What makes today feel particularly surreal: i) news of LKY’s death ii) handing in the essay for my sg studies module, which felt like an honorary ritual of sorts, and I would have put in more effort into it if I had known that today would be the day iii) turning on the tv to watch a son address the public on the passing of “Mr Lee Kuan Yew” iv) raining so much as a week of national mourning is declared.
Education boards make sure that we have internalized every curve and line of his face. Photographs of Lee are plastered all over our textbooks: here is one of him crying upon Singapore’s separation from Malaysia; here is one of him smiling after the 1959 elections.
He is an omnipresent figure in any political or social discourse concerning Singapore. It is as if he has become synonymous with the nation, and to discuss Singapore would mean that one would always have Lee somewhere in the back of his mind à la Tocqueville: “Although I very seldom spoke of France in that book (Democracy in America), I did not write a page without thinking about France or without having France in a manner of speaking before my eyes.”
A lot of death in the news lately: there is the SMRT incident, then what happened in Brussels, and – exactly one year ago today, Lee Kuan Yew passed away. I have never liked inspirational quotes (because “easier said than done” yay another cliche that holds true!! Aaand “the cliche holds true” has now become a cliche itself!!!) so here are some badass ones I took down from an old interview.
i) passive-aggressively tells the American interviewer to piss off
ii) reminds people that Singapore =/= China
iii) suggests that idealism is necessary for a young nation, which surprised me when I first watched this as I had previously equated Lee with pragmatism
LKY: “May I say what I mean myself in my own form of words? I think Americans have a friendly habit of trying to help a person think for himself, but I’d rather do my own composition if I may. You have adopted this position in Vietnam in 1954. You never asked the rest of Southeast Asia and we were not consulted.”
“Speaking as a Chinese who understands China, can you make an estimate or a guess as to the future of China?”
LKY: “First of all, I can’t speak as a Chinese because I am a Singaporean. I am of Chinese ethnic stock. This is crucial if you ask me to speak as a Chinese.”
“Prime Minister, what’s the effect in Asia of demonstrations such as we had yesterday in Washington?”
LKY: “Well you know I get a lot of demonstrations in Singapore. My students are quite a rambunctious and spirited lot – and I think they ought to be otherwise there would be very little future for Singapore. It’s a young community, and the young must be idealistic, the young must believe that the world should be more just, and there should be more moral rectitude in the behaviour of their leaders. And they protest often – and more than just a peaceful manner because the communists slip into my demonstrations and, you know, windows got broken so often and cars get overturned. But at the end of the day – I think – decisions have got to be made by adults, not teenagers. But they’ve got to be made in such a way that when the teenagers become adults, and they look back on these decisions, they would be proud of the generation that went before them.”