Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Singaporeans and foreigners in Beijing sign condolence book for Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Ambassadors, Singaporeans and foreigners of various nationalities turned up at the Singapore embassy in Beijing on Monday to sign the condolence book for the late Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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

Indonesian envoy Soegeng Rahardjo wrote that while Singapore and Singaporeans have lost their founding father and a great leader, others who have "come to know and work with Mr Lee have lost a dear friend and fine colleague".

Philippine ambassador Erlinda Basilio described Mr Lee, who died on Monday at age 91, as "a visionary and great statesman" and said the Philippines will always remember him "as not only a leader of Singapore but also as a founder of Asean who nurtured the grouping into what it has become".

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.

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

When he heard the news of Mr Lee's passing on Monday morning, the first thing he wanted to do was to sign the condolence book, he told The Straits Times. He was at the Singapore embassy at noon but was told that it would only open at 2pm. He returned after lunch and was the first person in the queue.

By 3.30pm, more than 100 people had turned up at the embassy.

"I never spoke to him personally but I remember 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. Even today I never miss his speeches," said Mr Naidu.

"I am a Hindu and I have been saying daily prayers for him ever since he fell sick."

Mr Jonathan Ng, 27, 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," said Mr Ng who works for Air China Cargo.

Mr Cao Yu, a 31-year-old Chinese national who spent eight years in Singapore studying and working, brought his wife to the embassy.

"I managed to ask Mr Lee a question at a Fortune China forum once about Asean-China relations and having that chance to interact with him, I wanted to pay my respects,'' said Mr Yu, who works for the Thailand Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

"Having lived in Singapore, I can also feel their (Singaporeans') love for Mr Lee and with Singapore as my second home, I also wanted to be here. He is someone who we can only see once in a generation who can transform a fishing village into a first world country," he added.

The signing of condolence book in Beijing will continue daily till Sunday from 10am to 12pm and 2pm to 4pm. Condolence signing is also being held at Singapore consulates in Shanghai, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

esthert@sph.com.sg