The world has stopped for a moment – and for some, a week, to mourn for the loss of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Like all special days in history, whether to mark the birth of a deity or the passing of a person who has accumulated great merit, it always rained. Today was no exception. I supposed Heaven was deeply moved by this person’s merits, and deeply moved by what we Singaporeans have done in paying our respects to LKY.
As the floodgates of tears opened simultaneously with the rain across Singapore, 3 flashbacks surfaced in my mind:
10 years ago, I met Dr Henry Kissinger when I organised the World Summit as a rookie marketing exe and even personally served him a glass of water. To prepare for that moment, I scoured through the PMO’s website to see what Mr Lee Kuan Yew has said about entrepreneurship, and what my Chairman should say (I was crafting the speech) to align ourselves with the vision. I didn’t want to write something silly and better be “current”, I thought. As a young exec, I was pretty excited that we had secured Kissinger to speak at an entrepreneurship event. Even though I knew the summit was open to the world’s leading entrepreneurs and state leaders, I wondered why a Former US Secretary of State would agree to speak – and why he persevered despite a very bad throat (he had just gone for an operation). Today, we know that Kissinger probably knew how important this was to LKY and his ideals, and what he ought to do for his friend, having so respected him, having so understood him at a level that few could. They would probably go on to catch up post Summit, solidifying their friendship, and feeling like they were comrades in arms – something so rare when one signs up to be a politician.
7-8 years ago, one Singaporean (me), one Indian, one Israeli and one Dutch crossed paths in Hanoi, Vietnam. On my way to Halong Bay, I ended up sitting next to the Israeli and struck up a conversation with him. We ended up asking each other where we are from. And then came the inevitable discussion of Singapore and Israel. Not many people knew that Singapore imported our military blueprint and policies from Israel and we, in turn, exported our education system to Israel. This was thanks to Lee Kuan Yew and Benjamin Netanyahu who saw what each could learn from the other. It was a ‘uplifting’ conversation for me and the Israeli. My Israeli friend was amazed by Singapore and the peace that the country has offered while the Israelis suffered years of bombings in Tel Aviv, with no end in sight. I felt that at that moment, both of us somehow connected in a faraway land on this 1 hour bus journey, and we both walked away feeling how lucky Singaporeans are. My Israeli friend promptly followed up with an email to connect when he reached Sapa. I guess it’s because the actions of our leaders have led us to understand the friendship between 2 countries, and this, created a common basis for our friendship which continues today.
4 years ago, I recalled seeing a number of LKY’s books on a friend’s book shelf, alongside other political memoirs. I asked how he as a foreigner thought about Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and his policies. Without missing a beat, he said, ” You Singaporeans have it good here.” He went on to explain that he has lived in the US, and some other less developed countries, where he was born. For someone who has been desperately hoping for a competent government to lead his less developed country out of its corruptive malaise, Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore were such good role models for hope – hope that their country would be safer, hope that they would have clean water and sanitation, and hope that they could progress further with their abundance of resources, as ironic as it might be, when they compare themselves against us. Seems like the grass is always greener on the other side, I thought.
3 flashbacks later, along with this week’s grief en masse, my point is: more foreigners seem to appreciate LKY when he was alive than us Singaporeans. They seem to have felt and understood LKY’s intentions better than we did. In many ways, the foreigners were 1 step ahead of us. And we are humbled.
The Last Man Standing is now gone. If time could stand still, we, as a nation, should start embracing our identity more, and to appreciate the place that we call HOME.
A fresh start beckons. And for many of us, it begins now.