Passing of an Era

A few months ago I got the idea that with a long weekend coming up for Easter in April, it would be a good time to plan a little getaway with my girlfriends in Perth.  We thought about a few places, but we had limited time and with me being on the East Coast now, there were a limited number of places in which we could maximise our time.  It was pretty soon clear that there was only one place that was going to fit the bill, and as much as I hated to admit it (and only because of my penchant for checking out new places) – Singapore was it.

Again?  Seriously?  I hear you.  I mean what is it now?  Trip 14?  15?  I’m not sure myself to be honest.

But what is it that you want when you are heading away with the girls?  It’s going to be all about shopping, cocktails, relaxing and pampering.  Easy pleasure, with the option of exploring something new if the whim takes us.  And that’s what you get with Singapore.  It’s a girl’s holiday paradise – safe, clean and with everything that a girl’s holiday requires.

And in my opinion, it’s thanks to one man that we have this paradise to return to time and time again.

Love him or not, Lee Kuan Yew was the man who shaped Singapore into what she is today.  Singapore’s first Prime Minister after gaining independence in 1965, his reign saw average incomes rise 100 times, with investments across the globe, a widely respected civil service and world-class infrastructure.

He was widely criticised for his iron-fisted rule (a benevolent dictatorship or form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute political power over the state but is seen to do so for the benefit of the population as a whole) and for creating a nanny state where there was no chewing gum allowed, no littering, no graffiti, no jaywalking, no spitting, no expelling mucous from the nose and no urinating anywhere but in a toilet. What a terrible place to live huh!  Imagine that – a society where we respect each other enough to behave with dignity!

I recently read an old article that decried how Singaporeans were bombarded by official campaigns such as ‘Speak Good English!’, ‘Speak Mandarin’, ‘Be More Considerate!, ‘Be Spontaneous!’, ‘Be More Careful!’, and ‘Drive Courteously!’, and I had to wonder what was actually wrong with that?  Why shouldn’t you be proud to speak your native tongue?  Why shouldn’t we be more considerate?  One only has to stand on any peak hour street corner in the Melbourne CBD and listen to the furious honking of impatient drivers, taking stupid risks to save themselves 10 seconds of time to wonder whether we also should be driving a little more courteously!

I am not blind enough to think there is no crime at all in Singapore (on one December visit, there were three bodies that washed up in the Singapore River), but I certainly do consider it one of the safest cities I have visited and, although I take the same caution to personal safety wherever I am, I have always felt safe in Singapore and I know my girlfriends will agree, because this is part of what keeps us coming back.  As a female in a Australian society where we (often the victims) are warned not to walk through parks by ourselves to avoid vicious attacks, it’s nice to know there’s somewhere in the world we can go to not have to worry so much, and to at least know that if a crime is perpetrated, there will be consequences – for the perpetrator.

After his retirement, LKY remained a revered figure by many but he also became the target of social media attacks as some Singaporeans began to muster the courage to speak out against him and his political and social model.  Despite his retirement, he still oversaw and directed policy in his role as Minister Mentor.

Lee Kuan Yew died last month, aged 91 and was buried on March 29.  Thousands turned out to pay their respects to the leader.

How are we unfree?

I tell you what freedom is.

Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours in the morning, to be able to leave one’s door open and not fear that one would be burgled. Freedom is the woman who can ride buses and trains alone; freedom is not having to avoid certain subway stations after night falls. Freedom is knowing our children can go to school without fear of drugs, or being mowed down by some insane person with a gun. Freedom is knowing that we are not bound by our class, our race, our religion, and we can excel for the individuals that we are – the freedom to accomplish. Freedom is living in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, knowing that our ability to get things done is not going to be limited by our ability to pay someone. Freedom is fresh air and clean streets, because nothing is more inimical to our liberty of movement than being trapped at home because of suffocating smog.

These are the freedoms that Singaporeans have, freedoms that were built on the vision and hard work of Lee Kuan Yew, our first Prime Minister. And we have all of these, these liberties, whilst also being one of the richest countries in the world.

There was no trade-off.

Calvin Cheng, Journalist


It will remain to be seen where Singapore’s future lays and how, if at all, she will change.  Though Lee once said ‘even if you are going to lower me into the ground and I feel that something is wrong, I’ll get up’, so I doubt there’ll be anything to worry about!

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