Sunday, March 29, 2015

The passing of an era...

The Passing of an Era | 29th March 2015. Today is the State Funeral. The Republic of Singapore Air Force Black Knights were planning to fly in a Missing Man Formation over City Hall and Supreme Court as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's cortege goes past these historic grounds which has witnessed the announcement of the Japanese Surrender by Lord Mountbatten in 1945, the Merger in 1963 and countless National Day Parades since 1966.

 *29th March 2015 may be a rainy day and the RSAF had not been able to perform the aerial salute but the downpour has evoked memories of the 1968 National Day Parade for some and perhaps would be of equal significance for all who attended, watched and participated in today's State Funeral. I was seeking closure after the previous drawing until the RSAF approached me to do one more piece of work, seeing the historical significance in the subject and urged by a couple of friends, I reluctantly agreed.

 This is dedicated to Singapore and to the pioneers who helped build Singapore, many of whom have walked the grounds of the Padang or the City Hall like our ah kong and ah mas and our leaders including Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and Dr.Goh Keng Swee, both of whom have played a part in the establishment of the Singapore Air Defence Command (today's the RSAF) in the late 1960s - 1971.

A Legacy. A Post-LKY Era. As the State Funeral approaches, I think one of the images that would remain in my memory for a long time are the images of the Gun Carriage Funeral Procession from the intermittent CNA live stream on the morning of 25th March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew, at Commonwealth Close, Blk 85-86, HDB’s third estate in Queenstown known for its chap lak lao (16 floors) which outdone the colonial SIT’s 1956 Forfar House (14 floors) at Princess Estate. The HDB completed 1000 units of housing within 5 years. This was in May 1965. In the same year, Singapore separated from Malaysia on 9th August 1965. 

 However, Lee Kuan Yew and the pioneers like Lim Kim San, Goh Keng Swee and S.Rajaratnam, quickly regained composure and set out to work, together with our ah kongs, ah mas, papas and mamas to achieve what seemed impossible in 1965 and made Singapore what it is today. There were sacrifices and there were achievements, the Singapore story is no fairy tale but it is still no mean feat. 

I think one of the most inspiring moments was when Lee Kuan Yew addressed and reassured the nation on 9th August 1965. As the leader of a young and uncertain Singapore, he knew he had a duty and he had to be strong: “I would like finally, if I may, just to speak not to you but really to the people of Singapore. I have been so busy in the last few days, I haven't had the time to compose my thoughts in writing to tell you what it is all about and why what has happened has happened." “There is nothing to be worried about it. Many things will go on just as usual. But be firm, be calm." The illustration is based on a photograph taken by Larry Burrows (1926 - 1971), a photojournalist from Life Magazine.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The lego cortege done by a child as a tribute to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

Paying Respect to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

Former US President Bill Clinton paying respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House now. (Photos: Xabryna Kek) founder Jack Ma is at Parliament House paying respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

Former leader from Taiwan Hau Pei-Tsun paid his respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is at Parliament House to pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. (Photos: Xabryna Kek)

Ex Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto now paying respects to #LeeKuanYew. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

amgyel Wangchuck and his wife Jetsun Pema have just visited Parliament House to pay their respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Photo: Xabryna Kek.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid his respects to Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House on Friday (Mar 27).

Former MP Chiam See Tong pays his respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House. (Photo: Xabryna Kek)

Siti Hediyati Haryadi (L) and Siti Hardiyanti Hastuti (R) - daughters of former Indonesian President Suharto - pay their respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signs a book of condolence for Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo. (Photo: AFP/Toru Hanai)

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing paying his respect to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. (Photo: MCI) — at Istana.

Journey to State Funeral Service

This infographic shows the route the State Funeral Procession will take to NUS

Old Parliament House: The late Mr Lee was Singapore’s longest-serving MP, having represented Tanjong Pagar for 60 years since Apr 2, 1955. He rose to speak in the chambers of the Old Parliament House on a wide range of issues, first as an Opposition Assemblyman and later as Prime Minister and Senior Minister.
City Hall and the Padang: On June 3, 1959, after sweeping the polls at the first General Elections in Singapore to be conducted with universal suffrage, the late Mr Lee and his colleagues held their victory rally at the Padang. He and his colleagues took their oath of office in the City Hall chamber two days later. It was on the steps of City Hall that Mr Lee read the Malaysian Proclamation on Sep 16, 1963; on Aug 9, 1965, it was also from his office in City Hall that he issued the Proclamation declaring Singapore’s independence. Singapore’s first National Day Parade was also held on Aug 9, 1966 at the Padang. 
NTUC Centre and Trade Union House: Mr Lee’s entry into politics began with the unions. In May 1952, he successfully represented the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union in its salary negotiations with the colonial government. The original Trade Union House, now the Singapore Conference Hall and the home of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, was opened by the late Mr Lee in October 1965, a fulfilment of a 1963 election pledge.
Singapore River: In a speech in February 1977, the late Mr Lee announced an ambitious goal: clean up the River and the Kallang Basin within ten years. With his pronouncement, a massive effort ensued. Riverside inhabitants were resettled and the waterways were
Marina Barrage: The Marina Barrage was a result of the late Mr Lee's vision in 1987 to create a freshwater reservoir by damming the mouth of the Marina Channel. This now forms Singapore’s 15th reservoir, and helps to alleviate flooding in the island’s low-lying areas. 
Gardens by the Bay: The 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay is an illustration of Mr Lee’s lifelong drive to transform Singapore into a distinctive tropical garden city – a “First World oasis,” as he put it.
Port of Singapore: Mr Lee believed that the Port of Singapore was crucial to Singapore’s wider economy. As a young lawyer in the 1950s, he became the legal advisor to the Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association, striving to improve the welfare, wages and working conditions of the port workers. In the 1955 elections, he chose to contest in Tanjong Pagar because many port workers stayed there. Later, when he became Prime Minister, he built Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats close to the harbour so that the workers could walk to work.
HDB estates - Tanjong Pagar, Bukit Merah, Commonwealth and Queenstown: When Singapore gained self-government in 1959, the Government faced an acute housing shortage. Mr Lee and his colleagues, notably the late Mr Lim Kim San, embarked on a massive programme to house a nation. The home ownership rate in Singapore today stands at over 90 per cent.
Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB): After the PAP took power in 1959, the late Mr Lee made it a priority to eradicate corruption from Singapore. Laws were tightened, with the CPIB given wider powers to investigate, arrest and search.
Singapore Polytechnic and National University of Singapore: Mr Lee and his colleagues built schools, overhauled the fragmented educational system inherited from the British, invested heavily in education and implemented robust policies that enabled Singaporeans to seize opportunities in the global economy. Among the late Mr Lee’s most enduring contributions to education are the twin tenets of meritocracy and bilingualism.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Written by: Mr. Heng Swee Keat

