When Mr Lee Kuan Yew was in hospital for severe pneumonia, many suspected he wouldn’t have very long to live. When my husband told me he would go to the funeral at his passing, my first reaction was “you gotta be kidding!”. Not because I didn’t believe in his imminent death, but, as mentioned in my previous post, I was a detractor, who have never supported the incumbent PAP, co-founded by Mr Lee. Yes, I had read about his contributions to Singapore, but I would rather focus on his draconian leadership and unpopular policies. I guess I was subconsciously influenced by my mother, who supported the Barisan Socialist party in the 1960’s.
So, I surprised myself and my friends when I actually contemplated paying my respect when Mr Lee was laid in state at Parliament House.
During the past week, there were lots of information shown on TV on Mr Lee: past speeches, his life, his devoted relationship with his late wife, interviews he gave, and interviews with people close to him, etc, which made me review my opinions. At the same time there were some dissenting voices pointing out that only the positive aspects of Mr Lee were portrayed, and he should be judged by the totality of his leadership which was regarded as dictatorial. The playwright, Alfian Sa’at, was non-apologetic and called him a racist. The WP leader, Low Thia Khiang, said in his condolence speech that though Mr Lee had contributed much to the nation, he also sacrificed a number of people as a result of his policies and the one-party rule.
These opinions were in stark contrast to the massive outpouring of emotions from the common people at the 18 tribute sites and at Parliament House. I even found myself to be very emotional over Mr Lee’s death, and wondered what had taken over me and many friends who were opposition supporters in the previous election. And it then dawned on me.
During the last election in 2011, there were much vitriol hurled at the PAP, and even Mr Lee was not spared the negative emotions, though to a little less extend. Even when his contributions were mentioned, they were largely dismissed. However, at his passing, when we had the chance to look at the archive, of what Singapore was like in the 1960’s and subsequently, we finally realized we had taken much for granted. So, we are not white washing history, as some detractors called it, but re-balancing our views.
To Alfian Sa’at, if you want to know what a racist is, try being a Chinese in Malaysia, who are treated as second class citizens in their own country. To Low Thia Khiang, the 1960’s was a tumultuous period in Singapore and the world when communism was in ascendancy. At the birth of a nation, power struggle is expected; more so when there is a battle of ideologies. At that time it was socialism/communism versus capitalism/democracy. If Mr Lee hadn’t cracked down on the Barisan Socialist, regarded with much suspicions by the then Malaysia PM and the British, we would have Malaysian troops marching into Singapore. What would we be now? A satellite city of Malaysia, with poor economic activity and serious brain drain problem.
My husband posed me an interesting question. If the Barisan Socialist party was so popular with the people, when the leaders were arrested, the public should have been up in arms and continued their ideology, like what happened to Nelson Mandela. Mr Mandela’s call against apartheid didn’t disappear after his arrest and in fact he became more popular because of wide spread support. But this didn’t happen in Singapore, because Mr Lee delivered what the people wanted.
With this acknowledgement, I decided to pay respect at the Parliament House, and even a group of my friends were encouraging each other to go. JS told us last Wednesday night at 11.30pm that she was joining a friend who was queuing in line. She was able to do it in an hour, and we were impressed. Then the next morning, CL had it even better when she went at 8am and left the viewing hall after 35 minutes. Later she even showed us a drawing of the hall interior on the best position to view the casket and bow to it .
I guess CL was so excited by the short timing she achieved that she agreed to accompany a colleague to the Parliament House after work. But this time it took them 4.5 hours and by the time they left, CL moaned her feet were killing her. Another friend, JG, went on Thursday night and was struck by the huge crowd at the train station. She and her friend joined the queue undeterred, but they were then herded into a tent inside the padang field. It was pitch dark and stuffy, and there were no volunteers around to provide snacks and drinks. The tent was crowded with so many people that no one could sit down. Everybody were using their cellphones to generate light. At 3am, after nearly 4 hours standing and waiting, JG and her friend were feeling giddy and tottering on their feet. She lamented that she couldn’t continue to wait, and both of them left the line. JG asked a duty soldier the direction of the Parliament House, and both she and her friend proceeded to bow three times in its direction. AW was luckier when she starting queuing at 5.50am on Friday morning, she managed to pay her respect after 2.5 hours wait.
As for me, I was wondering whether my husband and I should bring Buddy along on Saturday early morning, but decided against it. At Friday lunch-time, I checked the advisory on the Remember LKY website, and the public was told not to join the queue because wait time was 8 hours. But I decided to try my luck and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could proceed straight to the padang. Inside the tent, we were told to wait around before moving on. There were lots of volunteers around offering water and ice-cold canned drinks, snacks, umbrellas, tissue packs, and even plastic fans and disposable ponchos. Unlike JG’s terrible experience the night before, the wait got on a postivie start for me. A group even offered me a piece of newspaper to sit down on the field, and for those without papers, the solders standing around provided cardboard. After 30 minutes, we were told to proceed and people cheered. But it turned out we were not moving in the direction of the Parliament House, but towards the Esplanade.
It was a long detour for us to enter the viewing hall; a long walk past Esplanade, a convoluted maze further down, and a U-turn back to Victoria Memorial Hall. All the while I was chatting with friends in Whatsapp, and some of us kept egging JG to join me in the line. She finally did at the Asian Civilization Museum point, and was so relieved she didn’t have to wait for another 4 hours. (For the record, my wait time was nearly 4 hours.)
I must admit that inside the viewing hall, I didn’t feel much emotions. The big turnout of people crowding around trying to view the casket didn’t help. Both JG and I had to quickly take our bow and hurried out. But we were glad we did it. For me, what lifted my spirit was the dedicated volunteers and service personnel. Their considerations for the waiting crowd were really touching, and I have much respect for them. I saw for myself how the passing of Mr Lee brought everyone closer, and it was even more heartening than what I experienced at the election rally in 2011.
Mr Lee’s funeral procession took place last Sunday under heavy rain. I will not deny that I cried watching it and the eulogies delivered later. The emotions among those lining the street and watching at home were spontaneous, not coerced ala North Korea. And to those who sneered at us being zombies, we don’t agree with all of Mr Lee’s polices but we are touched by a man who dedicated his life for the country and for this we are deeply appreciative.
Finally I like to share the video of 2 young Singapore girls who played a duet of the beautiful National Day song “Home” as a tribute to Mr Lee and the old guards.
(Lyrics of Home)
Whenever I am feeling low
I look around me and I know
There’s a place that will stay within me
Wherever I may choose to go
I will always recall the city
Know every street and shore
Sail down the river which brings us life
Winding through my Singapore
This is home truly, where I know I must be
Where my dreams wait for me, where the river always flows
This is home surely, as my senses tell me
This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home
When there are troubles to go through
We’ll find a way to start anew
There is comfort in the knowledge
That home’s about its people too
So we’ll build our dreams together
Just like we’ve done before
Just like the river which brings us life
There’ll always be Singapore
Repeat Chorus x2
For this is where I know it’s home
For this is where I know I’m home