Tuesday, 24 March 2015

We will remember you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Recent Mondays for our family has been filled with glee and excitement over just having seen ourselves on TV the night before, since the reality TV show Throwback:Balik Kampong started airing a few weeks ago. Hubbs and I would be inundated with messages from friends and family commenting on the latest episode just aired. And I would be busy writing my post-show blog post, trying to remind people to cast their votes before Tuesday night... But not yesterday. Monday the 23rd of March 2015 started with gloom and heavy hearts. The inevitable had happened, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed on. 
Isaac, watching Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announce the passing of his father.
Isaac was home and not in school as he was feverish and not feeling well. 
"Somebody important has passed away, Isaac."
"Is it Lee Kuan Yew?"
"Yes! How did you know?"
He shrugged. But I think I knew how. We have been well prepared to receive this news, after all. Every time the Prime Minister's Office issues a statement to say that Mr Lee's condition has worsened, hubbs or I would go "Oh no." and the kids would ask "Why did you say "Oh no."?" And we would say "Lee Kuan Yew is very sick, he may pass away any time now." But no matter how prepared one is, the finality of it all when it happens, is deafening. 

Together, we watched Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announce the passing of his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in Malay, Chinese and English. Next, we watched the following two videos which I thought was a nice concise summary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew - for Isaac to learn about him. Who he was, what he has accomplished, and why he was considered an important man. 

Following these videos, we scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed together, reading the comments people have written. It was a sombre morning. A quiet one, but one in which I would not forget in a long time. It is one of those days which you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing, when you receive the news of something momentous.

When I sent the twins off to childcare, they asked me what I was reading on my phone. 
"I'm reading the news. Someone important has passed away."
"Who is it, Mummy?"
"It's the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew."
"Why is he important?"
Now, how does one explain that to a couple of 5 year olds? And then it struck me
"He's someone who was very hardworking and a very good leader. He did what he thought was correct and not just what was easy. He had very good plans, and he managed to find good people to help him with these plans. Together, they built up Singapore. In fact, do you know what Singapore would be if it were not for Lee Kuan Yew and his friends?"
"What, Mummy?"
"Singapore would be a kampong. Most of us would probably still be staying in a kampong!"
Asher snorted out in laughter over this. Shawna just gave me an incredulous look. No, they weren't being rude. They just felt that it was ludicrous to even think that Singapore could be a kampong. For unlike most kids in Singapore, our kids really knew what it was like to stay in a kampong as compared to living in modern day Singapore. Despite the fun we sometimes had while living in the kampong filming Throwback:Balik Kampong - the Tan Family children (and adults!) definitely did not want to live in a kampong for good. 
"Hahaha don't be silly, Mummy. How can Singapore be a kampong?!"

And that's when it occurred to me that this generation of children would never truly be able to appreciate what Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the rest of the forefathers of this nation have done for us. Perhaps, I exaggerated a little in order to illustrate this to the kids. Singapore was certainly not simply a fishing village in the 1960s, but it is true, that if not for the housing policies put in place - most of us would all still be living in kampongs now.
"Shawna, do you remember that Singapore song that you like? The one that goes "There was a time, when people said that Singapore WON'T make it, but we did... ?"
"Yes Mummy, I like that song!"
"It was Lee Kuan Yew who kept telling Singapore:"You can! You can! You CAN make it!" He had a great plan for Singapore, and he got everyone to work hard together. He didn't give up! He did not whine and say we're too small, too tiny! To make more space, he got us to build upwards, to build high-rised flats. When Singapore didn't have enough water to drink, he didn't moan and groan that we didn't have enough wells or that the sky didn't rain. Instead, he told the teachers to teach children like you and also your parents, to save water, to not waste water. He made plans for large reservoirs to collect rain water for Singapore. He and his friends also had a great idea! They learnt how to clean sea water, to make it clean and safe for drinking!"
"That's why we're not a kampong now, Mummy?"
"Hahaha yes, that and many other things, of course. But it was a lot of hard work, by lots of people, and over many many years doing many many things. That's why Singapore is what it is today. So you must learn to work hard and persevere, like Mr Lee Kuan Yew. ok?"
"Yes, Mummy!!!"

It does not matter to me that Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not live to see the fireworks on 9th August 2015. To me, he did live to see Singapore the way it is today. SG50 is not simply a celebration of Singapore's 50 years of independence. It is a celebration of the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew. With the myriad of activities, tv programmes and events showcasing the past 50 years of Singapore celebrating how far we have come - these provide the perfect resources to educate our young on who Lee Kuan Yew was, and what he stood for. To recognise and remember that Singapore's success was one that did not come easy and not without suffering and sacrifice. And that if we wish to continue to be successful, we need to work together, and work hard for a better future. 

We will remember you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Thank you, Sir.

Read more tributes to Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the links found here


  1. Very true, that we would be a kampong, and how apt that they can relate to being in a kampong at least!
    When I travel in ASEAN, it does hit me how we would be very much the same if not for such a visionary and strong leader.

  2. What a lovely lesson for your children, to be able to really understand the stark difference Singapore would be now if not for him.


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