Thursday 26 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: Family Man

Devoted husband and caring father
Close-knit family and a small circle of friends - these are the people who got to witness the tender, nurturing side of Lee Kuan Yew
By Robin Chan And Sumiko Tan, Deputy Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was a man with few close friends. Those who knew him best and saw his tender, caring side came mainly from his tight family circle.

But others who interacted with him caught glimpses of the private man away from his public persona as Singapore's hard-driving, straight-talking first prime minister.

At home, he was ever the devoted son who cared deeply for his mother, Chua Jim Neo, even if he upset her once by cancelling her driving licence when he decided she had become too old to drive.

She was an English-speaking Straits Chinese matriarch famed for her Peranakan culinary skills who died in 1980, aged 75. He greatly admired her for standing up to her temperamental, more carefree husband in order to keep the family finances healthy and raise her children properly.

He was less close to his father, Lee Chin Koon, who worked at the Shell oil company first as a storekeeper, then later in charge of various depots in Malaysia, and had a love for card games. He was 94 when he died in 1997.

Mr Lee had three younger brothers and a sister who looked up to him and had regarded him as the man of the house during long periods when their father was away. "He was a wonderful big brother because he was responsible, caring, and when we were young, he'd give us good advice," said his youngest sibling, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

Mr Lee had two sons and a daughter, whose achievements he was proud of. "He was not a demonstrative person, which was common with many of his generation," said younger son Hsien Yang.

Most of all, though, he was a devoted husband in a long, happy marriage. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010 at 89, was the bedrock of his life.

She was a partner of the law firm Lee & Lee, and he had been prime minister, but their home at 38 Oxley Road was a rambling pre-war bungalow filled with furniture from an earlier era.

They had no shower for the longest time, preferring to scoop water from a large earthenware jar at bath-time. It was only after Mrs Lee had a stroke in London in 2003 that their children installed a shower before she returned home.

"It's a very humble house. The furniture has probably never been changed. Some of the pictures are yellow already," said Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, an MP for 20 years in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar GRC, who visited in 2002.

The house had been Mr Lee's home since 1945, and his wife moved in after they were married in 1950. They did not move to the official Sri Temasek residence in the Istana compound after he became prime minister, because they did not want to give their children "a false sense of life".

Their two sons left home when they got married. Daughter Wei Ling still lives there today.

Life with Choo

IT WAS in his beloved Choo that Mr Lee found his intellectual equal and soulmate, someone whose love, loyalty and judgment he trusted completely. He, in turn, was at the centre of everything she did.

"I have precious memories of our 63 years together," he said at her funeral. "Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her."

It was at Raffles Institution that he first met her. Her father was a banker at the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation and a Java-born Chinese like Mr Lee's father and paternal grandmother. Her mother was a Straits-born Nonya, like his own mother.

"We had similar backgrounds, spoke the same language at home and shared the same social norms," he once said of Mrs Lee.

Their paths crossed again in Raffles College when she caught his attention after she outscored him in both the English and economics exams.

Their education was interrupted by World War II. By chance, he knew her brother-in-law Yong Nyuk Lin, and while the two men ran a small business making stationery gum during the Japanese Occupation, he and Choo developed a relationship.

After the war, he decided not to return to Raffles College and compete for the Queen's Scholarship. Instead, he went to London and sought admission into the law faculty of the London School of Economics. He later transferred to Cambridge University.

By the time he set sail for Britain in 1946, he and Choo were sweethearts and had pledged their love to each other. The next year, she won the Queen's Scholarship and he helped her get a place to study law in Cambridge too.

"My greatest joy was when my wife won the Queen's Scholarship and I managed to get her into Cambridge immediately after that, because that meant she didn't have to wait for me for three or four years in Singapore," he would say later.

They married secretly in beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon in December 1947 and spent many happy days in Britain. She wore his ring as a necklace pendant. Their "official wedding" in Singapore took place in September 1950, when they returned with their degrees.

Mrs Lee was a working mother, an astute woman and a good judge of people. She was not one to mince her words, but had a kind heart. Former minister Othman Wok described her as "the refrigerator to cool his fiery gas cooker personality".

Prof Koo recalled Istana private dinners where Mr Lee would sometimes get excited about an issue. If she felt he needed to calm down, Mrs Lee would just say: "Harry." And that was that.

"Mrs Lee had tremendous influence on him on the good side. She tempered his mood," said Prof Koo.

Professor Chan Heng Chee, Singapore's former ambassador to the United States who accompanied the Lees on overseas trips in the 1990s when he was senior minister and later minister mentor, recalled a couple very much in sync.

