Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a highly respectable leader once said “when I visited Madame Tussauds as a student in 1940s, there were two groups of figures; the famous and the notorious, either British kings and famous leaders, or notorious murderers. I hope Madame Tussauds will not put my likeness too close to the notorious.”
I wish I could tell Mr Lee that I found his figure with other great leaders around the world in Madam Tussauds – HK Victoria Peak! You are indeed a great man, great leader and a great father of our nation.
It was depressing to receive the news of Mr Lee’s passing. A day when all Singaporeans experienced a deep sense of loss! As a Singaporean, I appreciate so much for what he has done for the country! Always a proud moment when I introduced myself from Singapore whenever I meet fellow travelers around the world.
Today, I joined the rest of my fellow Singaporean family, and many people around the world to pay my tributes and respect to this enormous man in the world, our dear founding father of Singapore – Mr Lee Kuan Yew! I queued for 5 hours under the hot scorching sun but it was totally worth it as I got to pay my last respect to this GREAT man. A highly reputable man who has done so much for every one living in this small country and led us from a third world to a first world country! What’s that few hours under the hot sun as compared to the struggles and agonies he went through for Singapore. Without him, clearly our lives would be vastly different today.
When I was queuing, I had quite a fair bit of time to do some self reflection of what Mr Lee has done for us. After I took my bow this afternoon in the parliament house, I told myself I gotta share with everyone how this GREAT man of Singapore impacted each and everyone of us. As a passionate traveler, Mr Lee truly touches me and won me over with his faith and conviction for the little red dot island, his life dedication for every Singaporean to improve our lives, shape our future, allowing us to pursue our dreams. Without his perseverance and leadership, we wouldn’t have the luxury to do what we want in life. In order for me to show my little appreciation and gratitude for what he has done for Singaporeans, I would like to share and pen down my thoughts on the 10 ways how he impacted us and why Singaporeans should be grateful to him, from a traveler’s perspective. Without Mr Lee Kuan Yew, there will not be Singapore today, I won’t have my lovely family and I may not even exist.
1) Strong Education Foundation
With a need for a strong emphasis in education, Singapore adopted a survivor driven education system since independence to provide a skilled competitive workforce and lower unemployment rate. Our strong education system was driven by a lack of natural resources and a strong need to develop our only resource in Singapore at that time – human resources. Our strong manpower capabilities was instrumental to achieve a meritocracy knowledge based economic state.
Without his vision to develop a strong education foundation for every Singapore citizen, most probably, I won’t even have any idea what the world is. Without education, how can we break out from the poverty cycle? Without Mr Lee understanding this important theory and diligently enforcing the importance of education to every Singaporean, we could still remain as a third world country even in the 21st century. Don’t even think about traveling around the world, because we don’t even have the ability and the knowledge of where to go. Mr Lee led us to achieve an amazing 96.7% literacy rate in 2014. That’s remarkably high standard in the world! Helps Singapore to break away from our poverty cycle from a land of uncertainty to a first world country filled with opportunities and potentials for every individuals.
2) Bilingual/Multilingual Languages
Everyone in Singapore is Multilingual or at least Bilingual. This is a cornerstone of our education system. While our first language is the English language, we also have a compulsory second language or “mother tongue” language subject to choose between Chinese Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu or Tamil. this actually gives us a lot of advantages that come in handy when we travel to different countries and cultures, we are able to at least establish a clear communication across, be it for business or leisure.
Today, in order to be a real global citizen, ultimately English turns out to be the largest or commonly used language in the world. There was once an Austrian professor told me that he admired the Singapore’s education system. We learned English as our first language and many can speak Chinese Mandarin (with over 955 million of mandarin speakers). This give us a strong business language foundation. All we need is to take up an additional third language, preferably Spanish, as its prominence in the Latin America as well as in Europe with 405 million of Spanish speakers today.
Never in any of the countries that I visited before have I experience major problem in communicating. Mr Lee’s envisioned that every Singaporeans will need the strong language foundation, the skills that we need to survive in today’s world. Today, most Singaporeans are competent to interpret and translate at least two languages.
3) Financial Independence
Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted every Singaporean to have a better quality life. To achieve that, first he built a strong foundation for education system for every Singaporean, next he enhance the competitiveness and capability of our Singapore workforce, and lower the unemployment rate. Under Mr Lee’s legacy, we remarkably achieved 1.8% unemployment rate in 2014. So it means almost everyone has a job and many company is in need for manpower.
