Mar 31, 2015

A Lye's Family Journey to Pay Their Last Respect to Lee Kuan Yew

The ladies of my family are fans of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. My sister wept the whole of the morning Mr Lee died and bought all the newspaper on the tribute for Mr Lee that day. Mum cried along with my sis and was depress for the next two days. My grandma was glued to Channel 8, gobbling every piece of information or tidbits about the life of Mr Lee till she became too tired to go on and fell asleep.

When the announcement for the dates and timing for the lying in state ceremony, my sis and I have made plans to visit Mr Lee's wake at the parliamentary house. However, the old folks seemed to be disinterested to go despite their interest in all the media reporting.

I came home on Wednesday evening and saw Grandma still glued to the TV. I asked her, " Ah Jia (Hakka term for grandma), do you want to visit Lee Kuan Yew?"

"It's okie. I am old and will be a burden to you. You go with your mum and dad."

The news was reporting on the 8 hours queue on Wednesday evening and no priority queue system was set up than.

Judging from her expression, I could guess that she desperately wanted to go, and so I probed further," you grew up with LKY right? Don't you want to meet him one last time?" 

Than she replied meekly, "If it's not too much trouble."

I snorted, "I will put you on a wheel chair and push you to the head of the queue if needed." Let me arrange with sis.

Mum came home later from my sister's place (helping to babysit my niece and nephew) and I told her about our plans. 

She paused and said, "I can't go!"

"Why? Aren't you a fan of LKY? "

"Yeah, but I need to supervise the part-time cleaner who will be there on Friday to mop your sister's place." 

I rolled my eyes.

"Mopping floor more important or visiting LKY more important?!?!"

"Dunwan to trouble your sister lah. You all go. I stay at home and watch the preceding from the TV!"

"So if I can arrange everyone to go, will you go?" 

"Yes of course. He is my idol!"

These ladies were totally getting their priorities wrong!

I had an intensive whatsapp discussion with sis and we moved all our schedules around to bring the entire Lye clan down to the parliamentary house on Friday afternoon. An initial Sister-Niece trip to pay tribute to Mr Lee at Parliament House expanded to a 91 years old grandma, two 70 years old pioneer generation dad and mum, two toddler at 2 and 5 years old and a pair of Gen X siblings who had to gear up for a potential 8 hours queue.

We were set to gather at 12.30pm at City Hall.

The Lye Clan Gathers

I reached City Hall the earliest at 11am as I had adjusted one of my appointments to meet a friend to sign some documents. The topic of the famous LKY queue came up as usual.

"So, did you managed to join the queue last night after your dinner?" I asked.

"Nope, I went down to take a look and decided to try this morning 730 am instead."

"Woo, how was it like in the morning?"

" I had to queue for 2 hrs before I could even reach the Padang. I gave up so that I could meet you in time."

"Wow! It's that bad! I will be attempting the queue later at 1230pm. Our family will probably be allowed in the priority queue given that we have so many young and elderly."

"Good luck! You probably need to queue an hour or two even before you will reach the priority sorting point!"

I messaged my Sis: 'Queue is very bad. Be very prepared!' 

At 1230pm, the clan gathered outside Starbucks and we did our logistic check. Water, umbrella, hats, extra diapers, lunch, dinner, snacks, sunglasses, hats, phone chargers and entertainments for the family. We were definitely prepared for an eight hours queue. 

We took a look at the Facebook update on the queue status: 10 hours...


Brother-in-law also made the effort to take half day off, despite his busy schedule as a director of a MNC. However, he was unable to make it for the 1230pm timing and we decided to start queuing while waiting for him to reach. 

I took charge of Grandma, sister took charge of the heavily loaded pram with my nephew strapped to it, while my dad and mum took charge of a very excited niece who was running ahead trying to help by scouting the area ahead. We looked for the queue to the queue and were quite puzzled as  we breezed through  the marked path straight to the priority sorting point just outside the Singapore Recreation Club. The unexpected boon created a problem. Bro-in-law had not reached yet. He would probably be denied entry at the priority sorting point if we went ahead without him.

While we debated whether to leave him behind to join the 8 hrs queue, we had incessant queries from the kids," 爸爸在哪里。 为什么他还没有来" (where is PaPa? Why isn't he here yet?). We decided that this historical moment must be experienced with their PaPa around and stood at the sorting point to wait for Bro-in-law. Bro-in-law was also well known for being a 路痴 (navigation idiot) and he got lost while navigating the confusing routes and barricades surrounding City Hall. By the time he located us, Dad wondered off in a different direction to try to look for Bro-in-law.

