NAC withdrawing $8000 grant for Sonny Liew’s graphic novel

From ‘NAC withdraws grant for graphic novel publisher due to ‘sensitive’ content’, 30 May 2015, article in CNA

The National Arts Council (NAC) has withdrawn a publishing grant for the graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye on the eve of its Singapore launch because of “sensitive content”. The council declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the decision to revoke the S$8,000 grant.

The experimental graphic novel by artist-illustrator Sonny Liew follows the story of comic-book artist Charlie Chan during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history. It weaves together fictional and historical elements, with nods to events and personalities in the nation’s history, such as Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum, the so-called Marxist Conspiracy, in 1987.

In a statement, NAC’s senior director of the literary arts sector Khor Kok Wah said: “We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions. The Council will continue to support and work with Epigram, a leading publisher of Singapore literary works, on other projects.”

…Mr Liew expressed his disappointment with NAC’s decision. “I’d hoped the book was nuanced enough in … dealing with the issues. But developments have made it clearer that NAC works under constraints that make it difficult for it to support works that are deemed politically sensitive.”

In 2011, the NAC withdrew a grant for a volume of playwright Chong Tze Chien’s collected plays, which had included Charged, a play that dealt with national service and race.

According to the Funding Guidelines, NAC will reject works that appear to have a ‘negative influence on society’, those that advocate for lifestyles that are seen as ‘objectionable’ by the public, denigrate on the basis of race or religion, undermine the authority of the government or threaten the nation’s security or stability. In Charlie Chan, Operation Spectrum is satirised as a plot to ‘replace all music in Singapore with the melodies of Richard Marx’, which gives a new, rather ominous twist to the lyrics of his greatest hit ever, Right Here Waiting (wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you). Not only will this ‘indirect censorship’ boost sales of Sonny’s book, it will also draw audiences to rediscover the adult contemporary music genius that is Richard Marx.

A more extreme parallel to Charlie Chan would be the charges slapped on fellow cartoonist Leslie Chew, the mastermind behind ‘Demon-cratic Singapore’. But I would think another reason why the depiction of LKY in a comic book is considered ‘too sensitive’ for funding is probably because of recent discussions to make it illegal for anyone to commercialise the image of our great leader for personal gain. I wouldn’t be surprised if MDA goes around pasting black boxes over panels of Charlie Chan containing references to LKY or the Marxist insurgency. The way around that, of course, is to order the unedited ‘US version’, or head over to the Causeway to buy it, along with a DVD for ‘To Singapore, with Love‘, which would neatly serve as a ‘behind the scenes’ companion to Charlie Chan if you want to know more about that fog of Singapore history known as Operation Spectrum.

Interestingly, Chong Tze Chien, the other victim of NAC’s sudden withdrawal was featured on the organisation’s publication titled ‘Literary Singapore’. The ‘directory’ of writers describes the play ‘Charged’ as such:

Through his signature use of experimental and innovative puppetry and stage devices, Chong’s “Charged” is Singapore’s most controversial and nuanced political play to date – addressing the issue of racial tensions in the most explosive of scenarios – that of a Chinese corporal shooting his Malay counterpart while on military duty.

And then NAC decided: Hmm, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea supporting this after all, I want my money back. What was once lauded as a ‘most controversial’ portrayal of race relations becomes a ‘taboo’ overnight. One moment you’re giving yourself a pat on the back for a ‘progressive’ stance, and the next you’re hurriedly taking it back, like ‘modern’ parents having second thoughts about giving their 18 year old son the car keys before his big date, afraid that they may have to pay an abortion check later. Incidentally, ‘Charged’ won the ‘BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT’ at the 11th Life! Theatre Awards.

I suppose one has to be prepared to make a living the hard way if your grant doesn’t qualify because your book or script is too provocative by NAC standards and may spark a mass riot like Charlie Hebdo. If only they’d told you sooner though. MDA did the same last-minute about turn when they banned Ken Kwek’s Sex Violence Family Values when it was just about to premiere in local cinemas. You could say the authorities were ‘right there waiting’ before deciding to pull the plug.

Changi airport would not exist without LKY

From ‘Aviation museum better way to honour Mr Lee’, 13 April 2015, article by Karamjit Kaur, ST

AN ONLINE petition for Changi Airport to be renamed Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) International Airport has garnered nearly 12,500 signatures over four days. The list is with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who said he would bring the matter up with the Government, according to the petition organiser, who goes by the moniker “Remembering LKY”.

When Parliament sits today, Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to consider renaming the airport after Mr Lee.

In a recent tribute to Mr Lee, who died at 91 on March 23, Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong said: “Changi Airport was his baby, and it has become an icon. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was truly the Father of Changi Airport.” So should the airport take his name?

While the petitioners have good intentions in honouring his legacy in this way, it might not be the best way to recognise his contributions. Make no mistake – without Mr Lee, there would be no Changi Airport. He was the one who pushed for the airport’s move from Paya Lebar to Changi, even though foreign experts disagreed. He foresaw that an airport on the coast would allow room for expansion towards the sea and would direct noise away from the city.

…To take away the name would undo, to some extent, the hard work put in over the past 34 years to build up this reputation. Indeed, one could argue it would diminish the legacy that Mr Lee has left behind. One middle-ground option that could be considered without removing Changi’s brand name would be to rename it Lee Kuan Yew Changi Airport.

The petitioners, who had hoped to go a step further by changing its airport code from SIN to LKY will be disappointed to learn that LKY is already being used by Lake Manyara Airport in Tanzania, Africa.

Well, without LKY, Singapore as we know it today would not exist. Should we rename Singapore to ‘Leekuanyew’ then? But let’s take a few steps back in our aviation history and examine the development of Changi Airport, and whether it’s true that it would not have existed if not for LKY’s calculated risk of abandoning Paya Lebar and going for broke. Along the way, expect to see the forgotten names of some unsung heroes, and unlikely naysayers. To the petitioners I say this: Read up your history before jumping on the petition bandwagon.

In the beginning, there were mangrove swamps and virgin forests on the north-eastern coast of Singapore, save for a sleepy fishing village and a couple of buildings. The serendipity of war led to the initial development of Changi into a state-of-the-art military base by the British in 1942. A year later when the Japanese invaded, POWs were forced to build two airstrips for Japanese fighters to defend Singapore. After the war ended, the Royal Air Force took over until the British withdrew from the island in 1967. If it weren’t for these invading foreigners, Changi would have remained a backwater marshland, nevermind how much blood has been spilled into its surrounding waters.

It wasn’t long before a debate ignited between the two sites, with the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) recommending Changi over Paya Lebar due to noise concerns for the latter. SPUR consisted of architects and planners from both private and public sectors, including Tay Kheng Soon and William Lim. A Polish town planner named Krystyn Olszewski made the same recommendation in 1971, citing health hazards of having a busy airport in the heart of the city. One disapproving voice against the writing off of 150 million dollars invested in the current airport was Perm Sec Ngiam Tong Dow, who didn’t buy the noise argument. If LKY had listened to the man, the proposal would have its wings clipped, and Changi would today be synonymous with nothing other than an airforce camp, chalets for BBQs and fishing, a haunted hospital, and anyone living around Paya Lebar would need MediShield to cover ruptured eardrums.

1974 brought the first oil shock and slowed the growth of air traffic, and given the delay in building a second runway at Paya Lebar, LKY took the chance to seriously consider an alternative aviation hub and take the ‘$1 billion gamble’, but not without hearing others out. One man who ‘pushed very hard’ for Changi was then Head of Civil Service and future Minister of Defence Howe Yoon Chong, whom LKY referred to as a ‘bulldozer’.  Howe and his Special Committee on Airport Development team did a final re-appraisal and concluded that Changi was the future of civil aviation. In fact, in PM Lee’s eulogy of the man, not only was his ‘vision and tireless energy’ acknowledged, but it was Howe who proved Goh Keng Swee wrong when he insisted that the MRT, and not an all-bus system, was the future of  public transport.

