|Side profile of Mr Lee Kuan Yew within a black ribbon.
Image Source: Alex Yam, 2015
There are commentaries expressing surprise at why many Singaporeans are grieving so visibly and in several instances,
unselfishly, at the passing of our former Prime Minister, and founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Is human identity ever a simple concept, let alone national
identity? Singaporeans are a highly hybridized and still hybridizing
people. We grieve the loss of the past, the pain of the present, the
perplexity of the future, and more that we don’t understand or can’t
Mr Lee connects me to my entire life, one that I negotiate
every waking minute at the intersection of cultures. He reminds me of
what my parents went through during the Japanese Occupation, starved, frightened children, their education disrupted and how they forged a life for our family
despite their lack of resources; what life was like for me and my
generation, including walking to schools in nearby kampong areas; not having many toys and art/dance/sports classes that wealthy families could provide for their children. We
worked hard and learned to be adaptable, resourceful and not have a sense of entitlement. Many of my peers had the opportunities to excel and
become who we are today (right, Mr Steven Cher? Meileng Koh Margaret Tay Lina Wee Eng Lin Koh
). In America, many Chinese people approach me and don’t understand why I don’t speak
Mandarin first, but choose to speak English, and with ease. “汉人不讲普通话?” [FYI, who is Han Chinese? The term has no meaning for me.] “So you can
speak English, AND Mandarin, AND Cantonese, AND…?” I thank Mr Lee for
his foresight in crafting the bilingualism policy and the education
system. It is competitive and far from perfect. But multi-lingualism has
empowered me to access resources mono-lingual speakers are unable to
access. Yes, there were a few years when we had to also learn Malay, and our national anthem is in Malay too. I look back on those days with fondness, not resentment. It wasn’t difficult to learn languages when we were younger.
Before I came to America, I had not paid attention to racial disharmony, and had not thought of race as a big issue, because I had friends of every race in Singapore. We spoke English as the bridge language and public signs were posted in 4 languages. (Did I live in a bubble? I don’t think so.) Still, some who have heard of Singapore don’t think of our racial harmony, instead of the “anti-chewing gum” nation. Like Joyce Hooi, I will say, “Enough. Go find out more before you pass judgment on us and our value system. Don’t impose your standards for your country on ours, which is another place, another country, another circumstance.”
After Lee Kuan Yew died, The Guardian newspaper devoted an entire
article to his policy on chewing gum. Decades of phenomenal GDP growth,
the lowest crime rate in the region and top-notch healthcare, and
Westerners are still talking about the friggin’ chewing gum. This is
like being complimented on your English. – Joyce Hooi, Business Times, Singapore.
remain through the years ( Lina Wee, remember how we would 起立，行礼，坐下 in every Chinese class?) My parents modeled them in their lives. A reward system based on merit and effort, and not on brown-nosing or the status of my relationship with my employer/advisor/[insert name of anyone you report to]. Discipline, respect and being uncomplaining about what we are asked to do. As you lay to rest tonight, Singapore time, March 29, I bid farewell to you. And I can say to you in another language, 我会饮水思源，不回忘记你这么辛苦艰难地培养的新加坡。Go gentle
into the good night, Mr. Lee. We will not let anyone knock us down. 谢谢你，一路好走。Kami tidak akan biarkan orang mengetuk kita ke bawah. Majulah, Singapura! [Remembering Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – In his own words: The mandate to rule.
Note: I’m sorry I don’t have the transcript for this yet. I’ll work on it.] Source: ChannelNewsAsia