Yesterday, I made a big decision to suppress my hatred for the Singapore outdoor humidity, close contact with large crowds and lack of sleep, just so I could join the greatest queue that Singapore (and perhaps the whole world) has ever seen.
The queue to pay my last respect to the late founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Sidenote: 442,297 people were in the queue for the 80+ hours of Lying in State. I once estimated about 1.5 million would turn up at Parliament House, but I was wrong. 1.5 million reflected the attendance for Parliament House and all community tribute sites.
8 hours was indeed a very long time just for queueing, and between the conversations that I had with N, there were many opportunities for reflection, big and small, about our lives and the society around us.
On a personal note, last night was the night when I first set foot on Padang, the floating platform and the Parliament House. It was almost like a tour in which we were led to go around some famous sites of Singapore.
However, we made observations of the crowd around us, and extrapolated those observations to the general trend in our society, and what it could mean to us in the post-LKY era.
The Queue Reflects Our Social Policies
To start off on a lighter note, allow me to comment that even in his death, Mr Lee’s system (and governing philosophies), is still marginalising singles like N and I.
There was a priority queue for the elderly and the handicapped, who are the minority that the government has always been devoted to take care of. Then there are the parents who could enjoy the priority queue because they have children below the age of 6. This is almost parallel to our policies that favoured young families greatly over the singles.
But seriously… Priority for bringing children under the age of 6? Many parents are using that to avoid the long wait, because, well, how much would a 3 year old understand about the contributions of Mr Lee? How appreciative, at this stage of life, are they to Mr Lee, compared to the elderly and the disadvantaged of the society?
However, just like the pro-family policies, this rule was implemented without expectations for anyone to dispute that, which usually leave singles like me to swallow a ‘hard truth’ grudgingly.
Despite this rule, N and I did notice agreat deal of positivity while advancing through the ‘normal’ queue.
Singaporeans Are Not Un-Emotional
The very fact that so many of us decided to take hours off our daily routines was evidence that we are a bunch of people who are capable of caring for something bigger than ourselves.
Just like the auntie we came across right from the start of the queue: Carrying a small bunch of white flowers in her hands, she stood silently, alone, at the Padang tent area, when all of us were seated; and she took quick steps to disappear into the crowd (and to reappear again as we spotted her further up the queue).
Looking like she was in her 50s, she did not cry, did not laugh, did not smile, never once spoke to the crowd around her, but emanated an aura of silent determination to complete her mission to see Mr Lee for the last time.
Singaporeans Are Determined, Orderly & Courteous
There were light-hearted jabs at how Singaporeans had trained for the past decade by queueing up for Hello Kitty. However, taking time off our busy schedules just to queue, was already a big sacrifice in a world that embraces the philosophy Carpe Diem.
And despite all the discomfort, everyone was orderly, not ruffled and not a single word of offense was thrown at another (much less acts of aggression). At the Esplanade Bridge, which was the point where 2 parts of the queue crossed, the crowd who had been at the queue 2-hour ahead of us cheered us on, while we also waved them goodbye and gave them well wishes, because they still had at least another 2 hours to go.
Singaporeans Are Also Big Hearted
Along the way, volunteers distributed refreshment like apples, cakes and bottled water. It was not easy, because they had to go up and down; some even had to carry the stock around because the level ground (which would be good for trolleys that could ferry the stock) was already taken up for the queue. People thanked each other despite the fatigue and helped each other grab the stuff. When someone fainted near the floating platform, everyone shouted in unison “Medic! Medica!” to catch the attention of the ushers.
So who said Singaporeans are ungracious?
Chinese Funeral In A Big Way
Last night, we were given apples, cakes, sports drinks and biscuits. This afternoon, there was chicken rice purchased by an annonymous MP. My friend just reported that he is eating spaghetti. I wished him a very fruit-full (pun intended) night ahead. But this whole queue is very much like a Chinese void deck wake, with all the food, chit chat, but minus the mahjong!
We Are A Diverse Society
Throughout the length of the queue we came across people of different races. There was also a Singaporean who was bringing his foreign friends; my only amazement was that a foreigner would want to spend their time to queue! Would we have done the same thing when we were on holiday overseas?
There were also people who came in their work attire, from the business executive, high heels, to the overalls. There were the minorities who were overlooked by current policies (think: pink dot). Students came in their uniforms and studied using their phone’s LED flashlight.
Almost every segment of our society was came together in one place for a single purpose: to see Mr Lee for one last time.
Interestingly, what was disappointing about our society was what was absent from the queue.
N and I theorized that those with violent tendencies, or those who behave ungraciously, would have consciously opted not to join the queue. In fact, because those who hated Mr Lee would not have joined the queue, we keep hearing people around us praise the system we live in or express their gratitude to be living in Singapore. None bore enmity or offense while waiting in the queue.
More importantly, we noted that a certain sector of the society was under-represented, both in the queue and in the form of volunteers (we can’t judge based on the uniformed officers, because they are after all, obliged to perform official duties as ushers). This really caused us to wonder what such division means for our society, as we move forward to an era without Mr Lee.
What Joining The Queue Says About Us
To put things in a more positive light, we joined the queue because we appreciate the contribution Mr Lee made as a pioneering leader of Singapore. We appreciated that he created a meritocratic system that allowed those of us who are willing to work hard to attain the success we wanted. The system demands that we are disciplined, strong-willed and big-hearted, which are also the qualities one should have in order to survive the great queue.
Yes, we were herded like cattles along the way, but because our goal was to reach Parliament House, and that the Mindef and Home Team officers had put in place a system that ensured a pretty much fair system for us to reach Parliament House without shedding blood or sustaining bruises, the discomfort along the way was trivial compared to the cause.
We understand that in life, in a society with limited resources, we can’t always expect to get what we want while lying in a bed of roses.
Critics loved to say that Singaoporeans are brainwashed by propaganda and media censorship. I personally felt that our people are so exam-centric that we are not learning to think critically during our schooling years.
However, with the proliferation of internet, we are all exposed to information from all over the world, be them true or are falsifications. And like a fresh graduate entering the society and experiencing a culture shock, we have learned to evaluate the information that flood our computer screens everyday, despite not being well-equipped to handle the new experience initially.
Who is to say we would not be able to discern good or bad governance?
The reason why most of us stayed silent was mostly because we are okay with the system and sees no need to rock the boat.
To a certain extent, we do need to ensure that the system is not compromised, by having audits and checks regularly. Someone passionate enough would take up the task. But for most of us, we are satisfied with the fact that we can shop in malls instead of black markets, stay out for dinner with friends till late without worrying about getting robbed or raped, and basically enjoying luxury that many in the world cannot enjoy. As long as this form of lifestyle could be sustained, we do not care who is governing, as long as someone capable is doing it.
And because I enjoy the lifestyle I am leading (I’m not leading the life of an ultra-rich, but given my own competence, I am glad to be living so comfortably now), I really appreciate the foundations that Mr Lee, through leading the first generation of leaders, had built for us.
There are of course still many things on my wishlist that I hope could be implemented in Singapore; currently, life is good enough.
That was the reason why I made the decision to join the queue, because I want to be there, to be as close to Mr Lee as possible, to tell him a big Thank Yew!