I’m a history buff, and a big one since young. My love for history is in part influenced by my History teacher who lost her life in the MI 185 crash on 19 December 1997. We were close, and would often chat before class. I remember her telling me that the pleasures, problems, victories and failures of the past summed up the tremendous value of studying history, and that it should extend beyond an academic endeavour to pass an examination. Because of her words, I developed an appetite for historical books, memoirs and autobiographies, and extended the pursuit of the subject beyond ‘O’ Levels.
A few of those books include the memoirs of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s From Third World to First.
I remember being in awe at the foresight and wisdom of a man whom I can call the Founding Father of my country. I remember going, right, that’s how the Merlion came about, and feeling amused that our trees are planted equidistant because this man had wanted us to be shrubby enough to be called ‘Garden City’. I remember reading about the arduous process of nation building – and feeling thankful of how far we’ve come. As a young adult, I was sometimes anti-establishment and often thought about emigrating, but who was I kidding? I teared every time the National Anthem was sung at the National Day Parade at every National Day Parade. I would always watch the parade. And feel that tremendous surge of pride for being the Singaporean that I am. My family is here. My life is here. My heart is here.
And years later when I taught General Paper in a Junior College, I found myself sharing the insights I gleaned from this man whom my students would otherwise never know much about. The Singapore we know of can certainly be known more if you’ve read his writings, was what I told my students.
But the Singapore my students knew and the Singapore my children would come to know, would never be the one my generation and the one before knows. Someday, our children would pore over textbooks and supplementary readers and tutorial notes for history and social studies, or even be made to study his memoirs as compulsory text.
But he would be just a character. A man who was important. A name on their paper. They would never know a Singapore that had his presence and indomitable spirit. The one I had always known.
Today was the first day of Term 2 for the kids at kindergarten. We were a little late for school in the morning because we had spent some time watching the news on TV. I took the chance to share a little with Ben, Becks and Nat about what Singapore was like in the past – swamps and mud flats and fishing village – and asked them to look around us to see what we have now in contrast. Soon Ben and Becks quickly understood that an important man died, and this important man was the one who led our country and built it to where it is today. I am sure they would recall this day should it ever appear in their history textbook in the near future.
In the evening, Ben asked if we could watch the news together and it was apparent he enjoyed listening to me explain to him what was on TV. He watched in horror as sepia images of aggression, violence and riots flashed across the TV screen and asked what happened. He watched in wonderment at how dirty the Singapore River used to be and how it is now today, having just been to Clarke Quay last week. And then he asked,“Mr Lee Kuan Yew did all these?”
And so I explained that he came up with policies and a masterplan to help our society progress and probably got people who were willing to come onboard in this mission. Then I asked him, “Will you be a man like that someday, to help your country?”
“Yes, I will. I will help MY country.”
My family is here. My life is here. My heart is here. My children are now here. In a Singapore I am proud to be a part of.
“We wanted a Singapore that our children and those of our fellow citizens would be proud of, a Singapore that would offer all citizens equal and ample opportunities for a fulfilling future.” – Lee Kuan Yew