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had a red box. When I worked as Mr Lee’s Principal Private Secretary, or PPS, a good part of my daily life revolved around the red box. Before Mr Lee came in to work each day, the locked red box would arrive first, at about 9 am.
As far as the various officers who have worked with Mr Lee can remember, he had it for many, many years. It is a large, boxy briefcase, about fourteen centimetres wide. Red boxes came from the British government, whose Ministers used them for transporting documents between government offices. Our early Ministers had red boxes, but Mr Lee is the only one I know who used his consistently through the years. When I started working for Mr Lee in 1997, it was the first time I saw a red box in use. It is called the red box but is more a deep wine colour, like the seats in the chamber in Parliament House.
This red box held what Mr Lee was working on at any one time. Through the years, it held his papers, speech drafts, letters, readings, and a whole range of questions, reflections, and observations. For example, in the years that Mr Lee was working on his memoirs, the red box carried the multiple early drafts back and forth between his home and the office, scribbled over with his and Mrs Lee’s notes.
For a long time, other regular items in Mr Lee’s red box were the cassette tapes that held his dictated instructions and thoughts for later transcription. Some years back, he changed to using a digital recorder.
The red box carried a wide range of items. It could be communications with foreign leaders, observations about the financial crisis, instructions for the Istana grounds staff, or even questions about some trees he had seen on the expressway. Mr Lee was well-known for keeping extremely alert to everything he saw and heard around him – when he noticed something wrong, like an ailing raintree, a note in the red box would follow.
We could never anticipate what Mr Lee would raise – it could be anything that was happening in Singapore or the world. But we could be sure of this: it would always be about how events could affect Singapore and Singaporeans, and how we had to stay a step ahead. Inside the red box was always something about how we could create a better life for all.
We would get to work right away. Mr Lee’s secretaries would transcribe his dictated notes, while I followed up on instructions that required coordination across multiple government agencies. Our aim was to do as much as we could by the time Mr Lee came into the office later.
While we did this, Mr Lee would be working from home. For example, during the time that I worked with him (1997-2000), the Asian Financial Crisis ravaged many economies in our region and unleashed political changes. It was a tense period as no one could tell how events would unfold. Often, I would get a call from him to check certain facts or arrange meetings with financial experts.
In the years that I worked for him, Mr Lee’s daily breakfast was a bowl of dou hua (soft bean curd), with no syrup. It was picked up and brought home in a tiffin carrier every morning, from a food centre near Mr Lee’s home. He washed it down with room-temperature water. Mr Lee did not take coffee or tea at breakfast.
When Mr Lee came into the office, the work that had come earlier in the red box would be ready for his review, and he would have a further set of instructions for our action.
From that point on, the work day would run its normal course. Mr Lee read the documents and papers, cleared his emails, and received official calls by visitors. I was privileged to sit in for every meeting he conducted. He would later ask me what I thought of the meetings – it made me very attentive to every word that was said, and I learnt much from Mr Lee.
Evening was Mr Lee’s exercise time. Mr Lee has described his extensive and disciplined exercise regime elsewhere. It included the treadmill, rowing, swimming and walking – with his ears peeled to the evening news or his Mandarin practice tapes. He would sometimes take phone calls while exercising.
He was in his 70s then. In more recent years, being less stable on his feet, Mr Lee had a simpler exercise regime. But he continued to exercise. Since retiring from the Minister Mentor position in 2011, Mr Lee was more relaxed during his exercises. Instead of listening intently to the news or taking phone calls, he shared his personal stories and joked with his staff.
While Mr Lee exercised, those of us in the office would use that time to focus once again on the red box, to get ready all the day’s work for Mr Lee to take home with him in the evening. Based on the day’s events and instructions, I tried to get ready the materials that Mr Lee might need. It sometimes took longer than I expected, and occasionally, I had to ask the security officer to come back for the red box later.
While Mrs Lee was still alive, she used to drop by the Istana at the end of the day, in order to catch a few minutes together with Mr Lee, just to sit and look at the Istana trees that they both loved. They chatted about what many other old couples would talk about. They discussed what they should have for dinner, or how their grandchildren were doing.
Then back home went Mr Lee, Mrs Lee and the red box. After dinner, Mr and Mrs Lee liked to take a long stroll. In his days as Prime Minister, while Mrs Lee strolled, Mr Lee liked to ride a bicycle. It was, in the words of those who saw it, “one of those old man bicycles”. None of us who have worked at the Istana can remember him ever changing his bicycle. He did not use it in his later years, as he became frail, but I believe the “old man bicycle” is still around somewhere.
After his dinner and evening stroll, Mr Lee would get back to his work. That was when he opened the red box and worked his way through what we had put into it in the office.
Mr Lee’s study is converted out of his son’s old bedroom. His work table is a simple, old wooden table with a piece of clear glass placed over it. Slipped under the glass are family memorabilia, including a picture of our current PM from his National Service days. When Mrs Lee was around, she stayed up reading while Mr Lee worked. They liked to put on classical music while they stayed up.
In his days as PM, Mr Lee’s average bedtime was three-thirty in the morning. As Senior Minister and Minister Mentor, he went to sleep after two in the morning. If he had to travel for an official visit the next day, he might go to bed at one or two in the morning.
Deep into the night, while the rest of Singapore slept, it was common for Mr Lee to be in full work mode.
Before he went to bed, Mr Lee would put everything he had completed back in the red box, with clear pointers on what he wished for us to do in the office. The last thing he did each day was to place the red box outside his study room. The next morning, the duty security team picked up the red box, brought it to us waiting in the office, and a new day would begin.
Let me share two other stories involving the red box.
In 1996, Mr Lee underwent balloon angioplasty to insert a stent. It was his second heart operation in two months, after an earlier operation to widen a coronary artery did not work. After the operation, he was put in the Intensive Care Unit for observation. When he regained consciousness and could sit up in bed, he asked for his security team. The security officer hurried into the room to find out what was needed. Mr Lee asked, “Can you pass me the red box?”
Even at that point, Mr Lee’s first thought was to continue working. The security officer rushed the red box in, and Mr Lee asked to be left to his work. The nurses told the security team that other patients of his age, in Mr Lee’s condition, would just rest. Mr Lee was 72 at the time.
In 2010, Mr Lee was hospitalised again, this time for a chest infection. While he was in the hospital, Mrs Lee passed away. Mr Lee has spoken about his grief at Mrs Lee’s passing. As soon as he could, he left the hospital to attend the wake at Sri Temasek.
At the end of the night, he was under doctor’s orders to return to the hospital. But he asked his security team if they could take him to the Singapore River instead. It was late in the night, and Mr Lee was in mourning. His security team hastened to give a bereaved husband a quiet moment to himself.
As Mr Lee walked slowly along the bank of the Singapore River, the way he and Mrs Lee sometimes did when she was still alive, he paused. He beckoned a security officer over. Then he pointed out some trash floating on the river, and asked, “Can you take a photo of that? I’ll tell my PPS what to do about it tomorrow.” Photo taken, he returned to the hospital.
I was no longer Mr Lee’s PPS at the time. I had moved on to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to continue with the work to strengthen our financial regulatory system that Mr Lee had started in the late 1990s. But I can guess that Mr Lee probably had some feedback on keeping the Singapore River clean. I can also guess that the picture and the instructions were ferried in Mr Lee’s red box the next morning to the office. Even as Mr Lee lay in the hospital. Even as Mrs Lee lay in state.
The security officers with Mr Lee were deeply touched. When I heard about these moments, I was also moved.
I have taken some time to describe Mr Lee’s red box. The reason is that, for me, it symbolises Mr Lee’s unwavering dedication to Singapore so well. The diverse contents it held tell us much about the breadth of Mr Lee’s concerns – from the very big to the very small; the daily routine of the red box tells us how Mr Lee’s life revolved around making Singapore better, in ways big and small.
By the time I served Mr Lee, he was the Senior Minister. Yet he continued to devote all his time to thinking about the future of Singapore. I could only imagine what he was like as Prime Minister. In policy and strategy terms, he was always driving himself, me, and all our colleagues to think about what each trend and development meant for Singapore, and how we should respond to it in order to secure Singapore’s wellbeing and success.
As his PPS, I saw the punishing pace of work that Mr Lee set himself. I had a boss whose every thought and every action was for Singapore.
But it takes private moments like these to bring home just how entirely Mr Lee devoted his life to Singapore.
In fact, I think the best description comes from the security officer who was with Mr Lee both of those times. He was on Mr Lee’s team for almost 30 years. He said of Mr Lee: “Mr Lee is always country, country, country. And country.”
This year, Singapore turns 50. Mr Lee would have turned 92 this September. Mr Lee entered the hospital on 5 February 2015. He continued to use his red box every day until 4 February 2015.
(Photo: MCI)

