One time several years ago, I was flying back home alone from Orlando while the husband had to get on a later flight. It was a 16-hour leg to Narita airport and I was looking forward to a nice quiet loner flight where I could binge on movies till my eyes hurt. I had on my earphones and my most sullen do-not-disturb face.
Sitting next to me was a middle aged white man who didn’t notice either. When he caught my gaze, he tried to make conversation.
“Hi, where are you from? Your English is very good.” He must have heard me when I told the flight attendant, “Apple juice, please.”
I wanted very much to pretend I didn’t hear him so that I could go back to watching Chris Hemsworth in Thor, but I am a polite asian girl so I said, “Oh, I’m from Singapore.” I figured he’d think it’s some rural province in China and proceed to leave me alone but as it turns out, he had just read Hard Truths by Lee Kuan Yew and was incidentally a superfan.
“Singapore! Lee Kuan Yew is such a brilliant leader. What he’s done for Singapore is incredible!” he raved in his southern drawl.
I certainly wasn’t expecting that response. I was both intrigued and a little bit torn. On the one hand, Chris Hemsworth’s hard muscles! but on the other, a conversation about Lee Kuan Yew’s hard truths with a middle aged white guy from Texas. I went with Texan Superfan. It was too interesting a conversation for me to pass up on.
It turned out to be a very pleasant flight where we talked about American politics (he was republican), Chinese food (greasy but delicious), personal liberties (important but sometimes overrated), but mostly, the genius of Lee Kuan Yew (most awesome genius!).
I remember leaving the plane thinking “Lee Kuan Yew – what a man.”
I’m no superfan but like most Singaporeans, I’ve been spending my day reading articles on our founding Prime Minister and watching some of his captivating old speeches. Listening to him speak, it’s hard to not be awed by his charisma and intellect.
It is a sad day for Singapore, to lose a great man who’s given his life to get us to where we are.
Today Kirsten came home and asked, “Mom, who is Lee Kuan Yew? My friends told me that he died yesterday.”
“He’s Singapore’s first Prime Minister. When grandma was born, Singapore was a little fishing village with crummy houses and no jobs but because of Lee Kuan Yew, we get to live in a beautiful country with the best of everything,” I told her.
“You mean he built all these houses and roads and fun swimming pools all by himself?”
“Not literally but I guess you could say that he is the man who made it all possible.”
“Wow,” she said, looking visibly impressed.
There are those who will want to talk about how not all his policies were beneficial or popular. Perhaps some will say that he’s not the nicest guy on the block and all this fawning is obsequious. Maybe it is time for a change and change is good. But I think these conversations will have to wait for another time.
Today, we just lost a great man and on this day, we take the time to remember all the good he’s done for this country.
Today, we remember greatness.
p/c: Singapore Press Holdings