"They were always bantering and communicating with each other, and he was very courteous to her," Prof Chan said.

Mrs Lee, in turn, watched over his health like a hawk. "She always told me, don't overwork MM - I tended to pack his schedule - and he would wave her off and say, 'It's okay, Choo'."

Dr Lee Suan Yew recalled mealtimes with his brother and sister-in-law: "When it came to dessert, he had a soft spot for chocolate cake and Mrs Lee, in her diplomatic way, would say, 'Oh Harry, I'll have half of that'. He couldn't say no. So he would say, 'OK, OK, you take half.' What she was trying to do was to cut down his weight and calories."

But he did not always heed his wife's efforts to watch what he ate. Former Cabinet minister Yeo Cheow Tong remembered an overseas trip when the Singapore delegation was at a dinner and Mrs Lee said before leaving the group: "Harry, remember, no ice cream."

After she was gone and the waiters came to ask about dessert, Mr Lee said: "I might as well have my ice cream now."

Mr Yeo said: "We all laughed. It showed that he was very human. They were very close, and you could see their relationship, they were very relaxed, and because of her, he was relaxed with us. She spoke in very easy tones, so whenever she was around, the staff felt relieved. She brought out the softer side in him."

Dr Lee said that after Mrs Lee fell ill and was bedridden, Mr Lee made it a point to read to her her favourite poems and books every night. "We'd have dinner together. At 10 o'clock he'd look at his watch and say, 'Sorry, I have to leave you all now. I am going to read to Choo.' That was very touching. It happened many times," he said.

Father and grandpa

MR LEE'S children knew he always had their interests at heart, but they saw more of their mother, who ran the home.

"He was always preoccupied with work," recalled Hsien Yang. "We would see more of him when we were on holiday; when we were young, the holidays were mostly to Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands, and then after 1965 we just went to Changi for holidays." 

In the earlier years, the family would spend evenings at Sri Temasek. Mr Lee would come from work and play golf there while the children would cycle around or play with the children of the Istana staff who lived in quarters on the compound.

Given his exacting standards as a leader, it is easy to imagine the weight of expectations he might have placed on his children.

Mr Lee described eldest child Hsien Loong, who became Prime Minister in 2004, as having the best mix of both his and Mrs Lee's genes. In daughter Wei Ling, he saw his fierce temperament. He described Hsien Yang as "sensible and practical".

Hsien Yang said his father would prod, but ultimately left the children to decide their own way. He wanted both sons to learn golf early, saying it would be a good life skill. They did as he suggested, but neither liked the sport much and both stopped playing. He did not push further.

Similarly, he thought Hsien Yang and Wei Ling should learn German. Both started, but dropped it after a while.

Said Hsien Yang: "At key junctures, he would give advice on what he thought we should do in terms of academic choices. But we were left to make the decisions ourselves, though we were probably nudged along. Sometimes the nudging worked, and sometimes it didn't!

"For instance, the family had a longstanding connection with Harvard, with my father and older siblings having spent time there. There was more than a nudge that I should attend post-graduate school at Harvard, consistent with family tradition. However, I chose to go to Stanford, and he eventually became a huge admirer of the university."

Mr Lee was close to his eldest grandson Yipeng, whom he called "good-natured, and the best-behaved and most likeable" of his seven grandchildren. Yipeng, who has albinism, is Hsien Loong's eldest son.

As the grandchildren got older, some would engage him on his favourite subject - politics - over Sunday lunch. But overall, he tried not to interfere in their lives beyond asking about school and what they were doing.

"My wife decided early on that she will not quarrel with her in-laws or her daughters-in-law," he once said. "The children are their responsibility. We just take them out for outings."

The big brother

IF THERE was a circle of trust beyond his wife and children, it was formed by his brothers and sister - Dennis, a founding partner of law firm Lee & Lee, who died in 2003 at age 77; Freddy, former chairman of stockbroking firm Vickers Ballas before it merged with DBS Securities, who died in 2012 at age 85; and surviving siblings Monica, 85, and Dr Lee, 81.

"We are a close family, not just my sons and daughter and my wife and my parents, but my brothers and my sister," Mr Lee once said. "If they are in trouble, they will look me up. If I'm in trouble, I know that my brothers and sister will not let me down."

Monica and Dr Lee remember him as the caring eldest brother who was bright and enterprising through their growing up years and the Japanese Occupation, and who helped his siblings make their career choices.

Resuming her education after World War II, Monica was not keen to persevere but he insisted that she should at least finish her Senior Cambridge. She did so and went on to marry businessman George Chan, who died in 2012.

Dr Lee said of his "Big Brother": "He was very responsible. We always felt that if you wanted to ask for advice, he was the right person to go to."