Sand Castle Tribute

Someone made the sandcastle this morning! Do pop by to check it out if you'll be in east coast park!

*Updates: This sand sculpture was done by Mr Alvin Lee of Castles Can Fly and his volunteers. Castle Beach is located at East Coast Park E2.

Photo credit: edwongtx Instagram

Fullerton Hotel has a glowing tribute for Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Fullerton Hotel has a glowing tribute for Mr Lee Kuan Yew on its exterior. The display will be on till Sunday. (Photo: Eileen Poh)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

On the way to Parliament House from the Istana

These two pictures by Mr. Brown is really nice, and I like them very much and wanted to repost this on my blog...

Please visit his website for more pictures:

The gun carriage going past the Istana

The gun carriage going past the Istana. President Tony Tan and ESM Goh Chok Tong with staff from the President’s Office and Prime Minister’s Office paying respects, while a bagpiper from the Singapore Gurkha Contingent played Auld Lang Syne.

(MCI Photo by Chwee)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Vigil guard, highest form of respect, accorded to Lee Kuan Yew during lying in state

The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng; Chief of Army, Major-General Perry Lim; Chief of Navy, Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han; Chief of Air Force, Major-General Hoo Cher Mou; and Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Brigadier-General Chia Choon Hoong were the first Vigil Guard duties in the morning of 25 Mar from 9.45 a.m. to 10.15 a.m.

The vigil guards comprises four uniformed officers each standing at a corner of the casket with his head bowed, back turned away and ceremonial sword inverted - led by a senior officer who stands at the head of the casket facing inwards.

Touching moment at Parliament House: A vigil guard who was standing at a corner of the casket of Mr Lee Kuan Yew during the ceremony, is being helped by vigil orderly to wipe tears off his face. #rememberingleekuanyew Photo: The Straits Times (Chew Seng Kim)

Passing of Lee Kuan Yew: Funeral procession from Sri Temasek to Parliament House

 Mr Lee Kuan Yew's body was brought from Sri Temasek to Parliament House on a gun carriage this morning (25 March 2015). His body will lie in state at Parliament House from today to Saturday, 28 March.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow: What They Said About Lee Kuan Yew Through The Years

Legend. Genius. Visionary. Throughout his backbreaking years as he struggled to establish our tiny nation on the world map, Singapore’s founding father earned all these tributes, and more. To get a sense of the brilliant mind that was Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we need only to recall the reverence that his deeds have inspired from leaders and luminaries all over the world.