By now, my sis was at the end of the fuse as we were frantically juggling the children, giving directions to my helplessly lost bro-in-law, trying to locate our too helpful and also lost Dad while smiling at the Security Officers who were looking at us amusingly. When my Dad finally came back after 20 minutes of futile search for my Bro-in-Law, she exploded," All the men are so useless! How can you men let the elderly, women and toddlers wait in the hot sun! And what's the use of having a phone when you do not use them!" 

I tried to redirect her wrath towards her idol by hurrying the party to join the queue," Let's join the queue quickly and get into the shade at the canopy ahead. Mr Lee awaits!"

Braving the Queue

We walked along St Andrew's road and I pointed out the various landmarks to Grandma. She commented," I have not come to the Padang for a long time. Things have changed!" Grandma was an extremely feisty and active lady, but ever since her knees had gone bad with age, she stayed at home most of the time, with the television as the main window to the outside world. Even though we had offered to bring her out numerous time, she always decline our offer, saying that she rather stay at home to watch TV. Grandma seemed to be very happy as she walked pass the familiar landmarks of colonial Singapore, while enjoying the playful ethics of her great grand children. We came to realize something after this episode: It is not that Grandma enjoys staying at home, it is just that she did not enjoy the thought of being a burden to others and going outdoor requires her to become a burden to the family. We will need more adamant in insisting that she come out with us, whenever it is possible.   
Along the way, we were greeted by volunteers who were giving out snacks, bottled water, isotonic drinks and umbrellas. The sun was out in force at 130pm and I could see the volunteers dripping in sweat. Police officers, soldiers and volunteers eagerly helped out parents struggling with their prams and elderly folks in crutches and wheelchairs while navigating past some of the stairs and uneven ground along the way. The sense of the Singaporean identity during that 2 hours queue was nothing that I had felt or seen, even during our annual National Day Parade. 

By 230pm, we had cleared the security counter and Mr Lee's coffin was in sight. Everybody was solemn and there was a heaviness in the air. Even the numerous young children and toddlers in the queue were extremely well behaved, perhaps also affected by the solemness of the entire procession. The officers on the ground were trying to get the crowd moving so that they could let as many people pay their respect to Mr Lee as possible. Grandma hobbled to the portrait of Mr Lee, took three bow and muttered some Buddhism verses. She literally held up the entire queue for 30 seconds but nobody seemed to mind and the officer in charge was in no heart to hurry Grandma along due to her advance age  In fact, I was guessing that many people were wishing that Grandma would take more time, so that they would have their own moments in front of Mr Lee's coffin.

The mood of the crowd seemed to be lighter once we were out of sight of the coffin. People seemed to be talking about a shared experience and even the toddlers, who were hushed up by the sober atmosphere inside the parliament, started to become more chirpy. 

As we made our way out of the Parliament House, Grandma asked, "Where is the spot where we write our tribute to LKY?" We did not recall seeing any tribute corner during our journey into the Parliament House and judging from the tight security, a maze of barricade and the increasing crowd around us, we decided to visit one of the nearby tribute corner. In any case, Grandma was pretty worn out and the kids needed to be fed, watered and toileted. As we made our way back to Raffles City, I fired off a broadcast to all my friends who decided to wait out at the news of a 10 hours queue in the morning: 'The Queue is Very Short Now! Come Over Quickly!'

Last Words with Lee Kuan Yew

As we rounded the entrance of City Hall MRT, we saw an extremely long queue snaking its way towards Andrew Road. Looks like many other people caught wind of the light human traffic in the late morning on Friday and rushed down to queue. I think that by the time my friends received my message and came hurriedly down, would probably be too late! We were extremely lucky and blessed that we spent so little time queuing, as compared to many of our friends and relatives.

After a short respite at Raffles City Ya Kun, we headed towards the tribute center at Istana. Everybody wrote their last goodbye to our founding father, including my Dad, who still bore a grudge with LKY over the long years, and my 2 years old nephew who managed to scribble a few curly lines on 3 tribute cards and threw them into the tribute box. Grandma took some time looking through all the available Chinese writings and artwork, while Mum started to tear up again. Meanwhile, Sister was giving a short explanation to my 5 years old niece of the significant of the tribute center and why are people crying and writing on cards for a dead person. Explaining death to a young child is definitely no easy task!

With all the goodbyes being said and written, it was time to send the young and the elderly home so that they can recover from the day out of strenuous activities in the tropical sun. Meanwhile, my phone was flooded with messages like: 

"What do you mean the queue is short! We were told to queue 8 hours!"

"Knn! Fake me. Say queue short! It's long!"

Well, sorry guys! The queue was indeed short and the Padang was only a quarter full when we walked past it earlier in the day. Just your luck!

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