Sprigs of yellow orchid marked this seat in front of the National Gallery at the National Day Parade, in honour of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Image: ST
I was hoping that this National Day Parade would start for me at noon on Friday with the aerial display over Marina Barrage by Singapore’s Black Knights.
Despite the massive traffic jam and crowd, my friend and I arrived 15 minutes before the Black Knights were slated to start. It was raining heavily and low-hanging clouds blotted the darkening sky.
It recalled for me the funeral of my father, Lee Kuan Yew, on March 29, when it was also raining and when there was also a flypast for Papa, which the crowd at the Padang couldn’t see because of the weather.
But we couldn’t find a parking space on Friday and so abandoned the plan to witness the Black Knights perform.
I was on crutches, recuperating from a foot operation, and was worried about the crowd. So we headed back home for lunch.
I had wanted to watch the performance at the barrage for sentimental reasons.
Marina Barrage was a dream and a challenge to Papa. When it was completed, he spent many Sunday evenings watching Singaporeans enjoying themselves there, especially the kids flying kites and entire families picnicking.
Often, people would shout Papa’s name and wave at him, and some walked towards his buggy to ask for selfies. Papa would return the smile and shake his head about the selfies.
Just before I left home for the parade yesterday, a patient’s mother “Whatsapped” me photographs of the Black Knights’ performance.
As I arrived at the Padang, a stranger e-mailed me: “My eyes filled with tears and heart with pride as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of our nation. Singapore will never be what we are today without the hard work and fighting spirits of your dear late father and the old guards…”
Yesterday’s parade was the first I attended since 1980. We used to watch from Papa’s office in City Hall. Yesterday, I found myself seated on the steps in front of City Hall, but it had been transformed into the National Gallery Building. On the seat Papa was supposed to occupy were sprigs of yellow orchids.
In the early years after independence, Papa would attend all the parade rehearsals personally. He never told me why and I never bothered to ask him. I had assumed that it was because he was trying to build a national identity and thought the parade could help achieve this.
After Aug 9, 1965, much of what the Government was doing, and much of Papa’s attention, was centred on the welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans – be it the flag-raising ceremony and saying the Pledge, National Service, building a rugged society, bilingualism or clearing land for the Jurong Industrial Park.
For us, his children, these issues and concerns buzzed around us. Some went over our heads, but the gist of them all, we understood and knew: Papa was concerned with Singapore’s survival.
To write this article, I turned to Papa’s book, The Singapore Story. Inside the book, on the page facing a photograph of Papa “at work on my drafts on my home PC (Oxley Road)” was a note from Papa penned in his neat handwriting: “Ling, You did not know much of what I was doing when you were growing up.”
Below this note was his signature and the date Sept 15, 1998.
I did know, if not explicitly, then certainly implicitly.
Singaporeans also knew, and if anyone wonders why Singaporeans turned up in massive numbers to send Papa off when he died in March this year, these were grateful Singaporeans who remembered those early days of uncertainty and hardship compared with what we have now.
That we are now enjoying peace, prosperity and progress is unexpected, and we are grateful for our good fortune, the foresight of our leaders and the hard work of so many Singaporeans.
Many Singaporeans have expressed their disappointment that Papa was not present to witness yesterday’s parade in the Golden Jubilee of Singapore.
But the last few years of Papa’s life without Mama were a sad and difficult time for him. He raised the topic of euthanasia with his doctors, and they told him that was illegal in Singapore. I also told him it was illegal for me to help him to do so elsewhere.
Papa was released from his suffering on March 23 this year. Knowing what he was battling prior to his last hospital admission, that he died without further suffering, the security officers who tended to him round the clock and I were relieved, yet terribly sad.
But knowing Papa, his best reward was that he did witness that his efforts had improved the lives of Singaporeans.
He never sought fame and rejected it as much as he could. Some things he could not reject, such as the honours conferred by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, so he accepted these graciously.
We should behave the way Papa wanted us to, which is to advance Singapore for the sake of Singaporeans, and to do this by action, not just by symbolism.
Symbolism sometimes causes us to forget about doing what is right. So while we have just enjoyed a spectacular National Day Parade, let us not forget what we should strive for – a better future for Singapore and Singaporeans.
While we thank the pioneer generation which Papa led, we should also remember that he did it from a sense of duty. He felt responsible for Singapore’s ejection from Malaysia, so he counted himself responsible for independent Singapore and the survival and welfare of Singaporeans.
In life, he asked Singaporeans to trust him to take care of their interest. In death, he asked only that his marital home be eventually demolished. To preserve that house as a concrete symbol for future generations goes against what Papa wanted. His work and books already convey his concerns and what he did for Singapore.
What would Papa have thought of this Golden Jubilee NDP? In the greater scheme of Singapore’s survival, he would have thought this parade was a nice gesture.
Papa’s overarching concern was to improve lives for Singaporeans. If the parade’s spectacular demonstration of harmony and togetherness did that, I think he would have thought well of it because it was good for Singapore.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on August 10, 2015. For similar stories, go to www.straitstimes.com/singapore.