Making Light of Things

March 2015 Archives

Our 1968 Moment

We stood at the sides of the road, waiting for LKY’s cortege to pass by, many hoping to catch one last glimpse before his funeral and cremation. The rain started pelting down in full force on the crowd equipped with umbrellas and ponchos. People trying hard to shelter other people, some passing out spare ponchos that they had brought along with them. Vertically-challenged latecomers were welcomed to squeeze to the front of the crowd so everyone could have a view, however small.

It was a moment where the laws of scarcity were temporarily suspended, and generosity and the people’s largeness of heart manifested itself.

When we found out that the cortege would be travelling on the other side of the road, some expressed their disappointment, but it became clear that we were witnessing something more significant than the passing of a great man.

As we heard the howitzers start their 21-gun salute, we knew that the cortege was round the corner and would soon be coming up the Esplanade bridge.

“Ok, umbrellas down!” someone shouted. There was no expressed resistance as everyone folded up their umbrellas. We stood in the pouring rain, waiting for that split second to bid a final farewell to the chiefest of our pioneers.

No sign of the cortege. I silently wondered if we put down our umbrellas a tad early.

I looked around. This was what I had come to witness and be part of: man, woman and child, all standing silently in the rain, from all walks of life and ethnicity. And that is the sheer beauty of Singapore! The display of resilience and unity — a small symbol no doubt — gives hope that we do have what it takes to march onward together in the years ahead.

For Friends

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you so much for your show of support.

It has been a very emotional week for me and many other Singaporeans. The passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, was one of those events you knew would eventually happen but nothing ever prepares you for it.

We observed a moment of silence at work today, but I would like to share what this moment in history means to me, and I think it rings true with many of my fellow Singaporeans.

I have never met Mr. Lee, but his presence has always been there in my growing up years. His strident voice was frequently heard in our homes as our parents watched the nightly 9 o’clock news. It always carried a sense of gravitas, drawing our attention to serious national issues; not seeking consensus, but providing clear direction and the reassurance that we would come out the other end all the stronger.

During my time in the public service, his imprint was unmistakable: the demand for excellence and uncompromising integrity.

In this time of national mourning and recollection, it might seem to the outsider that our collective grieving borders on deification. After all, surely all of Singapore could not possibly have been the work of a single individual — this one man!

We celebrate his life’s work not because he single-handedly built the country. He had a most amazing team that laid the foundations upon which Singapore was built, and a steadfast wife who supported him on the long journey before him. We celebrate his life and mourn his passing because he was Singapore’s staunchest believer and fiercest defender. In 1965 when Singapore became perhaps the only country to receive independence against her will, it was Lee Kuan Yew who gathered the pieces of his broken dreams for a merger with Malaysia, and devoted his life towards the singular belief that we would not only overcome the odds that were stacked against us, but we would thrive.

The Singapore we see today is a result of that belief and Mr. Lee’s unrelenting conviction that simply refused to allow our nation to wallow in self-pity, or crumble under racial tension. That his death is mentioned in the halls of New Zealand’s Parliament, and allotted a day of mourning in India is testament that our little island nation has exceeded all expectation and come into our own.

Just like many of you, this week has been a time of voracious reading of the many personal accounts of Mr. Lee’s life, both personal and in public service. I am inspired to take a bit of Lee Kuan Yew with me in work, service and in life: his fearless conviction; his unyielding diligence; his uncanny attention to detail; and his utter devotion to the people of Singapore.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to articulate fully what he means to us, but the hundreds and thousands who have waited day and night to bid farewell to him offer a glimpse as to the measure of our nation’s gratitude to the one who first believed this was all possible.

Family, Country, Self

I watched our Prime Minister hold back tears today as he announced the passing of his father, the first Prime Minister of Singapore.

It was hard to watch as PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered the speech, gathering whatever emotional strength he had left. “Mr. Lee Kuan Yew”, he said, voice breaking. Not out of disrespect, but out of duty. The eldest son of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was first and foremost our Prime Minister. The tears he held back as son would have to wait for more private moments. As he left the rostrum, we could feel the tremendous weight on his shoulders and the grief that must have been in his heart.

It was only a day before when he wrote “Dear Papa, hope you get better!”.

There will undoubtedly be multitudes of published notes of grief, some extolling Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s achievements, recounting his wit, outlining his life; and deservedly so. May we turn also to resolve, to remember, honour and uphold the Singaporean spirit he exhibited and helped define.

I watched our Prime Minister squeeze the last vestiges of his strength this morning to fulfill his duty to country. I know his father would have been proud.

Let us bear this weight together. Majulah Singapura.

Love Language

My younger colleagues asked me over lunch, if I still knew how to 谈恋爱 (fall in love, or romance), being married and all. It’s such an innocent question, and probably one that we ought to ask ourselves more often.

“Of course,” I reply almost instinctively.

“Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?”

“Erm…no. It’s the most expensive day of the year.”

They summed up that I probably didn’t know what it meant to 谈恋爱.

My reply was glaringly pragmatic and held a grain of truth, but was incomplete.

In our 23 years together, we never felt the need to celebrate Valentine’s because there is so much joy in every single moment we have had together. While we do from time to time feel slight pangs of not receiving gifts from each other on special occasions, we have come to realise that it is time together that we treasure the most.

Time where we put aside everything else, and just lose ourselves in each other’s company, talking about small funny moments, or the beautiful span of years that have passed and the children that God has blessed us with. Our best moments are spent in gratitude for the gifts that God Himself has given, that money cannot buy.

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