By: Kyle Malinda-White
19-year-old student Zawati and her two friends were busy chatting away on the steps of the Plaza Singapura concourse Monday. They were aware of the emotional scenes at the Istana next door as thousands who were there wept at the loss of Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
But for Zawati, much like how Singapore Inc. operates at a terribly efficient pace, life goes on.
“I felt like I lost someone who was a father to me. My family was shocked (at Lee’s passing) — it was expected but when it hits you, you go “Oh, wow”,” she said.
She did not join the queue to pen condolences for the late Lee — she frankly admitted she is “not that affected” — but that does not take away from the severity of the situation.
In fact, much of the outpouring over Lee’s passing came from social media, where accounts traditionally associated with fandoms and teenage matters broke away from that to state their condolences for the late statesman.
Young social media celebrities readily doled out condolences to Lee, even though they may have grown up in his generation:
RIP Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding father. You will forever be etched in our minds and hearts. pic.twitter.com/Mwcj7lrVlZ
— Noah Yap 叶荣耀 (@TrulyNoah) March 23, 2015
28-year-old Shi Chen probably knows what Noah Yap is trying to say — the former served as a grassroots leader on Lee’s turf.
“How much one can appreciate what Lee Kuan Yew has done is dependent on how much one wants to see. I don’t think its dependent on this generation or that generation. No one can force the horse to drink if the horse doesn’t want to do so,” said Shi Chen to Popspoken.
“While it’s true that people our generation haven’t gotten a chance to serve directly with Mr Lee (I have only been with Prof Koo Tsai Kee and Ms Indranee Rajah), seeing MM (Minister Mentor) try his best at all the grassroots events I have been to is testament to his belief of leading by example – even at his age. If I were in my 80s, I’d probably be whiling the days away with my family. MM was active to the end.”
Business undergraduate Sofia Hear was particularly touched at hearing such tales of how Lee placed his country before himself.
“The amount of respect he commands from leaders worldwide speaks well enough of how good a leader he is. So thank you Mr Lee, for being ever so firm and steadfast in the decisions you’ve made,” said the National University of Singapore student.
“They might not have been popular but they were definitely made in the best interests of Singapore’s future.”
Those hard decisions were what compelled five 14-year-olds from Dunman High School to brave the sweltering heat and have their lunch while queueing for Lee’s public wake Thursday. Toh En Tong, Caitlin Leong, Chloe Lim, Joel Nai and Tristan Tok may not have grown up in Lee Kuan Yew’s era (they were only 10 years old when he retired from public office) but they are thankful to be living in the fruits of his labour.
“The queue may be for a few hours but it is nothing compared to the years of hard work Mr Lee has placed in,” Joel spoke on Lee’s dedication to his tenure in office.
“To other youths, I urge you to reflect and think more about where would we be without him,” said Tristan when asked about how other youths can relate to the events surrounding the late Lee’s departure and legacy.
Zawati believes so too.
“Young people should appreciate our forefathers’ contributions. Take a look around; look at our tall buildings at the CBD (Central Business District).”
“If not for him, we wouldn’t be here.”
So what now, after Lee?
It does seem like life has indeed moved on: my friend working at BitIQ says that stock markets are rife with activity, schools are carrying on with activities, National Servicemen are still exercising their duties. For the new guard in office led by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, the pressure will be on them to live up to the expectations many have of the son of Singapore’s founding father.
“I wonder how the future will be like without (Lee). His son, Lee Hsien Loong, has adapted from his father’s values,” said Zawati.
“He’ll use that to run the government. Hopefully, it will be better.”
Additional reporting by Cherie Foo and Hadi Lee