As we all know by now, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore has passed on. I write this blog post with a heavy heart. It w...

My flight home


As we all know by now, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore has passed on.

I write this blog post with a heavy heart.

It was difficult for me knowing that I wasn't in my country when I first found out about the news. Yet, the fact that I was alone and overseas, away from the country that I so love the most, gave me time for reflection by myself.

It was 4am in Doha Airport yesterday when I was waiting for my transiting flight back home that I decided to switch on my wifi. First came the headlines from the BBC and then Channel NewsAsia. Every day that I was in Spain, I would clutch my phone and hold with bated breath what the news would be when I turned on my wifi. As days went by, news showed that his condition was deteriorating. It was difficult to read these headlines and see pictures of "Get Well Soon LKY" on Instagram when you're not in Singapore.

So this time when I turned on my wifi, it was none too different a routine. I read the headlines with bated breath........... But this time the news read differently. He didn't make it.

I felt my heart clench and I saw seats ahead of me. Dramatic as it may sound, all I wanted to do was collapse on to them and give myself a few moments to ponder and reflect.

The first thing that hit me was that I was so sad that I wasn't at home in Singapore when this happened. It really is important to me that I be there at home, united with my people.

Then I realised perhaps it wasn't too be, because there lies a reason for it. I reminded myself why I was overseas in the first place - to learn as much as I can and go back with a sense of renewal and lessons I can use to contribute back - It was more than that, and perhaps being away from my country taught me even more and gave me a deeper sense of rootedness to the situation that was unravelling before my eyes.

I sat on the chair, slumped, as I tried to make sense of the news. I completely forgot about everyone around me. To outsiders, I probably looked dazed and confused. Kinda disoriented.

One thing though, I realised that I did not cry. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't. Yes, tears welled up in my eyes but I didn't cry. Which was in fact a bit surprising even for myself because I'd usually bawl during circumstances like these.

As I sat in reflective contemplation, I realised two things. One, I knew that he would eventually succumb to his illness and that he would eventually pass on. So I was already prepared for the worst. I felt sadness and a yearning to mourn for the death of a man who had given so much to our country. And that was the thing. With that knowledge, the only feelings that I had weren't grief, but far more than that. I felt a greater sense of... how do I put it.... Pride for my country. He was an unwavering figure of strength to many in Singapore and I'm sure grief wasn't what he would wish from Singaporeans on the day of his passing. As I continued sitting on that chair, it occurred to me that I love this country more than ever before and I started to think a lot more about what I could do for this place that I call home for the many years of my life ahead.

Here is my second revelation: I have never seen Singaporeans so united in spirit before. Never before. After I snapped out of the spiral of emotions, I went to read and watch more news about his death through Facebook. And you know what? I did want to cry eventually - After seeing scores of Singaporeans get emotional about his death. The young, the old, I had never seen Singaporeans so united, standing in solidarity, especially the footage when his hearse drove past the Istana and scores of people were shouting. All throughout my life, I have never once seen Singaporeans from all walks of life band together. What a giant he is, bringing together the nation's people even on the day of his death. To me, that was amazing.

What's even more touching for me was knowing that many young people of my generation were feeling the same. And still are. I had always thought the young ones of my time aren't as emotional when it comes to issues involving the nation. But it was nice to know that my views have been challenged during this trying time for the nation. Young people have drawn portraits of Mr Lee and written so many, I say so so SO many inspiring posts on Facebook that it's overwhelming to me. Even the usual critics and skeptics who complain about many other things in life were paying tribute through social media. Even my friends whom I never really thought cared, felt something.

To me, all these voices, acts of wanting to pay their last respects and words of gratitude show a lot. That actually... Singaporeans do care. We do care! And that to me, touches my heart greatly. I have always thought we were quite an emotionless country, but I have been proven quite wrong. When we feel for something, it shows, and that is all that matters.