The individual equation is very simple, without a job, you will have no income. Without an income, you cannot fulfill your needs. According to Maslow hierarchy of needs, traveling fits into Self-Actualisation Needs and without fulling the basic four needs (Physiological, Safety, Love, Esteem), there will be NO WAY for us to travel for vacation. Traveling is a luxury and definitely not a priority when your bread and butter is challenged.
4) Strong Currency
Since Singapore broke away from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, Singapore tried to negotiate for a common currency between the two countries. Somehow, we could not establish a common satisfactory agreement and this initiative was abandoned after in 1967. Since then, we have marked a milestone in our country’s currency history and the Singapore Dollar has appreciated to sky high value compared to our neighbouring currencies.
Due to Mr Lee’s determination to develop Singapore into a prosperous country, we have benefited from the strong currency. This naturally makes traveling cheaper and easier for Singaporeans to spend to pamper ourselves, especially to cheaper neighbouring countries for holiday or doing business. This is a tremendous advantage for every Singaporean.
When I was traveling from Thailand to Myanmar last year, I realised how valuable our currency is used in other countries. As the airline I was traveling on did not accept their local currency even though it was their national budget carrier and en-route to their country. Instead they only accept Singapore Dollars or US Dollars. Fortunately, I had some home dollars with me and managed to make some air purchases. For this, we have to attribute to Mr Lee’s strategic vision and great eye for investment.
5) Friendliness of Singapore Passport
You must be wondering, is this important? As a traveler, I am telling you YES IT IS! A case scenario for everyone. If you are heading to Europe/Africa/Latin America for vacation. There are many closely knitted European/African/Latin America nations that are just next to each other. Can you imagine the pain for you to visit all the different embassies or send in your passport abroad to apply all the entry visas? It definitely involves time and also makes it more costly to travel, especially visas are usually not cheap. Which makes applying for visas (especially multiple Visas) extremely inconvenient for travelers. At such, it turns you off before you even consider visiting.
When I was traveling in Scandinavia in 2013, I met two amazing South African friends and they shared with me how painful it was for them to travel within the Scandinavian countries because they have to apply for individual visa for even before traveling. They cannot do solo travels in certain countries and was forced to avoid certain places due to time and inconveniences in painful visa application process. Which is, of course a major shame that hindrance them to explore the world. This reminded me how fortunate we are that we have a good friendship and bilateral relationship with many countries. It also reflected the relations and status of Singapore within the international community. Look at the numerous touching tributes by the foreign leaders and foreigners, we definitely owed this to Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his conviction to propel Singapore onto the world stage.
So this brings you to your next question. How powerful Singapore passport is? Pretty powerful it seems! In 2014, Singapore passport holders enjoy visa-free access to 167 countries including, apparently North Korea as well. Pretty surprising and amazing I would say, but it is definitely an extremely convenient way for Singaporeans to travel out for leisure or even for business. Makes traveling so easy and opening up the accessibility to many countries without any problem, including some really exotic ones.
6) World Class Aviation Hub
When I traveled around the world, one of my favourite question is to ask other travelers, “have you been to Singapore?”. Most of them will replied “Yes, of course! It’s beautiful, organised and clean!”. It got me excited for a while before they continued “… BUT I have only been to the Changi Airport!”.
The renowned Singapore International Changi Airport an award winning airport with world class services and facilities, is a vibrant air hub with excellent connectivity to Europe, America and especially Asia Pacific. Also an important hub to service the Star and OneWorld alliances group and the home to the world class standard most admired airlines, our national carrier – The Singapore Airlines.
According to reports, we have won more than 450 awards, becoming sixth busiest international airport in the world, serves 106 airlines, and flying to over 250 cities in 60 countries. Our airport handles more than 50 million of passengers annually and is still growing. Singapore also established many open skies agreement and air service agreements and because of these components, we are well-connected to the rest of the world. Definitely makes traveling easier, direct and cheaper. Save us valuable time, money and effort.
The rule of thumb, the more busier the airport is packed with many competitor airlines, and more well connected it is, the cheaper the cost of an air ticket or flying to or fro to that airport. Again, we have to attribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew in clearly leveraging our strategic geographical location and drew well money-making connections. For example, the Middle East imports, South (India) East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) trading and our agreement and establishments with the west (Europe & America). Thank you Mr Lee for recognising Singapore’s geographical potentials.
