Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Singaporeans and many others in Beijing bid final farewell to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Flight cancellation and delays couldn't stop China-based businessman Raymond Lim, 66, from travelling to Beijing to watch the live telecast of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's state funeral in Singapore and say his final goodbye to Singapore's founding Prime Minister.

His flight from coastal Weihai city, where he runs a seafood processing company, was cancelled after a long delay on Saturday night. Undeterred, Mr Lim drove two hours to nearby Yantai city and booked a last-minute flight to Beijing, arriving on Sunday morning - in time to join some 300 Singaporeans in watching the live telecast.

"Mr Lee had sacrificed so much for Singaporeans. I'm just sacrificing a few hours of sleep and rest to see him through the last phase as a form of my respect for his leadership," he told The Straits Times.

The live telecast held at the Shangri-la China World Summit Wing hotel in Beijing was organised by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, also known as SingCham. Similar live telecasts also took place in Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Suzhou and Xiamen.

Said Mr Warren Wee, 45, a SingCham executive committee member who helped organise the event: "Instead of everyone watching on their own at home, we thought it would be more meaningful for us to do so as a one united people, something that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always wanted for Singapore."

Business manager Clarence Lim, 46, who attended the event with his wife and five-year-old daughter even though he could have watched it at home, couldn't agree more.

"Singapore has nothing except for its people. When many of us come together to say our goodbyes, it is a far more powerful experience than watching it alone," said Mr Lim, who has been working in Beijing for three years.

Indeed, emotions ran high in the ballroom throughout the five-hour telecast, with many sobbing, dabbing their eyes with tissue paper, or hugging their loved ones as they followed the funeral procession back home. When the telecast ended, many sat riveted to their seats, still processing their emotions and the reality that Mr Lee was indeed no more.

One of them was Ms Vina Tay, a 45-year-old Singaporean, who cried as she recalled her interactions with Mr Lee at the China World Hotel in Beijing where he stayed during his visits from 2007 to 2011.

"We would greet him at the hotel entrance when he arrived. He would stop and greet all of us, looking each one in the eye. The loss of such a great man and the humanity that he showed to every individual touches me. Without him, we will not be what we are today,'' Ms Tay told The Straits Times. She is now a director of sales at the Shangri-la China World Summit Wing hotel.

Also in the crowd was French national Harold Pradal, 37, who was there with his Singaporean wife Evangeline Ho, 33. They met when Mr Pradal was working as a sales manager in Singapore from 2006 and 2009, where he learnt about Mr Lee and his achievements in building Singapore that have become "a source of inspiration for world leaders".

"His vision of fairness in treating everyone equally and his aim in making Singapore a corruption-free and safe country are among the two things that really impressed upon me," said Mr Pradal, who is now general manager of the International SOS in China.

Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore's ambassador to China, told the audience many Singaporeans enjoy good opportunities in China because Singapore is regarded as a country that is successful and has various virtues like zero tolerance for corruption.

"We've done well because Mr Lee believed in meritocracy and gave everyone a fair chance to succeed. We can communicate easily to our friends in China because of Mr Lee's bilingualism policy which gave us 10 solid years of English and Chinese education," said Mr Loh.

"He had foresight and vision and was 30 years ahead of his time. If not, there's no reason why China or anyone else should be bothered with us."

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Loh said more than 5,000 Singaporeans and foreigners have paid their respects at Singapore's embassy in Beijing and consulates across China in the past week, showing clearly that overseas Singaporeans feel strongly over Mr Lee's demise too.

"The passing of Lee Kuan Yew has united Singaporean not only those in Singapore but Singaporeans anywhere in the world," he added.

Mr Loh also revealed that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, former Premiers Li Peng and Zhu Rongji had sent personal letters of condolences over Mr Lee's death. In a rare move, four out of the Communist Party's apex seven-member Politburo Standing Committee led by President Xi Jinping had also sent condolences and wreaths earlier this week.

China's high-level response - along with the outpouring of appreciation and sorrow from ordinary Chinese citizens - gives one confidence that the strong bilateral ties and good reputation established by Mr Lee would live on, said Mr Loh.

"I recall that Mr Lee once told me that China would be interested in Singapore as long as we are successful. That is the most important element that we must preserve and ensure.

"We've achieved that over the last 25 years of relations with China and we must continue to make sure that we're successful," he added.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg