Singapore’s former Prime Minister and Founding Father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew passed away peacefully at Singapore General Hospital on Monday, 23rd March 2015. Prior to his death, he was hospitalised for weeks at Singapore General Hospital due to severe pneumonia. The last update on his condition was released by Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Sunday, stating that Mr. Lee has “weakened further”. Following that was the announcement of his passing, PM Lee’s address and the arrangement of the national mourning period.
While his death did not come as a shock to most, it still hit hard. Singapore’s first prime minister is no more.
I woke up as per normal on that Monday morning, dreading work and having Monday blues. Like any other day, the first thing I did was to check my phone. I was bereaved to learn that the inevitable had happened. My Facebook timeline was filled with grief and outpouring of gratitude towards Mr Lee and the conversations in group chats were sombre as people mourned his loss together virtually.
I did not know that I could feel this sad for a man that I am not acquainted with. He is a public figure whom I recognized from screens and not somebody I always paid close attention to. However, my heart ache that that Monday as I made my way to work droned in black attire. The morning commute was spent reading articles about the great man’s contribution and actions, and I could not feel sadder to not have the chance to meet him in person.
That morning, the office felt gloomy. Our morning greetings turned into uncomfortable smiles knowing that something was different and would never be the same. Nevertheless, work continued. I met my clients and did my sales pitch with an upbeat energy, determined not to let this affect my mood at work. I had missed PM Lee’s address in the morning and was only able to catch the recorded version on PMO’s Youtube Channel. It was difficult to watch. He held back his emotions during his state address in Malay, but his pauses during the Mandarin portion broke my heart. I teared as I watched him spoke.
Before the day ended, I dropped by Istana to pay tribute to Mr Lee. It was not the usual quiet night at the vicinity of Istana. There were staffs, reporters and a number of visitors at the tribute site. I penned down few thank you words for Mr Lee and embrace the quiet moment skimming through the heartfelt notes. There were tears in people’s eyes as they moved around the tribute site.
The next day, I had the chance to visit Istana again. I was glad to be there once more and feel the collective sorrow of people who respect this great man. There were more flowers and cards this time round. After Chu Lei penned down her thoughts, we made our way back quietly.
Soon it was Wednesday – the day when Mr Lee’s body was conveyed to Parliament House for lying-in-state. I woke up early that morning, hoping to catch the live coverage before work started. I did catch the first bits, but I needed to leave for work. It was a long day and I just wanted to go home to watch the replay. Later in the office, My boss told us that he silently weep in the car as he watch the cortège coming out of the Istana. I understood how he must felt after watching the replay. I silently wept when the lone bag piper played the Auld Lang Syne honouring the cortège that stopped in front of the Istana.
As the lying-in-state was opened to public, people from all walks of life lined the street to pay respect to the great man. The queue snaked so long that they had to extend the lying-in-state to 24 hours. Knowing that it would be impossible to accommodate everybody, PMO finally aired the lying-in-state live on Youtube. Due to various engagements, I was not able to queue up on the first few days. Hence, I spent countless hours sitting in front of my laptop screen, watching people streamed passed the coffins to pay their last respects to the man that had shaped Singapore into what it is today. Each one of them saluted him with his/her own gestures, and it was heartening to see young and old people coming together for one cause.
Parliament held a special sitting on Thursday as a tribute to Mr Lee. Out of the many tributes, Dr Ng Eng Hen’s hit hard. It was up until today the best tribute / eulogy in my opinion. He was eloquent- clear voice and poignant speech. It was a tribute carefully put together and undeniably showed how great Mr Lee was. More than a month after my first time watching it, I still felt the heartache I felt when I first watched it. It was especially sad when Dr Ng described Mr Lee’s devotion and how he was always commited to what he said.
Another day passed and soon it was Saturday- the last day of lying-in-state. I had given up on the thought of being able to pay my respects, as I watched news reports about the queue timing. At the same time I was preoccupied by my report which was due the next Monday. Therefore, I was happily surprised that at 5pm that Saturday, my sister messaged me asking if I still wanted to pay my respect. She could take some time off and queued with me. I gladly agreed and left house in record-breaking 15 minutes.
We joined the queue at 7.15pm and managed to get inside parliament house 3-4 hours later at 10.30pm. Soldiers were buzzing around, directing us to our waiting spots and making sure that all of us were well-taken care of. It was heart-warming to see everybody being nice to everybody. The wait did not feel that long thanks for several nice souls engaging us in conversations.
