“It won’t be right, would it?”
It was 9am Monday, slightly less than an hour after Channel NewsAsia’s Augustine Anthuvan had declared on television, the seven-day national mourning period following the passing of Singapore’s elder statesman Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
I was on the phone with Skii, Popspoken executive consultant, thinking of how best to remain sensitive during the ensuing national mourning period. The decision was clear: the national mood was sombre and any entertainment and lifestyle news coverage would be seen as disrespectful.
Thus, we decided to stop all entertainment and lifestyle coverage and instead use our incisive street-speak to pay tribute to the man that changed the fortunes of a nation and its people.
But shortly after this announcement, a friend came up to me and said:
“Isn’t your team made up of youths, writing for youths? Why do you care?”
From the myriad of people that sent tributes when Lee’s condition deteriorated, to the celebrities and luminaries that did so on the day he passed on, it was clear there was a huge outpouring of spontaneous emotion – not commonly seen in modern-day Singapore — to honour the man.
But what editor Jovi Ho saw on social media was a shocking turn of events.
Many who did pay tribute to the man online, especially on Twitter, were all from Generation Y. Pages and accounts traditionally associated with memes, Vines and teenage matters broke away from that to give thanks to a man they did not grow up with.
The underlying message was simple, yet powerful: respect and gratitude.
So youths did care. As a media platform with our audience base in mind, it was our responsibility to contextualise and curate a cross-section of opinions, initiatives and little things from youths all over Singapore.
And so we did.
From Nicholas Teo examining the late Lee’s parenting style, to Sheryl Teo and Fabian Lim relating the personal experiences many felt as they saw Lee’s casket for the first time and even how I found out spots were being blocked out for community tributes, our first task was to set the scene and relate his story to the masses.
Many of our writers had differing views, and we accommodated that space for these views to percolate and disseminate. While Joan Chang urged youths to remember our humble beginnings, Weets cautioned against a standstill of activity — not the efficiency Mr Lee espoused when the going got tough.
In the various social media updates and tributes from media platforms, it felt like Singapore (and maybe the world) was getting to know Lee again. Eliezer Toh summed up how the nation and its youth felt as more information surfaced:
“When he said goodbye to his wife at her funeral with a red rose and a kiss, our hearts broke with his. When we heard his retort to the chewing gum ban (“If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana”), we LOL-ed. And when we found out he rejected a US $3.3 million bribe from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1960, then got the then-Secretary of State to issue a formal apology, we were never prouder of being a Singaporean.”
There was also significance in the various events that happened in the past week. From Jovi Ho documenting the importance of the buildings Lee’s coffin passed by during Wednesday’s gun carriage procession to Sam Loke reporting from California on the condolences from Singapore students overseas, a sense began to emerge that reflection sliced through all identifiers: age, race, gender, sexual orientation.
And as Audrey Lim reported many people banded together in #TheQueue of the public wake, Jeffrey Zacherias saw how many others tried to grapple with their emotions and thoughts while surviving alone in other countries.
It seemed that there was a new school of thought that surfaced this week: I found out how many are grateful for the past, Sophia Hyder discovered how youth editors respected Lee’s sharp ways, and Gaya Chand noted how youth are unsure but still hopeful of the future with Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong.
As journalists, it is not easy to be the gateway to information and not get affected by what passes through it. As Jeffrey related in his report on losing his grandfather while he was overseas, Isabelle Chan counted her blessings to be adopted by a Singaporean family and be given a second chance to live in Singapore.
As the rain of today finally settles and the late Lee is being laid to rest, it is timely that we begin thinking about how we want our future to be like. There is no doubt that Lee has set the foundation together with others like Goh Keng Swee, Albert Winsemius and even JB Jeyaretnam, no matter how controversial the going got. Some things bore immense fruit that we enjoy till today, some things have caused dent marks that are not easy to remove.
But what is hopeful and clear is the vision of tomorrow, and that it is entirely in our hands. From the various initiatives that sprouted all over Singapore and at the Padang queue, it is heartening to know that ground-up spirit is a capability in a Singapore that has learnt to stake out from the get-go. However, what will make us different from other countries is not the individual action, but the collective effort of many little stories, many agents of change.
That’s the spirit of #YEWnity that will stand the test of time: in crisis, in triumph, in the polls.
We’ve come together this time. If there was going to be another time to unite in the future, this week would be the blueprint we will look back to.
Featured photo: Fabian Lim