The dirty work of running the project after Cabinet approved of the shift fell to Sim Kee Boon,  who had the unenviable task of coordinating various agencies to turn a shabby military airbase into one of the finest airports the world has ever known. In Ong Teng Cheong’s opening ceremony speech in 1981, he expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the project, Howe, Sim, down to the contractors and sub-contractors. Well, everyone, except a certain Lee Kuan Yew.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Except that with LKY’s passing, his role in the making of Changi Airport has been, rather predictably, exaggerated. It was a series of fortunate, and unfortunate, events (the War, oil crisis), and the foresight and toil of other people, not just LKY, that led to the materialisation of the dream airport that we’ve become so proud of. In fact, if we were to rename Changi Airport to LKY Airport, it would diminish not just the man’s greatness, but those who contributed so much of their lives to make Changi what it is today. Let there be an aviation museum if you will, but let’s celebrate not just LKY but the people behind the scenes, criminally omitted from our history textbooks, without whom Changi Airport would remain a mere flight of fancy.

LKY wanted his Oxley Road House demolished

From ‘Mr Lee Kuan Yew stated in will that he wanted Oxley Road Home demolished’, 12 April 2015, article in Today

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had specified in his will that the house he shared his late wife on Oxley Road be demolished after his death, and this wish will be “administered strictly”, said his children Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

In a statement issued today (April 12), Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who are the executors and trustees of the late Mr Lee’s will, said their father had given them clear instructions directly and in his will — dated Dec 17 2013 — to demolish the house immediately after his death. If Dr Lee continued to live in the house, then the house should be demolished immediately after she moved out.

The late Mr Lee, who passed away on March 23, had been aware of the calls to preserve his home, but his wish expressed to his children and publicly was “unwavering” — that the house to be torn down upon his passing, said Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

“He was concerned an order might be issued against his wishes. He therefore added in his Lee Kuan Yew Will that ‘If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants’,” they said.

When interviewed during the launch of his book Hard Truths in 2011, LKY said that he didn’t want his Oxley residence, a ‘big rambling house’, to end up in shambles like Nehru or Shakespeare’s, and that because of his presence, nobody in the estate would dare build anything higher than his own. Even Google Maps can’t get anything out of its Street View of 38 Oxley Road beyond what appears to be an impenetrable forest.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 10.05.55 PM

The media tells us that the house was ‘spartan’, with LKY’s bed bearing nothing more than a ‘towel blanket’ and a bolster. The downstairs bathroom had traditional mosaic tiles, a ‘hamdankong’ (barrel for making salted eggs) and an urn filled with water for bathing like how people used to wash themselves in the old days. Other than the old man’s computer, the second most modern thing in the house is probably his exercise bike, which looks set to the next piece of memorabilia to be displayed at the National Museum alongside his red box and the ‘battleship’ telegram. I’m sure LKY wouldn’t mind if someone designed an exact replica of the house as an exhibit by itself, with Gurkhas, hamdankongs and all.

There is currently a 1500-strong petition to gazette the house as a national heritage site and museum, which seems like a good idea for the sake of future generations, provided the government maintains it such and ignores the issue of property prices. Hundreds of years down the road people would still flock to Oxley Road like how tourists swarm the House of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire, where you could bring home a mini 38 Oxley Road fridge magnet as a souvenir, or get your picture taken with a Gurkha against the backdrop of the PAP’s ‘War Room’. The Chinese are already doing that to LKY’s ANCESTRAL home in Guangdong, regardless of what Singaporeans think.