What saddens me is that, we have to wait for something untoward to happen. For a loss to happen, and this time a great legend to pass, before the nation unites and gets together. I wish for this feeling of togetherness to last forever or at least remain in our hearts forever. It doesn't come all the time, rarely, and in fact, the first time in my entire 22 years of existence.... And my greatest wish is for Singapore to be this fervent in spirit, wholeheartedly and as one. It may not be all the time but I believe no one can deny what an amazing feeling it is to be surrounded by such a show of unity.

Back to my flight. 

After 7 hours of waiting, it was time for me to get on to my plane as the gates opened. I searched around for Singaporeans because I wanted to reach out to them and make conversation with them. I noticed an Asian family. Alas, they weren't Singaporeans. I looked around and saw a television screen flashing Euronews and saw the headlines: "Singapore in Mourning" and thought to myself, wow, his influence has brought tiny Singapore to even the headlines of European News. HEADLINES. That's insane.

Then I regained my search for Singaporeans who would be boarding the plane with me... I absolutely could not find any! My heart sank.

Nevertheless, I entertained and distracted myself from thinking about Mr Lee's passing by watching movies. The Maze Runner and Benjamin Button. I watched a lot of movies while on the plane to Barcelona and back to Singapore. A total of about 5-6 movies. I laughed and cried to many of them and loved all the movies I watched: Gravity, Hunger Games, Coraline, Wild.

Then it hit me that one thing occurred in all of them: Love lost through death. And it hit me that that is the one thing that tugs at our heart strings. The protagonists in each movie experienced some sense of loss through a loved one's death, leading the viewer to endear more with the character. Every single movie. And now when I think again, almost every movie in history has some notion of death played out. It is something all of us experience with a loved one and it is the one thing that occurs, which reminds us just how much humans cling on to the memory of our dearly departed and the things that they have done with us and for us. It is ingrained in the human spirit to grieve, yearn and long for the important, special people who mean so much to us.

I can't believe the in-flight movies could teach me so much about humans in general. And in this particular context.

After seven hours from Doha, the wheels of my aircraft touched the tarmac at Changi Airport. I collected my luggage and saw three familiar faces that belong to people who mean the world to me but will never know the gravity of my love for them.... Mom, Dad and Kor. They picked me up and whisked me back home.

My flight story is about to end here. But before it does, here's what happened before I entered my home.

I saw my old man of a neighbour and I greeted him as usual with a "Hello Uncle!"

He said hello, and walked towards us saying, "I got chilli padi for you!" and he handed my mom a packet of chilli padi, which he grows from his garden.

He's done it before but that night, it was special. It was like, Mr Lee's death had an effect on all of us. It felt so much like kampong spirit... That kind little gesture warmed my heart greatly. It felt like my neighbour was affected by the news too and intentionally plucked those chilli padi just for us, knowing that my family absolutely loves our spices : )

Right now, I still feel a sense of loss and sadness. I wish the generations to come would know and respect Lee Kuan Yew as much as I and the generations before me have. But with time, like everything else, the memory of one fades and the sense of what he has done for this little island nation will gradually dissipate. My children will probably not be able to relate to someone who's been dead and long gone, but I wouldn't really blame them. I myself probably don't fully understand the pride the pioneer generation has because I never experienced the turbulent times of Singapore and really feel for what he has done.

But other than sadness, I have faith that my generation can pave the way forward through uncharted waters. It feels a bit scary and uncertain but I believe in us, the people, who will carve a meaningful life for all of us together in Singapore.

You've been a part of my life by reading this blog and I'm sure you know how much I think about my country... It goes on every single bleeding day of my life and I can never take my country out of my life. I don't know what's the impact or contribution I will make in the future, but I know my heart is set on doing so and I trust that I can and will be able to.

With that, whoever you are, reading, I'm sure you've been the slightest bit affected by his passing too and by whatever means you have, I hope you've been moved to feel or do something. It doesn't have to be big. It could be the teeniest tiniest of wish or hope for the country. You may not even have to do anything but at least, I do hope Mr Lee Kuan Yew's inspiring life journey for Singapore and eventual death have affected you in some way or another.

Like it has for me.

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