Friday, March 27, 2015


Just came back from the Community Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, initially I had planned yesterday to join the Greatest Singapore Queue Ever at the Padang to visit the casket held at Parliament House, and had been keeping close tabs on updates at the RememberingLeeKuanYew Facebook page so I can set out when they finally say the queue is 4 hours or less, but the queuing time will not let up. Just for notes, I never ever participate in what Singaporeans deem 'our national pastime': queuing! Not for food, not for freebies, not for whatever that isn't compulsory because it is a waste of time, but this one memorial is an exception.

Since 8pm last night, the queuing time was estimated at 8 hours, and pushing to 10 hours right now as I am typing more than 24 hours later! I got up early this morning at 5.50am hoping to catch the 6am first train to City Hall MRT, but alas, at 2am to 6am the Facebook update still read "As of XX hours, the estimated waiting time is up to 8 hours. Members of the public are strongly advised not to join the queue."!

For folks going alone and cannot get into the priority queue, I suggest going to the other 18 community tribute sites listed - shorter queues, better atmosphere, but it's up to you if you'd like to see the casket in person. The casket is said to be located far away from the public viewing spot and don't think one is able to see his face unless you are very, very tall, and I'd would very much like to see his face than the wooden coffin's side, if not, then the tribute community sites will suffice.

Two reasons why I chose Botanic Gardens - one, I am going alone and will probably need to use the bathroom within the 8 hours should I head to the Parliament House, and no one can hold my spot - that is, even if I find a stranger who would do me this favour, I'd probably lose him/her in the massive crowd (am also not good at recognising faces). Oh yes, kudos to the orderly queues and kind volunteers dishing out free snacks, umbrellas, flowers and drinks.

Second reason is, the Botanic Gardens is serene, quiet, beautiful, green, and one of Mr. Lee's favourite spots and he also played a major role in the greening of Singapore. Whenever visitors arrive in Singapore (me included when I return from my trips), there's always this exclamation: "It's so green!" There are tribute sites closer to me but I was more keen on the atmosphere at Gardens.

There is a shuttle service at Botanic Gardens MRT to the Botany Centre - a mini bus, so they can only sit a limited amount of people per time. Intervals are about 15 minutes. You can walk if you want but the park is quite large and you'd probably be sweaty by the time you arrive at the tribute site. The queue was very short when I got there, and paid my respects in 10 minutes. However, schools (hundreds of primary, secondary school students and even kindergardeners) came after 12.30pm which was the time I got out, so the queue started snaking around and probably extended the waiting period much longer. They do it in small batches - like if you were family or the same school or colleagues, you go together. I requested a lady in front of me who was also alone, that we should go to the front together so it would not be so awkward that I hog the whole scene for myself. We can also help each other take photos.

This is a section outdoors (non-aircon but shaded tent area) where you lay your tributes and flowers. I think it has grown immensely after this photo since I saw many students bring more flowers.
Part of my condolence note. I did not bring flowers so drew them.

The Botanic Gardens is a lovely place, I went around the park later on and took many photos. Will share that in my next post.

Some people might expect me to share my own tribute of Lee Kuan Yew. He has his fair share of critics and there are already abundant articles both criticising and defending his policies and method of government, which are more articulate than anything I can come up with.

All I can say is, my father was a staunch supporter of the People's Action Party and Lee Kuan Yew, having witnessed the progress of Singapore from poor third-world country to first-world in one generation. Whenever election time came by, he always said, "No need to think, just vote PAP!" Right off the bat I would say he was biased - but then the other choices were not that great either. My father is 8 years younger than Lee Kuan Yew, died aged 81 in 2012. Note we were never rich, we were poor since my father did not hold a proper job, and my mother barely had any education. However, we enjoyed the fruits of Singapore's prosperity and success, and I remembered the 1980s as particularly stable, optimistic and prosperous while he was still the prime minister. I also watched his National Day Rallys up to 1990 even though I was too young to understand everything. Last night there were rerun clips of his speeches, wow talk about nostalgia and familiarity from childhood days, now that I finally understand what he was saying, I can see his foresight was spot on twenty years later.

No man or country is perfect, and Mr Lee has a few questionable policies in my opinion, I think he deserves all due respect because he governed the country well and worked not only for himself, but also for the country. There's that chinese saying "病入高慌,不下猛药不见效" (when in dire sickness, if you don't use harsh medicine, you don't see results).