The siblings remember Mr Lee as a stickler for cleanliness and neatness even as a boy, and having a quick temper like their father. Both recalled, separately, an unforgettable incident when Dennis used a pair of his eldest brother's slippers without permission. Mr Lee had a habit of stacking his slippers neatly at the front of the house. One day, he came home to find his slippers not only missing from their usual spot but also strewn inside the house - and dirty.

"He went berserk. He said, 'You used my shoes and made it dirty!'," recalled Dr Lee with a laugh. "You see, Dennis was more chin-chye (easygoing). They didn't come to blows but he showed his anger. He was really annoyed - very, very annoyed."

Over the decades, the Lee siblings remained close and met regularly. When their father was alive, the extended family would gather at Oxley Road for the first day of Chinese New Year. But as the family grew bigger, they got together for the reunion dinner and exchanged greetings then.

Monica said her eldest brother stayed protective of his younger siblings over the years. But he had his quirks too. "LKY shared my mother's appreciation for the way European women looked well-groomed and he was particular about the way I dressed, as I was his only sister," she said.

"Whenever he found my dressing to be too shabby, he would ask me, 'You don't have enough money to buy clothes?' He expected me to look polished, with no exception."

One Chinese New Year, however, she wore a pair of dangling diamond earrings her mother had given her for her wedding.

"The moment LKY saw me, he exclaimed with obvious disdain, 'What on earth have you got on?' He found them far too flashy. It was all I needed to leave those earrings at home for good. I reset the diamonds onto a brooch."

He himself was a man of simple tastes in dressing, and from the 1960s his work shirts were from the CYC custom-made shirt shop. Managing director Fong Loo Fern said Mr Lee's favourite colour was pink, but patterned fabric was "very unlikely".

"He wasn't very concerned about what he wore, Mrs Lee always took care of all that," she said.

Once asked by a journalist how long he had owned a jacket he wore to many interviews, Mr Lee said it was almost 20 years old. "It's a very comfortable jacket," he said. "The man who tailored it for me is dead."

Beyond the family

MR LEE did not have a wide circle of close friends. From his Raffles College days, there were two. Dr Fong Kim Heng, a former MP, was a classmate whom he brought into politics. But he died in 1975, at the age of 52.

Mr Chia Chwee Leong was the other friend, and they stayed in touch. For decades, Mr Lee would pay him a visit every second day of the Chinese New Year, and the two would chat about their families and growing old.

He became fast friends with Mr Hon Sui Sen during the Japanese Occupation. They and their families remained close. Mr Hon became finance minister and died in 1983 at age 67.

Mr Yong Pung How attended Cambridge with the Lees, and shared his notes with Mr Lee for a term he had missed. He was later persuaded by Mr Lee to become chief justice. Mr Lee said: "They are not friends I make to get advantage out of. They are friends because we spent time together, we found each other agreeable and we maintained the friendship."

That sense of friendship and the importance of relationships came across to Mr Ng Kok Song,former chief investment officer at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

"I think he cared deeply about people. But as a leader he had to take tough decisions, always facing reality," said Mr Ng, who taught Mr Lee how to meditate.

"From time to time in the GIC, we would deal with certain investment matters that involved past relationships with business leaders, or with families.

"He would tell me, 'Always honour your friendship with people, never forget your friends, the people who helped you when you were down, when you were never as fortunate. Never forget that.'

"And I have seen in action, time and again, when we had to deal with business matters that involved past relationships, he would always emphasise the importance of honouring that relationship."

Mr Lee was not one for hobbies. He had long given up golf, and said he had no time for movies. "Some people collect watches, shoes, pens, rare books, art but... he never did," said Hsien Yang. "Material things never enticed or interested him."

In fact, he had no concept of how much even basic items cost. "He didn't go to the supermarket or the shops, he did not buy things, he used his clothes till they were old, and then some more, and was extremely thrifty, so he had no reference point," said Hsien Yang. "Until very recently, he didn't know what his financial position was. For a very long time, I just kept an eye and watched his finances for him. He was not bothered or interested in money or material things."

Mr Lee was once asked in an interview what he thought of how others perceived him. He replied: "They think they know me. But they only know the public me."

Asked if he ever felt like giving it all up - the politics, the struggles, the critics - he replied: "No, this is a lifelong commitment.

"What are the things important to me in my life? My family and my country."


"Her last wish she shared with me was to enjoin our children to have our ashes placed together, as we were in life... I have precious memories of our 63 years together. Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children. She was always there when I needed her. She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning. I should find solace in her 89 years of life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief."

