Nearly 1.5 million people paid their respects to Singapore’s late founding Prime Minister – Mr. Lee Kuan Yew from 25-29 March 2015. My wife and I, and our two young children were part of more than 440,000 people who saw Mr Lee lying in state at Parliament House.
We joined a solemn highway of respect stretching across the Padang, stopping, starting, ever patiently creeping forward. A human chain linked not only by the grief of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s passing but also called forward by Singapore’s outpouring of pride and purpose.
We marched forward under his direction, as unified as at any time over the last 50 years. Or so it felt to me. As I had said on my condolence card (there were over 125,000 condolence cards issued at Parliament House):
"It is not possible to live in Singapore for even a day without Mr. Lee’s commitment to this place connecting positively one's heart and mind. As a recently arrived adult expat I know that, but as a boy visitor who recalls Singapore in 1978, I also remember something of what Singapore was before. I enjoyed my 1978 Singapore boyhood memories so much that I returned in 2012, and I am so glad I did, as I love my 2015 adult present all the more for the work of Mr. Lee, and the Singaporean community he led and shaped. As a non-Singaporean expat I also salute Mr. Lee, for his life commitment still provides today, so much opportunity for myself, my wife and my young children”.
I have fond memories of 1978 – and on this day as I wait in line my 11-year-old memories arrive quickly to bring me back to when I was last on the Padang. I contemplate my forebears. I begin to wish I had learned more about my expat Grandfather and especially his year-long reconstruction work in Singapore, soldiering for the British Army Engineering Corps, immediately after the war.
Standing in this line, I begin to think I feel as one with all around me. As a resident expat and foreigner, I decide I know the transformative hand of Mr. Lee. In this historical moment, in the midst of the sadness, we all feel moved to reflective action to join into a larger formation of Singapore apostles, saluting half-masts, giving thanks to the glory of achievements, sad but uplifted by the down draughts that in their calmness are blowing strong enough to unfurl 50 years of nationhood. On this day, whatever your employment pass or resident status, all seem to be answering a call to action taken once again from this inspired world-class leader.
In the final hours of the final day of this civilian parade (on 29 March), it was clear that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was still bringing others together, renewing, urging and energising values, to enable a collective to sharpen their focus on both their individual role and national mission, through not just his thoughts, but words and importantly, past deeds. And so it was for us.
|Source: Xinhua Net|
So standing outside, on this typical hot tropical day, everything seemed to be right; discomforts became a fitting backdrop to remember a nation’s past motivations to success. Singapore had treaded across and over obstacles, faced up to natural limitations, met its challenges, and most importantly, raised its living standards.
We inched forward, step by step; sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, but always forward, together. This was as transformative an historical moment as any I had lived through, more so because it resonated as far as the world of commerce and politics stretched, into the open skies and seas of globalisation.
Many around us in the line, thanked us for coming; a passing TV crew unexpectedly filmed my wife and family. I could not help but feel uncomfortable by all these positive statements, as I suddenly felt exposed. You mean you can tell we are foreigners? And, it was us who wanted to thank you? For sharing all this success and giving us the hope that we too could make it happen.
Still, everyone agreed that hope rested on our children and that we also came today to build their hope. We hoped that they would continue the civic work and capture Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's spark to relight again all the lessons learned from Singapore's noblest of nation building endeavors.
I asked my children to look for the many great things done by Mr. Lee, the lasting respect it brought and to challenge them to pursue such dreams. To them much was given but now much more was expected. They do not have to be the same great person, do the same great things, but I hope that they too would dare to dream good things for others, big dreams with a belief that their dreams can become realities. They need to aspire to make their lives as great by making great things happen for others.
|Source: Yahoo! News, Singapore|
Parliament HouseTo bow before Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, we waited less than the 5 hours advertised on the board and less than the 9 hours we were told we could wait. Thankfully, largely due to the famous Singapore efficiency and equity that gave us priority due to the ages of our children, we were ushered into one of the few faster lanes, alongside the elderly.
We said our goodbyes to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew for about 30 seconds after nearly 3 hours outside. My son saw and “met” LKY in this brief moment, for the very first time. He exclaimed later he saw a glimpse of his face from my shoulders, before bowing forward like me, head down, all within a few feet of the coffin.
