It's Chinese lessons as usual for Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 91st birthday

Mr Lee Kuan Yew celebrating his 91st birthday yesterday with current and former staff such as (seated, from left) Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, his principal private secretary from 1997 to 2000; and Singapore Press Holdings chief executive Alan
Mr Lee Kuan Yew celebrating his 91st birthday yesterday with current and former staff such as (seated, from left) Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, his principal private secretary from 1997 to 2000; and Singapore Press Holdings chief executive Alan Chan, who held that position before him; as well as (men in back row, from left) Mr Anthony Tan, special assistant to Mr Lee; and former principal private secretaries Leo Yip, Chee Hong Tat and Andrew Tan. The women in the picture were not identified.PHOTO: FACEBOOK PAGE OF HENG SWEE KEAT

Sticking to his routine, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew spent part of his 91st birthday yesterday having his usual Chinese lessons.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote about it on his Facebook page, saying he had gone to Mr Lee's office to wish him "Happy Birthday".

Mr Lee was dressed smartly in a casual red jacket, and "looked well and sharp and spoke with a strong voice", wrote Mr Goh, who had succeeded Mr Lee as PM.

"Unfortunately, he was having one of those hiccups triggered by some allergic irritations. Even then, he was getting ready for his Chinese lessons," he said. "I cannot help but marvel at the spirit and fight of The Singapore Lion. More good years to you, Mr Lee."

A small indulgence came in the evening, when he celebrated his birthday with some current and former staff. Among them was Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was his principal private secretary from 1997 to 2000, and Singapore Press Holdings chief executive Alan Chan, who preceded Mr Heng: from 1994 to 1997.

Last night, Mr Heng said on Facebook: "Not many people see this side of Mr Lee, but I have always found him to be caring to his staff. We are very happy to see him so well... I am always reminded when I see him to do my part to make life better for all Singaporeans."

Other politicians also shared anecdotes online.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, an avid triathlete, recounted the time Mr Lee had asked him, when they were at a gymnasium, how to build up one's core strength. "Despite some discomfort, whatever I suggested, he tried. Simple request but it reflected Mr Lee's willingness to learn from anyone."

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin wrote of a resident who asked him on Monday at his Meet-the-People session, to convey his well-wishes to Mr Lee. "He was quite emotional when he asked me to do so," Mr Tan said.

Other politicians who extended birthday greetings included Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, and Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Online tributes poured in through the day. There were some 13,000 likes and over 1,700 birthday wishes on the People's Action Party's Facebook page yesterday.

Meanwhile, a group of six did a walking tour of sites significant to Mr Lee, such as Istana Park and the Urban Redevelopment Authority Centre, to honour him.

rachelay@sph.com.sg