- Mr Lee's eulogy to his wife at her funeral on Oct 6, 2010

My parents at the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge. I mentioned in last night’s post that it was one of their favourite...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew at Cambridge and the Bridge of Sighs
By Rachel Lin, In Cambridge, Published The Straits Times, 31 Mar 2015

THE weather can't decide what it wants to do today, Sunday, March 29.

In Singapore it rained but here, half a world away, the sun shines in fits and starts in the midst of a spring shower. The only constant is the wind, so strong it turns umbrellas inside-out and makes the pub signs swing.

I can't decide what I want to do either. Or what to feel.

I haven't been quite sure how to react since I heard the news on the evening of March 22, British time. It would be too easy to avoid the issue and let the torrent of tribute flow on. People more knowledgeable, more eloquent, more considered have weighed in.

Except for one nagging coincidence that put me in Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, on Sunday.

The unseen hook on an invisible line, drawing me back. Lee Kuan Yew's alma mater, flag still at half-mast, his name inscribed on the benefactors' list, gold letters on purple wood.

So I have to say something.

I have no tales of political heroism, no family memories or little red boxes. But Cambridge is under a cloud today, at least for me. The rain here is the rain of home.

I'm here for a Russian and East European studies conference. I start talking to a Ukrainian scholar from war-torn Donbas.

"Where are you from?" she asks.

"Singapore," I reply, and her face lights up.

"Your country is wonderful," she says. "What is the secret of your success?"

There's an undertone to that question. It's not a trite, back-patting rhetorical quip rallied from one self-made man to another. It's heavy with all the portents and hopes of a country struggling under the weight of its conflict.

Once again, the man and his generation loom large.

In Fitzwilliam College, the chapel is holding a memorial service for Mr Lee. There'll be speeches and a screening of the state funeral.

As I walk across the grounds, I pass several Singaporeans. Usually they're identifiable by their accents. This time, they're identifiable also because they're in black.

I'm not quite sure I can face up to the official mourning, so I take a walk through the city, down the green Backs he and his wife loved.

Today's Cambridge is not the Cambridge of the 1940s, apart from the colleges. I wonder what he thought as an undergraduate here for the first time, counting off the colleges along the river: King's, Clare, Trinity, St John's.

The water is spanned by bridge after bridge, the college lawns ending right at the edge. We know, from a photograph, that he once lounged on the grass with book in hand, a willow in the background.

Where was this spot, I wonder.

St John's college garden is open and I walk in. The daffodils and bluebells are in profusion. Would he have thought of Wordsworth? Would he and his wife have exchanged a line or two of poetry?

One thing we do know is that he liked the Bridge of Sighs, so that is my object of the afternoon.

As I reach his vantage point, I see a group of Chinese visitors. And on the ground, a few bouquets left for him, with that photo of him and his wife from their student days on top.

"These must have been left for Lee Kuan Yew," one tourist says.

"Who's that also in the photo? Must be his wife," his companion asks.

"Yes, of course, Ke Yuzhi," he says, giving Mrs Lee's name in Mandarin. That two tourists in Cambridge, thousands of miles from Singapore, could name Mrs Lee so readily, speaks volumes.

When they leave, I take a moment to ponder the photo and the bridge I stand on. Perhaps this is a way to commemorate him. To take what we see and give it life, imbue it with memory and meaning. To remember how we got where we are, and talk about it.

This isn't just a bridge. It's a bridge with history.

These aren't just HDB flats and shiny skyscrapers and superhighways. These are the houses that our forefathers built, this is the wealth that we made. How did we make all this happen? What did we lose? What did we gain?

I'm glad that we started talking about it. In a way, it took something as momentous as this to get us talking about it. I can only hope we won't fall silent again.

This isn't just Singapore. This is Singapore with history.

The writer is a former Straits Times journalist and a member of the team involved in Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, a book on former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's world view. She is completing her doctoral thesis on Russian history in Oxford University.


"Loong is a different personality from me. He's more, how would I say, equable - less intense than my daughter who takes after me.

Ling is very intense... She gravitated to an activist role...

She should have married and had two children, then things would have happened differently. But what to do? She was happy as she was, so that's that.

They lead their own lives."

- Mr Lee, in Hard Truths

Wife's death left a void in his life
By Cassandra Chew, The Straits Times, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

FOR a week after his wife died, Mr Lee Kuan Yew fussed over her photographs on the wall of the living room at their Oxley Road home.

He placed pictures of their favourite moments together at the foot of his bed and by the treadmill which he used every day. A few days later, he would move them around again.

