I only decided to write this entry after I left the embassy, and felt feelings I had no words to identify. It was a simple mix of warmth, closure maybe, camaraderie, sadness and comfort all at the same time.
Some days back, someone said to me something to the effect of, ”gosh, why are you sad, you don’t even talk about him before this.. And why are people posting on Facebook? ”
Cant speak for others. But for me, I had no idea I would feel this way until it happened. Mr. Lee’s presence in Singapore has been strong from the beginning, and perhaps I had taken for granted that he will be a permanent fixture. I regret that. Not that I would have done much differently, except written my gratitude when he was still around.
This is my simplified way of thinking about what I am feeling now : I was born on this resource-poor soil, near the equator. A man (and his peers) planted a tree many years before I was born. It was an extraordinary task. By the time I was born, I got to sit under the shade, while he continued tending to it tirelessly. My progenitors, educators, they all tell me he planted the tree, and I’m like yes yes I know, that’s cool and all…
Now, he is gone. I still sit under the shade. Then I realize, I have not properly said thank you to this man. That makes me sad. I am also sad about the loss of a very extraordinary man. He felt responsible for his people even before some of us were born. My gratitude is not dependent on whether I agree with everything he did or said to plant that tree. Especially if I enjoyed the shade, which I did.
Over the last few days, I kept up to date with some of the news back home about Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, and how my friends and family are dealing. I was curious about the set up back home, and felt what I can only describe as ‘comfort’ when I saw updates, Singaporeans feeling united, Singaporeans showing gratitude, Singaporeans being kind and considerate, Singaporeans wanting to pay respects… These are the positive sides of humanity. It does not bother me that not everyone shares the same sentiment… but I see no harm in sharing camaraderie with family/friends/fellow countrymen during this time. We are a relatively young nation, our pioneering Prime Minister has passed away. This has never happened to us before. Some of us need time to process what this means to us, some of us are negotiating our feelings as we observe the reactions of our elders, some of us want to remain very logical in discussing public state affairs, some of us don’t care… there is a myriad of opinions we will each have about this event. But it without a doubt marks the end of an era. For those who might have a curiosity about how Singaporeans away from home might be doing at this time, this is my experience in Tokyo :
I searched online for memorial services in Japan, but information was thin. I kinda felt like being amongst fellow Singaporeans at this point. I guess it is a normal sentiment when sad.
This was the only information I had from the Singapore Embassy website for Condolence Book Signing.
I arrived at the Singapore Embassy. I never thought of visiting the embassy prior to this. I fly home often enough.
I messed up the timings and arrived at 1230. The Condolences book signing was closed from 12pm – 2pm. An elderly Japanese security guard apologetically informed me about my mix up. I said it was fine, I will grab lunch across the street and return at 2. I turned to leave but he called out to me again.
‘I think you should come 10 minutes before,’ he said, ‘very long line!’
He proceeded to mime wailing mourners, letting me know that over the last couple of days, sad Singaporeans had been coming to pen their tribute. That piece of information made me glow with some pride. I smiled and thanked him.
I came back at 1:55pm and there was already a line outside the closed embassy gates. The security guard spotted me walking, and waved. I nodded and waved back. He laughed and pointed at his watch, then at the line. I grinned.
2 men in suits in front of me seemed surprised at the line. I was too, before I came. There was a mix of salt and pepper hair elderly folks, men in sharp suits, ladies who came from work or home, youths, and children. People started chatting in the line with fellow Singaporeans, as did I. Conversations were easy. As the gates opened, the man in front of me reached into his wallet for identification, and gently reminded us to get our IDs ready. There was some discussion from the back of the line about someone who forgot to bring her ID, and some of the men at the front of the line asked the guards about whether a photo ID was necessary, trying to help. The registration line moved quickly.
As I neared the guardhouse, the 2 men in front of me stepped aside chivalrously, allowing me to go ahead of them.
I walked by the pretty Japanese garden and into our embassy. Ushers in suits gently pointed us in the direction to go. The mood was very peaceful. A lady stepped out of the room where the signing takes place, sobbing, dark shades over her eyes. Tears welled up in mine. I got into another line to wait my turn, and gazed out into yet another Japanese zen garden.
The queue started getting longer behind me, and the low murmured chatting amongst Singaporeans resumed. Sharing our sentiments. A stranger mentioned he could not really focus on work the day news broke. We empathized. Some of us exchanged contact information. I was told by one of the guys who has been here for many years, that the Singapore Association in Japan sometimes organizes events here, but not many people turn up. Yet spontaneously, we come out of the woodwork completely on our own to gather at the embassy.
It was my turn to sign the book. I wrote. THANK YOU. And again, thank you. I drew.
The lady next to me asked if she could take a pictures. I asked if I could take a picture of the scene. We were both given the go ahead, so I snapped this scene of Singaporeans in Japan, writing their condolences as their thoughts are back home. I left with some closure. Walking down the slopes, I joined some guys I chatted with earlier as we walked to the train station together.
”Feeling better?” one of them asked.
Leaning by the ticket counter were 2 ladies I had seen earlier, speaking quietly. I bade the guys farewell as we went along the rest of our days. I had not expected to talk to strangers from home today, but I did, and it was comforting. Singaporeans comforting Singaporeans. I think Mr. Lee would have approved.