LKY’s name sullied by an ‘dishonourable son’

From ‘Lee Wei Ling’s accusations ‘completely untrue’ PM Lee’, 10 Apr 2016, article in CNA

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Apr 10) responded to comments made on Facebook by his sister Lee Wei Ling. In a statement on Facebook, Mr Lee said: “I am deeply saddened by my sister Dr Lee Wei Ling’s claim that I have abused my power to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing in order to establish a dynasty. The accusations are completely untrue.”

He added: “The first anniversary of a person’s passing is a significant moment to remember him and reflect on what he meant to us. The more so with Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The Cabinet had discussed how we should mark the occasion. My advice was that we should leave it to ground-up efforts. Groups should keep their observances in proportion, and focused on the future.

…In one of the emails released by Dr Lee, she said that she “and HL are at odds on a matter of principle” with regard to the commemoration, and that Mr Lee had “no qualms abusing his power to (have) a commemoration just one year after Lee Kuan Yew died”.

She added: “Let’s be real, last year’s event was so vivid, no one will forget it in one (year). But if the power that be wants to establish a dynasty, LKY’s daughter will not allow LKY’s name to be sullied by a dishonourable son.”

LWL somehow managed to take everyone’s attention off her alleged plagiarism, but instead of throwing a smoke bomb, she decided to drop an atomic one. It’s a shame that family relations have to come to this after the passing of a patriach. The elder Lees would be saddened to see their own flesh and blood fighting over how a dead man should be remembered. LKY may have asked to have his Oxley house demolished, but it would pain him to see this pair explode into the sibling rivalry of the year, and a family torn apart.

So now that our PM’s reputation has been ‘sullied’ by his own sister, you’d have to wonder what drastic measures would need to be taken to ‘protect his honour’. One individual would be particularly interested. His name? Roy Ngerng. LWL has deleted the offending post, so perhaps that will keep Davinder Singh away for now.

As a son and PM, LWL’s brother had every right to commemorate Daddy’s 1st death anniversary, as many Singaporeans would come to expect as part of traditional custom. If he had decreed that a grand pagoda made of pure gold 10 storeys high be built just for LKY, then you could consider it an ‘abuse of power’. As for ‘honour’, well, we’ll leave it for the professor from NNI to elaborate further. As long as PM Lee doesn’t appear on the Panama Papers ‘honour roll’, then he’s fine.

Don’t expect any juicy bits from LWL’s Hakka Woman memoir, though. The ‘powers that be’ would have none of it. What everyone should learn from this episode is this: Don’t screw yourself over writing incriminating emails that any bugger can forward and post in the public domain.

UPDATE: PM’s wife Ho Ching apologised for inadvertently posting a picture of a snow monkey flipping its middle finger, explaining that she was a newbie at Twitter and deleted it as soon as it was construed as a response to her sister-in-law’s comments. A handy excuse for anyone ‘accidentally’ posting campaign material on Cooling Off day, as what a Facebook glitch did to Vivian Balakrishnan last year. Some levity on a very grim family matter then.

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When you pay peanuts, you get..

 

LKY hero worship is cringeworthy

From Dr Lee Wei Ling’s Facebook post, 26 March 2016

Lee Kuan Yew would have cringed at the hero worship just one year after his death

The response of Singaporeans during the seven days of national mourning when my father, Lee Kuan Yew, died last March was unanticipated – even by Singaporeans themselves, not to mention foreign observers. As his daughter, I too was astounded by the intensity of Singaporeans’ feelings towards my father.

…Life seemed to return to normal for Singapore over the past year. Personally, it was a different story for me. That I don’t express my emotion in public does not mean I am not hurting inside. The wound has only recently healed, and not even completely. So I declined to comment for publications marking the first anniversary of my father’s death.

What made me write this article was a front page report in The Straits Times (Mar 21). It carried a photo of an outline of Papa’s face made with 4,877 erasers that form an installation which is 2.3 m wide and 3.1 m tall, titled Our Father, Our Country, Our Flag. That was the work of 110 Singaporeans aged 17 to 35 using erasers with the Singapore flag on it.

It was a well-meaning effort but it made me wince. Here is why:

The photo brought back memories of my first visit to China with my father in 1976. It was the end of the Cultural Revolution and I have vivid memories of our delegation being greeted by young children lining the streets chanting loudly: “WELCOME, WELCOME, A VERY WARM WELCOME.”

It was very contrived and my father was not impressed. We are Singaporeans, not prone to excessive, unnatural displays of emotion.

…I acknowledge the outline of Papa’s face made with erasers as a sincere gesture. But in looking at acts of commemoration in general, I would ask how the time, effort and resources used to prepare these would benefit Singapore and Singaporeans.

