“There was a Huge Disconnect”: Mourning Lee Kuan Yew from Afar

He dared to do what no one else would do. He will always be remembered by the international community as perhaps one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.

As much as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing came as no surprise, it was still shocking, nonetheless.

When news broke of Mr Lee’s death, I’m sure our Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter timelines were flooded with messages of condolences and tributes about the great man he is. When we got into the office or classroom, it was the first thing we all talked about for hours on end, exchanging thoughts on what this meant for our country, moving forward.

To world leaders, Mr Lee was a force to be reckoned with: a leader. But as Singapore came together to mourn the death of Mr Lee, like a family, we recognise and acknowledge that we have lost our father.

But for those living overseas at this textbook-bound moment in Singapore’s history, it ignites feelings for the country that you never thought resided in you. While we have friends to talk about what does the death of Singapore’s first Prime Minister mean for our country and future, it is difficult for Singaporeans overseas to express what they thought and felt.

“It does make a huge difference when the place you are in goes about doing the same things with little to no nuanced discussions to something that holds a large presence back home,” Gabriel Kumontoy said that studying in New Zealand poses a huge disconnect to her home country, especially at such a time. It was a big disconnect as being overseas, communication with family and friends were in bits and pieces, at best.

I knew exactly how that felt. I was living overseas when my grandfather passed away. I could not come back home to say my goodbyes and there was no one that understood the relationship I shared with him and no one that I could exchange shared memories with. Technology only aided that much; Skype calls and Whatsapp messages did not help in alleviating the sadness. The sense of familiarity and familial ties are what settles the heart.

“There is the helplessness of it all as you watch the nation mourn. Being physically with your home at such trying times, is perhaps innate,” laments Vivian Leung, a law student at the University of Liverpool. Living overseas at such a pivotal moment in Singapore’s history, Vivian appreciates the solid foundation that Mr Lee has for Singapore and how it has allowed Singaporeans overseas to hold their own against the world.

While many of Generation Y/Z have not experienced first-hand the leadership of Mr Lee, many are cognizant of the huge role and hand he had in politics long after his post ended. The long lines leading to the Parliament House set the stage for hundreds of conversations and probably debates about the life and works of Mr Lee.

With his passing, I have read and found out more about Mr Lee than I have ever known. It is such a bittersweet ending to this chapter of Singapore’s history. On one hand, the entire nation is grieving the loss of a political trailblazer, a groundbreaker. On the other, his passing has opened up the younger generation to want to find out more about his life and works, which is proof that his legacy will live on.

“The feeling sucks to be overseas” – Paddy Tay, who has been living in the United States for close to two years, pretty much sums up the sentiments of Singaporeans living overseas now.


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