Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mourning has broken

This was written shortly after the funeral of LKY. Strange to look back now on those very surreal days.

As I write this, it’s just a few hours after the state funeral of Lee Kuan Yew. Since the announcement of his death seven days ago, I’ve been trapped in a fog of unreality and sniffling grief.
            Of course, it’s not helped that for the past couple of weeks, we’ve all been away from Singapore for work: I’ve been in London, Saffy in Melbourne, and Amanda in New York.
            “Oh my God, I sat through a five hour meeting today and I don’t remember a single thing about it!” Amanda reported on FaceTime. Even with the patchy connection, you could see her eyes were puffed up and red.
            “I hope you weren’t crying the whole meeting!” I told her.
            Amanda blew her nose into a tissue except the static froze her for a few seconds in mid-blow. “No, that was after in the cab back to the hotel and I was catching up on all the updates on Facebook. All those posts about the Old Man! I can’t believe he’s gone!”
            I was relieved I wasn’t the only one who’d been tearing up at every article and video I was compulsively Hoovering up from friends’ walls. 
“What time is it over there?” Amanda asked.
            “Six-thirty in the evening,” I replied as I tried to work out how to patch Saffy in, only to remember that it would have been about 5.30 am where she was.
            As it turned out, she’d been up for hours in her hotel room, glued to her computer screen as she read tribute after tribute, pausing every so often to write inflammatory replies on the walls of some friends who, apparently, weren’t as moved as she was.
            “Soon as this is all over, I’m going to be unfriending quite a few people!” she threatened darkly.
            Of course, none of us could really understand why we were so overwhelmed. As Amanda pointed out, it wasn't as if we’d given all that much thought to the Old Man in years, though you couldn’t have avoided the increasing media coverage of his decline in the past few weeks.
            “I know it’s a sad occasion,” she said, “but this reaction – can’t sleep, no appetite, listlessness, unexpected bouts of crying? That’s not me! I didn’t even cry during ‘ET’!”
            Then, the long lines started forming in the Padang and along the Esplanade. We watched it all unfold in real time while friends posted pictures and videos on Twitter and Facebook.
            One evening, Sharyn SMS’d to say that she joined the line at 10pm. She didn’t make it past the casket till 4am. Her message “Alamak i cry and cry!” was followed by ten weeping emoticons.
            Saffy said she was so jealous that Sharyn had gotten to say goodbye. “I wonder if I could fake a family emergency back in Singapore and get out of this stupid work trip!” she told me on Skype. “I mean, it won’t really be a lie, will it?”
            “I’m going to the British High Com here to sign the condolences book,” I said, staring out my office window at the grey London sky. Down below, people rugged up in thick coats and hats were hurrying about their business. I felt sure they were wondering when summer was coming.
            Saffy pursed her lips. “Hmm, that’s an idea. I just feel like I need to do something, seeing as we can’t be in Singapore to say goodbye, you know?”
            I did.
            This morning, I woke up at 6 am to watch the live-feed of the funeral procession. The rain fit the mood, though the sight of all those people lined along the streets was surreal.
“Wah, so many singaporeans on the street!” Sharyn texted. “We complain when got no cover walkway but now get wet no one care! Champion!”
From 11,000km away, in my little hotel room, I watched the motorcade with its flag-draped coffin – so small, I thought, too small to hold that man! – wind its way along the streets, cheered on by every single demographic in the country.
From Melbourne, Saffy texted: “I haven’t stopped crying since the coffin left Parliament Hse!”
By the time the Prime Minister delivered the first eulogy, in New York, Amanda had started her second box of Kleenex. She later said she used up half the box just for Sidek Saniff’s speech. “And that was just for the translation!” she said. “Imagine if I’d been able to actually understand what he said!”

Now, it’s been a few hours since I started writing this. It’s 11pm. I’m emotionally exhausted though I remain completely perplexed by the depth of my emotion over the past week. Sadness mingled with gratitude, affection and a great deal of pride. And half a world away, a new day is breaking over Singapore.

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