Dear Mr. Lee
Everytime I’m asked who would I invite to dinner, if I could invite any one person in the world, and my answer is always close to home. It’ll be you. I give credit to my history teacher and my father, for allowing me the honor to “know” you on a deeper level despite I’ve never met you up-close. Everytime the teacher shows archived videos of Singapore from our Japanese Occupation Days, to the moments you shouted merdeka, to the tears you gave the country, I teared and respected that you had the balls to do what you do because you could have effortlessly said good-bye and let someone else worry about the dirty job. Indeed, it is not a job envied by any. I had spent hours (before 911 happened), sitting on the steps of City Hall looking out to Padang and imagining those historic moments of tears and joy; the 1964 riot, the Merdeka, and our first National Day.
In my closest encounter with you ever, over a “Conversation with MM Lee” forum that I attended one day, a young Singaporean stood up and asked, “Mr. Lee, can we have more freedom?” You gave a long, calm yet firm and clear answer. You said (not exact words), “What freedom do you want? Tell me and I’ll give it to you. More basketball courts? More freedom of speech? You can always go to Hong Lim Park. You have a red passport that allows you to go to anywhere in the world, given to you by the fruits of labour of your parents, and their Pioneer Generation. You have been given the education and mobility to leave the country as you may, but your parents, the generation of your parents, can’t. We are here to help the Singaporeans who do not have the freedom of mobility, not those who can. What more freedom do you want?” I was dumbstruck, that was a very profound answer to a very simple mindless question by a kid. I had always remembered that.
I not only grew up in the comforts of a life formulated by you and your team, but I grew up with principles and values influenced by your ways. I have always believed in justice, equality and meritocracy, regardless of race, language or religion. I’ve also believed that moderate authoritarian with open ears and open eyes, building systems, impacting perceptions, are much needed in speed of growth. So much so that in the interest clubs I used to head from my teenage years, that was how I used to manage. We experienced astounding growth in our little worlds, but unfortunately I do not have your intelligence, resilience and as you know, emotions got in the way. I am bad at political games and absolutely dread it. I just wanted to make good out of my visions (if any). And through you, I saw the power of beliefs and visions. For everything else, if there’s a will, there is a way and people can always be found to fit in those shoes, simply with sheer determination.
Unknown to many family and friends, I’m a member of Young PAP and a proud graduate of the YP School. More than two elections ago, I decided the best channel to voice change, is to be part of the change itself. Although I have been inactive for many years, as things didn’t quite turned out as I expected. My cohort mates and I shared hours of enjoyable, meaningful discussions on the Singapore we hoped for in the next decade ahead. Unfortunately, we have since parted as we started focusing on our personal lives, but more so because we learned that people who want to do good but uninterested in becoming a chess piece of the political game will have a problem surviving in this system. Individually and separately, we still believe we can change the world, in our meagre ways. But you inspired me to want to play a part in Singapore’s future, to see our collective work as contributions that are larger-than-self.
I have always loved hosting friends from abroad, intentionally taking time off as I take them on a historic tour of Singapore along our streets and shores. I want to show them my home and her story. You gave me a home, sir. My dad was a nationless man. Born in Malaysia, worked in Singapore, at the wake of separation, he was forced to choose between the borders, he was forced to choose between two companies (that needed to be separated too because of this political change). None gave him a promise of an identity. He made $200 a month then, a low-level clerk. He had no identity, no money and not highly-educated. But he threw the dice and made a risk to stay. He later earned himself a diploma the year I was born. We moved from our 3-room flat from Ang Moh Kio into our current 5-room Jumbo HDB apartment when I was 7. My sisters and I were given best possible education and learning environment. My mother could focus on what she needed to do for the family. You gave not just a glimpse of hope, but the equal opportunity to curate a life. I learned from my dad, by equality, it’s not about earning the same income as everyone or about sharing the same privileges. It’s about the equal opportunity to survive, coupled with individual merits of success. Our family value has always been built upon the notion of survival (probably because of his growing years), I recall once a then-MYCS volunteer came to conduct a survey in our home, she asked a question, “Do you think foreigners took away job opportunities from Singaporeans?” Despite she was interviewing my dad, without hestitation, my dad, my sister and I, all three of us replied a firm “NO.” She asked the question three times to affirm our answer, and partially in disbelief too. We gave the same answer over and over again. A job opportunity, without bias, is an opportunity. It is up to the merit of individuals to grasp that opportunity, not by clauses of entitlement. I would feel demeaned if the primary reason I was given a job is because of my nationality, that would be true discrimination. I’m much better that that.
Dear sir, you are a man of many things. But most of all, you are a man of passion and sentiment. You love deeply, you hate deeply, and show both through actions. Even as your avid fan, I don’t agree with everything you’ve said or everything that you’ve done. You are not a saint, you are human and I recognise the most beautiful thing about human, are its imperfections and gaps for improvement. I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but rather, my actions do. So rather than complimenting, complaining or lamenting; in truly LKY-style, action speaks louder than words. As a proud child of your labour, you have my promise that I’ll do my best to keep up the Singapore-spirit.
I will miss you, very very dearly.
Thank you, with love.
A child of the Little Red Dot,