He repositioned his grey plastic chair at the dining table to have the best view of her pictures on the wall. As he ate his dinner, he listened to classical music, which she enjoyed - her favourite composer was Johann Sebastian Bach.

But nothing seemed to comfort Mr Lee in the days after Madam Kwa Geok Choo, his wife of 63 years, his best friend and confidante, died on Oct 2, 2010.

He slept erratically. A memory would bring tears to his eyes. When her ashes arrived at Oxley Road in a grey marble urn three days after the funeral, he wept.

It took three months before he began returning to normal.

"Slowly, he accepted that Mrs Lee was gone," said his youngest and only surviving brother, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

It was nine months before his health stabilised, said his only daughter Wei Ling.

HIS DAY started at 9.45am or so with breakfast: a piece of cake, a mug of Milo and a glass of whey protein drink.

He would then brush his teeth and take a stroll on the treadmill for at least 15 minutes - two things he did without fail after every meal.

The next few hours would be spent clearing e-mail on his desktop computer and catching up on current affairs. He read newspapers in three languages: English, Chinese and Malay, as well as magazines such as Time and the Economist.

Lunch at around 2pm would be a simple meal - chicken soup and tofu, for example. After that, he would go to work.

Although he retained his Istana office after stepping down from the Cabinet in May 2011, he no longer concerned himself with government matters. Rather, he spent his time reading up on topics that interested him, such as population issues and language education.

Occasionally, he met visitors such as former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, his old friend and former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and the advisory board of French oil and gas giant Total.

Until the end of 2012, he would swim for up to an hour every evening. He had to stop when his doctors wanted to avoid the risk of lung infection.

He also had two-hour Chinese lessons every weekday at the office with one of several tutors, discussing current events and topical issues in Mandarin. Sometimes he would continue with his Mandarin lessons even when he was in hospital.

He would usually get home at around 9pm and he would spend a few moments looking at his wife's urn in the living room.

He kept to his new routine in the disciplined way with which he had led his life. But he told his friend Dr Schmidt, who visited in May 2012, that his wife's death had left a deep hole in his life and nothing could fill it.

AFTER Mrs Lee died, elder son Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister, and his wife Ho Ching began visiting Mr Lee on Saturday afternoons whenever their schedules allowed, to keep him company.

On Sundays, the whole family gathered for lunch at Oxley Road, as was their longtime tradition. The two married sons, their wives and children would join Mr Lee and Wei Ling.

Mr Lee would ask after his seven grandchildren, and the family would sit down to a simple meal prepared by his two maids.

After his wife fell ill and could no longer plan his meals, Mr Lee would tell his only sister Monica that he wanted some of the food of his childhood, the Nonya dishes their mother used to cook.

He asked for rojak, mee siam, satay and gado gado, and his sister would either prepare them herself or show his maids how to prepare the dishes.

Later, as it became harder for him to swallow, his home meals became simpler and more bland. He ate mostly fish, tofu or chicken porridge with a ginseng drink, and a scoop of frozen yoghurt or ice cream for dessert.

Sometimes, the food went down his windpipe, causing infection in his lungs that led to pneumonia, said his son Hsien Yang.

Nonetheless, he looked forward to meals and outings around Singapore, hosted by his wife's niece and some of his younger friends. Visits to the Marina Barrage and the Changi Jewel project were among his favourites.

HE WAS diagnosed in 2009 with sensory peripheral neuropathy, a rare nerve disease which made his walking unsteady. To give his balance a boost, he underwent regular rounds of intravenous immunoglobulin infusions, which infused antibodies into the bloodstream through the veins.

His brother Suan Yew said this was meant to overcome the damaging effects of the disease on his nerves.

On Feb 16, 2013, one of his security officers noticed that one side of Mr Lee's body had gone limp and alerted his daughter Wei Ling, a neurologist. He was admitted to the Singapore General Hospital for a suspected episode of transient ischaemic attack.

A prolonged bout of irregular heartbeats had probably resulted in a small blood clot which travelled to his brain. He was discharged on a Sunday, and returned to his office the next day.

MR LEE'S health meant he had to keep his public and constituency engagements to a minimum.

But he never missed the annual tree planting in his constituency, from 1963 till the most recent Tree Planting Day last November.

The crowd cheered when he appeared for the National Day Parade last August.

On Nov 7 last year, he attended the People's Action Party's 60th-anniversary celebrations at the Victoria Concert Hall, and received a standing ovation as he took to the same stage he stood on six decades earlier at the party's founding.

Throughout, Mr Lee kept up his Mandarin lessons, and continued his exercises and outings. Titanium, as his daughter once described him in an article, is light but strong. It can bend a little, but it will not snap unless it is under overwhelming force, she wrote.