…Any veneration could have the opposite effect and lead future generations of Singaporeans to think that my father’s actions were motivated by his desire for fame, or creation of a dynasty. He strove hard and determinedly in life to advance Singapore, and not for his place in history, or leaving a great legacy. He is a rare politician and leader, who did what he had to do with no thought to any gain for himself.

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The late LKY once said that even if he had to be lowered into his grave, if he saw something wrong, he would get up. Today, one year after his passing, he’s probably cringing from the other side, with Mdm Kua Gek Choo by his side consoling him: ‘Dear, at least it’s not a giant statue like Michael Jackson’s off his History album cover’, to which her soulmate would reply: ‘It’s damn rubbers. At least you could USE a $50 commemorative note with my face on it!’.

What his daughter is saying about the death anniversary commemoration is ‘Nice, but please don’t waste your time and just get on with your lives already’. An even more cringeworthy piece of news was that of an Indian child born a year ago today in Tamil Nadu, also called Lee Kuan Yew, in honour of His Greatness. There was a nationwide search for people with the same name. Breadtalk wisely refrained from capitalising on the surge in this ‘hero worship’. Elsewhere, people observed a minute of silence, flocked to remembrance sites in Tanjong Pagar, shed a tear or two or, if they have too much time on their hands, create mega portraits made out of erasers, signatures, staples, nose hair, back pocket scraps or their own blood. No it wasn’t a mere hero that people were praying to. It’s a God-Emperor. Don’t forget to plan for Sept 16, your Heavenly Father’s 93rd birthday, devotees!

Lee Wei Ling already saw this mass deification coming just last year (Dr Lee Wei Ling on honouring the late Lee Kuan Yew’, 19 April 2015, ST). Her dad was dead set against a personality cult  growing around him, eschewed hagiographies and had urged an ex-MP to ‘remember Ozymandias’, a pharoah who craved glorious immortality only to have his statue reduced to dust over time, leaving only the desert. Other writers advised against lionising the late leader and making an ubermensch out of him. Then there’s all this fuss over the Owen Road house, which may well turn out to be a shrine instead of a historical building if we don’t watch ourselves. Interestingly, Lee Wei Ling used the loaded word ‘dynasty’ in her post, a word that Lee and company did not take kindly to when they sued the New York Times for the defamatory ‘All in the Family’ article about political dynasties.

The media was, as expected, flooded with tears and sentiment of ex-Ministers paying tribute to Dear Leader, expressing more sorrow and gratitude than if it were their own dead parents. Meanwhile, someone else needs to settle the dead SMRT staff incident, while these guys are busy writing their soppy monologues and rehashing their public sad face, which no one gives a shit about except maybe the PM, who must be thinking at some point: ‘Why can’t I spend some time quietly reflecting on Daddy without going around beaming in approval at all these activities dammit!’

Let’s honour the man not by stroking his ghost ego, but by emulating his agnostic, pragmatic spirit. Our nation wasn’t built by one man, so let’s not undermine the contributions of other important individuals by elevating LKY on a godly pedestal. Stop the wailing, the offerings, the hero worship hang-ups and get on with your lives, Singaporeans.

Women are from Venus, Lee Wei Ling is from Mars

From ‘Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter: I’m a Martian anyway’, 20 Sep 15, article by Wong Kim Hoh, Sunday Times

…Hakka women are known for being strong, tough and resilient. Indeed, those who read her (Lee Wei Ling’s) columns will know she has very strong opinions and is unapologetically frank, blunt even, when it comes to issues she is passionate about.

In 2006, she poured scorn on biomedical research directions headed by Mr Philip Yeo, former chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. “I don’t deny that he’s contributed to Singapore as a top civil servant and he’s still contributing… All I’m saying is that you’re not a doctor, so you’re not in a position to know what is important,” she says.

Two years later, she publicly crossed swords with former attorney-general Walter Woon over the case of retail magnate Tang Wee Sung, who was jailed for trying to buy a kidney off an Indonesian man.

Recalling the case, Dr Lee – who believes that banning organ trading is irrational and medically incorrect – says: “The Indonesian guy who was willing to sell his kidney may well have needed that money to prevent two daughters from going into prostitution for all we know.”

…She does not think being her father’s daughter has made it harder to cultivate friends.

“I’ve never been much bothered by that. Like I said (in one of my columns), I was a Martian anyway. Even now. I have enough friends to count on all my fingers, and these are friends who really count. I know of a much bigger group of people who don’t count on that score.

Lee Wei Ling defines a ‘Martian’ as a term used by medical students in the 70s to describe ‘students who went it alone’. It could also be a euphemism for ‘weirdo’ or ‘loner’, rather than the HG Wells’ version where Martians are vicious extraterrestrials bent on world domination. Since then, ‘Martians’ have been played for laughs, whether as the comedic ‘fish out of water’ trope in the 60s’ My Favourite Martian, or the bungling space invaders in Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks’.

