A Most Extraordinary Man

We just lost one. We just lost one of the world’s most extraordinary men. And I don’t think we will see another like him.

Since Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing yesterday, there have been endless tributes, art works and stories going around on this one man’s life. Never have I seen my country so fervently passionate about recounting Mr Lee’s life, his contributions, his habits, words of wisdom and his love. For a country labelled as one of the most emotionless in the world, it was personally rather touching to witness all of this.

We had a memorial service today in school for Mr Lee. We watched a couple of montages and some speeches from the principal and the student head and the school’s provost. It was a surreal experience for me.

For one, I didn’t expect so many people to turn up. There were just throngs of people in black or semi-formal attire heading for the hall. In fact, too many people came such that we had to overflow into another lecture theatre for a live feed. There were teachers and students alike and I had to admit, I was surprised because I had the impression that this age group, the young adults, were the apathetic, cool kids kind. I didn’t think we were especially patriotic. But so many people came.

When the montages came on and they got to the part where Mr Lee wept over the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, you could hear audible sniffs around the hall. It’s surreal because this large, almost father figure could have such a personal impact on so many people. It’s surreal because he meant so much to so many. This man of action allowed his life to show his love and dedication for his country and his people. Now this country is mourning for him.

There have been so many more eloquent tributes about how great and how wise Mr Lee was, how Singapore would not be what she is today if not for him so I won’t repeat all of that.

Bottom line is: Yes, without Mr Lee, we wouldn’t be what we are today. I think that every Singaporean would know the truth of that.

I think Mr Lee is one of those extraordinary persons that comes around once every long while to do some life-changing business.

I just marvel at all the large hurdles he had to face. The water, the lack of resources, lack of land, lack of healthcare, basically everything needed a major overhaul. To take up this challenge is already a feat in itself.

I deeply admire the drive and passion Mr Lee has. If you ever watched his speeches, especially the early ones, you can see that he doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he wants the best for Singapore, he means to really improve society as a whole and he will do everything in his utmost power to get us there. That pure passion and fire never ever loses its austere even in the later parts of his life. He means business. He is absolutely serious about what he is talking about. He doesn’t bother mincing his words or sugarcoating anything. He had counted the cost of what it will take for us to move up and he presented them as the hard facts for us. He really meant to get things done and not just make these big empty promises to win elections.

I admire Mr Lee’s wisdom. I admire Mr Lee’s tenacity. As the Prime Minister of any country, a lot of the biggest, hardest decisions affecting a lot of people becomes your call. Sometimes, there is no clear cut, textbook right or wrong answer, or even a better or worse answer. Sometimes you have to make the most unpopular decisions now because it may benefit the country in the future. The thing is, no matter what decision you make, there will be the naysayers, the skeptics, the complainers and so on. You can’t please everybody and for the people you can’t please, you’ll get a lot of flak. It’s ok if the naysayers have constructive criticism, if they have legit concerns but even then, whatever decision you make, there will be people falling into the cracks. To make decisions where you know that it won’t benefit some people…that’s hard. Normal people wouldn’t want to be the ones calling such shots. They wouldn’t want to be blamed for the hardship of the people who get marginalised by certain decisions. It’s too big a responsibility to bear. But Mr Lee bore it. And he keeps at thinking up policies to benefit as many people as possible. He keeps going despite the flak. I’m sure I’d just throw in the towel if the people I’m slaving for criticise me all day long. He didn’t.

His single-mindedness to move us up is admirable. The absolute discipline with which he lives by is admirable.

Some people harp on some of the old policies he had which were unsuccessful/insensitive/unpopular and others gripe about how all the emotional posts circulating will only fund for more sympathy votes for the PAP and stuff.

To this, I say: We don’t credit Mr Lee with more than what he has done. What we respect and are grateful to him for aren’t made up. He did these things, gave us houses and transport and water. His actions speak for themselves. Neither do we gloss over or forget his lesser policies. But let me ask you, which other leader can make the mistakes Mr Lee made and still bring us to where we are? Or rather, which other leader didn’t make any mistakes and bring a country so far in 50 years? You answer me that.

Mr Lee is a human. He isn’t perfect. But for a human, he really did an enormous lot. He has given his best which I feel exceeds the best of most men. He gave a lot of people the best Singapore possible in 50 years.

So unless you can do a better job, shoo, you trolls. We are all properly fed and clothed and educated because of this man, ok. Some things are the way they are because this island geographically lacks a lot of things but I think Mr Lee made the best out of what we have.

Yes, we have areas we can work on as a country. Mr Lee and his generation did what they could. If we don’t like it, then we improve it.

Maybe I’ve over romanticised Mr Lee. But when I look around at how well I’m provided for, how safe my environment is, how far and fast we have come, I think my admiration is not unfounded.

I respect Mr Lee a great deal and I know there is the fine line of being grateful for what he has done and moving forward to meet the needs of a changing world. Mr Lee always told us to keep up with the rest. The man had foresight to bring us to where we are now. I fear that we won’t ever get such a wise and strong leader like him for a very long time, but from what I’ve seen today, and from that ridiculously long line spanning several kilometres where Singaporeans are queuing up to pay their last respects to Mr Lee, maybe Singaporeans will grow up to be just that little bit more like him now that he isn’t around, to stand on their own two feet and make a change instead of just complaining all the time.

It’s up to us now guys.

We have lost a most extraordinary man, and yet, hopefully, we haven’t lost him at all.

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