On Feb 5, he was admitted to the Singapore General Hospital, this time with severe pneumonia.

News in mid-March that he was critically ill saw an outpouring of good wishes across the island he loved and called home.

My wonderful Big Brother
General practitioner Lee Suan Yew, 81, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew's youngest brother
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

WITHOUT my Big Brother, I would not have done well enough in school to become a doctor. As a teenager, I was more interested in watching boxing and wrestling matches on Saturday evenings. Schoolwork seemed dull in comparison.

But one day in 1950 when I was 17, Big Brother sat me down and asked what my plans were for my future. "Do you want to become a doctor or a lawyer?" he asked.

He was 10 years older and had just returned from England where he had been called to the Bar.

I told him I wanted to become a doctor.

He said: "That's good. But you're not concentrating on your studies. You are spending your weekends enjoying, going out with your friends. You want to go to England and become a doctor, you've got to really put your mind to it."

He was right. I needed to be more serious in my work if I wanted to take up medicine. That was an important message that I needed to hear, and I took it to heart.

In 1954, I got into Cambridge University, where I studied medicine. While I was there, it was his words, not those of my parents, that echoed in my mind and kept me working hard in school. That helped me a lot. I became a general practitioner in 1968.

Although we were far apart in age, he had a strong influence over my life. During the war, he taught me how to play chess. I developed a love for it and even became captain of the chess club at Anglo-Chinese School.

We had a school coach, but it was my brother who laid the groundwork for me. My team won the top chess competition against other schools and was awarded the Lee Geok Eng shield.

I was in my late teens when he started playing golf, and I followed him to the golf club.

He said: "Let me teach you some rudiments of golf. I think it will be good for you because in your old age, you can still play golf."

He was absolutely right.

Looking back, it was Big Brother who planted the seeds of the things I enjoy: chess when I was young and golf when I was older.

He also guided me along with good advice.

He was a wonderful brother and it was really the little things he did for my family that carried us through thick and thin.

Brother used his wits to help family
Monica Lee, 85, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew's only sister
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

ONE of my mother's favourite stories of LKY was about the time she taught him his ABCs.

In those days, colourful alphabet toys were not available, so my mother made her own by cutting out letters from The Straits Times' headlines.

She said she showed the alphabet to LKY only once and when she shuffled the letters, my brother - who was just a few years old - managed to put all the letters back in the right order.

It was then, my mother said, that she realised how smart LKY was. And from then on, she always told him: "You have to be a lawyer!" Maybe that was partly why he took up law. He was also made for it because he was very good at debates in school, at arguments.

He had a very sharp mind and was always coming up with clever solutions whenever the family found itself in a fix.

When the Japanese invaded Singapore on Feb 8, 1942, my mother's biggest worry was whether we would have enough to eat.

LKY knew the Japanese soldiers would scrounge around, so he devised a way to keep our rice safe at our Norfolk Road home.

It was common then for homes to have earthenware jars filled with sand to put out fires if there was an air raid. He took these jars and filled them instead with rice. Then he covered the grains with newspapers or cloth, and put sand at the very top of the jars. This made it look as though the jars were filled with sand.

His ingenious method of hiding our rice in plain sight helped tide us through a good part of the four-year war. We could always count on him to take care of us.

He always wanted to do things perfectly, and if something had to be done, it had to be done right now with no delays. The Lee family is a little bit hot-tempered on my father's side. Those on my mother's side are very quiet and patient.

I remember when my second brother Dennis wanted to go to university in America in 1949, LKY did not approve. He was in Cambridge and wanted to make sure Dennis would find a steady job when he came home.

So LKY wrote to my mother and said: "I don't want that boy fooling around in America. I will make him come over to Cambridge and do law."

Sure enough, Dennis did law at Cambridge as instructed. Six years later in 1955, they started their own law practice with Mrs Lee, called Lee and Lee.

He always cared about us. As we got older, he turned his concern towards my health and well-being. If he saw I was sad or didn't look well, he would summon me to his office to find out why.

Both of us suffered from the same illnesses. We both had pacemakers and sensitive skin and were allergic to the same things. We lost two brothers younger than him - Dennis at 77 in 2003 and Freddy at 85 in 2012. He wanted to make sure Suan Yew, who is 81, and I did not go before he did.

With only three of us left in the family, LKY, Suan and I made it a point to see one another more regularly. We met for Japanese cuisine, which LKY enjoyed.

When it came to food, the taste my brother missed most was that of my mother's famous Nonya cooking.

We all do.

So when he started losing weight after Mrs Lee died in 2010, he called me, saying: "I have lost 21/2 pounds. What can you teach the maid so I can gain the weight back?"

