This post is an account of our family’s journey to pay our respects to our Founding Father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew at the Parliament House.
Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s passing on Monday, 23 March was a shock to many Singaporeans. Even though his poor health should have given us an inkling, we have held on to Mr. Lee’s steely resolve and never really thought of his passing. In the aftermath of his passing, our whole nation fell into mourning.
Even though I was born and bred here, I did not feel a strong affinity for a country that has given me much. Mr. Lee’s passing stirred up strong emotions of patriotism that I did not know I have and evoke an urgent need to connect to my roots.
I knew I had to pay my respect to him at the state funeral. And I knew I had to bring my kids along as well.
My husband was away on for business till Wednesday. So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I encouraged my kids to watch the documentaries of Lee Kuan Yew and explained to them the significance of his achievements and why the citizens of Singapore are so devastated by his death.
When his body was moved to the Parliament House and the queueing time to pay respect to him got longer and longer with each passing day. We got a bit anxious. But I was determined to brave the long queues and pay my respect to him.
It is strange to be so affected by a man whom I have not met personally. And to have such strong desires and insistence that my children should know him. I want my kids to partake in this historical moment, to remember and have an impression of Mr. Lee.
We were worried about the rain, sun, school schedules, and others. Finally, we just decided to bite the bullet on Friday morning (27 March) and head out to the Padang.
The Journey To Pay Our Respect
Waking up at 4:30am, we got dressed quietly and quickly. We woke our children and dressed them in school uniforms in the event that we could beat the 8-hour time limit as updated on television and they might make it to school after all..
Then we set out from our home at 5am and took this we-fie to commemorate the moment.
6am — Mayhem And Confusion
We arrived at the City Hall area to join the queue. Like everyone else, we were updated periodically on WhatsApp by friends who are at the same site paying their respect as well. It was wonderful how social media connected us at a time like this. Sleepy-eyed and half awake, we arrived at our starting point — Salt Tapas & Bar at Raffles City. Ahead of us were already thousands of people who had arrived even earlier to queue.
The plan was for hubby to park the car and join us later. But it was a mass of bodies moving in the general direction. No one really knows where the priority line was or where anyone should be queuing. Everyone moved en-massed in the general direction towards the Padang, guided by the fences that restricted our path. It was a bit harrowing trying to hold on to both my kids’ hands so I would not lose them in the crowds while taking snapshots with my mobile phone and trying to coordinate our exact location so hubby could find us and reunite with us in the queue.
Despite the initial confusion, everyone moved in a general direction. I was impressed that people were generally polite, helpful, and respectful. They were so un-Singaporeans; so united in their purpose.
7am — Hot, Stuffy And Sardine-Packed
Finally, daylight came. And with it, the familiar Singapore heat. It was amazing to see the Memorial Wall in the light of dawn and then again in full-daylight as we followed the crowd around its borders. At one point, people from all directions were rushing forward and those in the crowd cried out loudly to them to “NOT cut queue”. I was a bit fearful that a riot might ensue. Luckily, civility returned quickly as everyone falls into the queue again.
There were SOOO MANY people. At times, we were caught in the middle of the crowd and it was suffocating especially for the kids being surrounded by a sea of adults. It was difficult to breathe even though we were outdoors. And our kids were too big for us to carry them. To stay cool, we guided our kids to walk near the fences where they had less chance to be trampled on and there were pockets of fresh air and breeze to keep them cool and allow them to breathe.
Thank goodness the line was constantly moving forward. The kids kept themselves entertained playing finger games and telling each other stories. We didn’t dare give them water either for fear they would need to visit the toilet and lose our place in the queue. I was amazed that they endured hours of queueing without demanding any digital time nor did they complain about hunger, heat or the queue.
At one point, we were misdirected and lost a precious 30 minutes moving in the wrong direction. Thankfully, that was quickly rectified and we found ourselves making our way to the Padang.
8:30am — Water, Air, Rest Stop
At last, the Padang was in sight! After 2.5 hours, we finally made it to the Padang! Once, you arrived at the Padang fields, you see barracks of tents set up to shield the crowd from the burning equator sun.
You can see from the picture below that we were all hot, sweaty and tired! Bottles of water and umbrellas were given out freely. And we finally had a chance to sit down, rest and re-hydrate ourselves.
As everyone made their way to the public queue, I ventured to ask an officer if we could join the priority queue (see photo below) which was not very crowded that morning. Fortunately, seeing my kids in school uniform, he said yes.
I snapped a photo of the kids in front of the courthouse for keepsake. The officers who guided us forward from tent to tent were gracious, friendly, and humorous to take the tedium out of the queuing. We salute parents who brought their little kids with them and tried to help by entertaining the little ones who were fussing from the queuing and the scorching heat.
At one point, the officer spoke in English and asked the crowd to rest, hydrate, and farm out so there is enough oxygen flow among them. The crowd of predominantly pioneer generation asked for Mandarin translation. I stepped up to help translate the information into Mandarin, all the while grateful to Mr. Lee for implementing the dual language education system, which I now have the opportunity to role model for my kids.
Learning Gratitude — Thank You Mdm, Sir, Mr. Lee…
I want to thank the many, many officers who did their job stoically and kindly. From the National Guard who allowed me to join the priority queue to the ones who handed out water and snacks to us to the ones who patiently usher us forward in the line and counseled us to hydrate and breathe.
We also want to thank the silent workers — the aunties and uncles on the street who helped clear away the rubbish and uphold Lee Kuan Yew’s vision to keep our city clean.
To the grandmothers and grandfathers who shared stories of old Singapore with us along the queue, thank you for being our master storytellers. This is Aunty Doris, a retired teacher at Raffles Girls Primary who kept us company and shared her fan with my very hot daughter.
To my husband who became a Singapore citizen in 2010 when our son entered primary school, thank you for providing shade and being a support for our children to lean on when they got tired. And for understanding how important this journey was to me as a Singaporean. For accompanying us on this journey and sharing our sentiments as we pay our respect to this giant of a man.
10:30am – Paid Our Respect
We were not allowed to take any photographs inside the hall where Mr. Lee was. I wanted to respect that.
We waited for a while longer but it was inside the air-conditioned room, so we didn’t mind so much. There was a solemn air as we inch forward. Another line (on the left) was moving much faster. This was the public queue where we would have to wait 8 hours instead of half that time. We were on the right side and therefore had a better view of the coffin.
After FOUR hours of queuing, we were finally able to pay our final respect to this great, great man who made our nation. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment having done so, as well as profound gratitude for the man who gave so much for our nation.