On his bold vision:

“A big man on a small stage.”
— Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State
“Abraham Lincoln once said … ‘towering genius disdains a beaten path.’ For the people of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was such a towering leader who held a bold vision for his nation.” (October 18, 2011)
— Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil
“The leader who, perhaps, impressed me most was Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore… He was an individual who changed the course of history… Lee Kuan Yew took the right decisions for his country; he chose the right values and the right economic policies to ensure the development of a successful society. In this, he was an artist painting on the largest canvas that society can provide.”
— F.W. de Klerk, former President of South Africa

On his straight-talking style:

“[Australians] do have a certain fondness for your remarkable founder (Mr Lee Kuan Yew), not in spite of all his stern words about us, but perhaps because of them. Over the decades, we came rather to look forward to Lee’s regular visits, and we’ll always welcome him again. For us, they have resembled the arrival of a respected if rather forbidding uncle, come to awaken us from our indolence and insist that we be our best selves.”
— Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia
“All those who met the great man from the little country were lectured on how Malaysia should be run.”
— Mahathir Mohamed, Prime Minister of Malaysia

On the miracles he made: 

“This is one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is somebody who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle.” (October 29, 2009)
— Barack Obama, President of the United States
“Lee Kuan Yew took a small spit of land in Southeast Asia, which became independent in 1965 after great struggle and anguish, with no resources and a polyglot population of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian workers, and turned it into one of the economic centers of the world… He is still indisputably the father of Singapore. I was struck by the depth of his understanding of the world — China, Russia, and the United States — all at age 85.” (September 21, 2008)
— Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of Time Magazine

On his brilliance:

“The smartest leader I think I ever met.”
— Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
“Mr Lee is like a one-man intelligence agency.” (September 2013)
— Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Minister for Education
“In my long life in public service, I have encountered many bright, able people. None is more impressive than Lee Kuan Yew.”
— George H.W. Bush, former President of the United States
“In office, I read and analysed every speech of Harry’s. He had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong.” (1998)
— Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister

On the admiration and respect he commanded: 

“He always commands an attentive audience amongst Western leaders.”
— James Callaghan, former British Prime Minister (1998)
“It is terrific to be at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. It is especially special for me because a gentleman I admire so much, and have learned so much from, is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. He has given me lots of tutelage on Asia and China and India, and has tremendous insights.” (February 1, 2011)
— Sam Palmisano, chairman of IBM
“As soon as I learned a number of years ago about the Lee Kuan Yew School, I wanted to figure out some way to at least come by. I cannot think of a better testament for a leader who has made a huge mark in the world.” (December 18, 2008)
— Robert Zoellick, ex-president of the World Bank
“He and Dr Kissinger are probably the only two world statesmen who, after leaving office, find an open door to every head of state and government anywhere in the world.”
— Lord Carrington, former British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 
“I used to be the advisor to the Minister Mentor. It was a very hard job, because… every time I was just about to tell something to Mr. Minister Mentor, he would stop me and tell me the thing I was to tell him. Then I would return to the United States and sell his advice. Thank you very much, Mr. Minister Mentor, for all the things you have taught me. I tried giving you my advice. But, in fact, it was you who taught me.” (July 10, 2007)
— James Wolfensohn, ex-president of the World Bank

On what Singapore owes him:

“He built a nation nobody believed possible.”
— Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore
“Lee Kuan Yew has made Singapore his life’s work. His success launched a country, inspired a continent, and earned admiration from around the world.”
— Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Faculty of Law
“MM Lee’s life of public service is both unique and remarkable… His work as prime minister and now as minister mentor has helped literally millions of people in Singapore and all across Southeast Asia to live better, more prosperous lives.” (October 27, 2009)
— Bill Clinton, former President of the United States
“Other leaders have reshaped nations… but no one left a deeper imprint on his people than Lee.”
— Nicholas Kristoff, columnist for the New York Times

Image Credit: ST Asia
Image Credit: ST Asia

Much has been said about Mr Lee Kuan Yew throughout his long and storied life. It is a tribute to his legendary vision and iron will that admirers and opposers alike acknowledge his extraordinary contributions to the Singapore success story. As our little red dot approaches its 50th birthday, let us salute the man who gave his best years to steer us to where we are today.
“Over the years Lee has been called many things — unflattering as well as admiring. But perhaps the single most fitting description is: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.”
— Zoher Abdoolcarim, Asia Editor of Time Magazine
For all you have done for Singapore — thank you, Mr Lee.

A man not moved by a $3,3M bribe... That's really a lot in the 60s.

