Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

This post is written almost two weeks after his death. But I still feel his legacy living on.

Note: This was written years back, and was in my drafts. Decided to post it without minimal edits.

No, his legacy is evident in the day to day situations. During the 7 days of mourning for Singapore, I saw what people went through. This man – 91 year old man – was no ordinary man. After 2 weeks of his death (23 March 2015), I feel like it’s time to document my feelings – as an 18-turning-19 year old Muslim girl.

When I first saw our late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the moment happened whilst I was watching television. I still remembered vividly that the screen was all red – not from blood, but from the flags and clothes donned by Singaporeans, foreigners and himself. It was on National Day. I couldn’t recall the year when that happened, but I knew I was very very young. My parents were eager to see him arriving to the Celebrations. Being a young curious girl, I wanted to know why.

Prime Minister… Senior Minister… Minister Mentor…

He was a very important man to Singapore.

That was all I knew back then. Even now, I could not recall how long Mr Lee stayed in office. But I knew that he was critical in Singapore’s policy-making: from the birth rate to the chewing gums.

I grew up a little, and learned that my parents did hold a bit of grudge against the man. It was more about the racial/religious opinions. However, I soon learned that Mr Lee couldn’t satisfy every single races’ and religions’ needs. It took me a while to understand that.

He had his dislikes as well. He is not a fair man, for he viewed Muslims (and Islam) as a group of people (and religion) that is hard to assimilate into the Singaporean society. It is very much understandable, as Muslims have many restrictions (which are actually not restrictions, but a good solid and valid reason to a healthy way of life, if you ask me) and guidelines. This caused lots of racial divide, and racial harmony was hard to attain back then.

However, Mr Lee was not one for giving up. I think he made a speech rally talking about belief – relating the fact that if Singaporeans don’t believe in things, we might as well give it up.

There were so many facts about Mr Lee, but I would leave it all up to you readers to read on Wikipedia and so on. He was a very influential man; his death garnered many condolences and well-wishes from all over the world – United States, Bhutan, North Korea, South Korea and so on. 150 or more dignitaries also came to the University Cultural Centre on Sunday for the State Funeral as well – proving that Mr Lee was well established in the ranks of politics not only nationally, but also internationally.

However, I am not to brag about his status in the political world. Perhaps I am much more sentimental. I felt that his importance and significance in Singapore truly shines when we look at the current society in Singapore.

I was queuing up with my YEC friends on Thursday. Upon entering the queue, the army volunteers warned that the estimated time to reach the Parliament house to pay respects was 10 hours. That did not deter many of the people (both Singaporeans and foreigners). I queued up with my friends, and we managed to pull through 5 hours of queuing. When I entered the hall, there was hardly any noise. Tons of people, but very. minimal. noise.

At the four corners of the casket, there were four Vigil Guards. This was the highest form of respect for the deceased in Singapore. Draped over the casket was the Singapore flag.

Everyone around me, no matter young or old, stopped to bow at least once to pay their last respects to Mr Lee. I did. Once.

On the day of the State Funeral, I was discharged to maintain order and security along the stretch of Commonwealth Avenue West.

It rained. Just like how the National Day Parade in 1968 was. It felt so weird to be standing in the rain, when I could be sitting at home, reading a book or watching the procession on television with my mom.

But I knew that this was a duty of a lifetime. To think about Mr Lee’s contributions to Singapore. The sacrifices he made. There were so many reasons to respect a man like him in this world today.

Growing up through easier times as compared to my parents’ and grandparents’, I guess I had more of a reason to give my respects to our first Prime Minister. I grew up in a time where I had more friends of a different race than my own, could speak a little bit of Mandarin and Tamil to joke around with friends, to eat tons of yummy food (especially laddu) from various cultures. All these could be done in Singapore — without any riots. I could talk to a person from a different social status, cultural/religious background and not be judged for doing so.

I have it easier – I just bought a MacBook (which was sure not possible without the liberalisation of the domestic market), I had a job, I can go to school without being prosecuted because I’m a Muslim, I can step out of the house even though I am a Muslim. These couldn’t have happened at all 50 years ago.

Remember the Maria Hertogh Riots?I can’t believe I’m digging out Social Studies knowledge within the deepest depths of my brain.

Even while standing in the rain, trying to make sure that the people are safe (since roads couldn’t be blocked completely), residents behind me shielded me from the rain with their umbrellas. I knew none of them, and I doubt that they knew me. They spoke Mandarin. No Malay. But did that stop them from shielding me from the rain? No.

I wore no poncho. I had no umbrella of my own.

But the gesture of shielding me from the rain (even though I was already soaked to my bones and underwear) warmed my heart. At the moment, we held on to whatever was left from the past – our memories of Mr Lee.

Out of all the legacies Mr Lee and his team of very very capable men back in the 1960s, I treasured his policies in multiculturalism and multi-religious.

When I saw the procession with my own eyes, there was nothing going through my mind. But I felt many different things – awe, respect, sadness… Everything rolled into one. I had no tears…

…but I was very close to crying.


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