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Friday, 27 March 2015

Paying Last Respects to Sir (Harry) Lee Kuan Yew

1 Old Parliament Lane, Parliament House, Singapore 179429

Occasion:  Sir Lee Kuan Yew's lying in state
Date: 25 March 2015 - 29 March 2015

Prior to my post here (about whether Sir Lee would pull through), the heartbreaking news have been released - he left us on 23 March 2015 at 3.18am in the morning. We know that he is not immortal hence death is inevitable, but the demise still brought about grief.

Source: unknown - being circulated, depicting the queue on the first day of Sir Lee's lying-in-state

After a private ceremony for his family at Sri Temasek (Istana), Sir Lee's body was transported by gun cannon to the Parliament House. He was being accorded the highest State honour, and his body would lie in state for about 5 days before the cremation. The public could go and pay their last respects to the Founding Father of the Nation - I guess no one expected the crowd to be so overwhelming (see picture above) - the first men to enter the Parliament House began queuing at 11.00pm the night before. 

The original 10.00am - 8.00pm "visiting hours" were extended to 24 hours, with train and bus services accommodating the same hours (some nights, for trains) so as to facilitate the visitors' home-going after midnight.

We joined the queue on 26 March 2015 (Thursday) at 3.30pm under the sweltering hot sun. It was my first time queuing for anything at all - I never queued for Hello Kitty (don't fancy them), never for IT or travel fairs, never for Tim Ho Wan or Din Tai Fung restaurants, never for H&M's Alexander McQueen collaboration launch, and certainly not for Apple Iphones.

But this was different - this was the last chance to "see" the man who helped Singapore become what it is today, who shaped and built a nation under his very hands - a living legend whose legacy shall never waver. I shall share my experience of the 5-hours long Queue herein.

We reached the Padang (photos with the green grass patch) after joining a long queue that formed at St. Andrew's Cathedral, City Hall. It was sunny, around 33 Degrees Celsius, and we were still looking relatively fresh, all hyped up and determined to stick it out (trust me when I say, by the end of the queue we looked a hundred times worse).  Everyone was appropriately donned in shades of black, grey, white and blue - dull, solemn colours.

The wait was arduous given the weather conditions, but we were grateful that weather was clear (the alternative would have been unthinkable). People of all nationalities, ages and races formed the line, with priority given to the elderly and pregnant ladies.  Some were carrying flowers or handmade cards / posters while others were carrying their umbrellas so low they nearly poked some eyeballs out.

At The Padang, there were at least some tents for shelter. Overall, the entire walk from City Hall to Padang (and at Padang itself) was rather orderly, with military / governmental personnel directing the flow along the way. It was very gratifying to have the unsung heroes distributing mineral water, packet drinks, canned herbals tea, croissants, burgers, bread, crackers etc along the way - all out of their own volition and precious time.

Was also grateful that the entire lot of people was rather civilised and non-rowdy, so there was no risk of being stampeded or trampled over. The small discomfort were some sore feet, being jostled / bumped against by some impatient souls here and there, as well as having to battle some cooties-like lifeforms at the junction between Parliament House & Cricket Club. Because of the crowd and heat, the atmosphere could get rather stifling as well, and it is not uncommon to feel a little bout or two of dizziness at times. These minor annoyances were nothing - absolutely nothing at all - you could not even call these "sacrifices" compared to what Sir Lee had given up for us as a whole.

Mobile lavatories were available at the roadside in case anyone needed to answer to Nature's calls along the way.

Once we entered the White Tents set up along Parliament House, we knew the wait would be over soon. After they scanned our belongings and us, we were finally in the last lap of the journey. From being extremely chatty to waning of high spirits, the mood became heavier with each step that brought us closer to the hall containing Sir Lee's mortal shell.

We finally entered the cool, air-conditioned hall that bore all the air of regal formality. It was here that the pent-up sadness felt free to let loose and everyone became a little emotional, especially when we were faced with his framed photograph with the elegant casket looking so imposing in the centre.  After a couple of bows, muttering thank-yous and good-byes, we exited. That was it - 5 hours of queuing for 3 minutes of fame.

Photosource: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/681233/lee-kuan-yew-lies-in-state-as-singaporeans-bid-farewell

It was over. This man who gave Singapore its name, its rankings in the world, its life - who shaped, built and molded the "tiny red dot" into a prosperous nation, has finally decided to relinquish his kingdom. He has set a very good foundation - would the future generations be able to upkeep the standards, improvise upon it, or at least maintain? 

I suddenly realize that I would no longer be able to watch him live on TV again, giving one of his many powerful and insightful speeches, looking through the society with sharp eyes; neither would I be able to see him waving to us during National Day Parades again. 

His mortal shell may have been gone, but everything that remains bears his brilliant touch. The well-maintained buildings, the even roads, the potable water we enjoy the moment we turn on the taps, the thriving economy and the safe streets - no, they did not spring out of eggshells or magic. Thank you, Mr. Lee.

Photosource: http://www.ghettosingapore.com/a-chinatown-reminiscent-of-the-old/

Photosource: http://learntechconf.com/delegate-information/about-singapore/

Politics aside, and accusations of his "ruthlessness", :"heartlessness" etc aside - his achievements were certainly no easy feat. It took a lot of brilliance, dedication and efforts to turn this country into what it is today. Sir Lee took up the challenge and the responsibility of that, guarding the country till the day he took his last breath.

No, I am not brain-washed by the Men in White (and never would be); I have my own political preferences. But people need to be rational and understand that a political party is a political party - what someone has done for everyone, is a separate matter.  

It irks me especially upon reading comments from those who suggested "let's celebrate" or "the dictator has finally died" etc - PLS GROW UP! You don't have to say very nice things if you don't wish to, but there is no need for such comments because one day you would be the one lying in the long brown box too. If you are so disgruntled, you don't need to turn on the taps and drink the potable water he has arranged for the nation; you don't have to fly out from the airport he has placed on the top of the charts, and you don't have to live here where his vision (and hard work) has taken us.

Photosource: http://www.iproperty.com.sg/news/3215/Should-Lee-Kuan-Yew's-home-be-demolished?

His own living room looks like this - one of the other discoveries about him that I thought was very moving (besides the strong and deep love he has for his wife Mdm Kwa). I always imagined his home to be filled with expensive oak and rosewood furniture, with sophisticated armoire and heavyset tables; and that everytime they enjoyed a meal in the beautiful settings it would be a rather formal affair.  I never expected this simplicity, this untouched vintage set of furniture that exhibits his frugality towards himself.

If there are things I could learn from this giant of a man, it would be:
(i) his determination to make good his word
(ii) his unwavering diligence, even during the moments before his surgery
(iii) despite being overwhelmed by work and responsibility, he held great love for his partner
(iv) his dedication to his posts
(v) his high adaptability in ever-changing times

Thank you, Sir Harry Lee KY-  as you go gently into the good night, I would like to give you this quote, by Albert Pike "what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us, what we have done for others and the world remains, and is immortal"....

Rest in peace.

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