Remembering Lee Kuan Yew (Part 3): A Solemn Celebration of Life, An Honour to Live Up To

Torrential Rain does not deter the Singapore Spirit
Torrential Rain does not deter the Singapore Spirit

No wind, no rain
Or winters cold can stop me baby, no no baby
‘Cause you are my goal

From “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye

Humans being humans, we seek meaning in everything. Did the heavens really weeped because they were touched by the passing of a great man?

Maybe. Perhaps. I won’t rule out the possibility. After all it’s nice to have a beautiful story to remember by.

Singaporeans bid their final farewell to you today, Mr Lee. You might like to know that aside from your family, those whom have worked with you closely, friends or rivals, the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force, accompanying you on the trip from Parliament House to NUS University Cultural Center were the everyday people. Many of us lined up the streets in the rain for hours just to have a glimpse at you. We have come together to honour you.


There are many whom mourned and whom cried. Maybe you can’t see them, but I guess you could hear them, you could feel them.

But this is not the way I think I should pay my respect. Aging, illness and death are painful, yes, but they are also a natural part of human life. Hence for me, it will be a solemn celebration of your fulfilling life:

  • You ended your journey at the ripe-old age of 91.
  • You saw a great extent of your accomplishment and you were also honoured while you are still around with us. I would also like to note that many famous people like Nicola Tesla and Alan Turing don’t get to see their accomplishment until they are dead.
  • You saw not just your children but your grand children making great progress in whatever they set out to do.
  • You accompanied your wife till the very end.
A brilliant sunshine shone when the National Anthem was sung
A brilliant sunshine shone when the National Anthem was sung

Thank you, Mr Lee, for everything. Your service to Singapore, your service to the world. I will remember you. And I’ll remember your teachings too. You showed me what a person with “the guts and the gumption to stand up for” himself can be capable of.

How will we honour you?

There are people who said that we should live your values. Others would say that we should live your beliefs instead. I really don’t feel like going into the semantics of how we should do this because we are all different and it’s going to take forever to form a conclusion on what we should do.

I’ll tell you what I’ll do instead, the simplest and most pragmatic approach – I’ll improve whatever I think the society needs and is lacking. I’ll strive to make the improvement a Pareto efficient one.

First things first, no more queuing, time to get back to work tomorrow. 🙂


Remembering Lee Kuan Yew (Part 2) – A reflection of our differences, a respect for your guts

The queue starts at the Civilian War Memorial
The queue starts at the Civilian War Memorial

An ongoing debate that my friends and I would have about queuing to pay our last respects to Mr Lee was if Mr Lee would prefer us to queue or would he prefer us to go back to work. We sort of agreed that most probably Mr Lee would prefer if all of us go back to work for pragmatic reasons. He probably hated it that we had to lower our productivity to pay respects to him.

Back in 1988, Mr Lee famously declared that, and I quote: “Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.”

Sometimes, I wonder if he is really going to rise from his coffin with a whip in his hand and send all of us back to work. There was this meme going around the Internet, with Mr Lee saying, “Stop queuing! Get back to work!” For some strange reason, the thought of it warms my heart a bit. I guess it is a little like when someone who is close to you pass away, you will miss his/hers nagging.

Singaporeans turn up in the order of hundred-thousands to pay respect to you, Mr Lee, many many times more than what the official expected. News about volunteers who brought food and drinks for fellow Singaporeans queuing. Volunteers who brought umbrellas to shield fellow Singaporeans from the sun. Officials making the Lying in State at Parliament House into a 24-hour service which in turn extended the services of thousands of National Servicemen and Home Team. Public transport services who extended their services round the clock. So much news that touched my heart I wish that I could named them all but I couldn’t.

Waiting at the Padang
Waiting at the Padang

Then there were the tributes that flowed in from overseas. I half expected that there will definitely be a lot tributes coming in for you are a brilliant and well-respected man in the world stage as well. What I didn’t expect was the number of delegates who came over personally, and the extent to which they offer their tribute. New Zealand had a parliament seating that saw their Members of Parliament from different parties paid their tributes to you. I heard that both New Zealand and India are also declaring a day of mourning in your honour. Many foreign delegates will also be coming to say goodbye to you. I’m pretty sure that the MHA and MFA will put in their utmost effort to ensure that they are being well taken care of.

Me? I admire your guts for overcoming adversity. I admire your analytical abilities. I awed at your ability to form a vision and a strategy to reach it that spans decades if not centuries even into the future beyond my imagination of what a human could usually do.

The Parliament House
The Parliament House

Of course, I also have my personal reservations about how you go about your life-work. I am unsure about your what many termed as an authoritarian ruling and I often wondered if some of the so called “sacrifices” could be avoided. However, I also understand that my thoughts are only hypotheses. I am also not at your position at that time to understand all the intricacies and the obstacles facing you so let’s focus on the facts, your achievements. You selected and led a brilliant team of people to help you carry out this vision. Third world to first in less than fifty years! World-class and world first in many aspects. A garden city. A healthy city. New water sources. TL;DR. No matter what other naysayers have to say, these are the results that you have led your team to achieve. These are astounding contributions that cannot be taken away from you.

As for our differences, I’ve come to the conclusion that we will need to agree to disagree. For this, it is probably one of the things I think we are going to agree with each other. There’s still much work to be done in Singapore; no point spending all the energy trying to adopt each other’s view.

You have my respect, Sir. Six hours, I’ve queued. Many others more. I think it was worth it and I’m sure the others do too. Don’t deny us this chance to pay our last respects to you. Put it in another way, this will be your last service to the country and your service will be to bond us together as one Singapore. is that OK with you, Mr Lee?

Don’t worry. We’ll do you proud. Rest in Peace.


Remembering Lee Kuan Yew (Part 1) – The Day After and The Observance Ceremony

The Straits Times - 24 Mar 2015
The Straits Times – 24 Mar 2015

24 Mar 2015, I woke up at the usual 6.27 am, only rousing at the sound of my alarm clock. After brushing my teeth the same way I had for the 20 over years and taking my trusted NTU mug filled with plain water the same way I had for the past seven years, I sat down at my favourite seat, greeted by the morning papers, printed in black and white for a change.

I took a longer time than my usual reading through the papers, trying to absorb what was going on. Right, the old man was gone. The news broke yesterday while everyone was asleep. By sheer coincidence or by his last strength and last breath, Mr Lee decided that it was best if everyone could get a good rest at night for the new day, passing on at 3.18 am the day before. Most people will be sleeping at that time and most people will not know until they are well rested.

For Mr Lee, his job is done. Now, he will rest.

I drive down that usual highway which I knew very well to school, all 25 km, but I switched off the usual techno trash that I had on my radio. Reaching the school, I did my morning sprints on the track, bathe, before having my breakfast and starting work for the day. I spent most of the time reflecting.

At the auditorium
At the auditorium

In the afternoon, an observance ceremony was held in the school auditorium. It was a rare occasion that members of the faculty, staff and students sat together.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that it was totally voluntary for our staff and students to come to the observance ceremony yet our thousand-seater auditorium was packed to the brim that we left many standing. There was an email that came in yesterday addressed to all the staff and students that said, “You are encouraged to come.”

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that all the students who decided to come came on time. More than half the students are usually late for my class.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that when the principal begins to speak, everyone was attentive at what he had to say about you. Many students would be looking at their phones during my class at one point of time or another.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that there was no announcement telling everyone to remain seated, to allow the school’s management to leave first but everyone did that anyway.

The state colours flew half mast at school
The state colours flew half mast at school

Yes, maybe you might also think that these are simple things and simple gestures.

I view it as the amount of respect you command among these young men and women in my school.

Yes, I also wonder if people are just there because they were curious or they just needed a break from their usual routine.

But the fact is I have a student whom told me that she cried when she heard that you had to go.

But the fact is I have a Malaysian colleague who joined in the observance ceremony even though there were still lots of things for him to do.

But the fact is I would also like to think that everyone is there because you’re just a bloody great man to us.


What Lee Kuan Yew learnt from the Japanese

There was this Japanese variety talkshow shown some time ago that talked about the areas where Lee Kuan Yew learnt from the Japanese during the early years of nation building. Below is an excerpt from the talkshow, with English subtitles:

(Note: By the way, on a personal level, I sort of take certain parts of the talkshow with a slight pinch of salt. Nevertheless, I still find the stories and fact presented fascinating~)

For those who find it tough to go through the nearing 9-minute video, to summarised it, Minister Mentor (MM) Lee considered two (inseparable) factors during nation building:

  • Developing human resources, and
  • Japanese

Developing Human Resources

It is probably widely known that MM Lee calls the air-condition humankind’s greatest invention. The talkshow explains that to motivate the people to work hard in the hot, wet and humid Singapore, he put air-con units into governmental offices, to provide a more conducive environment for people to work in.


The talkshow also shared three qualities which MM Lee learnt from the Japanese, namely, innovation, teamwork, and security. I find the part where they explained how he managed to see innovation in Japanese totally amazing and I’m not going to give out any spoilers here. I’ll leave you to watch the video to find that out for yourself.