From Shanghai, With Love

Featured image I don’t usually like commenting on the deaths of famous personalities unless I actually know them.

I find it a little odd that so many people would do so on social media these days, as if they knew the deceased on a personal basis. But that’s the world these days I suppose. Everyone wants to be heard and it’s just too darn easy to do so. Democracy takes its most unadulterated form in the virtual world.

I’m breaking my silence this time, however, because I’ve never been so affected before. When news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing came about last week, an inexplicable gloom hung over me. I’ve never met the man in my life, yet I found myself choking with grief. I barely even cried when my grandfather passed away (mind you, I love that man to bits) but there I was, in my hotel room during a media junket, tearing up and saying a silent prayer for my country’s first prime minister.

It’s utterly moving that Singaporeans the world over are paying tribute to Mr Lee. A friend of mine went to the Singapore Consulate here in Shanghai yesterday to pay his respects. There was to be a screening of the funeral procession at OCBC here on Sunday but the location has since been changed to a larger venue due to overwhelming response.

I play football every Thursday with a big group of Singaporeans living in Shanghai. Yesterday, I received an email from the organiser saying that he would be bringing black armbands for everyone. I later found out that one of my teammates is actually flying back to Singapore just for the funeral this Sunday.

One of my English teammates even chipped in when us Singaporeans were having a conversation about Mr Lee, saying: “I seriously can’t understand why the fuck you guys are here in China. Singapore’s such a great place. Everyone actually queues up for things. Everything is so orderly. People are not rude.”

It’s evident that many people respect Mr Lee and are mourning his death. I have always respected him for being a hardliner. I have always believed that sometimes there’s simply a need to get tough with people and do things that would be deemed by society as immoral or unethical in order to achieve a greater good. And that’s exactly what Mr Lee had done. I believe that the big picture matters more than anything else, and let’s face it, there’s no perfect method of running a country while pleasing everyone.

Jose Mourinho likes to park the bus. It’s not a nice thing to do and its unpopular with many people (especially the losers), but hey, it gets the job done.

I’m no expert on Singapore history. I can’t list all the things he has done for the nation. But I do know that he devoted his life to serving the people and making Singapore a better place. I know he has locked up his political opponents. I know he has advocated media censorship. I know he has done a lot of things the so-called free world would abhor. But that to me is besides the point.

Absolute freedom is no different from anarchy. I think many people need to understand this. We need a system of governance in everything if things are to move along smoothly. I have learned so since coming to China. My previous job was the perfect example of bad governance. Many of people I have dealt with here are inefficient and unproductive. There is no such thing as a queue and locals blatantly ignore the security personnel in the subway who are supposed to perform bag checks. The latter don’t even bother to insist on performing their duties.

Singapore certainly has its own flaws. I don’t believe it to be the perfect country to live in. The cost of living is high. Getting a car is ridiculously expensive. Owning a roof over your head is starting to become a problem. These are the common rants most Singaporeans would indulge in, and that’s exactly the point – we are all complaining about first world problems. First world, mind you. This is what we have become in a mere 50 years. Tell me that is not remarkable and I’ll tell you to open your eyes and see the world. The very reason we can even complain about these things is because we have all the basic necessities covered. There are people dying everyday because they don’t have access to clean water and here we are, whining about issues that we are privileged to have.

I wish I could be there at Parliament House to pay my last respects but I’ll have to do so remotely from here in Shanghai. I won’t consider myself a patriot. But I’ve never felt more proud to be a Singaporean. I don’t personally know the man. But I do know when to respect a great person.

Dear Mr Lee. I know you’re in a better place now with your beloved wife. Thank you for leaving this legacy behind.

We’ll see you on the other side.


35 thoughts on “From Shanghai, With Love

  1. Really good read and my exact sentiments. Always will be proud to be a Singaporean no matter where I am at too!

    With Love,
    Fellow overseas Singaporean working in Seoul


  2. Terrific article; I share with your sentiments. I never appreciated Singapore as much while living there as when I lived 20 years in the US. Seeing the huge numbers of homeless people in the richest country on earth; the high crime rate (I was myself a victim of a violent crime that almost killed me); the political gridlock between the Democrats and Republicans that paralysed the government and even shot it down; the high income taxes; the atrocious cost of healthcare (just seeing a GP for a flu will cost you hundreds of dollars if you don’t have insurance)—all these and more made me realise how very much I took for granted in Singapore. And how incredibly hard it is for any country to achieve what Singapore has (and most countries never do).


  3. jo says:

    Hey there. I just moved back after living in shanghai for 10 yrs. I totally understand and get where you are coming from, because these are the exact same things I tell my friends that have not exactly left our protective bubble called singapore, to live overseas for a good few years. I do not consider myself as patriotic either but one thing is for sure, I answer with beaming pride whenever anyone asks me ‘你是哪里人?’, ‘Where are you from?’. Thanks again for writing this piece – a piece that speaks volume of a Singaporean living overseas.

    Xia xia nong!


  4. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And like you, I can only pay my respects from Shanghai. But no matter where we are, we should not only feel proud as Singaporeans but should always strive to make Singapore proud of us.


  5. Darren How says:

    Should’ve joined you for soccer while still living in Shanghai. It wasn’t till this week that I realised why I really wanted to return to Singapore.


  6. Dear alywin,

    thank you for the excellent summary of what many of us feel. You articulated it so personally and with great honesty.

    I feel the same way as you and am proud to be a Singaporean.

    Dr Kevin Teh


  7. Pingback: Happy Birthday, Singapore | the phylactery

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  9. You really make it appear so easy along with your presentation however I to find this topic to be really one thing which I feel I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very broad for me. I’m having a look ahead on your next post, I will try to get the grasp of it!


  10. That’s clearly not true, since rice grew perfectly well at 280ppm for the last few thousand years, and we have only had substantially higher levels in the last few decades. Yields have improved largely through breeding programmes, not because of elevated atmospheric CO₂.


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