Alas, LKY was not a man who would succumb to fawning sentiment, and would rather see a hideous luxury condo take its place in Oxley than have a part of his legacy worshiped and swooned over like devotees to a shrine. The last thing our late founding father wanted was to have his private domain turned into a site of pilgrimage, or a giant statue built in its place like our version of Christ the Redeemer. He already has a baby in India named after him, Jeyaprakesh Lee Kuan Yew. The least we could do, as grateful Singaporeans, is to fulfil a dying wish, and not be disobedient to Ah Gong like this writer/consultant in 2013, who basically thought destroying a monument in Singapore’s history was a silly idea. Ignore his wishes, and risk having Oxley Road eternally haunted by his angry hatchet-wielding spirit.

Still, it would be nice if we had an open house before the government sends the demolition team in, with the blessings of daughter Lee Wei Ling of course. You would probably have to start queuing from Novena MRT station for 8 hours to get a sneak peek, which could be a boon to Orchard Road businesses by the way.  Wonder what’s to become of the Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 apartments, though.

UPDATE(13 April 15): Lee Wei Ling has decided to continue staying in 38 Oxley Road. The house gets to live another day.

Two full Malay ministers in Cabinet is testament to meritocracy

From ‘Promotion to full minister shows Singapore runs on meritocracy: Masagos’, 8 Apr 2015, CNA

The promotion from Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs to full Minister is a testament to how Singapore is run on the basis of meritocracy, Mr Masagos Zulkifli said on Wednesday (Apr 8). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the promotion, along with changes to the portfolios of four other Ministers, earlier on Wednesday.

In an interview with MediaCorp’s Berita, Mr Masagos said: “It would seem apparent that the Malay community would celebrate having two full Ministers in the Cabinet for the first time, but I think this is also how Singapore runs on the basis of meritocracy.

“That you get the post, and are rewarded for your performance and contributions because of the impact you have made. Not because you are close to a particular person or that you are the son of somebody,” he added.

“I think this is important because it gives you the credibility to the people you serve as well as your colleagues. And I’m glad that this is the system that we have.

Credit to Masagos for getting the promotion, but feminists continue to frown because there’s only ONE woman minister in Cabinet currently (Grace Fu). Nobody’s going to tell you that women in Singapore have not ‘progressed’ based on their dismal representation in Cabinet. But since we’re keeping score, here’s the ministerial ethnic breakdown, with the Chinese leading the way.

Chinese: 13
Indian: 4 (Vivian Balakrishnan technically of mixed-race heritage)
Malay: 2
Eurasians: None (Though S Iswaran represents the community’s interests)

There’s another system that Masagos probably needs to acknowledge, one that brought him into politics in the first place. The GRC. To be specific, his Tampines team led by Mah Bow Tan beat their SDA opponents 68-31% in the 2006 GE. SDA did reasonably well despite the line-up of relative unknowns though, compared to the other opposition parties including an SDP led by Chee Soon Juan’s sister.

In 1988,  Goh Chok Tong introduced the ‘Team MP’ concept, in which selected GRCs would require to place at least one Malay candidate up for contest. There were also select committees set aside to decide if you were considered a ‘minority’ candidate or not. A ‘Malay’ for example, is defined as someone who is Malay, Javanese, Boyanese, Bugis, Arab or ANY OTHER PERSON, generally accepted as a member of the Malay community or by that community’.  To which Chiam See Tong remarked that even a European, or a MAORI, would be considered as a ‘Malay’ if he or she was generally accepted to be one. I’m bad in Mandarin and read everything in English i.e jiak kantang. Does that make me accepted as an ‘ang moh’?

Chiam then went on to urge the Government to reconsider such ‘racial’ politics, while others lamented about the ‘special protection’ given to Malays, which curiously enough, allegedly contravenes the principles of meritocracy. In other words, that a tinge of ‘tokenism’ belies the progress of the minority community, a phrase that Ng Eng Hen used to deny that the rise of Malays/Muslims in the armed forces had anything to do with race or religion.

