Since the really, really sad news on Monday morning, I’ve been doing my best to hold back tears. It wasn’t until CNA started interviewing those who came to pay their respects and offer their condolences at the Istana on Monday afternoon and interviewed this particular lady who was all teary-eyed that tears of my own started to fall…
Liam asked if he did anything wrong to incur such sadness from me. I didn’t know how to answer him. Frankly I wasn’t in the mood to explain much. All I wanted to do was grief in my own way by watching his tribute special on TV (even if it meant watching it on loop for the next 8-10 times) and reading tear-jerking tribute article and article that was floating around social media. So I said “you know this man on TV” (pointing to the images of Mr Lee that was constantly flashed on TV)?
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew?”, he said, repeating what he heard from the telly.
“Yes. Liam you know he build this nice country, Singapore that we live in. He did a lot of things for mummy, tai por, por por, papa, you and didi. All the the nice parks and playgrounds you like to play at is because of this man (points to image on TV) you know? Now he’s no more with us here. That’s why mummy is sad.”
I wasn’t expecting my almost 3-yr-old to register any of what I just said to be honest.
“Oh, he go another place.”, concluding innocently in a solemn sounding mutter, before proceeding to stand next to me and silently accompanying for the next half hour as I watched another Tribute special that was shown. I guess it was his way of accompanying me in grieving.
In the last 3 days, I’ve watched, learnt and read more of Mr Lee’s work in building Singapore the successful first world nation she is today than all my years in school and as a Singapore citizen. There were moments I wondered if I would have appreciated the history of Singapore more if these were mentioned and taught during my school years instead of just going through a summary of historical timelines just to get ’em grades.
I realised that it didn’t matter. My self-realisation of the country’s milestones and recognition of the grand leader’s efforts were far more powerful convictions. And like my mum’s ‘tough love’ on me when she dished out disciplinary action on me during my adolescent in a bid to get me back to focusing and doing well in my studies, I can see why Mr Lee’s ‘tough love’ was necessary.
Amongst his many famous quotes that I’ve been reading, I found this one particularly interesting…
“I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind … you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.”
Making unpopular decisions is often an uphill task especially when you want to win the hearts and minds of people. Yet through his actions, we resulted in having a better quality of life. We got full ownership of good, quality homes to raise our families in. We got better jobs and wages as a result of a more all-rounded education and booming economy. Healthcare standards improved continually but continued to stay affordable. Singapore’s public transportation landscape was made more efficient ,safe, cleaned and remained competitively priced. And as though that wasn’t enough on their plate, we even managed to create and maintain a gorgeous looking garden city that just gets better and better looking. Our streets were (still are) so safe that my mum didn’t have to worry about me coming home late (she worried more about me over drinking or the boys I went out with).
It was tough keeping awake till 2.30am this morning when a friend & I made the decision to join the queue to pay our respects to Mr Lee’s body which was lying-in-state at Parliament House. One moment, my eye lids were batting so heavily while trying to stay awake in an environment that was so conducive to doze off in (the kids were deep asleep). The next, completely awake and in awe as I snaked around various monuments such as the Victoria Theatre, Old Parliament House, the Padang while making my way towards Parliament House…taking it all in. It was heartwarming seeing other fellow countrymen joining the queue as well and not complaining about the 2-hr wait that it took us on day 1 of public phase of national mourning.
I was overwhelmed with emotions as I walked by the casket and gave my bow. Whispered “thank you” followed by a short prayer before we were ushered out to make room for others to pay their respects too.
Thank you Sir for all that you’ve done. My family & I are immensely grateful and thankful to be Singaporeans. Through your passing on, I’ve witnessed an even more united #Singapore in the past week. I pray that we will continue to honour your spirit and do Singapore proud in the many decades to come. The Singapore spirit and identity lives on!