His maid came to my Morley Road home and I taught her a few of my mother's recipes. His favourites were rojak, mee siam, satay and gado gado.

To whet his appetite, I presented the dishes on special plates I had hand-carried from Italy, with fruit in the middle and vegetables on the side. He got so excited that he called out to his daughter Wei Ling: "See what your Gu Ma ("auntie" in Mandarin) has done. Come and join me!"

Sometimes, he would want to eat desserts, tiramisu or caramel pudding or souffle. If I'd forgotten how to do it, I'd tell my cook, "Let's have a rehearsal, it's been 30 years since I made tiramisu and souffle."

Well, he liked my cooking, that's for sure. I do a lot of cooking for my family; my kitchen is like a 24-hour coffee house. The Nonya families are all like that, they always have food ready for visitors, friends and family.

A mighty man's modest home
By Judith Tan, The New Paper, 26 Mar 2015

Not many people have been inside Mr Lee Kuan Yew's bedroom.

But five years ago, I stood within its austere walls and learnt a little more about the great man.

It was April 11, 2010, and I was among a group of friends who were visiting Mr Lee's daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, at their Oxley Road home.

When she showed us her father's bedroom, we could hear him in the adjoining room reading to his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

She had become bed-ridden after a series of strokes.

Mr Lee, known for his fiery speeches, spoke in a gentle voice as he read to her from The Sunday Times.

She was not able to answer him but, without fail, he read to the love of his life every single day - alternating between news, her favourite poems and novels - for 18 months until her death in October 2010.

His room was spartan.

A single bed was the main piece of furniture.

On it was a thin towel blanket and a small bolster. I did not see a pillow.

The screen of his computer, on a desk beside the bed, flickered as e-mails arrived.

Sitting on the floor was a solid red briefcase, the subject of our visit to his bedroom.

It was a "parliamentary red box" used by ministers in the British government, and the Queen herself, to hold and transport official documents.

Mr Lee was probably the only person in Singapore to still use it.

Amused that we had not seen one before, Dr Lee had asked "Pa" for permission for us to see the box.

He did not object. But he did not interrupt his reading to come out from the room.


The rest of the old two-storey house was equally spartan.

The downstairs bathroom, for instance, still held a hamdankong (Cantonese for barrel or tub used for making salted eggs), a large clay urn filled with water for bathing, old-school style, complete with a plastic scoop.

Its mosaic tiles, some a little chipped, had been popular in the 1970s.

The chairs in the house were mismatched, giving off an eclectic feel.

An ancient exercise bike stood in one corner, gathering dust.

It was nothing to look at - a bicycle mounted on a stand, but I learnt that Mr Lee had exercised on it for decades, well into his 70s, until he fell off one day.

Although the model had been replaced by a more modern one, the trusty old bike still retained its place in the 100-year-old home.

Between 1960 and 2011, Singapore's per capita gross domestic product surged more than 100-fold.

But the Lees' modest home remained largely unchanged in that time and had become dwarfed by the multi-million dollar, multi-storey bungalows that sprang up around it.

Its floor was made up of longitudinal strips of wood with the varnish already peeling off. Its garden was lush with trees and plants that had flourished over the years.

The family cat, Manis (Malay for sweet), sat quietly licking itself.

The home was filled with memories.

Its basement dining room had witnessed the beginnings of a political party that would go on to shape modern Singapore.

One could imagine the thoughts and conversations that went on within its walls that would translate to actions to take Singapore from Third World to First.

In another room in the house, another son of Singapore has grown up, like his father, to become Prime Minister.

Like its occupants, its foundations have stayed true and strong.

The visit brought home to me what really matters in life.

Special CNY visit to Uncle Harry's
Joan Hon, 72, is a retired teacher and daughter of the late finance minister Hon Sui Sen
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

I HAVE visited Uncle Harry every Chinese New Year for as long as I can remember.

But it was my visit in 2010 that I will never forget.

It started out like any other visit to Oxley Road on the fourth day of the new year. I was joined by my younger sister Brenda and her son Max.

Max was then working for local technology company Xmi which designed the now widely recognisable donut-shaped X-mini portable speakers. So after all the social niceties, Max presented one of the speakers to Uncle Harry as a gift.

He opened the little box and we stuck the little speaker into his handphone and the sound came out loud and clear.

Then he wanted to try it on his computer. So we went into his study to plug it in, and out came the "eehs" and "aahs" of his Mandarin lessons.

He liked it very much and was proud of the fact that it was made in Singapore.

He said: "Careful, don't let the Chinese copy you."