7) Multi-Cultural (Regardless of race, language or religion)
Singapore is renowned for its education system, strict law, clean environment and our multi-racial/cultural society. Only in Singapore when you can see a temple, church and mosque near or next to each other. Mr Lee’s legacy is to build a democratic society with equality, without drawing differences in race or religion. Meritocracy system based on potentials and credits. Many foreigners are always envious about the multi-racial and cultural society we have in Singapore. We celebrate each others festivals and lived harmoniously in a small island state nation without any problems for decades. This makes Singapore a safe, prosperous and harmonious country to lived in. Many rich billionaires and international celebrities choose and make Singapore as their home. A place where they call home a country that they feel safe and undisturbed, a paradise city who many foreigners dreamed of.
I also understand because of the multiracial and multicultural upbringing in Singapore society, I am more open to cultural diversities and more open to individual differences. I find it easier to make friends and encounter lesser troubles when I travel alone in foreign land. The interaction with different ethnics groups of friends, and colleagues has helped shape me as a better person. Mr Lee recognised in order for a country to prosperous, harmony is the key. Again, he had the far sight of what is vital for surviving in today’s world.
8) Bilateral Relationships/Friendships with the World
Under Mr Lee’s leadership, he understood that neighbourliness is very important for the safety and future growth of Singapore which was a small nation among bigger nations. Due to his vision, he set Singapore on a friendly diplomatic foot in establishing close and multi-faceted relations with the west mainly United States of America, United Kingdom, European Unions and also a strong relationships with the East Pacific powerhouse mainly China, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc.. Vast trading and imports from the Middle East countries and not forgetting being a pivot and important leader in the ASEAN committee. These brought in not just business opportunities via many agreements such as free trade, making things cheaper in Singapore, but also making us easier and safer to travel.
I remember back in 2013, when I was crossing the border into Zimbabwe from Botswana with a group of American and Australian friends I experienced a very tense situation. The Zimbabwean officer came into the bus, he was carrying a riffle with a stern attitude demanding us to show him our passport before entering the immigration. Everyone took out our passport and he was pretty rude to my western friends, until he saw my red Singapore passport. He took it and said with a smile “so, you are our lovely friend! Welcome to Zimbabwe!”. Whew…I got through the immigration fast and easy without any trouble and no need to apply for visa. I remembered he added on “Free entry for you my friend!”. As for the rest of my westerner friends, they gotta wait for an hour at the immigration hall for the officers to grant their visa and entry. Back then, I strongly appreciate our country leaders for what they have done for us. Most importantly, without us knowing or realising.
By now, I believed many of you may read or heard about the numerous tributes and respect given by the world political leaders. Some were kind of expected such as Asian and Pacific countries leaders i.e. Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, America, United Kingdom pouring their tributes over their parliament, conferences and speeches. Some were really unanticipated and heartening to read their tributes such as the surprise from the Russian government, President Vladimir Putin said “Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a man of the highest international influence”. Of course, not forgetting the most surprising North Korean government sending its condolences to Singapore saying Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a close intimate friend of North Korea.
This may not really be a surprise for me as couple of years ago when I was traveling in South Korea, I was very fascinated and interested in knowing more about the history of Korean war and its tension. Therefore I signed up for the DMZ Demilitarised Zone tour between the North and South Korea. The guide told the entire group that only two countries in the world have access to North Korea, one is China which I was obviously not surprised. While I was actively guessing about the second one, perhaps Russia? Or maybe Mongolia? She caught me off guard and pointed at me by saying “Singapore!”. I literally dropped my jaw! Well, I certainly didn’t have the intention of crossing the border into North Korea that time, but I certainly appreciate how Mr Lee Kuan Yew managed to position Singapore on the international platform and developed numerous friendship and relationships. These are vital to our survivor and also indicates our social importance and standings in the world. At least I could find something in common between us, our principle in life is “better a friend than an enemy!”. What an amazing leader we had.
