I woke up this morning (in New Zealand) to find that one of the most important men in Singapore’s history has died. A strange wave of emotions hit me; I was sad, but at the same time, really happy as well. And it is this internal conflict that promoted me to write my thoughts down.
I still remember, in late 2001, before leaving for New Zealand, I quietly thought to myself that when LKY dies, I’ll rush back to Singapore to attend his funeral and pay respects to one of the most important, if not THE most important person in Singapore’s history. To me (at that time) he was the person who single-handedly dragged Singapore, kicking and screaming, from the doldrums of political and economic obscurity; the person who transformed the vast jungles of this pathetic little island into a world super power in such a short time; the person who rightfully crushed the insidious communist threat that threatened much of the world and the person who fearlessly took on the might of the West. To me, he was essentially the Allfather (in Norse mythology – the father of all the gods, i.e. Odin). He was the creator of all that I saw before me – the hospital that I was born in, the house that I live in, the schools that I attended, the parks that I play in, the airport that I travel to and from, the roads that I drive on … EVERYTHING.
When I got to New Zealand, I realized that a lot of people didn’t really know much about Singapore, and what little they DID know, was mainly to do with LKY and his iron-fisted rule. Often, I found myself justifying all that he did; telling people that his strong grip on power was necessary and that without him, we wouldn’t have survived the rough waters of independence. Many times, people point out all the destructive actions that took place under his watchful eye, and I’m always there to defend him and his actions.
I was, in fact, a product of the education and social system in Singapore. I faithfully defended his legacy, attributed my entire existence to him, and believed that he could do no wrong. Worse, I believed that the political party that he represented were all exactly like him – putting country before self, and anyone who opposed them were the enemy and should be dealt with, with any means necessary.
For about 30 years of my life, my brain was conditioned to think like this. While I condemned the dictatorial rules of China, North Korea and a number of our South East Asian neighbours, little did I realise that Singapore was very much like these countries.
Then something changed. I’m not too sure what, but I had this weird, unexplainable feeling that the life I knew, the Singapore I knew, isn’t actually the type of place I want to live in. I still loved Her, and loved LKY, but it was this quiet, little voice at the back of my head that made me question things and look at Singapore differently. Maybe it was from living overseas for a few years and seeing that there’s actually another way of doing things; maybe it was being more politically aware and seeing things from a more objective point of view; maybe it was the ability to access a less restrictive internet.
But the real coup de grâce came in 2013, a week after the Little India Riots.
I’d just return to Singapore and was greeted by exciting news that there was a full-on riot in Little India. This was big news, and even friends in New Zealand were concerned enough to ask about my wife and my well-being. We told them we were safe, but couldn’t say much more. We only arrived into Singapore a week after the event and while we saw the aftermath of the riots, we still didn’t know what exactly was going on.
So, as one would do in this day and age, I took to the internet to look for information. We were in Singapore; the riots took place in Singapore; the riots took place barely a week ago; there’s an award-winning television station dedicated to the news (CNA); one would expect there to be a flood of information on perhaps one of the biggest news stories in Singapore. But there wasn’t. I wanted to find the cause, I wanted to find out what happened, maybe first-hand accounts and eye-witness reports; I wanted hard-hitting analyses and experts dissecting this monumental event. But there wasn’t.
Instead, all I found was asinine and cheerful reports on the government building more recreational space for foreign workers to enjoy; I found lots of interviews with Indian workers praising the country and saying how happy and lucky they were to be working here; I found lots of politicians praising the quick response of the police force and how they restrained themselves to ensure that more people weren’t injured on the day. I thought I wasn’t searching hard enough. I was, after all on holiday and spending quality time with friends and family, so decided that I’d try again later.
A month later, I went back home to New Zealand and thought that I’d try again. This time I found a lot more information, and what got me thinking was that none of the “meaty” news reports and opinions came from Singaporean media outlets. I also found a very interesting video (and I wish I had saved the link) showing an older lady, similar in age and look to my mother, recounting her experience of the riots. The look on her face and the shock in her voice is something that I’ll never forget. Worse still, as I was watching her on screen, I thought of my own mother. What if something like this happened again and directly affected my own family. I’d want to have REAL information and not that vanilla-flavoured, bland “reporting” that passes itself off as news and says nothing of substance and importance.
I kept on searching for more and more. I desperately wanted to understand what really happened, and then I got a little side-tracked. You see, I had stumbled on to a number of articles about the detainees of yesteryear. I listened to a number of them, and in disbelief, searched up on these people. There’s no way that the PAP was privy to any of these actions meted out against these people; these Singaporeans. I knew that the ISA was severe, but what these people are describing is akin to the secret police in Germany, Russia and North Korea. There is no way in hell; on god’s green Earth that the PAP, MY PAP, the same one that I have grown up loving, is involved in these heinous actions.
As I sat there in my little cubicle, I was thankful that my colleagues were mostly on leave because tears were rolling down my face as I listened in utter disbelief at the actions of these people, these demi-gods that I had once idolized. At that moment, my entire existence was shattered. For 30-odd years of my life, I believed that despite all its flaws, the PAP was a model government. So how is it possible that they perpetrated these horrendous acts in the name of national security?
As luck would have it, the educational institute that I was working in had a political analyst, whose area of expertise was Asia. We chatted for a bit and he pretty much confirmed my worst fears – I had been living in a fairy tale, one created by the PAP government to future enhance their grip on power in Singapore. The world that I had known is gone and when I recount this story to people, I liken it to the movie The Matrix, when the people gained consciousness for the first time, after being released from their pods.
Two years on and the old god, LKY is dead. Based on my old plan 13 years ago, I should be booking my flight back to Singapore as quickly as possible. However, he’s not my god anymore and I really don’t care that he’s dead. We all die, and while he was instrumental in the development of the country, he wasn’t the only one present. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else.
What sickens me is that fact the old fella’s family was taking advantage of the situation and playing to the camera, hoping to earn some sympathy points. Having someone close to their deathbed is a very tough and emotional time. Instead of asking for privacy for the family to rally together and then grief privately, the old fella’s son uses his “papa’s” condition and impending death to further the cause. Oh well, after all that I’ve seen over the past two years researching the PAP’s unscrupulous and underhanded political techniques, why should I even be surprised at this latest one?