27 Mar / Remembering a Great Leader and Oyster Omelet for One
Early Monday morning, March 23, 2015, Singapore’s former prime minster, Lee Kuan Yew, passed away.
You may not recognize his name but know this: Singapore wouldn’t be the affluent metropolis and economic heavyweight it is today without this great man.
Under Mr. Lee’s 31-year leadership, this island nation with no natural resources and limited land area, was transformed into a wealthy finance and trade hub.
No doubt Mr. Lee was responsible for the country’s successes on a global scale. But his policies also had a profound effect on the common man, or in my case, the common girl.
For the first 17 years of my life, Mr. Lee was my prime minister and his policies had a great impact on my family and I.
I vividly remember one of Mr. Lee’s initiatives, the National Courtesy Campaign, and its slogan, “Courtesy is our way of life. Make courtesy our way of life.” I’m not saying that Singa the Courtesy Lion (the campaign’s mascot) taught me my manners, but I did remember my ‘P’s and ‘Q’s more often because of him.
Then there were the national songs we sang in school. The lyrics may sound a little cheesy to my adult ears but I still know them by heart. Here is the opening stanza to a song I learned when I was 11:
“Stand up for Singapore
Do the best you can
Reach out for your fellow man
You’ve got to make a stand”
Courtesy campaigns and patriotic songs aside, I have much to be grateful to this man for.
Mr. Lee was the reason I had an excellent, almost-free education (my primary school fees were $3.50 a month) that is the gold standard for many countries around the world, including the U.S.
He was the reason I could come home at 2 a.m. after a night out on the town and always felt safe.
He was the reason I could zip around in the sweltering heat in air-conditioned comfort for under $2.
He was the reason my family and I had inexpensive healthcare. Imagine seeing a neurologist for $50– that’s how much I paid for a visit in 1998.
And when reminiscing about my childhood in Singapore, food inevitably comes into the picture.
It was also during Mr. Lee’s administration that the modern hawker center came to be. In the 1960’s and 70’s, roving hawkers sold their wares on the streets. Some would roam the neighborhoods balancing two large baskets of food from a pole carried across the shoulders. Others would station themselves at specific locations famous for certain food specialties. For example, satay vendors would gather at the Beach Road bus depot and Hokkien mee was sold along Hokkien Street.
Come the 1980’s, and these street hawkers were gathered into clean—albeit still open-aired–food centers with electricity and running water to ensure, at the very least, that their eating implements were properly washed (this was before the advent of disposable plates and silverware). Today, health inspectors regularly inspect stall-owners and give them a rating that must be displayed prominently for all to see. Hence, everyone can eat out without worry of food- or water-borne illnesses.
For these privileges, and many more, Singaporeans, past, present and future, have so much to be thankful.
R.I.P. Lee Kuan Yew.