So it’s not just a matter of simply performing well and earning it regardless of your ethnicity. Ex press secretary to LKY James Fu wrote in a 1988 letter that Malay MPs were dropped or shuffled around constituencies based on ‘preferences for a Chinese candidate’ from the ground, and even expressed concern that there may come a time when there may be NO MALAY MPs at all if we allowed non-Malay communities to vote their own kind into Parliament. Chillingly, he had this to say about the Chinese voting habits: “The fact is, other things being equal, Chinese voters prefer a Chinese to a Malay MP.” We have voters preferring young pretty politicians over old, ugly ones, tall ones over short ones, thin over fat. I mean, why trust voters and bother with elections at all, let the PM handpick all his men/women then, Malay or non-Malay, then we don’t need to worry about a certain race or sex dropping out of Parliament entirely. It’s all democracy’s fault that we’re racially imbalanced, dammit!

Echoing Chiam, our Cabinet should be made up of Singaporeans regardless of race language or religion, not Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, mixed-race or what have you and neither should we indulge in bean-counting MPs and ministers of a certain race as a gauge of one community’s progress as a whole. But that, the PAP would tell you, is unrealistic. Still,  when it comes to the top position, the man of the House, it appears that there remain reservations on the ethnicity of a future Prime Minister other than a majority race. LKY himself admitted that he did not consider S Dhanabalan as a successor as he felt Singapore was not ‘ready for an Indian PM’. Now that he’s passed away, no one would ever accuse him of discrimination. The day of ‘true meritocracy’ or equality will only come when we see a Malay taking the helm. Until then, we’re not as impartial as we’d like to think ourselves to be.

Dr Mahathir calling LKY ‘kiasu’

From ‘Ex-Malaysian PM Mahathir calls Lee Kuan Yew kiasu over tough stance on negotiations’, 4 April 2015, ST

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad says the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was “kiasu” and wouldn’t budge on negotiations. This was because Mr Lee’s relationship with Malaysia was “coloured with bitterness” over Singapore’s expulsion from the federation in 1965, Dr Mahathir said.

“We had 20 problems to resolve and I spent 22 years (as prime minister) trying to resolve them, but I could resolve none. He will not give even an inch; kiasu, you know,” Dr Mahathir, who served as Malaysia’s Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, reportedly said to students at a dialogue in Cyberjaya on Saturday.

Asked why Malaysia was not as well-developed as Singapore, of which Mr Lee served as the founding prime minister, Dr Mahathir replied that the smaller country had fewer problems to deal with.

With friends like these…

Even in death, there’s no love lost between these two. Dr M expressed sadness at his political sparring partner’s demise, though he admitted that he was ‘no close friend’ of the late leader. Often used in a derogatory manner, ‘kiasu’ has defined the Singaporean psyche, and I don’t blame Mahathir for not being familiar with the local nuances associated with the term, hence his misuse of it. In this case, he probably means ‘stubborn’ rather than ‘kiasu’. After all, one man’s resolve and tenacity is another man’s ‘kiasuism’, just like how some observers may refer to Dr M’s comment as ‘candid’, others will think his jibe, at 89 years of age, as a sign of cranky senility.

Dr M then went on to lament that LKY ‘had it easy’ considering Singapore’s compact size, with the smug assurance of a man dancing on the grave of his arch-nemesis. Being tiny, we didn’t need to build as many roads as Malaysia has, and he once remarked that even though we’re rich enough to afford Ferraris, Singaporean drivers would fall into the sea before shifting to fourth gear. He also accused LKY of trying to usurp Malaysian power, when he was a mere ‘mayor’ of Singapore, a ‘big frog in a small pond‘. Now that the frog is gone, another is croaking to fill the silence, the last of the South East Asian ‘old guards’.

