What were you doing at 3.18am?
I am currently on reservist and was resting in my bunk at Changi Naval Base when Mr Lee passed away. I found out about the news at about 6.50am when I woke up for my sentry shift and saw a text message from a camp mate.
Due to the previous hoax incident, I went to the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office website, Straits Times website and a few other trustworthy news sources to verify and was able to confirm that the news was true this time. I remembered CNN and CCTV news cannot be trusted and skipped these two.
Much has been said and written about Lee Kuan Yew, his legacy and the controversies surrounding him. At the end of it all, there is no denying that he is a great leader who achieved greatness and will be remembered and talked about for generations.
I have nothing much to add to the flowing tributes, but I think it will be equally meaningful if each and everyone of us ordinary citizen share our Lee Kuan Yew story to document little anecdotes of his encounters with the common folks.
I am Alvin, an ordinary Singaporean born here in the 80s who lives in a 3-room HDB flat, married with a four-year-old son and chasing the Singapore dream. This is #MyLeeKuanYew story.
In his lifetime, I came close to the man on three occasions.
The first time I met Mr Lee Kuan Yew was at the Nanyang Technological University Ministerial Forum in 2003. I was still an undergraduate then and was able to get tickets because I was in the Feedback Unit to the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
The format of the forum is such that students can ask any questions they want. I vividly remember most of those who fired off questions were foreign students, particularly those from mainland China.
In his trademark no-nonsense style, Mr Lee asked each student to identify themselves by stating their names, the faculties they were in and which year, before they can proceed to ask their questions.
There were some downright silly questions, of which the most hilarious was when a China student asked Mr Lee if he had considered importing babies from China to curb Singapore’s falling birthrate. Another China student asked that the operation hours of postal offices in Singapore to be extended beyond office hours.
I was half expecting Mr Lee to retort these silly questions with sarcasm. He didn’t, but laughed them off lightly with brief, witty answers.
Many might have forgotten he was a great orator in his younger days.
I left the auditorium that day feeling reasonable impressed and regretted not seizing the chance to ask Mr Lee a question or two. Why were the foreigners the ones who were most enthusiastic?
Surprising isn’t it? Mr Lee knows a thing or two about cosplay – he was the biggest star at the event, drawing the largest crowd, without having to put on any costume. Just being Lee Kuan Yew is the most awesome cosplay in the world.
I left the event regretting not having taken the opportunity to ask for an autograph or a picture with him. He may not have obliged, but you never try you will never know. This was my second regret.
The third time I met Mr Lee, it was for work. I was seated in a small conference room with him and less than ten others, mostly senior management staff and Mr Lee’s own entourage. I was the youngest rookie in the room.
It was amazing to observe how stern the atmosphere was when Mr Lee came into the room. Everyone was quiet when he spoke. Sharp and to-the-point, he just asked the most pertinent questions and rounded up the presentation quickly.
Again, I did not ask for his autograph or picture. It would probably have been awkward anyway as it was a work meeting. Nonetheless, it is with the same regret as the earlier two encounters.
Rest in peace Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Thank you for all you have done for Singapore. This is #MyLeeKuanYew story and I am sure there will be many more inspiring stories to be shared over the seven days of national mourning.