I had expected the news but was surprised at my own emotion. Although a supporter, I am not one to grieve over a public figure. The low feeling upon hearing the news, the tears, was something which caught me off-guard.
My son suggested we pay our respect at the lying-in-state at Parliament House, or I doubt I would have gone for I am very impatient. Singaporeans are well known for queuing, whether it’s for char kway teow, chicken rice, MacDonald’s Hello Kitty or other freebies. I only queue when it’s absolutely necessary- for ladies’ toilet during concert break.
When my Aunt E heard that I was going, she decided to come along. To say I was surprised was an understatement. She, the most inactive of all my aunties, wants to queue for 8 hours with us?
There were much planning to do. We debated on which was the best time, the shortest queue, the hot weather, the parking etc. In the end, we, like tens of thousand of Singaporeans, decided Thursday late night to be the best time. My brother was there on Thursday at 4pm and finished at 9pm. We figured most people would not come as the next day was a working day.
At ten pm, we set off, intending to meet my son. He deserted us in the end, as he had a heavy backpack and did not fancy carrying that for five hours – our estimated queuing time.
So Aunt E, hubby Mike and I walked from Marine Square, where we parked the car, to City Hall and joined a moving queue, walking slowly towards war memorial park, passed Singapore Recreation Club, and into Padang, which unknown to us, was a holding area for batches to move. The night was humid, breeze slight, and we comforted ourselves for making the right choice to come in the night.
At 3am, we were still at Padang, with no movement for the past four hours. People around us debated if they were able to continue waiting, since many had work the next day. I listened, sharing the same sentiments, even though I don’t work. I was tired, uncomfortable, back aching, thirsty but dared not drink, hungry but dared not eat – even though the volunteers who were giving out biscuits, water, Yeo’s chrysanthemum tea and apples were doing their utmost best to make our wait as comfortable as possible. (Thank you guys!). It’s the same feeling I had in the wee hours atop Mount Kinabalu, the same feeling struggling through the last 10km of marathon three decades ago, where I knew I had to push myself. I sat there in the dark, with poor internet connection, no book (also too dark to read), and nothing to occupy myself with. Mike told me to meditate, which I think helped him. I watched my aunt, in her tight skirt which prevented her from sitting on the ground, standing stoic the whole night, without making a single complaint and here I was, ashamed of myself at the thoughts of giving up.
After five hours at the Padang, we finally moved, crossing over to Connaught Dr, down the underpass to opposite Boat Quay, and inched towards the Parliament House. Internet returned and my friends were texting me. Everybody seemed to be sleepless in Singapore. As I got closer, my emotion swelled. We passed through security and made our way into the hall. As I neared the casket, I bowed and murmured a silent thank, gratitude overwhelming me. We had queued for six and a quarter hours to pay our respect.
Many of my friends also went down, waiting for hours in line. A friend took an overnight flight from Chengdu and rushed straight to parliament house this morning. Another friend told me how they gave up queuing at the Padang after they learned that the wait was ten hours, and was chided by an elderly women who was at the priority queue. She told them, “10 hours is nothing compared to what LKY did for us. If you leave now, next time whenever you passed this way, you will forever regret not paying your respect.” And so they rejoined the queue, and were glad they did.
If I were awed by the stories in the papers and online these last few days about the unity of Singaporeans in grief, to be there at the Padang affirmed it. To sum up my queuing experience, – I was dreading the experience while it lasted, but cherishing it at its close.
Thank you for my country, and for letting me see this side of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.