The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew

 March 23 at 3:43 PM

Henry A. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.
Lee Kuan Yew was a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life. A world needing to distill order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership.
Lee emerged onto the international stage as the founding father of the state of Singapore, then a city of about 1 million. He developed into a world statesman who acted as a kind of conscience to leaders around the globe.
Fate initially seemed not to have provided him a canvas on which to achieve more than modest local success. In the first phase of decolonization, Singapore emerged as a part of Malaya. It was cut loose because of tensions between Singapore’s largely Chinese population and the Malay majority and, above all, to teach the fractious city a lesson of dependency. Malaya undoubtedly expected that reality would cure Singapore of its independent spirit.
But great men become such through visions beyond material calculations. Lee defied conventional wisdom by opting for statehood. The choice reflected a deep faith in the virtues of his people. He asserted that a city located on a sandbar with nary an economic resource to draw upon, and whose major industry as a colonial naval base had disappeared, could nevertheless thrive and achieve international stature by building on its principal asset: the intelligence, industry and dedication of its people.
Life and legacy of Lee Kuan Yew(2:04)
Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore and co-founder of the People’s Action Party, has died at age 91. Lee led Singapore’s rise from British tropical outpost to global trade and financial center. (Reuters)
A great leader takes his or her society from where it is to where it has never been — indeed, where it as yet cannot imagine being. By insisting on quality education, by suppressing corruption and by basing governance on merit, Lee and his colleagues raised the annual per capita income of their population from $500 at the time of independence in 1965 to roughly$55,000 today. In a generation, Singapore became an international financial center, the leading intellectual metropolis of Southeast Asia, the location of the region’s major hospitals and a favored site for conferences on international affairs. It did so by adhering to an extraordinary pragmatism: by opening careers to the best talents and encouraging them to adopt the best practices from all over the world.
Superior performance was one component of that achievement. Superior leadership was even more important. As the decades went by, it was moving — and inspirational — to see Lee, in material terms the mayor of a medium-size city, bestride the international scene as a mentor of global strategic order. A visit by Lee to Washington was a kind of national event. A presidential conversation was nearly automatic; eminent members of the Cabinet and Congress would seek meetings. They did so not to hear of Singapore’s national problems; Lee rarely, if ever, lobbied policymakers for assistance. His theme was the indispensable U.S. contribution to the defense and growth of a peaceful world. His interlocutors attended not to be petitioned but to learn from one of the truly profound global thinkers of our time.
This process started for me when Lee visited Harvard in 1967 shortly after becoming prime minister of an independent Singapore. Lee began a meeting with the senior faculty of the School of Public Administration (now the Kennedy School) by inviting comments on the Vietnam War. The faculty, of which I was one dissenting member, was divided primarily on the question of whether President Lyndon Johnson was a war criminal or a psychopath. Lee responded, “You make me sick” — not because he embraced war in a personal sense but because the independence and prosperity of his country depended on the fortitude, unity and resolve of the United States. Singapore was not asking the United States to do something that Singapore would not undertake to the maximum of its ability. But U.S. leadership was needed to supplement and create a framework for order in the world.
Lee elaborated on these themes in the hundreds of encounters I had with him during international conferences, study groups, board meetings, face-to-face discussions and visits at each other’s homes over 45 years. He did not exhort; he was never emotional; he was not a Cold Warrior; he was a pilgrim in quest of world order and responsible leadership. He understood the relevance of China and its looming potential and often contributed to the enlightenment of the world on this subject. But in the end, he insisted that without the United States there could be no stability.
Lee’s domestic methods fell short of the prescriptions of current U.S. constitutional theory. But so, in fairness, did the democracy of Thomas Jefferson’s time, with its limited franchise, property qualifications for voting and slavery. This is not the occasion to debate what other options were available. Had Singapore chosen the road of its critics, it might well have collapsed among its ethnic groups, as the example of Syria teaches today. Whether the structures essential for the early decades of Singapore’s independent existence were unnecessarily prolonged can be the subject of another discussion.
I began this eulogy by mentioning my friendship with Lee. He was not a man of many sentimental words. And he nearly always spoke of substantive matters. But one could sense his attachment. A conversation with Lee, whose life was devoted to service and who spent so much of his time on joint explorations, was a vote of confidence that sustained one’s sense of purpose.
The great tragedy of Lee’s life was that his beloved wife was felled by a stroke that left her a prisoner in her body, unable to communicate or receive communication. Through all that time, Lee sat by her bedside in the evening reading to her. He had faith that she understood despite the evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps this was Lee Kuan Yew’s role in his era. He had the same hope for our world. He fought for its better instincts even when the evidence was ambiguous. But many of us heard him and will never forget him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Singapore in the Lee Kuan Yew Years - A summary from the Economist

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Condolence Boards Outside the Istana and Parliament House

Condolence boards are available in front of the Istana by the Main Gate from 23 March (Monday) to 29 March (Sunday), for those who wish to pen their tributes to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Similar condolence boards will also be set up in front of Parliament House from 12pm today till Sunday. Those who wish may lay flowers at these two locations too.
Condolence books will also be opened at all Overseas Missions for overseas Singaporeans and friends.
The public can express their condolences and share their memories of the late Mr Lee at the official website,
The public can call the 24-hour hotline at 6336 1166 with queries, or visit and for more details.

Beautiful Art Work on Remembering Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

Here are some of the beautiful art work on remembering Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, that I found on Facebook. Credits to be given to those that has the artistic sense and had kindly shared this with us. Thank you!

Hope you don't mind that I post them here. Please let me know if you do, and I will take them down immediately.

Statement By Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Good morning my fellow Singaporeans
I am deeply saddened to tell you that Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away peacefully this morning at the Singapore General Hospital.  
Let me say a few words in Malay and Mandarin.
Dengan berat hati dan penuh hiba, saya ingin memberitahu anda bahawa Encik Lee Kuan Yew telah meninggal dunia pagi ini. Encik Lee adalah Perdana Menteri pertama Singapura. Beliau telah mengabdikan dirinya dan seluruh jiwaraganya untuk Singapura. Beliau membangunkan Negara ini dari mula dan berjuang untuk kemerdekaan kita. Kepintarannya mencari jalan keluar dan keberaniannya yang tidak menyerah kalah, menjadi tunggak kejayaan Singapura.
Kita kehilangan seorang tokoh yang telah memimpin kita, menjadi sumber inspirasi kita dan menyatupadukan kita. Walaupun kita berdukacita dengan pemergian Encik Lee, ayuh kita menjunjung dan meraikan semangat, serta sumbangan beliau. Marilah kita teruskan usaha membangunkan Singapura dan memperkukuh masyarakat berbilang bangsa dan agama kita  yang beliau perjuangkan sepanjang hayatnya.
Semoga mendiang Encik Lee tenang bersemadi.
The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another man like him.
To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. As Prime Minister, he pushed us hard to achieve what had seemed impossible. After he stepped down, he guided his successors with wisdom and tact. In old age, he continued to keep a watchful eye on Singapore. 
Singapore was his abiding passion. He gave of himself, in full measure, to Singapore. As he himself put it towards the end of his life and I quote: “I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country.  There’s nothing more that I need to do.  At the end of the day, what have I got?  A successful Singapore.  What have I given up?  My life.”
I am grieved beyond words at the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I know that we all feel the same way.  But even as we mourn his passing, let us also honour his spirit. Let us dedicate ourselves as one people to build on his foundations, strive for his ideals, and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come.
May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace.
Terima kasih.  谢谢。Thank you. 