Max replied: "Too late, copied already!"

We chatted a little more, before he asked: "Would you like to see Auntie Choo?"

She was in the bedroom next door. Unable to speak or move since her last stroke, Auntie Choo was lying motionless in a hospital bed, with her eyes rolled back and a tube in her nose.

He said: "Choo, Ah Fong and Keat are here to see you."

Uncle Harry and Auntie Choo were the only two people outside my family who called me by my Chinese name, Fui Fong. Keat is my sister's name.

They were familiar people to all of us.

Uncle Harry was always bouncing his theories and ideas off my father Hon Sui Sen, whom he persuaded after 10 years to enter politics.

Auntie Choo, on the other hand, would set aside stamps for me because she knew I collected them.

But I never really knew Uncle Harry beyond the superficial chit-chat we were used to having in his living room.

So when he took us into his bedroom to see Auntie Choo that day, it felt as though we were entering the holy of holies.

It was his most private space, and he had let us, the children of his old friends, in.

I said a prayer for Auntie Choo. She died on Oct 2 that year.

Tender side that not many see
Ng Kok Song, 67, is the former chief investment officer of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

WHEN my wife Patricia was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer in July 2003, I saw a side of Mr Lee Kuan Yew that not many see.

Two weeks after the diagnosis, Patricia told me she was going to write a letter to Mr Lee, who was then Senior Minister. It had nothing to do with my job, she said, but my job was to deliver it. This is what she wrote:

"Dear SM Lee,

When National Day approaches each year, I feel fortunate and blessed to live in Singapore. And I've always wanted to express my deep gratitude to you, but lacked the courage to do so. Now I feel a sense of urgency as this may be my last National Day, as I have recently been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer.

On this auspicious occasion of the 38th birthday of Singapore, I thank God that we have been blessed with a leader who has a gifted vision, and the courage, will and ability to make his dream a reality. I have the deepest respect and admiration for you and regard you as truly the Father of our Nation.

My husband Kok Song and I raised three children in our 31 years of married life, and we are all proud to be Singaporeans. Happy National Day.

Yours respectfully,


Four days later, Mr Lee replied, thanked her for her letter and said:

"I am grateful and deeply moved that you wrote this letter at a time when you are burdened with the thought of leaving your loved ones behind. I have heard from my son Hsien Loong that Kok Song's wife had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Three children, two grown up, and one still a minor. I am sad at this cruel act of fate.

"I understand how you and your family must feel. My family experienced it when we were told that Hsien Loong himself was diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic glands. It was a traumatic blow. It is so unfair. One small consolation is that modern medicine can make your suffering less unbearable. My wife and I send you and your family our sympathy, understanding and support. Kok Song will need them most of all.

I have no words to describe our sadness, or to comfort him, your family, your daughters and you."

He wrote once more to Patricia, saying: "Many things in life can make or unmake a person. But the single most important factor is that someone who shares your life with you. In that respect, my wife and I have been very fortunate. We are happy for you, Patricia, that you have a soulmate in your husband Kok Song. It is a relationship that evolves with time and circumstance, and grows with age."

I am sharing this exchange of letters because I think the way Patricia felt is probably how my generation, and maybe the older generation, felt about Mr Lee.

We are proud to be Singaporeans because of what he did for Singapore. He gave us hope when the future was bleak. When we separated from Malaysia, he inspired us to believe in ourselves, to defy the odds to prosper economically as an independent country.

But another thing that came out from those letters is that while Mr Lee can come across as a stern person, you can feel from the way he responded to Patricia's letter that he is a man with a tender heart.

Soon after, Mrs Lee had a stroke and was bedridden. Patricia lived on for another 19 months.

During that time, he always asked about Patricia, telling me to tell her: "Don't give up. Soldier on."

Once he said to me: "Now we are in the same boat. You are looking after your wife and I am looking after my wife."

I had begun meditating with him. One evening in 2011, after our session, I asked him about rumours swirling that he was very ill, when he was actually perfectly all right.

"Don't you think the Government should put out a statement to rebut the rumours that you are seriously ill in hospital?" I asked.

He looked at me and said: "No, no, Kok Song, there's no point. Because one day it is going to happen."

Then he added: "I have lived such a long life. I hope that I can live on for maybe another five to seven years. By then, the Marina Bay developments would be completed, the water barrage would be operating, the whole Tanjong Rhu area and the reservoir will be finished. And our entire landscape will be changed. The city is going to be so beautiful."

He was always looking forward to Singapore's future progress.

It was as though he had captured all this in his imagination, and just hoped he would be able to see it before he passed on.


No comments:

Post a Comment