I woke up on Monday and saw that a friend shared this image within our Whatsapp group:
I did not quite get it and it took me a while in my sleepy stupor to realise the significance of this picture.
While most of us were asleep, Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, passed on in the early hours of 23 March 2015.
Here’s a little background story:
My grandpa (or Kong Kong to me) owned a beautiful large piece of land at Jalan Teck Kee where a single-storey property housed 3 generations under one roof. Kong Kong and Lee Kuan Yew were also both, coincidentally, born in the same year – 1923.
I remember days of running amok in the garden, chasing after Conrad and Lassie, two guard dogs that my grandpa kept, or watching my grandma slaughter a live chicken before my eyes.
I also remember having to use a bucket-style toilet where the night soil collector would come by every night to collect our waste from a bucket. I was always cautious about not falling into it (oh the horrors). My late grandma used to scare me by saying that if I don’t study hard, I’d end up as one when I grow up.
I was a child of the late 1970s and my childhood was part-kampong, part-HDB flat. This is a memory I treasure very much. My younger sister, on the other hand, was born “into a HDB flat”, so to speak.
In the early 1980s, this piece of land was acquired by the government and even as a child, I remember clearly how distraught Kong Kong was when bulldozers razed his beautiful home to the ground. It is on this premise that I grew up hearing that LKY was “no good” because he took away people’s land and property.
Then I grew up.
I may not have lived through the turbulent times of the early days but I fully appreciate the fact that I can speak, read and write in English and Mandarin. Of course, growing up, learning Mandarin in school was painful. It didn’t help that I came from an all-girls school and speaking Mandarin then was deemed as “uncool”.
I also do not take for granted the peace and safety that we enjoy in Singapore. When we were in Paris, I was constantly looking over my shoulder because I have heard so much about pickpockets. In fact, after a visit to the Eiffel Tower, I had my packet of gummi bears snatched from my hands at the subway by two teenage delinquents. It happened so quickly but it left me a little shaken.
A similar incident happened in JB where my bag was almost snatched by two crooks on a motorcycle. It is true that I have renewed appreciation for our efficient little red dot whenever I return from my travels.
I also thank you for the foresight in making Singapore a garden city. I realise that having tree-lined roads are not the norm in many countries. Trees provide shade from our unrelenting tropical sun. I remember feeling uncomfortably hot when we were in Bali. The merciless sun beat down on my back and despite a giant hat, I was whining to the boy that it is “soooo hot!” So yes, thank you for the trees.
Of course, things are not perfect. Far from it. But in the general scheme of things, we have lots to be thankful for. I can go on and list a whole host of things that annoy me/can be improved but we sometimes forget that we are only 50 years old.
We are but a relatively young country.
To go from kampongs with low levels of sanitation and hygiene to what we have today is no fluke.
So I choose to count my blessings. My parents used to comment that “we are very lucky to be born in Singapore”. And how right they are. I can also see why LKY was called “no good” by my grandparents then because their land was taken away. Of course they’d be upset. Who wouldn’t be?
On hindsight, this seizure of land was necessary for town/country planning. Was it a nice thing to do? Of course not. Was it necessary then for progress as a nation? Probably.
Rest well and goodbye for now, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. We may not have always agreed with your party policies but the fact that you had foresight and brought Singapore to where it is today is something I appreciate and am thankful for. It makes me proud to call myself a Singaporean, and even prouder to hold that red passport that allows me access to most parts of the world.
Oh and if you see my Kong Kong, you can tell him that you won in the who-lived-longer game (you won by 3 years!). I also believe that he would have forgiven you for taking away his land then because his future generations (us) can enjoy the beautiful country that we now call home.