“Before the break of dawn on 23th March 2015, the news of one man’s passing broke the entire nation’s heart.
I am not a Singaporean nor I was born in Singapore. I am merely a Singapore Permanent Resident, who has in fact, spent majority of the recent years overseas. But surprisingly, that didn’t safeguard my heart from feeling this sense of loss and sadness.
I mean, I never really knew Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I have met his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, briefly, twice. I have had cheeky chats with Singapore’s Ambassador-At-Large Professor Tommy Koh. There are many leaders and politicians in Singapore that I am a fan of and follow. But I only knew Mr Lee Kuan Yew, from a spectrum of praises and critical appreciation found in the media and the literature.
So perhaps this feeling of sorrow, instead, comes from my belief that you should never forget the ones who came before you. In other words, to never take for granted, the shoulders of the giants we stand on, and in this case, the giant of modern Singapore’s history is Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
I first visited Singapore when I was five. I still remember the playgrounds among the HDB flats, and not having seen anything like these before, these were the grounds of paradise or heaven for me. A treat involving a bag of chips and a can of coke cost just around a dollar and they were my favourite luxuries. As a child, I did not want to leave Singapore, and when I had to, I waited and counted down to the day I could return. It took about a decade before I finally could, and since from then, life has perhaps put me on a different path, but the point is that, the fruits of one man’s vision for one nation, kept the hopes and dreams of a tiny Burmese girl alive, in the land 3,000 kilometres away.
So today I am left with nothing but thankfulness for this extraordinary man. I am thankful that my family lives a comfortable and safe life in Singapore. I am thankful for the four years of education prior to my university years, for the gap year of work experience, for the leadership trainings (which have enabled me to step up and lead even the Australian-based student associations), and of all, lifelong friendships and social relationships that Singapore has given me.
But my story is just one tiny part of millions others and billions others, who have come in contact with Singapore in one way or another. What I am more thankful is that Singapore, despite the prevailing critical culture, is now reflecting and showing tremendous gratitude on the wonders he did in good will, from the days of him helping draft the constitution, sweeping the streets himself to set the standards of the spotless city that Singapore is well known for today, to the very last days of him holding on, to protect the nation he sacrificed his life for. And of all, I am thankful that he can now move on peacefully to the next chapter, whichever afterlife he believes in, and perhaps what we know for sure, is that it’s the one with his beloved partner and wife, Madam Kwa.
So tonight and for many generations to come, I hope we pay tribute to and remember the founding father of modern Singapore, the leader who built a nation, with his living, and with his passing, the man who left the nation, more united than ever.
Thank you families and friends of Singapore. Thank you Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”
Soe San Htike (PiPi)
*This tribute was originally shared with the overseas Singaporeans and friends of Singapore who came to pay respects and leave messages of condolence at the short remembrance event organised by the UQ Singapore Students’ Society, at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, on 25th March 2015.