You would think that being so far away – physically, at the very least – from Singapore would ease some of the sadness that many feel about the death of Lee Kuan Yew. I’ll admit – when I first saw the announcement on Monday, just minutes after it was posted online due to the time differences between Melbourne and Singapore, I was in shock. This was despite the fact that we have all been expecting it for a while.
I was even more impressed, however, when I was on the way home from the airport that morning and the Australian radio station was giving a very detailed history of his life. I didn’t know how far and wide Lee Kuan Yew’s influenced reached. Suffice to say, as the days grew and condolences from dignitaries worldwide started pouring, my sense of pride in our founding father grew too.
Many Singaporeans (I don’t have a specific number, but personal estimate would put the number around several hundreds) turned up in Collins Street in Melbourne, Victoria today afternoon to pay tribute to the man. Almost everyone was dressed in black, and the turn out was so much larger than expected – organisers had initially planned for two separate commemorative services at 1pm and 2pm, but at least an extra service was added.
While not as long as the queue back home in Singapore, it was an impressive turn out. My fellow Singaporean students and I turned up at around 1240pm, hoping to queue to get in for the 1pm service but ended up queuing for around 1.5 hours before we were allowed in.
Something that struck me was what I overheard while standing in line – “Lee Kuan Yew is similar to the late Mahamat Gandhi. He struggled for our independence.”
While speeches were made about the man at the service, and video tributes were made, I saw so many faces with tears rolling down cheeks, and so many people struggling not to start crying. We might be far from home, but there is something very familiar and soothing about being surrounded by our countrymen, all united again to celebrate the life and mourn the death of the man who made all of these possible.
Lee Kuan Yew was a very well travelled man, possibly one of the best travelled of his age. But if there is anything he has taught us, it is to remember our roots, and I’m certain that for the hundreds that turned up today in Melbourne to commemorate him, it is a lesson that we have learned well.
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