LKY’s daughter is also as Martian as men are to Mars, having once acknowledged in one of her articles that she could pass off as a teenage boy in her younger years. In fact, she may well be more physically endowed than most Singaporean men, what with her running 800 times up and down a corridor or doing burpees on planes. She is, however, no alien to organ trading laws.

In 2007, Lee blasted the ban on organ trading, calling it ‘irrational’ and ‘medically incorrect’. She believes there’s nothing wrong with desperate people selling their kidneys if it saves the life of someone willing to pay. A year later, when elite businessman Tang Wee Sung was sentenced to a day in jail after an organ trade saga, she called it a ‘token sentence‘ just to prove that ‘all, rich or poor are treated equally before the law’, and called out whoever made the decision for lacking ’empathy’ because they put a very sick man behind bars.

Former Attorney General Walter Woon, knowing full well that it might be a ‘bad idea’ to cross swords with the daughter of LKY, clarified publicly that Tang was fined $7K for the offence, but jailed for ‘lying on oath’. Other experts chimed in against organ trading, with a certain Dr Choi Kin saying that it promotes ‘greater social injustice’ because you’re practically ‘prostituting your organ’. Our own Singapore Medical Association were dead against it because donors may get exploited by unscrupulous ‘middlemen’. The ethics surrounding organ trading is as murky as the haze. But what if you erase transplant complications, or the fact that you’re losing a chunk of yourself forever, from the equation? For the sake of argument, imagine one day when our blood banks run out, I needed money desperately and someone is willing to pay me to get hooked up to a machine and suck me dry (though technically blood is tissue and not an organ). I would do it in a jiffy if I could be assured that nothing would go wrong. Nevermind if some people call me a blood whore.

Meanwhile, those who have the money may choose to fly to China or India to get the job done instead of waiting to die (9 years, with 400 people in line for a kidney, to be exact), with 49 Singaporeans opting for overseas transplants in 2005 alone. All this at the risk of complications of course, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you can afford not only to be a medical tourist, but also the best medical care in town when you’re back. In the near future, a transplant could be as hassle free as going to Seoul for a nip-tuck over the weekend. Or maybe you don’t even need to leave the country. By the next millennium you could log into Carousell and auction for someone’s 3-D printable liver that’s compatible with yours, download a copy into a machine that will send an army of nanobots into your body to replace your damaged one in situ, cell-by-cell.

Lee’s argument is essentially a case of the end (life-saving) justifying the means (buying a kidney from someone who’ll do anything for money, including ‘prostituting’ his own flesh and blood). Willing buyer, willing seller. As for Tang, he’s alive and well, owing very much to the donated kidney of legendary gangster ‘One Eyed Dragon’ (Tan Jor Chin), who was executed for shooting a business associate. It’s a situation dripping with delicious irony; Tang Wee Sung is walking around with the kidney of a dead murderer, while God knows what happened to the poor Indonesian fellow who tried to sell his.

Nobody would suggest that Lee should consider herself ‘lucky’ for not running afoul with the AGC after her court-bashing. If it were anyone else undermining the courts’ ruling, they may likely get charged for contempt, or filed for harassment. Maybe her otherworldly Martian powers had something to do with it.

LKY’s name and image not allowed in commercial merchandise

From ‘New law on Mr Lee Kuan Yew ‘not aimed at artists or creative work”, 31 may 2015, article by Walter Sim, ST

A new law to safeguard the name and image of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from commercial profit is not aimed at restricting artistic or creative work, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said yesterday.

Such work could include paintings, books, movies, photographs or performances that make use of Mr Lee’s name or image, a ministry spokesman said in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

“Such works may be sold for private gain, but they are different from merchandised products for the mass market. Hence they will not be covered under the proposed law,” the spokesman said.

“The specific intent of the proposed law is to prevent Mr Lee’s image or name from being used in commercial merchandise. Examples are things like chocolate boxes, souvenir coins or medallions and office stationery,” she added.

‘Commercial merchandise’ would also include perishables like a Breadtalk bun in tribute to the man. Though borne out of good intentions with a charity aspect to it, negative reactions from the public swiftly killed the product. Which leads me to wonder, with such strong emotions displayed by Singaporeans in response to any form of exploitation of LKY’s name and image, is there even a need for a half-baked posthumous law where submissions are on a ‘case-by-case’ basis? You would have to set up an entire section within the ministry just to evaluate whether people can put LKY’s face on a manga comic, a doggie bowl, a video game, a lego set or a goddamn key chain.

Then there’s the question of what differentiates ‘commercial merchandise’ from those exempted for ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ reasons if profit is to be made either way. If the garage that gave away the Alex Yam-designed ‘black ribbon’ car decals had instead sold them at 50 cents each in honour of SG50, would that be breaching the new law? Even if they did distribute the stickers for free, business may have surged after the gesture and earn the wrath of critics scoffing such tribute acts as ‘publicity stunts’ to generate revenue indirectly. If something of a ‘commemorative’ nature like a ‘souvenir coin’ is not allowed under the proposed legislation, what about those planned special edition $10 and $50 notes featuring LKY on them?