9) Technology Development
With Mr Lee’s far-sighted vision, he led and pushes Singapore ahead of time, and ahead of other countries. I remembered those days in the past when I was being “encouraged” to go for computer lessons during my primary school period in the 80s as he recognised the need to equip citizens with the knowledge on information technology, wanted young generation of Singaporeans to stay relevant and competitive, in accordance to his vision of future. Back then, while I was struggling to juggle between my school work and learning about computer, my oversea friends absolutely had no idea what is computer nor even heard about information technology.
Mr Lee placed Singapore on the world class stage in many different areas, such as world class medical hub, world class aviation hub, world class financial hub, world class education hub and also world class technology hub. Again, under his direction and leadership, Singapore has been ranked as the 3rd most popular technology destination for professionals, placing Singapore as one of the world’s major technology hub.
Mr Lee always emphasized the importance on productivity and efficiency and technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to be more efficient, productive and ability to multi-tasking. Due to the vast technology network and infrastructure we have, we are able to arrange our air tickets, travel packages, or even overseas hotels easily and safely in Singapore. Definitely makes traveling much easier than in the past without technology. Even though, he is not Steve Job, but he definitely did tremendous work to help shaped and pushed Singapore ahead with our technological advancement. Bring conveniences, improve productivity and increase efficiency.
10) The Strict Law Is Our Self Identity
There was once when I was in the hostel interacting with traveler around the world. Many mentioned about what their countries are famous for, such as Argentina’s tango, German’s soccer, Australian’s football, Japanese’s culture and American’s hollywood etc… So when they threw me with what’s Singapore? I bluntly mentioned our strict laws, and immediately it became a hot topic. People were discussing and many mentioned they appreciate Singapore with great leaders, imposing strict laws to make the people feel safe and clean to live in. Of course, there were some skeptical individuals who criticized or I should say question our lack of freedom in media, press, gums, graffiti arts and drugs. One even said we are under some sort of dictatorship. Laughing it off, I shared how much we Singaporeans loved about the strict laws we have. Without imposing these laws, Singapore won’t be a safety nest for everyone to live in. Which brings out the main point on self identity, I am proud to come from a safe, clean and multi-cultural and well-respected country, with capabilities and skills to strive for individual goals in life!
Of course, it’s a result from the strict laws. Ask yourself this, who doesn’t enjoy a home with a clean government and safe environment? Law is like propriety in life. It acts like guidelines for every Singaporeans’ upbringing. We Singaporeans DO NOT find it tough at all, i.e. not to spit on public roads, not to dirty the streets, not to chew and paste gums everywhere, not to make graffiti at other people’s houses or cars, not to rob and murder someone for greed and not to bring in drugs. These are the qualities and spirit every Singaporean should have and this is our identity. I am proud to be a Singaporean, who pride myself to well-behave wherever I go, be it in Singapore or foreign land. By obeying the law and order here in Singapore, it has slowly developed and becoming part of my own virtues in life, ultimately this is our unique identity! Isn’t it? With kindness, with integrity, with equality, with law and order. These are what we pride ourselves to be, this is how we run our country and inspire the rest of the world. We will continue Mr Lee’s legacy and Singapore will continue to strive!
Many people also appreciate our multi-cultural society and was eager to find out more how we achieved from a tiny little red dot with no natural resources into a first world economic Asian powerhouse in South East Asia. Without these strict laws, most likely we won’t be able to achieve what we have today. Laws are guidelines for us not to go astray. I began to realise how proud and patriotic I have become after I embarked on solo travels, meeting more people and letting the world know more about us. Thanks to Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his confidence, believing in each and everyone of us, that we are able to build a beautiful society together under his legacy as one united people. Adopting a western methodology, but with Asian values and cultures, developed a uniquely Singapore!
Without Mr Lee’s great leadership, we are still a small island with nothing, village or whatsoever. Without Mr Lee’s determination to turn Singapore into what it is today, nobody will know there’s a small powerful country Singapore. Without his perseverance and great vision, I won’t have the opportunities to see the world or even communicate to the rest of the world!
To me, he created our country, our home! Without him, there will not be Singapore today. We are deeply grieved beyond words!
50 years ago, you weep for the nation and today, the entire nation and world weep for you! Thank you Mr Lee for sacrificing your entire life and dedication to Singapore, our home! We are grateful to you for creating a vibrant and thriving society with opportunities for rewarding and fulfilling meaningful life. May your soul rest in peace.
I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life. – Mr Lee Kuan Yew