Apr 6, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew and the Lye Family - History, Eulogy and Inspiration

There has been much buzz about the family life, lineage and early life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore when he died on 23th March 2015. There is an interesting piece of news whereby Mr Lee's ancestral home at Southern China, Guangzhou, Dabu is going to be turned into a tourist attraction

My ancestral home is just one village away from Mr Lee's village and in the vast land called China, a village away is equivalent of living in an opposite  HDB block. The last time I visited my ancestral home in the 1990s to pay my respect to my Grandfather who died in China, the village is still largely a farming community with small acres of farmland all around the village. Looking at my grandma who also the same age as Mr Lee, I couldn't help to think how the fate of the two families are intertwined with each other.

Grandpa and Grandma are both Hakka and they were married just at the outbreak of World War II. My Dad was born as a war time baby and my uncle 2 years later. After the war, Grandpa went back to China to visit his ailing mother and he never came back. He died of an illness and left behind 1 widow and 2 young children to fend for themselves in Singapore. Life was exceptionally hard as a widow during those times and all the extended family help out with my family however and whenever they could. Work was scarce for a single mother during those days as woman was not expected to work. However, my grandma was determined to make it work. She took up sewing assignments and sew day and night, while keeping an eye on two playful boys. Life was extremely hard than and she was scraping by day by day. Politics was the last thing on her mind at that point of time when everyday was a struggle.

If Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore, than Grandma is the founding mother of the Lye Family. A lesser woman would have broken down given the situation she was in at that point of time. But she didn't. With the famous Hakka traits of determination and refusal to quit, she managed to put both my Dad and uncle through school, allowing them to have very decent jobs when they graduated.  
Celebrating the 91th Birthday of the Heroine of the Lye Family

My dad was a leveled headed, practical teenager who lost his father at a young age and took all sorts of part time jobs while studying and managed to graduate from Dunman High School with outstanding grades, allowing him to enter the than Nanyang university.  My dad managed to get a scholarship to Nanyang University but he decided to quit his scholarship in order to help support the family. Unfortunately, the treatment from the Government on the Chinese schools was less than kind, due to the strong suspicious of that Chinese Schools was a breeding ground for communist forces. Chinese schools in Singapore came under strong scrutiny during those days and many students who enrolled into Chinese schools and universities suffered as a result. As a result, his A levels was discredited and he had to fall back on his O-level certificate. For a young man with a widowed mother and a younger brother, a higher qualification was seen as one of the most important certification for him to provide for his family. The life of the Lye family would have been a lot better if not for the harsh policies implemented by Mr Lee to fight against the pro-communist community. Unfortunately, my dad was one of those who was sacrificed for the greater good and it was no wonder that he is not a fan of LKY till date. 

Fortunately, my dad managed to find a job as a bank clerk in the Far Eastern Bank and managed to work his way up as a branch manager at United Overseas Bank which acquired Far Eastern Bank. The post independent Singapore was good to my family. Dad managed to squirrel enough savings to afford a small flat at Marine Parade, thanks to the public housing policy of the government and moved the family out of my grand-uncle's small apartment. Later on, he could even afford a small Volkswagen Beetle, which was considered as a luxury at that point of time. The Lye family prospered as a result of the policies implemented by Mr Lee's team and we were able to lead a comfortable life. I always wondered about my Dad's feelings towards LKY being both the victim and beneficiary of the government policies but I believe that Dad still has much respect for Mr Lee as I watch him gobble up every piece of news related to Mr Lee's wake and life story. I guess the relationship between them can be described as a "frenemy"

Mum's family hailed from Malaysia and her grandfather was a landowner in Malaysia. Her family was pretty wealthy by the standards of that time but the split between Singapore and Malaysia during 1965 essentially wiped out the wealth for the Singapore branch, even though her father was the eldest son who was poised to inherit the majority of the family wealth. Land and real estate ownership became a big problem for the wealthy families in Malaya, which was seen as one nationality during those days. When the Malaysia and Singapore fell apart, the Singaporean branch of the family typically suffered more as most of the assets during those time were held in real estate mostly located in the much larger Malaysia peninsula. It also almost became impossible to exert your rights as a Singaporean on land ownership in Malaysia as the Malaysian government strive to block any further Singaporean influences in Malaysia. Even Khoo Teck Puat, the richest man in Singapore, had to give up the bank which he founded, Maybank (biggest bank in Malaysia), when the Malaysian government suspected him of being heavily influenced by the Singapore government. Singapore lost a huge chunk of her assets and wealth the day that she was thrown out of Malaysia. It was no wonder that LKY felt grieve and despair when the split occurred.

Nevertheless, there was still enough assets held by my mum's family to allow them to lead a comfortable life in Singapore. Mum managed to graduate with an "A" level cert and she got a good job as a teacher in a secondary school.

For my generation, my sis and I grew up during the golden age of Singapore and witnessed the economic miracle that is called Singapore. Mum always talked about our third sibling that never occurred, due to the "Stop at Two" policy instituted by the Singapore government during the early days of governance but she was quite happy that she managed to have both a boy and a girl. "Another child will be perfect, but the fine is just too much!" We experienced the full brunt of all the campaign designed by the government to social engineer the undesirable habits of Singaporean. From the Courtesy campaign (I was nominated most courteous student 2 years in a row!), Speak Mandarin campaign (My friends commenting that my Mandarin better than my English..), Keep Singapore Clean and Green (I became the chairperson of a Green Society). Within 3 generations, the bad social habits disappeared as Singapore progressed from 3rd World to 1st and we are now in the position to criticize citizens from more socially backward countries, on some of their more disgusting habits. The social engineering policies designed by LKY's government worked remarkably well. 

We studied hard, got into good schools and followed the path that our parents always dreamed off, a degree and the talisman to a comfortable life. However, our mindsets were quite different from our parents and we decided to venture towards the path less taken, becoming self-employed sales people. These days, I always joked about parent's obsessions in getting their children into elite schools since me and sister both graduated from elite schools. We ended up peddling financial products, which were normally scorned by the general population as a career for the "uneducated", with our degree and resumes unloved and unused. 

Looking back at our family history, I realized that we have been impacted by almost every major policy decision made by Mr Lee, whether for the worse or for the better.There are great man who can make a difference in the fates of millions, but there are also people like my Grandma, who sacrificed everything, to make a difference in the lives of successive generations of the Lye family. The key towards a meaningful and respectful life, is not the amount of wealth a person can amass, but rather the number of lives we can impact. Armed with the same stubborn and determined Hakka blood that flows through that of our founding father and my Grandma, I embarked on my mission renewed with energy to make the world a better place, in my own small contributions.

Rest in Peace Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

HIS DAY started at 9.45am or so with breakfast: a piece of cake, a mug of Milo and a glass of whey protein drink.
He would then brush his teeth and take a stroll on the treadmill for at least 15 minutes - two things he did without fail after every meal.
The next few hours would be spent clearing e-mail on his desktop computer and catching up on current affairs. He read newspapers in three languages: English, Chinese and Malay, as well as magazines such as Time and the Economist.
Lunch at around 2pm would be a simple meal - chicken soup and tofu, for example. After that, he would go to work.
- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/mr-lee-kuan-yews-wifes-death-left-void-his-life-20150324#sthash.yKek2PtK.dpuf

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