We were all done with our briefest of goodbyes, just as the choir around finished a heavenly tune. I felt my quiet words uplifted from me, but it was the little girl ahead, younger than mine, whom I followed away. But she also stopped me abruptly as her free arm suddenly shot out and back. And while the other part of her was pulled forward by her tearful parent, she made one all sweeping wave, a final salutation, a gesture equal to another she knew better than her years possibly allowed.
But this was not really a misplaced salute. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s values were alive in that little girl’s salute. For if I am right, there is no doubt that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew will remain in the hearts and minds of future generations.
His distinctive “Asian” values will outlive this mortal coil. And for me his values as an Asian construct are just too narrowly defined, as I think we all will and do embrace his global mindset when we feel these values at work, even if we cannot quickly transfer them into our own world.
For me this one young generation "Z" salute was one of the many things that shone from this moment in history. The values all around were obvious to my wife and I, and were stronger than the hot afternoon sun that pushed my son further into his Arsenal Soccer cap (red and white is entirely right to wear he said, so in his favourite uniform, with his gunners logo across his heart, both my children dressed ready for activity; the other in her basic black girl's kit, but still sporting her gunners logo).
The values were obvious in the workers in the old Parliament. They looked at us from their high offices, as they fashioned the new future. Not even this moment and maybe even because of this moment, the ambition, optimism and hard work required for the new future of this tiny island was continuing unabated right in front and across our view.
Their energy was also creating a marvellous synergy and wealth, as it joined two old buildings together into a single new and bigger one. This statement of built life now made the future bigger. Again these images captured some deeper values weaving us all together and at work in Singapore. And there was clearly a shared respect for industry and industriousness. And it was not stopping, not even during this week of National Mourning.
Then there were the community volunteers who also shined, as they insisted we had free water and food, the military and police whose presence guaranteed our safety in the large crowds, the medics, who should we fall on the hot walk, were a mere foot away. And there was a huge multicultural community of individuals of every ethnicity, size and shape that had made the Red Dot home and now stepped together as one Singaporean people, not just as separate ethnic peoples.
And we knew that all these values were as so many said, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s values. He was Singapore. We saw today through his eyes and all saw a way forward. And so we all appreciated all he had done to set these values in place. And if that was not enough, his work had set in place a capstone value of “caring" that was just everywhere in the darkness of loss.
He was in his death inspiring the caring of others. In this line all seemed to help all forward and up. It was entirely clear. Singaporeans felt LKY was Singapore; and their success was almost entirely due to him and his vision, courage and brilliance. Just as he cared, so did they.
Symbolically, on the very last day of public viewing, LKY was still leading. This time was almost as he had declared in one of his oft quoted speeches.
“Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up."
This time in the discomfort of the pouring tropical rain as I again stared at the crowds, the grand Parliament, the half-masted flags and waited for the passing parade, that I really felt this value.
As I pushed my back against the war memorial for balance, protection from the wet, while carrying my boy on my back, as closely as I could to keep him warm and stop him from getting wet, I heard this call.
And it was not just in the thunder that seemed to be the complete answer to the missing formation of the elite fighter planes, nor in the deafening boom of the 21-gun salute, nor in the final passing of the gun carriage and the flag waving. It was not just in these voices of purpose drawing us all together and pulling us on.
It was in a quiet determined voice that came in the silence of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. A force for good was at work around Singapore and it is still at work, inspiring and uniting. It was a magnetism that drew us all out, that magnified not just the name of this World Leader but also every one of those who had enjoyed its privileges and well badged success.
No, it was not just in the orchestrated moments as impressive as they were. It was in the just after, that it was really heard. I heard it as we returned into the subterranean world of the Esplanade Theatre precinct. I was sure that if anyone panicked, we would have undoubtedly been crushed, as there was literally a convergence of ‘thousands’ of wet people.
It was there in the underground, as we again crept forward, to buy a new set of clothes, ours now too wet to wear, that we felt the peace of Singapore and heard LKY's voice. This value was for me LKY’s crowning value. In a world of terror, and daily horrors often daily heard of how humanity mistreats each other, here in Singapore, without a single intervention from any, and without a single jab, toe tread, cross face or loud noise, we crept forward again, within bottlenecks of underground escalators, stairs and corridors, safely and respectfully, in public, amidst this massive crowd – but ever so quietly and ever so respectfully.
Rest in Peace Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
Peace to you, as you have brought great peace to us still, still here to enjoy your work. This is a truly great thing.
Authored By Stephen Bhogal,
Valued Member of the University of Melbourne Alumni Association (Singapore)