What a heavy week.
This week, we mourn the passing of our first Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
My wife and I were glued to the television for the past few days as Mr Lee’s life and contributions unveiled on national television to much detail. We also shared with each other the stories and tributes we have gathered from social media as we have our dinner at home while trying to get our daughters to be interested in black and white speeches.
As the broadcast replayed previous national day rallies, key speeches by Mr Lee, tributes by ministers and the overwhelming outpouring of grief from the population, it’s quite hard to hold back the emotions. This is not just an emotional national event, its something a lot more personal as it felt like we have lost someone really close. This someone worked tirelessly behind the scene with insurmountable external and internal challenges all this while to prepare our Singapore for us even before we were born.
This someone intruded into our lives unapologetically, into my family life, into my life and decided for me that English will be my primary language and that I need to be a bilingual, decided that my teachers need to do a better job, decided that I need to serve the military, decided that so long as I’m employed, I’ll be able to have a roof over my head for my family.
My childhood replayed in my mind again and again as the primitive black and white speeches filled the screen. And with every replay I become more sensitive to the impact Mr Lee had on my life, our lives.
How can a man have such great vision? How can a man have such intellect, such discipline and yet such selfless devotion for his country?
I count myself blessed being born into Singapore.
Mr Lee had a conviction in his younger days. From his experience of cruelty from the war, the discrimination he had as an Asian in a Western University to his belief that we need to govern ourselves after the British could not fend off the Japanese during the Second World War. His conviction led to his life long dedication to Singapore and to us its people.
He laid a world-class infrastructure for Singapore. From economy to education, from security to racial harmony, from greenery to a very useful and much envied passport. He built a second generation of leaders to govern the country as he aged and provided wise council and continued contributing to the nation in whatever capacity he could.
In the past years, the societal questions and discussions that lingered on everyone’s lips were things like the high cost of living, over-crowding, stressful education for the young and even incompetence of some of our leaders. The vocal and unrestrained dissentient individuals on social media spoke out and questioned our leaders and demanded answers, solutions and a better way.
It felt like the Lee Kuan Yew type vision and leadership is slowly fading away and citizens have also criticised that the current leadership might not know how to run a first world country as trains start breaking down every other month. The common sentiment on the street is that Mr Lee and his old guards governed a very different country when we gained independence and their ways worked for that time, but it’s a very different world now in 2015.
I’ve never considered migrating, but in the past few years, this topic of uprooting and going to another country has been discussed with some closer friends who have also started to explore this perspective as our kids struggle academically in school, in this fast paced, competitive and distracted society.
This Sunday, as Mr Lee’s funeral procession leaves the Parliament House and heads for the University Cultural Centre for the funeral service, I’m sure Singaporeans all across Singapore will be overwhelmed with sadness. But at the same time, also be overwhelmed with gratitude and gratefulness for this great man and the foundation he have laid for us.
After Mr Lee’s funeral this Sunday, we will technically be out of the week of mourning and we all go back to our lives.
I really wonder with this week’s unceasing tributes and recognition of Mr Lee’s life long contribution to our exceptional country, what impact will it have on our politicians, what impact will it have on global leaders, but more importantly, what impact will it have on everyone of us that call ourselves Singaporeans.
What will the next 50 years for Singapore look like?
How will we Singaporeans chart our own path?
How will we Singaporeans be part of the Singapore that Mr Lee dedicated his life to?
How will we Singaporeans be part of our Singapore?
Majulah Singapura. Onward Singapore.