Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Lee Wei Ling: Missing Papa on August 9

By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2015

I was hoping that this National Day Parade would start for me at noon on Friday with the aerial display over Marina Barrage by Singapore's Black Knights.

Despite the massive traffic jam and crowd, my friend and I arrived 15 minutes before the Black Knights were slated to start. It was raining heavily and low-hanging clouds blotted the darkening sky.

It recalled for me the funeral of my father, Lee Kuan Yew, on March 29, when it was also raining and when there was also a flypast for Papa, which the crowd at the Padang couldn't see because of the weather.

But we couldn't find a parking space on Friday and so abandoned the plan to witness the Black Knights perform.

I was on crutches, recuperating from a foot operation, and was worried about the crowd. So we headed back home for lunch.

I had wanted to watch the performance at the barrage for sentimental reasons.

Marina Barrage was a dream and a challenge to Papa. When it was completed, he spent many Sunday evenings watching Singaporeans enjoying themselves there, especially the kids flying kites and entire families picnicking.

Often, people would shout Papa's name and wave at him, and some walked towards his buggy to ask for selfies. Papa would return the smile and shake his head about the selfies.

Just before I left home for the parade yesterday, a patient's mother "Whatsapped" me photographs of the Black Knights' performance.

As I arrived at the Padang, a stranger e-mailed me: "My eyes filled with tears and heart with pride as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our nation. Singapore will never be what we are today without the hard work and fighting spirits of your dear late father and the old guards..."

Yesterday's parade was the first I attended since 1980. We used to watch from Papa's office in City Hall. Yesterday, I found myself seated on the steps in front of City Hall, but it had been transformed into the National Gallery Building. On the seat Papa was supposed to occupy were sprigs of yellow orchids.

In the early years after independence, Papa would attend all the parade rehearsals personally. He never told me why and I never bothered to ask him. I had assumed that it was because he was trying to build a national identity and thought the parade could help achieve this.

After Aug 9, 1965, much of what the Government was doing, and much of Papa's attention, was centred on the welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans - be it the flag-raising ceremony and saying the Pledge, National Service, building a rugged society, bilingualism or clearing land for the Jurong Industrial Park.

For us, his children, these issues and concerns buzzed around us. Some went over our heads, but the gist of them all, we understood and knew: Papa was concerned with Singapore's survival.

To write this article, I turned to Papa's book, The Singapore Story. Inside the book, on the page facing a photograph of Papa "at work on my drafts on my home PC (Oxley Road)" was a note from Papa penned in his neat handwriting: "Ling, You did not know much of what I was doing when you were growing up."

Below this note was his signature and the date Sept 15, 1998.

I did know, if not explicitly, then certainly implicitly.

Singaporeans also knew, and if anyone wonders why Singaporeans turned up in massive numbers to send Papa off when he died in March this year, these were grateful Singaporeans who remembered those early days of uncertainty and hardship compared with what we have now.

That we are now enjoying peace, prosperity and progress is unexpected, and we are grateful for our good fortune, the foresight of our leaders and the hard work of so many Singaporeans.

Many Singaporeans have expressed their disappointment that Papa was not present to witness yesterday's parade in the Golden Jubilee of Singapore.

But the last few years of Papa's life without Mama were a sad and difficult time for him. He raised the topic of euthanasia with his doctors, and they told him that was illegal in Singapore. I also told him it was illegal for me to help him to do so elsewhere.

Papa was released from his suffering on March 23 this year. Knowing what he was battling prior to his last hospital admission, that he died without further suffering, the security officers who tended to him round the clock and I were relieved, yet terribly sad.

But knowing Papa, his best reward was that he did witness that his efforts had improved the lives of Singaporeans.

He never sought fame and rejected it as much as he could. Some things he could not reject, such as the honours conferred by Britain's Queen Elizabeth, so he accepted these graciously.

We should behave the way Papa wanted us to, which is to advance Singapore for the sake of Singaporeans, and to do this by action, not just by symbolism.

Symbolism sometimes causes us to forget about doing what is right. So while we have just enjoyed a spectacular National Day Parade, let us not forget what we should strive for - a better future for Singapore and Singaporeans.

While we thank the pioneer generation which Papa led, we should also remember that he did it from a sense of duty. He felt responsible for Singapore's ejection from Malaysia, so he counted himself responsible for independent Singapore and the survival and welfare of Singaporeans.

In life, he asked Singaporeans to trust him to take care of their interest. In death, he asked only that his marital home be eventually demolished. To preserve that house as a concrete symbol for future generations goes against what Papa wanted. His work and books already convey his concerns and what he did for Singapore.

What would Papa have thought of this Golden Jubilee NDP? In the greater scheme of Singapore's survival, he would have thought this parade was a nice gesture.

Papa's overarching concern was to improve lives for Singaporeans. If the parade's spectacular demonstration of harmony and togetherness did that, I think he would have thought well of it because it was good for Singapore.