It felt surreal being in a place that I could only see on screen. I could not believe I was actually there, few meters away from Mr Lee. The guards were very polite and friendly as they ushered you to move along to less crowded areas. Emotions filled me as I stood right beside Mr Lee’s coffin and took one deep bow. I was filled with grief but no tears fell that night.
Sunday was the day of the State Funeral Procession. I had agreed to meet my friend early that morning in order to be present during the procession, as well as to catch the air show. Out of kiasu-ness, we met at 9am- 3 hours before the procession began. We wanted to stand at the best spot possible and indeed, we managed to secure a nice spot in front of Padang. It was drizzling when we reached but the rain quickly subsided. An hour before the procession started, the dark clouds loomed in and soon the sky was pouring.
Honestly, the rain was so heavy that I was still drenched under my umbrella. Impressively, nobody moved from their spots. It was as if there was no rain. Everybody was fixated waiting for the cortège to make its presence. That day, a very nice uncle stood beside me, holding an umbrella but did not shield himself from the rain. I asked if he wanted to share mine but he said, ”everybody is going to be wet anyway”. I silently agreed but I was not willing to put down my umbrella. Not long afterwards, the uncle said, “it is starting. they are loading the guns”. I stretched my neck, trying to see the guns with no avail as the rain was pouring heavily.
A loud bang went off – the first gun has been fired. It was not going to be long before the cortège made its appearance. A few shots were fired and somebody shouted “it’s coming. umbrellas down” As if under a spell, everybody put down their umbrellas. A person counted “3, 2, 1″ and everybody began shouting “Lee Kuan Yew” repeatedly in unison. It was heart wrenching and moving to watch every one shouting so passionately and waving the state flag. When the cortege was in sight. I broke down.
The good thing about the rain was that it gave perfect camouflage of the tears. I was shaking and tearing so hard I could not even voice out his name. All I could do was to gave one last nod to the cortège and watched painfully as it made its way along the road. There were too many things going on at that area and it was an overwhelming experience. Guns were fired, Black Knights performed their salutes, and people cheered & shouted. It was a day – a moment that I would never ever forget. The drenched shirt, pants, bags and shoes were worth the 5 minutes emotional roller-coaster.
We headed to NUS afterwards, hoping to catch one last glimpse of the procession and to watch the state funeral service at YIH. It was probably one of the few times I cried so hard in public. Tears were uncontrollable during the service, especially during Mr Sidik’s eulogy. It was the most heart-wrenching eulogy that day as he looked devastated. His last three “Selamat Jalan” had me in tears. Cassandra Chew also gave an amazing eulogy and she was very eloquent. I had unfortunately missed the live broadcast of PM Lee’s eulogy but Lee Hsien Yang’s eulogy was very touching as it was delivered from the perspective of Mr Lee’s son.
When the master of ceremony asked the audience to stand up for a minute of silence, everybody in YIH student lounge stood up. I was touched by the outpouring respects that people have for Mr Lee and my heart felt warm that day.
After the service ended, we went to Utown, hoping to see the gun carriage coming out from the hall. Sadly, however, we were standing at the wrong exit. I was quite disappointed but I came to term that some things were not meant to be and I had to be grateful of what I have.
That night, I watched PM Lee’s eulogy that I missed earlier and felt so sorry for him. The eulogy was nicely put together, weaving the personal and professional side of PM Lee towards his father. It hurt my heart seeing him holding back his tears, talking about how he meditated beside his father that morning, and how Mr Lee asked him before to take care of the family when he is gone. His expression of pain was too heartbreaking, and I could see him wept after he walked off the stage.
Things went back to normal on Monday. Corporations changed their logos back to their original colours and news sites no longer played tributes to Mr Lee. Everything seemed so normal but no doubt the past 7 days have caused a gaping hole in every one’s heart. The number of articles dwindled and life goes on.
More than a month after Mr Lee’s death, I still find myself watching the tributes and eulogies, as well as reading articles about him. I think it will stay this way for awhile until something else comes to occupy my mind. He is probably still watching Singapore from somewhere we can’t see.
I often thought to myself, maybe Black Knights did not get to carry out the missing man formation that day because Mr Lee never left us.
Well, all the superstitions will probably earn an “utter rubbish” from him.
Farewell Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. May You Rest in Peace.