I was once in a cafe which showcased a series of LKY’s books as ‘browsing material’, possibly to draw reverent customers who are either too cheapstake to buy the books themselves, or have no idea how libraries work. So it’s hard to tell if someone is genuinely in awe of the man, or using some typical business cunning to reap profits out of his death, even if none of the actual merchandise that they’re selling has anything to do with LKY, or politics for that matter. It’s like a bar owner promoting a ‘Michael Jackson’ night and playing nothing but MJ albums on his stereo on the singer’s death anniversary, without necessarily giving his cocktails and salad entrees cheesy names like ‘Thriller’ or ‘Dill the World’.

There’s also the issue of whether I can only depict the man in a favourable light. If I were a performance artist mimicking our Dear Leader, but instead of all-white shirt and pants I’m dressed in a dragon emperor’s robe, would I be hauled up by the Police for doing injustice to Him even if I’m not earning a single cent from my act? Chances are someone would run up and slap me in the face before the police even get to hunt me down for blasphemy. I bet you won’t see LKY drinking, smoking or swearing in the upcoming movie and musical, though I’m sure in real life he wasn’t immune from such vices. The man eats, shits and breathes like everyone else.  Except that if you do portray him doing any of these things, you’ll likely get crucified on the spot, or worse,  ‘Amos-Yeed’. It would also probably be illegal for you do post memes like these, even if the short and sweet content below speaks volumes about how some people are messing about with our dead leader’s name.

Instead of curbing the unnecessary deification of LKY, this impending law may very well make the man more of an ubermensch than he already is and feed into this hysterical personality cult that he was so dead set against. He was protected by security officers and Gurkhas nearly all his life. Today we propose to shield the man with wishy-washy state laws, because there’s no dead person greater who deserves our veneration, not first President Yusof Ishak, Sir Stamford Raffles, comedian Victor Khoo, nor legendary getai Beng Ah Nan.  Leave Him in peace already.

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.

Singapore turning away Rohingya boat people

From ‘Challenge, opportunity for Singapore’, 19 May 2015, ST Forum

(Mohamed Yazeed): THE complicated situation arising from the desperate migration of Rohingya people from Myanmar poses both a challenge and opportunity for Singapore.

The historical narrative we subscribe to, of Singapore being small and vulnerable and, hence, needing to do whatever it takes to survive, should not be an excuse to abandon our humanity.

Let us not speak of justice and compassion, yet turn away when there are human beings facing the horrendous fate of dying out in the ocean, which is right at our doorstep.

Although Singapore cannot accept any Rohingya due to the size of our nation, we can take the lead in trying to solve this problem at its roots.

Earlier this month, the Singapore Kindness Movement reported that we are becoming more ‘gracious’. Apparently the study did not evaluate whether Singaporeans were willing to escort drifting, hungry refugees onto our island and offer them food and shelter, instead of shooing them away because we can’t cope with the influx thereby letting them perish in the middle of the ocean or get robbed and raped by roving pirates.

In 1978, the late LKY responded to critics of our nation’s reluctance to extend a helping hand to Viet refugees, saying that ‘you’ve got to grow calluses on your heart or you’ll just bleed to death’. In other words, we were looking out for our own, and trying not to play Good Samaritan like someone opening his own doors to a horde of festering lepers. Except that at the time we were already letting thousands of migrants in through another door to boost the economy, nevermind the ‘small size’.  Despite all the money rushing in, we still had a heart of stone rather than one of gold. And for good reason too, according to S Rajaratnam, who in 1979 said that us extending a helping hand would mean ‘encouraging those responsible (for the exodus) to force even more refugees to flee’. That being ‘nice’ isn’t going to help humanity in the long run. Still, one of those Viet refugees rejected by us turned out to be a rather successful Australian governor.

Today, we continue to adopt the hard pragmatic stance of self-preservation at the expense of our ‘humanity’, but while turning away ‘illegal’ boat people, we welcome with open arms rich Chinese fraudsters and grant them PRs, or Caucasian hooligans who beat up taxi drivers and jump bail.  As the richest member of ASEAN, we fully expect our neighbours to give us the side-eye for brushing some desperate, stateless, fellow humans aside. It also doesn’t help that we’re on chummy terms with military junta leader Thein Sein, so much so that we have even named an orchid after him.

Meanwhile, despite the Rohingya crisis smack in our backyward, we send medical teams to far-flung disaster-struck Nepal to rebuild lives and go around dropping spare change into donation cans at 7-Elevens. Perhaps our callused heart is not that cold after all.

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.

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