LKY wasn’t one to back down from a fight, of course. He once branded Dr M a Malay ‘ultra’, and  according to his blog, Dr M took ‘decades’ to ‘live down’ the ‘extremist’ label. In an interview with the New York Times LKY expressed regret about being ‘turfed out’ of Malaysia, and that if the PAP weren’t kicked out Malaysia would have been less racially ‘polarised’, suggesting that Singaporean Malays were better educated, that even though some still wear headscarves, they were at least ‘modern looking’. LKY also hinted at Malaysia’s growing orthodox ‘Middle Eastern’ influence, that they used to ‘serve liquor and drink with you’, but now toast with syrups. It was one knockout punch after another, a case of one proclaiming ‘my country is better than your country’, and neither would give up the fight.

The crossing of swords would, however, be interspersed with snuggly moments like Mahathir’s heartfelt compliment of LKY’s ‘able stewardship’ after his windfall victory at the 1988 elections. LKY responded by saying that Dr M’s ‘felicitations’ brought him great pleasure and encouragement. It was a vintage love-hate relationship, though Dr M would stress in his condolence message that there was ‘no enmity’ at all.

As hard as both men would admit it, they found their match in each other, not despite, but because of their differences. Dr M may even miss the old ‘little Chinese emperor‘, like Lex Luthor clamouring for Superman. No one else in any position of power I could think of would address LKY as just ‘Kuan Yew’. To many that would be plain rudeness, especially now that he’s gone, but I see it as more a term of endearment and reluctant mutual respect, like how one reminisces about a rocky relationship with an ex-wife after an ugly divorce.

Dr M, I believe LKY is waiting for you on the other side, chessboard ready to play, and a couple of syrups to welcome you back into the game.

LKY using chicken feathers to cure hiccups

From ‘Remembering LKY: Daughter Lee Wei Ling’s personal, touching eulogy’, 30 Mar 15, article in sg.yahoo news

…”After Mama died in October 2010, Papa’s health deteriorated rapidly. The past five years have been challenging. But as always, Papa was determined to carry on as normal as possible, as best as he could.

“He developed Parkinson’s disease three years ago which severely limited his mobility. He had great difficulty standing and walking. But he refused to use a wheel chair or even a walking stick. He would walk, aided by his SOs (security officers),” Dr Lee said, in an excerpt made available on the website of the Prime Minister’s office.

“Papa was also plagued by bouts of hiccups that could only be controlled by medication which had adverse side effects. Over and above the frequent hiccups, his ability to swallow both solids and liquids was impaired, a not uncommon problem in old age.

“Papa searched the Internet and tried a wide variety of unorthodox hiccup therapies. For example, he once used rabbit skin and then chicken feathers to induce sneezing, so as to stop the hiccups. Although the sneezing sometimes stopped his hiccups, it did not do so consistently enough. Papa also tried reducing his food intake, because he felt that eating too much could precipitate hiccups, hence he lost a lot of weight, and appeared thin and gaunt.”

To me, the most interesting aspect of a powerhouse like LKY are his frailties, and trust his descendents to bring bits of our late leader’s personal life into the spotlight, snippets which would otherwise be smothered by tale after tale of his many accomplishments. It’s ironic that it’s only after his death do we realise that there were parts of LKY’s life that weren’t devoted to nation-building, that beneath the ironclad exterior we uncover layers of a unique personality and history never made known to perhaps even his closest friends.

It’s unusual, however, that a man of his intellect and stature would resort to things a shaman might use during a ritual to relieve his hiccups. This being the same person who believed in eugenics and that there was a genetic basis for homosexuality i.e a man of science and hard logic. Lee Wei Ling concluded her eulogy by saying that she would not break down, being a tough ‘Hakka woman’. And we believe her. This is a woman with the tenacity to run up and down a 20m corridor 800 times, or do burpees on a plane. She can beat off all 3 of her dad’s SOs with one arm behind her back.

