Monday, 23 March 2015

Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew


Unlike most ex-British colonies, Singapore's independence did not come with shouts of joy or celebrations. Instead, Singapore was born amidst tears, and a very real fear that we would not be able to survive on our own.

The year was 1965, and Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia. We were a tiny country, with no natural resources, save our position as a port. But even that was precarious - a port can be duplicated or fade into oblivion.

That is why Lee Kuan Yew cried when he announced our independence. After fighting for a merger with Malaysia, and campaigning for a "Malaysian Malaysia", Singapore was left out in the cold. Or as he put it,
"For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life... You see, the whole of my adult life... I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know, it's a people, connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship... Would you mind if we stop for a while?”
But in just 50 years, Singapore, the country that should not have been, is now one the third richest country in the world, with world-class infrastructure, towering skyscrapers, and a 90% home ownership rate. And the Singapore river is much, much cleaner (though it has a long way to go before it reaches the rivers I've seen in Japan). Not bad for a country that was essentially a kampong 50 years ago.

I was born in 1993, when Lee Kuan Yew was no longer Prime Minister, and Goh Chok Tong was the man in charge. But still, his influence was felt. I never felt any racial divide between me and friends of other races or religion. I have always felt safe at home. When I travel overseas, I am proud to announce my identity as Singaporean. And throughout my childhood, I grew up thinking Singapore was invincible. As the leader of the generation that built Singapore, a large part of my comfortable childhood was no doubt due to Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee Kuan Yew was, to me, the man who was always there. He was the guy that built Singapore, the guy that said that if he felt something wrong with Singapore, he would jump out of his grave. This was the man who dedicated his life to serving his country, and I never thought he would leave. Even through his illness and hospitalisation, I never really thought he would pass away.

And yet he is gone. I wanted to write a long tribute about how he impacted my family and me, but I can't find the words to do so. A few statistics and two paragraphs is all I can manage. In fact, the song at the start, "We are Singapore" probably expresses the sum of my emotions more eloquently than I can right now. Pride and sadness intermingled.

I don't even know how much I owe him and his team. How can I measure safety? How can I measure peace?

So instead, I'll just say thank you. Thank you, sir, for giving me this Singapore.

Photo taken from the PAP Facebook page