Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Reflections on Being a Singaporean

I'm currently here at the Taoyuan International Airport, waiting for my flight back to Singapore. For the first time, I cannot wait to get back. As the minutes pass, I get increasingly impatient. I really want to be home, to be with the Singaporeans who are mourning the loss of our nation's founding father. 

I don't know Mr Lee, but I have always been aware of how much he has contributed to the country. To the island he built into a prosperous country. I remember when I was still in school, the first of his memoirs were published. I thought to myself, I'd want to read it one day. I always find it strange that anyone should read a living person's memoirs. I never thought I'd regret wanting to read them now. For some strange reason I wished I had known Mr Lee a little better when he was alive, other than the fact that he was our country's father. 

The past few days went by in a blur. The night before he passed away, I remembered talking to Xavier about how I really hoped Mr Lee can witness Singapore's 50th birthday. After all, SG50 has been happening on a really large scale, and who better to celebrate it with other than the person who made it even possible to have a nation's birthday? I also remembered reaching my apartment at 4am and receiving Xavier's message to me - "LKY passed away." 

I felt my heart heavy. I was not sad, no, not really. If he was severely sick, it must have been painful to hang on. At least he was relieved of his suffering. After all, he his job is done. He has served Singapore with his life, what more could we ask for? 

My heart was heavy nevertheless, with the knowledge that we had lost such a great influential man for good. #trueinfluencer

I am a patriot. Every National Day, I would try my best to catch the National Day Parade, at least on TV, or online. At worst, I would watch the reruns. I am that Singaporean who would try to wear red and white on the nation's birthday, and stand up in front of my TV to sing the national anthem and say the pledge together with the Singaporeans at the parade. Tears would well up when I see Mr Lee at the celebration, or when I say the pledge, because I am overwhelmed with pride for this little nation I call home. This year, on the 9th August, I know tears would fall, more than the years before, because I, and I believe many Singaporeans too, would have wanted him to be there. 

I learnt a lot about Mr Lee in the last few days, thanks to the power of social media. How he was like as a man, how he was a hard but great leader, his dedication to the country, the red box he used, how he was such a devoted loving husband. I even got to hear his powerful speeches as they streamed on my Facebook feed. He was a truly great man. 

I was born in the mid 1980s, and I got to see Singapore in her early 20s. I was also fortunate enough to have had the chance to stay in a kampung, something very unfamiliar to the young today. I remember having to wake people up to walk with me the dark scary road to the toilet. I remember the durian trees outside our house, and the Thai neighbours who would climb those trees to help everyone get the durians. I am lucky I experienced that, together with the HDB flats that most of us are familiar with. 

I remember Civics and Moral Education classes, on top of the normal English, Chinese, Mathematics, Arts and Physical Education classes in lower primary, taking for granted the syllabus set out for us. 
The core and foundation of our education system included things Mr Lee valued. English, so that we could communicate with everyone, regardless of race; Chinese, so that my own roots are not forgotten; Mathematics, so that everyone could at least do simple calculation and possibly excel in a way that we can contribute to the financial growth and later on success in Singapore; Arts, so we develop ourselves wholly and in a balanced way; and Physical Education, as Mr Lee understood the importance of exercising to keep healthy. 

I just went to school and took in everything the school taught. Now, I understand why school was the way it was. 

I loved the airport. A few years ago I went to the viewing gallery at Terminal 3 and I realized that our aviation industry had a lot to do with Mr Lee himself, particularly Changi Airport. Go visit the viewing gallery and have a read at how he built Changi Airport and spearheaded it into many if its achievements. I am very proud of our airport, and have spent countless hours as a student mugging for my exams at various spots in different terminals, and later as an aircrew walking through in my kebaya, for work. There would always be this sense of pride when walking through the airport, the garden within, the cleanliness, the grand modernity of it, and we owe a large part of it to Mr Lee. There is now an online petition to rename Changi Airport to Lee Kuan Yew International Airport. He built it, like how he built our nation. We won't rename Singapore of course. Lee Kuan Yew International Airport - I say, why not? It has a nice ring to it. 

I love our parks. Sembawang Park was a personal favourite, amongst many others. I remember my mother warning me about that place, telling me that when she was a teenager, there would be gangsters and fights happening in that park, and me arguing with her saying it's very different now, that she should go have a walk there again soon. I could not imagine that the beautiful place was how she told me to be. It seemed so distant and improbable. How things have changed.

Today, I'm thankful that I can go out at 2am or return in the middle of the night, as a woman alone in the streets, and be safe. I thank Mr Lee. 

I have friends from different races. When I worked on Vyjayanthi, it was me the Chinese, Malay makeup artist, Indian director and cast. Plus a mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese crew. In Singapore Airlines, we didn't even talk about racial differences - Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, all of us were working peacefully and harmoniously in the same aircraft. In school, we were just classmates with equal opportunities and standing. This was Mr Lee's work. I thank Mr Lee.

Only in Singapore can we leave our bags and laptops halfway through working or studying at Starbucks and MacDonald's for the washroom and return to find everything still there. This is possible only with an educated, moral, and generally wealthy nation. I thank Mr Lee.

I'm thankful that because of the multilingual conditions I grew up, I'm able to speak fluently to people of different nationalities, communicate with the ah ma I met in Taipei, make small talk (though challenged) with the Encik selling Nasi Goreng in Indonesia, and fili-fehleh with my fellow Singaporeans in our Uniquely Singaporean Singlish. For this too, I thank Mr Lee. 

Excuse me if my thoughts are all over the place. Because they are. It's like every time I think about any aspect of Singapore, I see his mark. The trees along the roads, the flowers, the fact that we are a garden city, like how he wanted and created. The safety and security of the nation. Singapore's financial prowess and her economic standing in the world. The fact that I can return home alone as a woman at 3am in the middle of the night, safe. The water that I can get from my tap, and drink straight out of it. Too many things.

Do you remember how Singapore was like 20 years ago? How about 10? Change is so rampant in this country, and there are some of us who complain that we have lost our identity, that we have nothing left at the speed we keep changing the face, or "complexion of Singapore", as how Mr Lee put it. 

But this, my fellow Singaporeans (it feels weird using this phrase), if you have not realized, IS Singapore. Constantly changing, constantly evolving. Change was what we needed to survive, to excel, to put us on the world map. Mr Lee wanted Singapore to be a "different city", and we are. 

We are not just a small island, like little islands usually are, laid back and simply just beach-y. We are not just a cosmopolitan grey city, like most cities - we are a very green, flowery, shrubby city, filled with plants and have little need for air pollution concerns. We were just 600km2 of country, now land-reclaimed to about 700km2. Which other country can say that they are cosmopolitan at this land area? 

So what if we are small. We are an island city state country, and we are Singapore. 
Thank you Mr Lee, for so many, so many things. As Singapore, we will continue to take care of your legacy.

#proudtobeSingaporean #ThankYouLKY

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