Sunday 19 April 2015

Dr Lee Wei Ling on honouring the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew: 'Honour the spirit of what Papa stood for'

That would be the best response to his passing, says Lee Kuan Yew's daughter
By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Sunday Times, 19 Apr 2015

On April 6 a journalist from the Chinese evening paper Lianhe Wanbao sought to interview me about my father Lee Kuan Yew.

This was two weeks after Papa died, yet the outpouring of adulation from usually unemotional and often undemonstrative Singaporeans remained unabated. There were long queues to see Papa's memorabilia at the National Museum. Stories and anecdotes about Papa continued in the media.

One example was a short telegram Papa sent home telling when he would arrive and a cryptic one word, "battleship", which he used to tell his family he wanted steamboat for dinner. Unfortunately, no one understood what he meant and there was no steamboat for dinner. While it was entertaining, I found the story neither newsworthy nor educational.

One village in Tamil Nadu is planning to build a statue of Papa, another a museum, while a third wants to devote a memorial hall to honour his memory. If Papa were not cremated, he would be turning in his grave in shock and distress.

Closer to home, I was baffled by the news that our MPs were suggesting naming various structures or institutions after Papa.

Papa had worked hard to prevent any personality cult from growing around him. It would most certainly go against what he would want and what he stood for in life, such as service to Singapore and Singaporeans, because that was the right thing to do, without any ulterior motive, least of all self-promotion.

In life, Papa had to face publicity as he galvanised Singaporeans and put his views across to them, to persuade them to accept his decision about what needed to be done for their own welfare. He never courted publicity merely for the sake of publicity. When I wrote articles that mentioned him, I always checked with him before doing so, and his reply would be, "OK, but no hagiography".

His reply to an ex-MP's suggestion to name a monument or public structure after him was simply: "Remember Ozymandias."

Ozymandias was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt. A sonnet by the 19th-century English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley refers to a huge but fragmented statue of Ozymandias with these words carved on its pedestal: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

But nothing remained except the desert. Shelley's moral was that all prominent figures and the empires they build are impermanent, their legacies doomed to decay into oblivion.

The best response to Papa's passing is to honour the spirit of what he stood for, which is the welfare of Singaporeans. There is much that we can all work towards for this purpose.

Similarly, to fuss over Papa's personal objects or portrait defeats the purpose that he had strived for so diligently in life, which was the welfare of Singaporeans.

Yet, what I am told is stirring up Singaporeans is the house Papa lived in which was built more than 100 years ago. In his book, Hard Truths, he said he wanted it demolished because it was too expensive to preserve.

That he did not want the house preserved is obvious from his will which states: "It is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, Kwa Geok Choo, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter Wei Ling would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the house. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the house be carried out.

"If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants.

"My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my will is private."

Fellow Singaporeans, let us move on in a post-Lee Kuan Yew era and continue to behave with kindness and consideration towards each other and work for a better Singapore for Singaporeans.

If we, by the way, also benefit fellow humans who are not Singaporeans, that would not be a bad thing either. We are all born into this life and we shall all eventually die. Our existence between these points in time would be more meaningful and fulfilling if we can help other fellow human beings.

Sunday Times exclusive: Dr Lee Wei Ling says she is baffled by some of the ideas to honour her father, the late Mr Lee...
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, April 19, 2015

Timeout after Papa's passing
By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Sunday Times, 3 May 2015

My life changed on March 23 when Papa died at the age of 91. As he aged and his health failed in the five years prior to that, I took his welfare into account in every decision I made. His death was hardly unexpected; yet, Papa's passing affected me more than I had anticipated.

I had not travelled alone since 2009 after he asked me to accompany him on his working trips. After Mama died in October 2010, Papa's health deteriorated. So I restricted my travels abroad to the ones where I could accompany him as I was concerned about his fragile health.

Following Papa's funeral, I was not feeling up to a distant trip so soon. But friends encouraged me to attend a week-long meeting organised by the American Academy of Neurology in Washington DC, which began on April 18. After that, I would visit a close friend living in Ithaca, New York.

I was hesitant about the trip as I was spent. My muscles were stiff and my body ached. In fact, I remained this way until the day I left Singapore some two weeks later. I travelled in spite of my misgivings because I decided that I needed to prove to myself I was capable of being as daring and reckless as in the past when I travelled alone.

The journey lasted more than 24 hours. But amazingly, when I landed in Washington DC, I no longer felt stiff or sore and was not hobbled by jet lag either. So I checked into the hotel, washed up and changed into a pair of running shorts and T-shirt - and jogged to the meeting's venue at a convention centre to register and attend the lectures.

As lectures started at 6.30am from the second day, I decided to run instead of walk to the venue in order to save a few more minutes for sleep. I would also run back and forth from my hotel to the venue to attend the lectures.

By embarking on such shuttle runs three to four times daily, I clocked an average distance of at least 10km a day. What made these runs more challenging was that I had to cross busy streets and step up and down the sidewalks, often in the dark.

At the meeting, I tried to absorb and remember new information and concepts. The regimen I constructed kept my mind away from dwelling on the loss of Papa, except at night when I was trying to sleep. I was moderately cheerful during the day. Learning combined with exercise has always had an anti-depressant effect for me. So I felt as if I was 40 years old once more during the meeting.

After the conference, I travelled to Ithaca to stay with a close friend. She, too, had lost a loved one recently. I thought we could console each other.

My friend is four years older and I call her jie jie ("elder sister" in Mandarin); in fact, being motherly is a more accurate description of her behaviour towards me. And when she greeted me, I had an immediate and overwhelming sense of belonging.

My stay with jie jie was the downtime I needed. I occupied my time with routine - grocery shopping, gardening, twilight walks and drives to scenic sanctuaries. It was early spring in Ithaca, and life was returning after an apparently harsh winter. Daffodils and hyacinths were in full bloom, and the trees were starting to leaf out.

My friend remarked that the changing of the seasons seemed to reflect the cyclical nature of life and death. For me, it was reassuring just to have the sense of continuity, the familiarity of a beautiful Ithaca, and the comfort of an enduring friendship. While this was a welcome change of scene, it was hard not to turn my thoughts to Papa. But unlike the period of two weeks prior and two weeks after his death, thinking of him now evoked a dull ache that was replacing the sharp pain I felt previously.

I suspect this ache will always remain, but perhaps to a lesser degree as time passes.

In my article published a week after Papa's funeral, I wrote that I must now move on to face life without him. That was a declaration of hope rather than a statement of fact.

I will move on, I have to. But as a friend who had experienced the passing of his parents long ago recalled, that sense of loss and the ache will never completely disappear.

But today, the sun was out, and as I ran up my friend's driveway, the budding trees and flowers greeted me. We went for a walk at my favourite waterfall, Taughannock Falls, where I have asked my friend to scatter my ashes after I die. But for now, life is sweet.

My way of coping with my father's death is to be grateful that my parents lived happy lives. Old photographs of Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew together, young and obviously in love, and more recent ones taken in their eighties and evincing mutual affection, remind me of what my father said when he saw me sorting through pictures of himself and my mother. "How lucky I have been," he remarked.

Yes, my parents were lucky until Mama's devastating stroke in 2008. Subsequently they suffered, as anyone who has lived for so long usually did in the last few years of their lives.

Still, 60 years of happiness surely outweigh a brief period of suffering. As I see it, my parents were fortunate to have been able to spend their final years in their marital home, a privilege rare among couples.


Mr Lee Kuan Yew and 38 Oxley Road
Do not rush into decisions on how best to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew, says PM

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