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The End of an Era

We woke up this morning, expecting it to be an ordinary day. C had to go to work after a week off, and Noah had to go back to school after his term break. We had followed the news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s failing health as closely as we could over the past few weeks, and although the end seemed near, we had hoped that he would make a miraculous recovery, or at least live to see Singapore’s 50th National Day in August. Last night, I scheduled a shout-out for an upcoming event on this blog’s Facebook page, not expecting to wake up and learn of Mr Lee’s passing. Like I said, we expected it to be an ordinary day.

I never had the privilege of meeting Mr Lee in person, and I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t made the effort to read the many books he has written. I don’t know much about all the policies that he had come up with, and never really bothered to learn more about politics. Now that he has passed on, there is a deep sense of loss, and I spent most of today trying to read more about him. There are so many quotes, pictures, videos, and articles, but the one that comes to my mind when people speak of Mr Lee, is the image of him weeping for Singapore, when we separated with Malaysia. It is a clip that has been played repeatedly over the years, and I’ve always been intrigued by this man who shed tears because he loved our country so much.

Mr Lee holding back tears

This man could have, at many points in his life, decided that it was just too much work to build a nation from scratch, that he wanted to spend more time with his family, that it was simply not worth fighting for a bunch of people who didn’t appreciate his efforts. A lesser man would have thrown in the towel, and taken his family overseas, in search of a better life. A lesser man would have let someone else take over, sat back to watch them struggle to lead this tiny nation, and think smugly to himself, “I told you so.”. A lesser man would have turned this country into a communist state*, executed his opponents, and allowed corruption to reign. He did not.

As a Singaporean, I have led a very sheltered life, and have taken many things for granted. Unlike some of my peers in other countries, I am educated, and did not have to fight for my right to attend school. I can step out of my house at any time I like, no matter how early or late it may be, and not be afraid for my safety. I have access to safe and affordable public transportation. I can drive if I want to. I can share my views with others, in person and online, without worrying that my opinions won’t count for anything because of my gender or age. I have friends from different ethnic groups, and of different religions. I live in an HDB flat, not a cardboard box in a slum. Clean, drinking water flows out of our taps. I look out of my window, and see trees lining the well-paved roads. Indeed, we only have to look around us, to see what Mr Lee has done for our country.

I believe in meritocracy, and in hard work. Many have complained about foreigners coming in to “steal” their places in schools and offices, but my humble opinion is that no one owes us a living. If you want that spot in the top class, you have to work hard, and earn it. It irks me when I encounter youths with a false sense of entitlement, who shirk away from hard work, yet expect to be shown favour just because of their nationality. Life in Singapore has been too comfortable for them, and they honestly don’t know how good they’ve got it.

I worry for the future generation, for our son and his peers, and fear that they will take Singapore’s prosperity and success for granted. Our son will never get to meet Mr Lee, and is too young to truly understand what his life and death means to us as Singaporeans, but I hope that he will one day learn about our founding father, and respect him for what he has done for our country.

So much has been said about Mr Lee, and even as I write this, many more tributes pop up all over the Internet. My neighbour helped me to get both the English and Chinese editions of the special tribute newspaper editions, and I sat for a while with Noah, flipping through it, and trying to tell him a bit more about Mr Lee. I focused on the pictures of him with his family, as well as that of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, because he wasn’t just a politician, but also a family man. His love for his wife has been widely documented, and reading his daughter’s account of their relationship brought tears to my eyes. It was also heartbreaking to watch PM Lee announce the passing of his father, especially when he struggled to control his emotions during his speech in Mandarin. We have lost our founding father, but he has lost his beloved father.

The special edition tribute papers


Looking at pictures of Mr Lee and his family


In a mere three decades, Mr Lee transformed our little red dot from a third world country to a first world one. He didn’t have to do it, but he did. He spent almost his entire life fighting for a better Singapore, and I hope he knew just how much we appreciated his hard work.

Thank you, sir. May you rest in peace with your beloved wife.

*Yes, I am aware that there are those who feel that Singapore is an authoritarian state, and that Mr Lee denied Singaporeans of basic human rights. For those of you who feel this way, I don’t really know what to say to you, except that I hope you will hold your tongue during this period, out of respect for his family.

Note: The Tans will be observing the seven-day period of national mourning, from today till the 29th of March, and will not be posting on our blog, Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, throughout this period. #THANKYOULKY


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