Saying Goodbye to Lee Kuan Yew

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Today I board a plane to the US, to visit my family and friends for a few weeks. I’m also going to attend a good friend’s wedding. My husband remains in Singapore, where the nation has spent the past week mourning the loss of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Today will be his official funeral and cremation. I’m sad that I will miss his funeral, but my plans are set.

Over the past week, I’ve been asked what it’s like here right now. How are people reacting? How does Jeremy feel? How do I feel? I wonder how I can describe the impact Lee Kuan Yew had on a country that isn’t my own. One of Jeremy’s friends compared it the US losing George Washington, but I think Lee Kuan Yew was more than that to Singapore. He’s more like Washington, Jefferson and Franklin rolled into one. He was its first official leader, its policy maker, and its champion. His policies affected me, even in my short time that I’ve lived here. He saw Singapore as a nation of immigrants, and enacted policies to bring people from diverse backgrounds together: English as a common language, affordable home ownership for the masses, integrated neighborhoods.

When Singapore joined Malaysia for a brief period after breaking from British and Japanese rule, Lee Kuan Yew’s dream was to unify the two countries and create equal opportunities for all races. However, from what I understand, the policies of Malaysia at the time favored “Malaysia for Malays”, and due to disagreements over social policies, Singapore and Malaysia parted ways. So Lee Kuan Yew focused the remainder of his life on Singapore. I believe that everything he did, he did for love of Singapore.

On Wednesday, the public mourning period began, after two days of private family mourning at Istana, the  Singaporean equivalent of the White House. I went down to Istana to watch the casket moved to Parliament House on a gun carriage. Afterwards, I walked to the Parliament House where lines to pay last respects snaked around the river. Since then, Jeremy and I have been on hourly queue watch. Usually the queue has been 8 hours. There was a brief window of 90 minutes queue on Thursday morning, but Jeremy was at work, and the queue soared to 10 hours by the time he was off. We instead went to a local community memorial. These community memorials have been set up around the island. They are 24 hours, as is the memorial at the Parliament House. In some ways, the local memorials are better. You can take your time, pay your respects slowly, view photos and videos, write a farewell message in a book, and leave with a memento photo pamphlet. At Parliament House you can pay respects directly, but you shuffle past without stopping. We still wish we could have gone to Parliament House, but neither of us is able to stay up all night to queue and work interferes otherwise.

Jeremy and I both feel that the influence of Lee Kuan Yew on Singapore and its citizens is so profound that Singapore would be a completely different place if not for him. Who knows if Jeremy and I ever would have been able to meet, if we would have been able to communicate, had it not been for Lee Kuan Yew and his policies? My friends in Singapore from other countries also feel that they would not be here without Lee Kuan Yew making this country what it is. I may not be a Singaporean Citizen, but what happens here affects me as much, if not more, than what happens in the country of my birth so I also mourn this great loss to Singapore.

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