Considering Singapore was a sickly, impoverished, chaotic country in the 60s, there was much at stake; Lee Kuan Yew with his stern, acerbic comments, sometimes unpopular and 'draconian' (as some western media call it) policies, he did what was required to do to attain his goal of pulling Singapore out of that mire. Also we don't have any natural resources other than the human workforce (no oil, no mines, no agriculture, no land, we buy water from Malaysia), so you are all in it together or sink back to third world. One effective thing he did was rally the forlorn, confused people together to work towards a common goal, no they don't have the luxury or sustainability of pursuing individualism or liberal ideals because the most important thing was to get themselves out of that poverty rut. Now the generations after are enjoying the fruits of their labour and contributions (I think more good than bad).

Each country is different, a system may work in one county and fail in another; Lee Kuan Yew's system - bringing in aspects of Western democracy and merging it with Asian values worked well for multi-ethnic Singapore, also being a tiny little island in a good location helped. Asians still place a great emphasis on discipline, hard work, social order and education, it's just that way.... ingrained in our psyche! Likewise, our system will never float in the US - not that I want the US to be anything like Singapore. They each have different strengths and weaknesses.

We working adults like to say the government runs our country like a business (growth at all costs) and Singaporeans are a bunch of robotic workaholics who complain all the time but dare not protest publicly, having a lack of entrepreneurship and creativity, averse to taking risks etc. Just have your 'iron rice bowl' and don't rock the boat, work harder, be more productive if you want more money. Save as much as you can for your old age, because the government does not have welfare, so work even harder and longer till you are 80! I do gripe sometimes about our current government and their crazy pace of inflation. I guess that's the tradeoff for success, although the lately widening income gap is very worrying and we can hardly keep up. I have to mention on a side note is, setting up a business in Singapore is a breeze, although rental rates are incredibly debilitating to indie shops.

And all those things about encroaching on our civil liberties, it exists to some extent although I do not find it a major hinderance, I'd rather have some limiting order in place so I can work in a stable environment. Personally, I need an orderly society to do my art in peace and run my business smoothly. Others may thrive in a chaotic environment but I am not one of those.

Oh, and some foreigners like to point out we are such a closed society that you might get caned if you get caught chewing gum. Really? Where did you read that? I don't know if they are joking, or being sarcastic or really believe this nonsense. I bring back chewing gum all the time from overseas. Who in the world is going to arrest you for having chewing gum?! You're not selling it in your store, just for self consumption. Just dispose of your gum properly or else lol.

Although yes, you can still say/write whatever you want if you dare to, or feel strongly against, just make sure you can substantiate your claims so you don't get sued for libel/slander, especially if it involves any of the major politicians - they do have deep pockets and far reaching networks. And don't go waving your hate slogans around - people need to show respect for other people and show some restraint. Having the 'right' to spread hate speech at the expense of someone else? Bad idea and distasteful, and may incite violence or tit-for-tat. Some civil liberties limit is necessary thus, enough blood has been shed over intolerance.

Anyhow I don't know if I am a typical Singaporean - yes and no, maybe not the super-typical kind since I am in the creative industry and my upbringing is quite different from my peers; coupled with being a 'millennial' - that ignored cusp generation that does not identify with either Generation X or Y; but I can see some aspects of my behaviour (both good and bad) as being a byproduct of Lee Kuan Yew's governing:

Working all the time, results-oriented, efficient, skill conscious, tertiary educated without a huge student debt, organised, clean, I like greenery, health conscious (partly because one can't afford to fall sick), self motivated, nerdy type. Also timidness, I avoid taking risks and prefer to take the safe pragmatic route - trying to work on that (again, good or bad?).

The most useful aspect I'd like to thank Lee Kuan Yew is enforcing bilingualism - first the neutral English as common spoken language, and particularly Mandarin. In the past I hated studying mandarin and was very bad in it since I never spoke it at home, but it has come in useful now and after initial years of struggling and partly due to paranoia at failing my exams, I finally managed to wing it. I found it a pity he eradicated dialect from most media though... am trying to learn back Hokkien dialect. Also Singapore streets were very safe (still is, but I am more careful now), so I have been traveling alone from school since I was 9, many kids here do so. Even at 2am when I was 12, I did so without worry, nor did my parents - only thing is I had to pass by the creepy graveyard in the dark every time! So that safety (no, I don't consider it a false sense of security) may have resulted in certain naivety in the past - though I learned to be more wary now. There was an article about a China commentator mocking Singaporeans being the most gullible (read: stupid) of the ethnic Chinese because we got used to honesty and very little corruption, and fall prey to Chinese scams (good or bad?). Anyway even so, we can all practise this: "害人之心不可有,防人之心不可无" (refrain from hurting others, yet guard against those trying to hurt you).

Anyhow, think I've strayed from said topic and typed more than I wanted to so shall end here. RIP & thank you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

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