because LKY has built an infrastructure and foundation to be so, and put in place a culture where citizens are generally law-abiding and respectful of moral codes. Can you honestly think of another place which is as safe as Singapore? Where you won’t live in fear of your kids being snatched from you the moment they are out of your sight? Not many places, huh? When you have little lives nestled in the palm of your hands, you take safety very seriously, and we, sons and daughters of Singapore, are LKY’s little babies. We were so the moment we were born as Singaporeans, and will always be so till the day we renounce this core identity.

1321315532_lky-criesI could go on and on, but I won’t because there’d be no end and haters gonna hate anyway. But haters, what exactly are you hating on? A prosperous nation? A place to call home? A roof over your head? The security you feel when you walk home at night, heck even in the day, without feeling jittery and afraid? The ability to break out of the poverty cycle if you work hard enough (doesnt apply to all, but where there’s a will, there’s a way) because the education system affords you that luxury to stand on an even keel with your peers?

I remember seeing LKY up close a few years back in the Istana, when he was on his daily exercise regime. Back then, I was still rather fresh from university, and very happy to be working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Decked simply in a tracksuit and pants, he slowly went about his walk, flanked by two bodyguards. As our paths were about to cross, I waved to him, and he waved back. I remember feeling excited and happy. I was never one to chase after idols and stars, but to be thus close to someone who has left his indelible mark on history, I could not squash that little fangirl in me.

Another time when I saw LKY was when I was organizing a dinner for him and an overseas visitor. He looked so frail then, plodding slowly in a jacket that somehow, seemed too big for him. His eyes though, bore the same steely sharpness from all those years ago, eyes that still shone bright but was dulled ever so slightly by the battering of years and age. His body, already in a state of decline, was slowly failing the brilliant mind and soul from within, that much was evident. It was hard not to feel the heavy weight of mortality, and be reminded once again that noone escapes death, not even for someone who has battled relentlessly against countless adversities time and time again, not even him.

Now that senior Lee is on his deathbed, I cringe and am disgusted at the idea that there can be people gloating over his death and making light of it. No, it is not funny. It is crass and in extreme bad taste. How would you feel if I make sport of your spouse’s death? Your parents? Your siblings? Your kids? Wouldn’t you be angry? And yet, these people remove themselves from such an intimate situation and gloat. I shudder at their moral codes and the values they impart to the next generation. Sure the man has made mistakes, who hasn’t? We are but human. C’mon guys, let’s give credit where credit is due, respect where it should be accorded and be classy about things.

How true this statement rings! LKY certainly stood for many things in his life

For me, I wish for my son and future children to grow up and know this man, to be able to feel from the bottom of their hearts and learn to appreciate from deep within what he has given to and done for our country. I wish for them to feel the magnitude of his achievements, and know that his decisions, while not always right, was what he thought best for Singapore. I wish for them to know what “”饮水思源” means, and not just at face value. How can we ask our kids to respect and appreciate us for putting forth our best to raise them, when we cannot do the same for the man who’s the true founding father of Singapore?

While my selfish soul still finds it hard to come to terms with what will eventually be an inevitable death, I know that Mr Lee has given me the Singapore that I grew up in, the Singapore that afforded me many luxuries that I can only salivate after if I were born elsewhere. I know that he has taught me many great lessons, lessons that can be easily transposed to many other aspects of life. And for all this and more, I am grateful.

As we celebrate Singapore’s jubilee year this year, let us not forget the man who has made the impossible possible, and gave us much more than we can ever hope to repay.

So thank you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. You have given us so, so much, and now that you may seek eternity with your wife any moment, I hope that when the time beckons, I will be able to stay my grief and see it as a release for you, for you are a man who is so much more than the shell of a body you are now trapped within. I hope the lessons that you impart, and the spirit you embodied, will live on as your legacy and find new life and beginnings in the next generation of Singaporeans. Our footing may be uncertain at times, but take comfort and pride in the knowledge that we were able to so generously benefit from your wisdom and hard work, and will forge on for a better tomorrow.

I wish many things for you, Mr Lee, but most of all, when that day knocks, I wish for you to pass on with dignity and peace, surrounded by the people you hold dear, resting for eternity in the land you grew up in and love. I shall be sad, but this Singaporean will remember, always. As will my kids.

Fare thee well, Mr Lee

Proud Singaporean (mom)


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