Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Overseas Singaporeans, neighbours pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Staff in Singapore's embassies across Asia wore black armbands  and lowered the national flag to half mast in a mark of respect for the passing of Lee Kuan Yew early on Monday.

 At Singapore's Embassy in Bangkok, former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who knew Lee Kuan Yew well and had great respect for him, was among the first to arrive to sign the condolence book - which every Embassy opened for Singaporean expatriates and the  public. Another former Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, came by in the afternoon to sign it as well. 

In Manila, dozens of Singaporeans made their way to the embassy to sign the condolence book inside a small, solemn room, furnished with just a table, a chair, flowers in two vases, and a portrait of Mr Lee in his prime.

"It's a very sad day for all of us, for all Singaporeans. He was a great statesman, father, who made us so proud, who brought us from where we were to where we are now. Because of him, we are very proud to be Singaporeans," said Ms Sylvia Tay, the Singaporean wife of Belgium's Ambassador to the Philippines Roland van Remoortele.

Ms Tay was among the first to sign the condolence book.

"People will remember him as somebody who is very focused, who has never been swayed by whatever influences that are around him," she said.

In Yangon, Mr Andrew Tan, who has been in Myanmar more than two years and is a vice-president of the Singapore Association of Myanmar, said: "I think everybody was expecting this farewell.''

 Speaking on the sidelines of a one-day Asean-Myanmar conference, which drew two Myanmar ministers and several top CEOs and bankers from across the region, and began with a minute of silence, Mr Tan said: "Everyone also wanted him to have a quick and dignified exit. Given his contribution to his country it's the least we can do.''

He said his sister in Singapore was crying when they spoke over the phone early on Monday morning.

"She said it was like losing a father,'' he told The Straits Times. "He was a really strong character, maybe made some errors, he is human, but at the end of the day it's mostly positive."

He added: "He was a very simple man, he didn't want any edifice or statue. The influence is in everything we see in Singapore, the infrastructure, the law. When you come to Myanmar you appreciate what we have."

In Kuala Lumpur, heavy rain appeared to deter those wanting to express their thoughts in the condolence book opened by the High Commission.

But some made it, among them housewife Lee Ah Lian who told The Straits Times: "We miss him every much. He has done a lot for Singapore. Wherever we are he is our founding father. I have lived here for so many years but Singapore is still home. I think his passing is a loss for the world."

In Bangkok, Mr Robin Loh, president of the Singapore Club of Thailand, told The Straits Times Singaporeans were treated with respect across the world - much of it due to what the country had achieved under Lee Kuan Yew.

"We living overseas have clearly experienced how others treat us Singaporeans, due to the fact that we are from Singapore - and all this could not have happened without Mr Lee Kuan Yew," he said.

 Mr Oh Lock Soon, chairman of the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce, said: "For myself, a naturalised Singaporean, being born in Malaysia, I have a lot to thank him for - for being able to live in Singapore, raise a family, have a good career, all due to his wonderful work.''

In Beijing, more than 100 Singaporeans, diplomats and members of the public streamed into the Singapore Embassy in the two hours that the condolence book was opened for signing.

Among the first were several ambassadors to China who are from Asean nations including Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Laos.

A sombre mood hung in the air in a hall that was open to the public, with some people bearing flowers and others looking misty- eyed. Many took deep bows before a screen that bore Mr Lee's picture.

One of them was Mr Prabu Naidu, a 58-year-old Singaporean who arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a two-week business trip.

"I never spoke to him personally but I remember many years ago when I was at Queenstown Secondary school that he gave a speech at the opening of Queenstown Library where he talked about the importance of education. Having grown up in the system, I feel a personal connection to him... I never miss his speeches," said Mr Naidu.

Singaporean Jonathan Ng, 27, who works at Air China cargo, was in the vicinity of the embassy and decided to stop by.

"He has dedicated his whole life to the country, for all the effort he has given, this is the least I can do," he said.

In Jakarta, Mr Jonathan Wong, 53, who is married to an Indonesian, said: "Signing the condolence book will be the least I can do to show my last respects for a great man. To me, Lee Kuan Yew will always be The Prime Minister of Singapore."

nirmal@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Tan Hui Yee, Raul Dancel, Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani, Kor Kian Beng, Esther Teo and Zubaidah Nazeer