Here are some intimate things you’ll never read about LKY in history textbooks or TV specials, told by the people who love him the most.

1. He struggled with dyslexia, and before the Parkinson’s diagnosis, was suffering from peripheral neuropathy. Despite this, he still spoke more languages, and wrote more books, than you ever will.

2. LKY was given the name ‘Harry’ from birth, and found it a ‘political liability’, according to son Lee Hsien Yang. None of the Lee children or grandchildren have Western names.

3. He had a weakness for sister Monica’s Nonya cooking: rojak, mee siam, gado gado, satay. Occasionally tiramisu or souffle. Hsien Yang mentioned that he had the typical Peranakan sweet tooth for desserts. I always thought the old man was a culinary ascetic, being credited with the quote that one should eat only 3/4 full for longevity. For a man who we now know loved food just as any Singaporean does, he grew up without ever cracking a soft boiled egg.

4. He had his wife fix the elastic band on his shorts rather than buy a new pair. He also washed his own underwear, according to LWL. He didn’t change his jacket for 20 years.

5. When PM Lee was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, his dad sent him DURIANS.

6. He studied Christian meditation under the guidance of a Benedictine monk. LKY was an agnostic.

7. He once asked an SO to time how long LWL took to swim. He also despatched SOs to accompany Hsien Yang when he was trekking in Pulau Ubin. In other parts of the world, these hires are known as ‘bodyguards’.

LKY being lionised into an ubermensch

From ‘Recognise imperfections without diminishing stature’, 28 March 2015, ST Forum

(Ng Qi Siang): I AM greatly saddened by Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. He was a great leader and deserves our respect for making Singapore the great country it is today.  However, I am concerned that many Singaporeans have been accused of being “disrespectful” of Mr Lee by mentioning some of his mistakes or policies they disagree with. Mr Chia Boon Teck has even called for such speech to be punished with punitive action (“Take the disrespectful to task”; Forum Online, yesterday).

…Moreover, by deeming the discussion of Mr Lee’s faults taboo, we lionise him excessively and present an inaccurate picture of the man to future generations. For all his great deeds, Mr Lee also made mistakes. Some of his policies, such as the “Stop at Two” policy, led to undesirable outcomes like an ageing population. His strict governing style has also been the subject of much controversy.

In order to give Mr Lee an honest assessment, we should recognise these imperfections without diminishing his stature, as historians do with other great figures, from Winston Churchill to Thomas Jefferson.  This will allow future generations to better relate to him as it gives his legacy a human touch. It also allows them to learn from both his errors as well as his successes.

However, by lionising him to the point of ignoring his weaknesses, we risk mythologising him into an “ubermensch” that future Singaporeans cannot relate to. By glossing over his mistakes, they may be deprived of important lessons that may help them avert the mistakes of their forebears.

Mr Lee himself has acknowledged that he is not perfect. As a man who did not take to heart how others perceived him, he would not want the value of his legacy to be lost for the sake of universal laudation. Free debate will allow for a more meaningful discussion of Mr Lee’s place in history.

When Low Thia Khiang mentioned that LKY was considered a ‘controversial figure’ because ‘many Singaporeans’ were sacrificed and had to pay the price for his one-party rule during a solemn parliamentary tribute, he was swiftly rebuked for being insensitive in light of his passing. The Catholic Church’s Archbishop William Goh said that Lee would not be canonised because although he achieved a lot of Singapore, he had his FLAWS, in particular the crackdown on parishioners during the 1987 Marxist conspiracy (Time to move on from Marxist conspiracy, 28 March 15, ST), a dark period under LKY’s rule that is conveniently omitted from the memorial biographies. I doubt anyone would accuse the Archbishop of disrespecting the dead man, unlike the brickbats tossed at the leader of the Workers’ Party.