NDP 2015 - Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew by Boo Junfeng
<<NDP 2015 – Looking Forward with a Tribute to LKY>>We received many compliments for the NDP and co-celebrations around the Marina Bay last night. My congratulations to BG Melvyn Ong and his team, and Dick Lee and his creative team, for executing the biggest show ever staged in NDP history, probably for a long time to come – more than 200,000 gathered at the Padang, Floating Platform and Marina Bay area. But most of all, my heartfelt thanks to Singaporeans for making it their show. They reminisced over the vintage parade, gushed when SAF fighter planes did their aerial display, sang our songs with gusto and cried at the end of the tribute for LKY. In planning for NDP 2015, soon after the death of Mr Lee, I exhorted the organisers to ensure that we must look forward, and the NDP should end on a high about our future. This is what Mr Lee would have insisted on. But in truth, all of us with aching hearts wished Mr Lee could have joined us for this parade. So we decided a tribute to LKY that included an empty chair with the orchid Aranda named after him could fill up partially that longing. Here’s the video.- Ng Eng HenVideo: MediaCorp Channel 5#NDP2015NDPeepsSingapore50Remembering Lee Kuan Yew
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Sunday, August 9, 2015

My special thanks this National Day
By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Sunday Times, 9 Aug 2015

After my father was pronounced dead at 3:18am on Monday, March 23, the Government declared a week of national mourning. On the first two days, a private wake was held at the Prime Minister's official residence at Sri Temasek, inside the Istana grounds.

I turned up to greet relatives, doctors, friends and security officers (SOs) who had served Papa but left his team before he died. That Wednesday, the casket was carried on a gun carriage through the Istana grounds, where Papa had spent so much of his time at work and for exercise. Papa had been extremely ill since Feb 5, suffering severe breathing problems.

I had slept poorly since then and, while waiting for the procession to leave Sri Temasek, I could not stand the physical strain any further and went home, where I stayed until the day of the funeral, held that Sunday. I was spared from delivering a eulogy at the official funeral service, held at the University Cultural Centre (UCC) along Kent Ridge Crescent, off Clementi Road.

Perhaps that was why the eulogy I gave at the private funeral at the Mandai crematorium attracted attention. I had not intended to deliver one because my father, when he was alive, replied "no need" when I asked whether he wished his children to each give a eulogy. I did so at the request of my elder brother, Hsien Loong.

As only I, among my siblings, knew how hard the SOs and doctors had worked to make Papa's last years and especially the last seven weeks comfortable, I dedicated most of my eulogy to them, especially the SOs who made it possible for Papa to spend most of his last five years at home.

The SOs and I were like soldiers who fought a war together - a special bond was forged that continues even now, when we do not meet daily.

After Papa's death, I received e-mail and snail mail from many people I didn't know. One, a woman named Candy, e-mailed me daily. She said I had cured her when she was a child. I cannot remember, but would reply once a week.

One day, she e-mailed me a Facebook link with 378 comments about my eulogy. I read all of them because total strangers had bothered to respond to me, to wish me well, and some prayed for me.

What struck me was the number of posts responding to the penultimate paragraph of my eulogy, which read: "I nearly broke down, but I won't break down. I am a Hakka woman."

Many said they were Hakka too, and obviously knew what I meant by my remark - that Hakka women are known for being resilient and tough. Quite a few said they were proud to be Hakka women.

Even more posts urged me to allow myself to express my emotion and my tears, saying it would be good for my health and help me recover emotionally. Many expressed astonishment and even alarm that I did not cry.

As I had written in my earlier columns, I grew up in an undemonstrative family. I was also imbued with Chinese culture from a very young age. I spent 14 years, from the age of three, in a Chinese educational environment. Many of my school teachers originated from China. In Chinese culture, especially Confucianism, the ideal cultured person does not make a show of emotions. We rarely, if ever, hug or kiss a friend when we meet.

In English, praise is accepted with a "thank you" but, in Chinese, we reply "guojiang", which means "excessive praise", instead.

In my eulogy, I used the Chinese aphorism, "the relationship between two honorable people is as understated as plain water". This too is a concept that most English-educated people might find hard to understand.

Thus, my nature and my Chinese education tempered me from displaying my feelings in public. I have my way of dealing with loss. Exercise, and re-reading articles in The Straits Times and Sunday Times relating to Papa's death, helped me through the worst period. The residual ache remains.

One post was spot on. It read: "Dear Dr Wei Ling, you have been caring for both of them. Every daily task will remind you of the emptiness. Memories will bring tears. Cry whenever you want to."

Yes, every morning when I awoke, assuming I had been able to sleep through to at least 6am, my first thought was to check on Papa in his bedroom, then retrieve the nightly log of Papa's condition - a notebook - from his study, where two SOs were standing by.

Across the corridor from my room hangs a large portrait of Mama, her hair completely white. But that gentle smile that lit her face is how I remember her in life. The portrait now reminds me that there is no longer any need to check on Papa.

They are both gone.

But I don't cry - that achieves nothing. I start my exercise. I had an operation on my foot to correct a deformity in early May. So, for the first few weeks, exercise consisted of going up and down the corridor on crutches, followed by binding a 2kg weight on the ankle of the operated foot and moving the leg in the way that I would have to do to walk and run. I have since graduated to limping swiftly up and down the corridor.

The only tears I have shed fell the first few times I re-read the newspaper coverage of the lying-in-state and the funeral. But the pain is lessened by the unexpected outpouring of sorrow by so many people, their mutual kindness and consideration while queuing for up to 10 hours through the day and night, the generosity of people and companies in giving out food, drinks, umbrellas and flowers to fellow humans queuing to pay those last respects or waiting in torrential rain for the gun carriage carrying Papa to UCC to pass by.

To all who have expressed concern for me, my thanks to you. There is one post that stands out. The writer was one Ajoy Kumar, who wrote:

"Extraordinary person like her father. She mentions the names of each of the people and thanked them individually. I salute and respect her."

My parents and I believe goodwill goes both ways.

And so, for this 50th National Day, and the National Day Parade, the first from which my father will be absent, I offer my thanks to those who tended to my father and for all the good wishes that I have received.

This grateful daughter and caregiver couldn't have asked for more from fellow Singaporeans.

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