With the time difference, Australia is ahead of us, it was a friend from Australia who first heard and alerted me to the news that Lee Kuan Yew has passed away last Monday.
Shortly after, another friend from Australia also emailed her condolences.
All last week, I continued to receive messages of condolences from friends all over the world, expressing their solidarity with me as I mourned with Singaporeans the passing of our founding father.
I have seven relatives in Australia, three of whom were born there.
Not a pip squeak from anyone of them. Not a phone call, not an email, not a single text message. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
There was a time when people said that Singapore won’t make it.
Some of my relatives in Australia obviously thought Down Under was a better place so they packed up and left.
They come visit once a while. When asked about life in Australia they always speak of it in glowing terms, but I know better, having made Australia my playground for the past 30 years, visiting every other year or so.
Of course they would be slapping themselves in the face if they admitted that their leaving had been a mistake.
In fact many Singaporeans in Australia were hoping to come back when Australia was in dire straits economically some years back.
I have lived and worked internationally and were offered many opportunities to move overseas permanently.
I know my staying behind is not a mistake.
Here, I am not treated as second-class.
There are no neighborhoods I can’t venture into.
Late night shopping doesn’t happen only once a week and late night shopping doesn’t mean stores close at 9pm.
Garbage doesn’t get collected only once a week.
A bowl of noodles doesn’t cost more than 10 dollars here. When I was in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I paid A$13.80 for a bowl of pho and A$5.80 for four tiny xiao long baos.
A fruit juice and a medium-size plastic tub of cut fruits won’t made me poorer by 15 bucks here. That’s what I paid at a food court in Sydney when I was there last.
I – and my women friends – can walk anywhere at night or even at 3am without fear of being murdered. Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world – a citizen in the US is 24 times more likely to be murdered in the US than in Singapore.
From all over the world chefs with Michelin stars have all set up shop here, yet I can eat cheaply some of the best food in the world for around four to five bucks or less for a satisfying meal. When I eat at a food court, the cuisine choices I make are international in nature.
Above all, this is my home, I don’t feel like I’m a visitor here. On top of that I don’t have to worry about bushfires or cyclones or ridiculously high income taxes.
There are many who claim that this is Disneyland with a death penalty, that the laws are draconian. Well, given the size of this country, it was necessary to be harsh especially in the early days of nationhood; otherwise weakened, we would easily be swallowed by hostile neighboring countries. Given how volatile this area still is and how vulnerable we still are, it is vital that our government continues to be tough.
Today, Singapore is the envy of the rest of the world. With an annual average growth rate of almost 7% since 1976, it now has a per capita income of well over US$50,000/-, making it the wealthiest country in Asia. In fact, Singapore’s GDP per capita exceeds even that of Britain, France and Germany.
Other numbers speak for themselves – if we didn’t support Lee Kuan Yew and his decisions, would over 100,000 people – young and old, of all races – line the street to send him off, would 1.8 million people pay tribute to him at the 18 tribute sites throughout Singapore and would 454,687 visitors, ie an average of 6,500 visitors per hour – many standing in the hot sun for up to 10 hours or more – attend the four-day Lying-in-State at Parliament House? (And some were not even Singaporeans!) Mind you, the public outpouring of grief was spontaneous, nothing was staged. May I remind you that this is not North Korea.
Also, Australia and New Zealand passed parliamentary motions to mourn Lee Kuan Yew and Bhutan and India flew their flags at half-mast to mourn him as well. International dignitaries from more than 20 countries, including former and current presidents and heads of governments as well as members of royalty turned up at his funeral.
A reader named Priya Christie wrote in The Straits Times on March 30th: “I am an educated, independent woman of a minority race, in a country that embraces and respects each of its citizens equally. Such is the country that Mr Lee built. How could I ever leave this place?”
I’m not sure any of my relatives in Australia can say that.