Some critics go for the jugular, and become the target of a witch hunt as you would expect given this emotional period. Playwright Alfian Sa’at condemns the ‘fishing village myth’ and how the week of mourning was also a ‘history revisionism free-for-all’ (Playwright Alfian Sa’at questions LKY legacy, 27 March 2015, ST). Loudmouth Youtuber Amos Yee posted a video titled ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’, calling LKY a ‘dictator’ and comparing the adulation to that for Jesus Christ. Yes this is the same kid who thinks CNY is bullshit. Once talent spotted by Jack Neo, now facing 15 police reports at time of writing.

To be sure, LKY was no saint, as much as we have to be thankful for his glorious work. The glossing over the ‘controversial’ aspects of his leadership is inevitable as Singaporeans, having no king, emperor, saints or superhero to revere since our founding, finally have the chance to mourn a strong father-leader figure, many to the extent of messianic idolatry. After all, rational behaviour is hardly expected when a nation is bereaved, if the 10 hour Padang queues are anything to go by. Respect the phenomenal heroics of the man, but also remember him as a mortal with hopes, dreams, loves, quirks, habits, and yes, the occasional mistake. Aspiration, not divination. And of course, it pays to get your facts right.

Tribute in India

If the exaggerated mythologising of the man is not kept in check, we’ll have our children believing that LKY descended onto our little pitiless island on a flying giant unicorn, threw rainbow confetti across the land which magically spring forth HDB blocks and skyscrapers over mudflats, his sweat and tears transforming into the clean drinking water that we all take for granted today. In fact, on the day of his funeral itself, one already remembered for the torrential, incidental ‘tears from heaven’ that accompanied it,  someone reported a full rainbow appearing over MBS (which turned out to be an image from 2010). Also, the birds were singing Somewhere Also the Rainbow while flying in formation over the travelling cortege. OK, the last one is made up. I stand corrected.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and we risk slaying it if we overdo this rose-tinted tribute to LKY’s legacy, the gushing sentiment leading to a mass selective amnesia. We want to celebrate the man and his people without whom all this would not be possible, not the myth.

The ubermensch is German for ‘Superman’ or ‘Overman’, and we hear of mourners calling out to Lee as their ‘superhero’, ‘idol’ or bizarrely ‘Papa’, unaware that the man himself was known to eschew a personality cult, and was always reluctant to have buildings named after him. Since his death, we have petitions to rename Changi Airport to LKY airport, people changing their Facebook banners and profile pics to LKY and black ribbon decals with his face on cars. He was ultra-pragmatic both in life and would want his death to be likewise, without the wailing grandiosity and postmortem epithets such as ‘Architect of Modern Singapore’ and ‘Chief Gardener of Singapore’. I can imagine him shaking his head from above, telling Singaporeans to go home to their families, get back to work and stop screwing up the Padang, doing injustice to his life’s work as the creator of the ‘Clean and Green’ movement. Life goes on, as what as he had designed in the Singapore ‘DNA’ all along, for us to carry on without him.

If there’s anyone disrespecting our late leader, it’s the grievers leaving behind a sad mess for others to pick up after them while deifying the man, not the critics trying to make him sound more like us;  a fallible, emotional, stubborn human being, warts and all.

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While it is heartwarming to see genuine acts of compassion from ordinary people on the ground, it would be nice to see such kindness being displayed on an everyday basis. Yes, even in Hello Kitty queues.

When interviewed by the ST (Critical battles: Letting go of past, but not forgetting it, 29 March 2015, Sunday Times), Otto Fong, son of banished Fong Swee Huan, alleged instigator of the Hock Lee Bus Riots, said:

..As I looked at everyone queuing up, I wondered how many of them would do the same thing for their loved ones while they were still alive. There’s a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving is about letting go, forgetting is not healthy for history.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t give your own flesh and blood a Black Knight farewell when they pass on, but if there’s one lesson to take home from the week’s events, it’s to cherish your loved ones while they’re still around. The Old Man, God bless his soul, would agree.

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