Translation of Malay Statement
I am deeply saddened to inform you that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has passed away. Mr Lee was Singapore’s founding Prime Minister. He had dedicated his whole life for Singapore. He built a nation where there was none, and fought tenaciously for Singapore’s independence. His indomitable courage and resourcefulness carried the day on many critical occasions, and laid the foundations of Singapore’s success. 
We have lost the man who had led us, inspired us, and united us. As we mourn Mr Lee’s passing, let us also honour his spirit and his life’s work. Let us continue building Singapore, strengthening our multi-racial and multi-religious society, and standing together as one united people, something which he had fought for, all his life.
May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace.
Translation of Chinese Statement
Today, we lost our beloved leader, founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  Mr Lee is irreplaceable in our hearts.  He has a special bond with Singaporeans and was well loved by them. When he was hospitalised, people from all walks of life showed their care and encouragement in different ways.  This was of great comfort to Mr Lee and my family.  On behalf of my family, I would like to convey our sincere appreciation for your good wishes.
Singapore’s survival was Mr Lee’s greatest concern throughout his life.  He dedicated himself to Singapore, uniting us as one people and motivating us to be self-reliant.  He took us from Third World to the First, building a home that we can be proud of.  His passing is a great loss to Singapore and my family.
In this moment of grief, let us always remember Mr Lee’s contributions.  The best way to honour him would be to carry on his life’s passion, and stay as one united people to keep Singapore, prosperous and strong.
May you rest in peace, Mr Lee!

Period of National Mourning Declared

Here's a screenshot of the official statement from the Prime Minister's Office of Singapore, on the period of National Mourning Declared.

Passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore

Here's a screenshot of the official statement from the Prime Minister's Office of Singapore, on the passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.

Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91

SINGAPORE: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore’s first Prime Minister when the country gained Independence in 1965, has died on Monday (Mar 23) at the age of 91.
"The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore. Mr Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3.18am. He was 91," said the PMO.
Arrangements for the public to pay respects and for the funeral proceedings will be announced later, it added.
Mr Lee, who was born in 1923, formed the People’s Action Party in 1954, then became Prime Minister in 1959. He led the nation through a merger with the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, as well as into Independence in 1965.
He leaves behind two sons – Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Hsien Yang – and a daughter, Lee Wei Ling.
From early in his life, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had braced himself to face history’s tumultuous tides head-on.
His efforts to build a nation were shaped by his early life experiences.
For the young Lee Kuan Yew, the Japanese Occupation was the single most important event that shaped his political ideology. The depravation, cruelty and humiliation that the war wreaked on people made it clear to Mr Lee that, to control one’s destiny, one had to first gain power.
Born to English-educated parents Lee Chin Koon and Chua Jim Neo, Mr Lee was named “Kuan Yew” which means “light and brightness”, but also “bringing great glory to one’s ancestors”. He was given the English moniker “Harry” by his paternal grandfather.
He continued the family tradition of being educated in English, and read law at Cambridge University after excelling as a student at Raffles College. His experience of being as a colonial subject when he was in England in the late 1940s fuelled his interest in politics, while also sharpening his anti-colonial sentiments.
He said later: “I saw the British people as they were. They treated you as colonials and I resented that. I saw no reason why they should be governing me – they’re not superior. I decided, when I got back, I was going to put an end to this.”
Mr Lee’s political life began right after he returned to Singapore in 1950, when he began acting as a legal adviser and negotiator representing postal workers who were fighting for better pay and working conditions.
He was soon appointed by many more trade unions, including some which were controlled by pro-communists.
In a marriage of convenience to overthrow the British, Mr Lee formed the People’s Action Party in 1954 with these pro-communists and other anti-colonialists.
A key part of winning power at the time was securing the support of the masses, and this meant reaching out to the Chinese-educated, which made up the majority of the population in Singapore. He had taken eight months of Mandarin classes in 1950, and he renewed his Mandarin education five years later, at the age of 32. And within a short time, he had mastered the language sufficiently to address public audiences.
In the mid-1950s, riots broke out that fuelled tensions between the local Government and the communist sympathisers in the Chinese community. A few pro-communist members of the PAP were arrested.
Leading the PAP, Mr Lee fought for their release and ran a campaign against corruption in the 1959 elections for a Legislative Assembly. The PAP won by a landslide, and Mr Lee achieved what he had set out to do – Singapore was self-governing, and he was Prime Minister.
But there were others who would contest the power he acquired, and they had different political agendas. It became apparent that leading Singapore meant having to break ranks with some of his anti-colonial allies – the pro-communists.
Mr Lee said of the pro-communists: “They were not crooks or opportunists but formidable opponents, men of great resolve, prepared to pay the price for the communist cause.”
Mr Lee and his team were well aware of the hard fight they faced against the pro-communists, having seen up close how they could mobilise the masses through riots and strikes to paralyse a Government. And success in this fight depended a lot on Mr Lee’s leadership.
The battle-lines were drawn sharply over the proposal for merger with Malaysia – the non-communists were for it, and the pro-communists were against it.
There were compelling economic reasons for merger, but Mr Lee was also clear about its political necessity. To him, merger was absolutely necessary to prevent Singapore and Malaya being “slowly engulfed and eroded away by the communists”.
He believed that building a common identity between individuals on either side of the Causeway would propel them across racial and religious divides towards a common land. Part of this was making sure that people felt that they are wanted, and not “step-children or step-brothers, but one in the family and a very important member of the family”.
He campaigned relentlessly and tirelessly for merger, speaking over the radio, and in nearly every corner of Singapore. After an intense public contest that pitted him against his political opponents, Mr Lee won and most Singaporeans voted in favour of the union with Malaysia.
On Sep 16, 1963, which coincided with his 40th birthday, Mr Lee declared Singapore’s entry into the Federation of Malaysia.
But this did not mean an easy working relationship between the two sides, and serious differences emerged. Mr Lee wanted a “Malaysian Malaysia”, where Malays and non-Malays were equal, and he would not condone a policy that supported Malay supremacy.
Differences between the two sides grew – from conflicts between personalities and disagreements about a common market, to the PAP’s participation in Malaysia’s general election. Malaysian politicians considered it a breach of understanding for the PAP to take part in mainland politics.
Things came to a head over constitutional rights. Mr Lee addressed the Malaysian Parliament in May 1965, in both English and Malay, laying out his case against communal politics.
But a year after racial riots were sparked off by what Mr Lee called Malay “ultras”, creating a deep divide, Singapore separated from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965. It was a time of great disappointment for Mr Lee, a moment which he said was one of “anguish” for him.
And so it was that Singapore became an independent state that day in 1965, but not by choice. The island’s 2 million people faced an uncertain future, and that uncertainty weighed heavily on the man who was leading it.
Left with no hinterland and hardly any domestic market to speak of, Singapore’s only option was for its leaders to fight hard for its survival.
And despite the daunting task that loomed ahead, Mr Lee chose to set his sights on building a country of the future, and he never veered from that vision. In his own words in September 1965: “Here we make the model multiracial society. This is not a country that belongs to any single community -  it belongs to all of us. This was a mudflat, a swamp. Today, it is a modern city. And 10 years from now, it will be a metropolis – never fear!”
But this difficult task was soon made more challenging by another crisis. In 1968, Britain unexpectedly announced its intention to withdraw its troops from Singapore. Mr Lee and his team now had to confront the prospect of a country without its own security forces. Worse, thousands of workers retrenched from the British bases joined the already large numbers of unemployed in the country.
Mr Lee’s good ties with British leaders led them to extend the departure of their forces to the end of 1971. These military bases contributed 20 per cent to the economy and provided jobs for 70,000 people, and the extension of the pull-out date softened the blow to Singapore’s economy.
In the face of these looming challenges, Mr Lee and his team soldiered on to hold the fledgling country together, and to make it work. The vacated British naval bases were used to boost the economy, and efforts were made to attract investors to set up industries on the former British army land.
To survive what was then a hostile neighbourhood, Mr Lee adopted a two-pronged approach to grow the economy.
First, to leapfrog the region and link up with the developed world, for both capital and market initiatives; and second, to transform Singapore into a “first world oasis in a third world region”. With first-world standards of service and infrastructure, Mr Lee saw the potential for Singapore to become the hub for businesses seeking a foothold in the region.
Mr Lee most likely saw the possibilities for Singapore, including eventually enjoying the world’s highest per-capita income, and becoming a leading business centre for Asia. He would have attributed such success to the confidence of foreign investors drawn to the nation’s amicable industrial relations.
Former President S R Nathan remembers Mr Lee’s focused approach: “He emphasised that his duty was to find ways and means of getting more jobs for people, and it was also the duty of the labour movement to help their fellow workers find jobs. And so for that, we needed industrial peace and a certain balance, not exploitation.”
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was formed in 1961 when the PAP split. Led by Mr Devan Nair, a founding member of the PAP, the NTUC led Singapore’s labour movement away from militant trade unionism to one marked by cooperation.
This made Singapore the first in the world to have a tripartite arrangement where workers, employers and the Government came together to discuss general wage levels. This cooperation contributed significantly to harmonious labour relations and, ultimately, to Singapore’s rapid development in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Lee firmly believed that growth and development of the country was in the best interests of the workers and their unions. Speaking in 2011, he said: “In other words, growth is meaningless unless it is shared by the workers, shared not directly in wage increases, but indirectly in better homes, better schools, better hospitals, better playing fields, a healthier environment for their families, and for their children to grow up.”
Singapore’s metamorphosis from mudflat to metropolis was not just a physical transformation. Equally remarkable was the transformation of the psyche of an entire population. Within the span of a few decades, Singaporeans came to be seen as a people who could get things done.
Mr Lee played a big part in that change. From the start, he set the pace for excellence. He once told senior civil servants: “I want to make sure every button works, and if it doesn’t when I happen to be around, then somebody is going to be in for a rough time, because I do not want sloppiness.”
Sprucing up a young nation however was not so straightforward. Besides the challenge of ensuring sufficient security for the country’s borders, Mr Lee and his team had a more fundamental problem to tackle – that of a housing crisis.
