I missed out on the commemorative events that took place after the death of Lew Kuan Yew. The founder of modern Singapore died March 23. I was in Manila to welcome a brother that I have not seen for 4 years.
I’m a huge admirer of this South East Asian statesman. He wrote diligently in the last years of his life. I believe with the intention to imprint to the younger generation the insight of how he built Singapore and how to keep it on top.
I was gifted with his memoirs, The Singapore Story, in 2009. Never stopped following his work and interviews since then. In this book, he wrote about his childhood, WWII, his days studying and the pivotal events of his political years. Interesting were his historical, social and political observations—they were straightforward—no beating-around-the-bush non-sense. I felt his uprightness as a politician and as a man in his words.
His opinion about the Marcoses is worth reading. He wrote about the apparent penchant of the couple for the grandiose; flying in separate planes with their loyalists when the two visited the island. In the same book he cited how “soft” and “forgiving” Filipinos are—and this is true. Just look at the Marcoses, with the exception of the father, who’s been long dead, everyone in that family is back in power.
Three months ago, during the Isleworth Monalisa exhibit in the Old Parliament, I also got to walked around the old building where Lee Kuan Yew once held office. In his old office I tried the turn the door knob, thinking how many times the former Prime Minister entered and exited the room. I have seen his son, the current Prime Minister, but regrettably I have never seen Mr. Lee in person.
Last week, I finally get to pay my respects by visiting Singapore’s National Museum. On exhibit are some of the late Prime Minister’s personal effects. A Rolex watch (given to him by workers he represented), a white wig from his days as a barrister, some printed campaign cards and a parliament podium. Popular among the visitors is an attache case (they call it a “red box”) he used to carry his notes and papers. The only time, and the last time, it left his sight was when he was taken to the hospital last February.
Heng Swee Keat, Education minister, said: “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.”
These red boxes (or as we Filipinos call it, attache case) are made in England. A curious remnant from the administrators of the old English empire that the succeeding local liberated leaders would pick up.
One probably wonders why I write about Lee Kuan Yew. I think of him constantly not only because I read so much of his work and learned enormously from them but also because it was him who opened up Singapore for skilled foreigner workers. I worked here for almost a year back in 2012. I was sent to Germany that same year. The whole experience opened up opportunities. I remain a steady Singapore visitor to this day, particularly during the month of August when they celebrate their founding day. This year would be their 50th.