leekuanyew

Early birds get plum kerbside spots

Heartlanders came from all corners of Singapore yesterday to line the streets of Bukit Merah and Queensway to bid a final farewell to the man they may not have met personally but whose policies had a direct impact on them and their families.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew led a team that, many said, helped provide a roof over their heads, built schools to educate their children, and grew the economy to create jobs.

So Ms Yew Poh Yock, 58, and her sister, Ms Yew Poh Har, 54, came as early as 6am to get a plum kerbside spot to wait for the cortege to pass at around 1pm. The older Ms Yew, who lives in Commonwealth Drive, said in Mandarin: "I was expecting a huge crowd and did not want to be too late."

Others like Mrs Heng Xin Yi, 34, and her young daughter made their way from Ang Mo Kio and found a spot near Commonwealth MRT station. "It's no sacrifice. Rain or shine, we want to be here to say thank you for what he had done for us. Without him, how many of us can own our home?" said Mrs Heng, her eyes red from crying.

As the hours passed, the crowd grew five-deep in some places as thousands lined the 8km route from Jalan Bukit Merah all the way to Commonwealth Avenue.

As the cortege turned into Jalan Bukit Merah, one of Singapore's oldest HDB estates, at about 1.15pm, there was a surge of emotions among residents, whose well-being had always been a priority with Mr Lee.

They waved small Singapore flags, clapped loudly and shouted Mr Lee's name as the state funeral procession rolled by, passing Housing Board flats, schools, shops and light industrial estates.

Hougang resident Heng Liang Yeow, 59, said he arrived in Bukit Merah at 9am to say goodbye to Mr Lee on behalf of his late father Heng Kim Wah, who was a People's Action Party (PAP) activist.

The factory worker had with him his father's PAP membership card: "I want to pay my respects on behalf of my father who passed away at age 49. I know he would have wanted to be here."

The ceremonial gun carriage with Mr Lee's casket also passed by several places of worship - the Silat Road Sikh Temple, the Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple, the Blessed Sacrament Church, Sri Muneeswaran Temple and Masjid Mujahidin.

The close proximity of these different places of worship was not lost on residents. Many paid tribute to Mr Lee for helping ensure harmony among different races and religions here.

Tanglin Halt resident Sayuti Dahlan, 82, recalls how as a young man in his 20s, he would cycle from Pasir Panjang to Tanjong Pagar to attend rallies where Mr Lee would give powerful speeches.

"Standing on a stationary, open-topped lorry, he would shout: 'The British think we are stupid. But I will show them that the people of Singapore can and will have merdeka (freedom).'"

He added: "Mr Lee never used the words Chinese or Malay or Indian to describe us. He always said Singaporeans."

Regional manager Lim Boon Hwa, 56, said Mr Lee's most profound impact was his creation of a multiracial society.

"We had the chance to live in a meritocratic and an equal-opportunity society because of him," said Mr Lim, as he waited along Queensway.

As the procession moved past Commonwealth, where the HDB built some of the earliest public flats in the 1960s, many long- time residents were tearful as they waved goodbye.

Mr Seah Chew Chan, 91, has lived in Tanglin Halt since the flats were built. He was discharged from hospital on Saturday but wanted to be out waiting for the cortege: "Gratitude is the only thing I have for Mr Lee."

aaronl@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy, Aw Cheng Wei, Marissa Lee, Rachel Au-Yong and Miranda Yeo