End of an era


At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life. - Lee Kuan Yew

I can't believe that my first post of March would be such a sad and heavy one. The inevitable has finally come. The great almighty Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), Singapore's first Prime Minister, has finally passed. And he chose to go when most Singaporeans were still sleeping. On a brand new week moreover. When my sister said that Mr Lee had passed at around 6 plus in the morning, I still thought that she was just talking in her sleep until I heard her repeat herself again.

Mr Lee had been in hospital for over a month already, and given his old age (he was 91), death really seemed inevitable for him. When the PMO issued statements last week that his condition was worsening, death seemed even more imminent for him and suddenly, everybody in Singapore was just put on the edge and the world was watching, with even foreign reporters flying in to camp at SGH, the hospital where Mr Lee was.

As I was saying, I didn't believe my sister since I thought she was just talking in her sleep, so I immediately took my phone and then... I saw the dreaded news. The statement issued by PMO was in grey, and it stated that Mr Lee had indeed passed on at 3.18 am. It came really as a shock, because Mr Lee had been such an instrumental person in Singapore's formative years. He and his Old Guard team personally oversaw Singapore's metaphoric rise from a Third World country to the First. I find it really hard to fathom a Singapore without LKY. Although he had stepped down from his PM role even before I was borne, his name has forever been etched in my mind from young. We learned about who he was in primary school; the newspapers regularly featured him and his various meetings with world leaders etc.

Time and tide awaits no man, and I resonated more with this phrase during my secondary school years from 2005 to 2008. My secondary school days were the days when slowly but surely, members from LKY's Old Guard started leaving the world, one by one. I remembered this phase exceptionally well because my secondary school years was also when we had to take a subject called Singapore Studies (SS), where we learned more about the contributions of the other members of the Old Guard. It was also then when Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee, Lim Kim San and Toh Chin Chye all left the world. So whatever we had learned in SS really made me more appreciative of what these first-generation leaders had done. LKY, together with his Old Guard, made Singapore into one of the world's richest countries, from almost out of nothing. With flags being flown at half-mast in school and teachers giving speeches and telling us those usual without-them-there-won't-be-Singapore whatnots, I remembered being really sad as the Old Guard members took their leave from this world. It was then that it dawned on me that LKY would one day be leaving us as well.

Fast forward to 2010, when LKY's wife passed on, LKY rescinded from the limelight even more and looked noticeably more gaunt and skinnier. Whenever he made a public appearance (which wasn't very often by then), I couldn't help but to notice that he definitely looked weaker each time I saw him on TV or in newspapers. Everybody was saying that his wife's death had hit him particularly hard, and LKY himself had said that he lost all motivation to live after her passing. He was definitely a shadow of his former self, but like all other Singaporeans, I definitely felt really happy being able to see him attend the National Day Parades (NDP) year after year. To me and other Singaporeans, his presence in the NDP itself was definitely one of the highlights of NDP. His presence reassured us that he was still alive and strong/healthy enough to make it to the parade.

Now to 23rd March 2015, when I saw the PMO statement, my heart totally fell. I had no mood or whatsoever to go to work. The channels on TV were already broadcasting documentaries of LKY and his life; the newscasters and reporters were already dressed in black; Facebook was already flooded with condolences to the Lee family and overflowing with tributes (LKY's death has definitely invoked the writer's gift in most of us) to LKY. The radio stations were just playing sad classical pieces. The train was crowded, as expected of peak hour, but everybody was silent, and just staring at their phones. With LKY's pictures all over the screens.

From the week when PMO announced that LKY was in critical condition, Singaporeans (and the world) were already on the edge. We knew that the inevitable would come, sooner or later. People, regardless of religious beliefs, were praying for his recovery or a quick and painless release for him. I personally prayed that he would recover so that he could at least witness the SG50 celebrations together with all of us. If God had chosen to take him away after the parade was over, I guess most of us would still be sad, but probably feel a little less regret for LKY. LKY was the one who oversaw Singapore. Singapore is his child. And he deserves to witness Singapore's 50th birthday together with all of us.

You know, Minister... I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts... but you can't deny he's got style. -Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

To transform a sleepy fishing port to one of the world's richest countries in just a generation is no mean feat. This is the very reason why LKY was so revered by world leaders all around despite the Western world's criticism of him stifling free speech and yada yada yada. Because what seemed impossible to the rest of the world was made possible by this very man.

This year's NDP will definitely be a very bittersweet one for all of us. It's no mean feat for Singapore to come so far, and all was achieved through the blood and tears of the Pioneer Generation. It'll be the first out of the subsequent NDPs without LKY around. I will definitely miss his presence. But I take solace in the fact that he has indeed lived a full life without any regrets. He may be physically gone, but he is still around everywhere, because without him, there won't be Singapore.

To take a look at Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, look no further than Singapore, because his legacy will forever live within us.

Sir, you have done a lot of Singapore already. Without you, I'd probably not have the chance to sit down in the comforts of an air-conditioned room typing this post out. Without you, I'd probably not even have a good grasp of both English and my mother tongue (Chinese). Without you, I'd probably not have the chance to see the wonders of God's creation. You made it so much easier because of the power our red passport holds. Without you, I would probably not even exist. The time has come for you to have a long, good rest.

50 years ago, you wept for Singapore. 50 years on, Singapore weeps for you.

Rest well, Sir. Have a good reunion with your wife whom you've missed so much.

With this, I bid you farewell, Papa of Singapore.


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