Lee Kuan Yew taught lessons to Singaporeans, even in death
There have been many reports and news articles about the waiting time of the queue, the kind acts that have been done and pictures of the many people queueing, but none seemed to be similar to what I really felt and experienced during my queue. This could of course be also due to the large increase in crowd turnout on the last night.
Many people have commented to me that the wait was definitely “worth it”, or asked if I thought it was “worth it”. I’m not sure if “worth it” is the right phrase to use here, as that phrase seems to put the focus of this whole experience on me and the satisfaction I’m supposed to feel at the end, instead of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the man who made this country possible. I queued for 8.5 hours, and I genuinely don’t think an 8.5 hour wait for anything is “worth it”, but it was the right thing to do in showing my appreciation for him.
1. Volunteers are the unsung heroes
Lots of food (biscuits, bread) and drinks (bottled water, JiaJia Liang Teh, H-Two-O, teh tarik, hot coffee) were given out by tireless volunteers who lined the sides of the queue.
I was particularly moved by a family who moved a hot water dispenser/tank to the carpark at the floating platform queue area, making teh tarik and offering it to those in the queue, and a group of volunteers who was handing out hot coffee nearer the end of the queue. I was very thankful for the bottled water that was constantly going around, but the extra steps of having to boil the water and pour milk and sugar for each individual warmed my heart.
There were also some volunteers who really knew how to lighten the mood by joking about the food they could provide to us:
“Orders for roti prata! One prata kosong! Fish or chicken curry?”
“Anyone wants abalone?”
2. Orderliness has to be enforced
What was significantly different from what I read in reports, however, was the orderliness of the queue.
The pathways were generally wide, which meant many people were packed together. The SAF and volunteers tried to stagger the masses of people, by releasing groups of people so that the path would be less squeezy and suffocating. A SAF officer also told the crowd to keep one arm’s length from the person in front, so the queue would be less cramped and uncomfortable. This worked for a short while, but with people keen to move in the queue and inching forward ever so often, we often ended up packed like sardines, with little fresh air.
Many people had to be taken out of the queue and given a chair to rest by the side before continuing. First aid workers were spotted running up and down a few times, and the siren of ambulances could also be heard.
3. The irony of queue-cutting
The path of the queue was guided by metal and water-filled barricades, but at many points these barricades were further joined together by flimsy white-blue Police tape that came off easily.
I vividly recall a part of the barricade separating the route was broken as the tape had fallen off. A couple saw this, and assumed it would be their opportunity to cut the queue. After looking sheepishly at the insubstantial tape lying on the ground and glancing up at the people in my line (who knowing their intentions, were already giving the couple a dirty look), they had the audacity to cross over, and attempted to blend themselves into my line.
This incident came shortly after a text I received enroute from my friend, who was extremely proud that he only had to queue for 30 minutes to get into the Parliament House, as he had joined a friend who was queueing for hours.
I thought I was the only one who had encountered this, but following a short rant on my personal social media page, a few friends also responded saying they had similar experiences of people cutting the queue.
To all those who have cut the queue, or let someone cut the queue, I hope you realise the irony – in order to pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, an upright and noble man who stood firm on his principles, you did something abhorrent.
4. Length of queuing is not related to gratitude
Some people have laughed and mocked at the time others have spent queuing, especially since the live video stream was set up, but physically being in that room brings about an overwhelming gravity that suddenly descends on you. Be it respect, sadness, or even fear of the future, it transcends any feeling of tiredness, ache, and annoyance from the long queue.
At the same time, we also need to stop glamourising the queues. “I queued for 4/5/6/7/8/9/10 hours!!” has become a form of achievement; a badge that somehow exemplifies our unfailing perseverance and shows our love for Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Being a grateful Singaporean isn’t reflected by queueing for 3-10 hours and buying a bouquet of flowers to pay respects. Being a grateful Singaporean is embracing and exemplifying the qualities and traits that Mr Lee worked so hard to inculcate into our society and Singapore’s image.
5. Let’s cut everybody some slack
Despite some minor lapses, the SAF and those in charge of crowd control have done a tremendous job. To be in uniform in the sweltering heat, answering the incessant questions from the public, while providing constant updates along the way is deserving of much more praise and credit than we accord to them. They could easily be resting after a whole week of training or work.
I’m not sure if such an unexpectedly large-scale event will occur in the near future, or actually ever in our lifetime again. Much has been said and done, but the most poignant phrase of all, is the phrase that describes the state of Singapore now — “a nation mourns”. I particularly like the usage of the word ‘nation’ instead of ‘country’ (simply a geographical area) or ‘state’ (a system of governance).
A nation — an imagined community where a group of people who identify themselves as one. Through this event, I have experienced firsthand the kindness and heartwarming acts of other Singaporeans; Singaporeans who are not obliged to serve. The success of Mr Lee Kuan Yew all the other politicians and founding fathers cannot be more any more evident. They built a country that wasn’t supposed to exist. This is the legacy we must fight to preserve, and promote.
Images via Berenice Low
Featured Image via Berenice Low