Today, the 50-storey Pinnacle on Cantonment Road stands as an icon in Singapore’s 50-year-old public housing landscape. It is built on the site of one of the earliest public housing projects in the country. But housing in the 1950s was a far cry from what it is today. Slums were common when Singapore achieved self-government in 1959, and there was a full-blown housing crisis.
To meet the nation’s acute housing shortage, the PAP set up the Housing and Development Board in 1960. The aim set for it was to build 10,000 homes a year.
Its predecessor – the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – was highly sceptical that the new board would meet its ambitious target. The SIT itself had built only 20,000 flats in its entire 30-year history.
The stakes were high and the difficulties daunting. The PAP, which had just come into power, needed to deliver results fast and gain the trust and confidence of Singaporeans.
There was doubt even with the Government of whether the HDB could get the job done, and a committee was set up to find out if the board had the capability and the materials to complete 10,000 houses as planned. When the committee published its report, the HDB had already completed 10,000 units of housing.
The HDB’s performance was crucial to the PAP’s re-election in 1963.
But it was more than a question of providing affordable homes for the people. The social motive to do this was equally compelling, and public housing helped tighten the weave of Singapore’s social fabric.
Mr Lee felt that it was important to have a rooted population. He said in 2010: “If you ask people to defend all the big houses where the bosses live, and they live in harbours, I don’t think that’s tenable. So we decided from the very beginning that everybody must have a home, every family will have something to defend, and that home must be owner-owned, but they have to pay by instalments over 20, 25, even 30 years. And that home we developed over the years into their most valuable asset.”
Today, more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans now live in subsidised public flats that they can call their own.
Singaporeans now had a personal stake in their country that went beyond feelings of patriotism. They had a physical space they could call home, and a vested interest to defend it.
National Service, aimed at defending the country and ensuring its borders were safe from external aggression, took on a different dimension.
After independence, Singapore was left with just two battalions of the Singapore Infantry Regiment. There was an urgent need to build a substantial defence force. And so National Service was introduced in 1967, with universal conscription making it compulsory for every male Singapore citizen to serve in the armed forces for about two years. It also contributed to promoting racial harmony.
In multi-racial Singapore, English is the common language used by all races. Mr Lee saw early on that English would be a unifier that would give Singapore an edge in the international arena.
But he also believed that knowing one’s mother tongue would build a sense of belonging to one’s roots, and increase self-confidence and self-respect. And so he championed bilingualism.
In retrospect, Mr Lee said that bilingualism was his most difficult policy to implement. He later admitted he had been wrong to assume that one could be equally fluent in two languages. He said in 2004: “Had I known all the difficulties of bilingualism in 1965, as I know now today, would I have done differently? Yes, in its implementation, but not in its policy. I don’t regret the stress and heavy burdens I put, because the other way would have been a destruction of the chance of building up some form of culture worth preserving.”
Former senior minister of state Ch’ng Jit Koon lauded Mr Lee’s foresight in creating a bilingual society. “If he did not succeed in bringing through our education system based on bilingual education, we will not have the advantage among other countries to tap on China’s economic trade,” he said in 2008.
Indeed, Mr Lee and his team were very sensitive to issues involving race, knowing how combustible such matters could be. The formative years of the PAP, the battles against communism and extremism and the racial riots he lived through meant that Mr Lee never underestimated the potentially explosive nature of race relations.
When it was time to remove the small, dilapidated mosques built on state land, he did so with caution. His plan was to replace these “suraus” with bigger and better mosques in every housing estate through voluntary contributions from the Malay-Muslim community, creating a sense of ownership and pride.
Mr Lee also took special interest in ensuring that Singapore’s different communities would all have a share in its prosperity. He believed better education was one of the keys to uplifting the Malay community.
Cabinet minister K Shanmugam said it would have been easy for politicians in Singapore to appeal to the sentiments of the majority Chinese community to gain political power. But he felt that part of the success of Singapore is due to leaders like Mr Lee, who shunned racial politics.
In an earlier interview in 2003, Mr Shanmugam said: “I think most sensible people in the Indian community, particularly those who went through the earlier struggles, who are older than me, accepted this - that we have the space and we have far more liberty and opportunity in Singapore than we would have if we were 6 per cent in any other society, including India, where many of the so-called upper caste Indians in Singapore would not have had a chance.”
Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that the elder Mr Lee remembered the situation that had existed in Malaysia before Singapore became an independent state. “After we became independent, a point that he always reiterated was – never do to the minorities in Singapore that which happened to us when we were a minority in Malaysia. Always make sure that the Malays, the Indians have their space, can live their way of life, and have full equal opportunities and are not discriminated against. And at the same time, help them to upgrade, improve, move forward,” he said in 2013.
Singapore is widely known for being a clean city, both in terms of its environment as well as governance. It is the least corrupt country in Asia, and according to the World Bank, it is one of the most preferred places in the world to do business.
But it was not always graft-free. Corruption was widely prevalent when Singapore was still a British colony. In the 1959 election, the PAP, then the opposition, campaigned against the Government’s corrupt practices. Mr Lee said at the time: “I am convinced that we will thrive and flourish, provided there is an honest and effective Government here.”
The PAP’s anti-corruption position resonated well with the voters. When the PAP Government took office, Mr Lee and his team turned up in all-white as a promise to the people that their leaders will not stand for corruption and will be “whiter than white”.
Over the years, the leadership’s zero tolerance for corruption earned Singapore a reputation for having a clean and effective Government. Establishing rule of law, public security and safety were fundamental to the success of the PAP.
Mr Lee applied the effort to stay clean to the island’s physical transformation as well. From the outset, he was adamant that urban development in the country did not proceed haphazardly. He had seen how a lack of planning had marred other cities, and was determined that Singapore did not make the same mistake.
Observers say this focus on paving the foundation for Singapore to have a first world environment while becoming a first world economy led to the good environment actually becoming an economic asset. And some felt that the efforts to green Singapore gave a certain softness and calmness to the country, and was not just an aesthetic benefit but spoke to the soul of Singaporeans.
Mr Lee expressed his passion for greening Singapore in practical ways. He planted a tree every year, a tradition he started in 1963. This kicked off an island-wide tree-planting initiative and launched Tree Planting Day, a national campaign that helped Singapore earn its reputation as a Garden City.
Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs: “After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish Singapore from other Third World countries and settled for a clean and green Singapore. Greening is the most cost-effective project I have launched.”
Mr Lee’s original vision of a Garden City evolved over the years into the concept of a City in a Garden, with about 2 million trees planted around the island.
In June 2012, this transformation was celebrated with the opening of the Gardens by the Bay.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this was just one example of how Singapore’s living environment is being transformed. “It may be a densely populated city, maybe one of the densest in the world, but we are determined that our people should be able to live comfortably, pleasantly, graciously. Not just good homes, efficient public transport or safe streets, but also be in touch with nature, never far from green spaces and blue waters,” he said in 2012.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was not known to be sentimental about buildings or landmarks, and he was practical yet ambitious about transforming the nation’s landscape, even when it came to defying nature.
And one of his most important initiatives started in 1977, and involved the Singapore River – historically the lifeblood of the economy and the centre of commercial activity.
The river had been the conduit for Singapore’s entrepot trade, allowing for the movement of goods from the port to the city. Over the years, it had degenerated into a filthy, congested, polluted waterway. The industries along its banks had been dumping sewage and garbage into its waters. The water was badly polluted and caused a stench in the area.
Mr Lee’s proposal was perceived as a monumental feat: A clean-up of the entire river.
The rebirth of the Singapore River took 10 years to complete, and today, it is not only glistening again, but its banks are also bustling with trendy restaurants, clubs and offices, and fish have even returned.
The Singapore River, now part of the Marina reservoir, is a constant reminder of the man who defied time and tide. Its transformation mirrors the fascinating evolution of a small backwater into a thriving global metropolis, and its currents echo the ebb and flow of one man’s life as he turned an impossible dream into reality.
In Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s own words: “You begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes. That’s the way my life has been.”