moments

The final goodbye

So yesterday, the sister and I decided that we want to pay our respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at The Parliament House. I am not one who is particularly sentimental, let alone towards someone I have never met in my life. I am also the sort to flip past the politics section in the papers. Which is why, to be honest, I was surprised that I felt this unspeakable need to head down to The Parliament House.. I am guessing it is the same for the sister.

We grabbed some white orchids (the national flower of Singapore, how apt) and some drinks, before following the heaving crowds outside City Hall MRT. There was an air of urgency and purpose. Everyone, mostly dressed in sombre colours, were almost marching towards the start of the queue. We blindly followed the crowd because that should be where it is right?

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PS. That red mark on his left cheek is a mosquito bite.

There was a huge crowd around the Cenotaph. As we struggled with our stroller amongst the crowd, one kind lady pointed out to me: “There’s a priority queue for those with babies. You may want to head there.”

It has been a while since I experienced such kindness from strangers and it made my heart warm. I thanked her and told her that we are aware but were having difficulty finding where it was as there were no signages.

The sister spoke with a policeman and he informed us that the priority queue was over at the Old Supreme Court building, so we made our way there. With us was another lady and her mother who quipped to me that she forgot to pack milk for her baby. I smiled an understanding smile back.

I spotted another young couple. The lady was baby-wearing a child of no more than 6 months old. I asked if they were going to pay their respects and they said yes. Told them to follow us as we were headed the same way. One good deed begets another, right? We looked quite a sight – like an odd bunch of merrymen thrown together for a common cause with our bulging diaper bags, strollers and babies.

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Fought through the crowds and when we got to the barricades, the policemen waved us in. I glanced across at the Padang and snapped this quick picture. Huge crowds, long queues. But there were lots of personnel standing around to direct lost sheep.

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We joined the large group of people in the priority queue. A mummy blogger shared that she took 50 minutes and I was hoping it would be the same for us. We were thankfully shielded from the merciless heat with tents but it also meant that it was stuffy when it got crowded.

This is the scene in front of us…

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…and behind us…

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I was thankful that Elliott was pretty happy to stay in his stroller. I looked around me and there were people from all walks of life. Just in front of us were a Korean mother and her 2 boys. Beside her was a mother and child from China. I gathered these from their spoken language/accents.

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There were many aunties and uncles in the queue too. Elliott – when he was still chirpy – made them smile when he pointed at their bunches of flowers and uttered “fow-er” (flower) repeatedly. He was also smiling and waving at random ladies in the queue.

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About half hour in, I glanced around and told the sister that we still have the entire length of the Old Supreme Court to cover. Elliott was starting to fuss. He wanted to be let out of his stroller so I had to carry him. Poor little guy was getting sweaty and uncomfortable despite the portable fan on his stroller. Check out the face:

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Originally, I put him in a more comfortable sleeveless onesie (taking into consideration the heat) but decided to change him into this collared onesie so as to be respectful. One must not dress sloppily when paying respect.

As you can see in the above picture, we were barely halfway across the Old Supreme Court. At this point, I was (almost) ready to leave because my poor kid was uncomfortable and honestly, my right arm was sore from carrying him.

Thankfully, the queue kept moving forward every couple of minutes and kind strangers around us helped to entertain Elliott. One mummy (with 2 kids in the stroller with iPads to entertain them) played “Peekaboo!” with him. Another aunty “chatted” with him and told him to be patient. Another young lady smiled kindly at him and did “high-fives”. I was thankful that my fellow Singaporeans (I assume) were kind and were trying to help in their own ways.

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A kind elderly aunty also offered 2 packets of biscuits to a mother and her 2 kids. The lady thanked her and told her that one packet is enough as they can share but the aunty insisted, pushing the second packet into her hands. It was really heartwarming to witness these random acts of kindness amongst strangers.

Finally, we spotted these white tentage with security checkpoints. Ah, we must be near, I thought. By this time, Elliott was not happy. He was not happy being carried. He was not happy being in the carrier. He was not happy drinking water. I fed him some cereal and took him to the sides where it was less stuffy.

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See how deep the crowds were? It still took us about 20 minutes to get to the checkpoints. We had a stroller with us and were told to get to “number 1”. I walked through carrying Elliott and the system beeped. I got ready to be patted down by the smiling security lady but instead of me, Elliott got patted down instead. In fact, when the youngish policewoman patted him down lightly, he opened up his arms, indicating that he wants her to carry him.

It made all of us smile despite the heat.

I have to add that throughout the queue, everyone on official duty were kind to us. One helped us to lift the stroller up the pavement. Another got us to stand at a spot where it was cooler. I also noted that so many of these men were sunburnt in their crisp white shirts and dark pants. Even when shouting out instructions (“please keep left, thank you!“), they minded their Ps and Qs.

I asked one of the policeman (while we were stationary) how long more we had to go after we crossed the checkpoint. He said maybe about “one and a half hours“. It was like that “the day before“, he added.

My heart sank.

Elliott was about to enter full meltdown mode. We were -this- close to getting in. I knew that he was overtired and needed to nap. Pronto. I was in a bind. To leave now so that my baby will be comfortable? Or to persevere since we have gotten this far? I (stupidly) did not have my baby carrier me (URGH!) and we had to leave our stroller right by the door before entering The Parliament House.

Remember our bunch of white orchids? We were not allowed to bring it in, so it was left at a table just before we entered.

I have no more pictures from this point onwards because we were in the building and my hands were, literally, full. He would cry out in frustration and I could feel pairs of eyes boring down on us. Thankfully, the sister quickly whipped out her phone and turned on some random nursery rhymes on YouTube (on silent mode). That kept him occupied long enough for us to get to the main hall.

We saw the familiar scene that kept appearing on TV. The flag-drapped coffin with the guards keeping vigil. Elliott was fascinated with the natural skylight that was shining down from the top of the building (it was beautiful) and was, thankfully, distracted.

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When we got to the centre where most people were crowding to pay their respects, the sister and I stood side by side, and we bowed. One quick but deep bow.

Clutching Elliott tightly to my chest, I uttered: “Thank you. Rest well”.

And we were done.

On hindsight, perhaps I should not have taken Elliott. But I was very glad to have made that trip to say our final goodbye to the man who was instrumental in creating the Singapore that we know today.

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