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Walking Proud. A Tribute to Ah-Kong.


“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

— Peter Drucker.

Walking proud. I am currently watching Mr. Lee’s state funeral procession, and how the respected military and local leaders are marching from to the University Cultural Center in the National University of Singapore. In spite of operating on a tight schedule, I found myself spending hours and hours reading up on Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy over the past week. Because I’m based in Finland currently, it is a little difficult for me to imagine the overwhelming sentiments on the ground back home. That being said however, I’m going to refer Mr. Lee as Singapore’s “Ah-Kong” (Hokkien for “grandpa”) throughout this post.

Watching the live broadcast from the PMO youtube channel, I am moved to write about Ah-Kong’s global legacy to all Singaporeans. Have you looked at the list of countries that sent in their respect to Mr. Lee? You can find a complete list here.

-Who paid respect: We can see that top officials from 49 countries personally came down to Singapore to pay respect or at least wrote some sort of tribute to Singapore. Also notable are how some prominent entrepreneurs sent in condolences too–including Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba), Steve Forbes and even Dalai Lama. In addition, heads of international organizations wrote in as well. Some countries even flew their flags halfway as a sign of respect for Mr. Lee.

Eh, even the top folks from North Korea and Russia paid respect! Straight from Putin the man himself.

-Who did not pay respect: To me–strikingly, Nordic countries except Norway. Finland did not, Sweden did not, Iceland did not.

I think there is a story behind why countries bothered paying and not paying respect to Mr.Lee, despite us being a little red dot. Don’t you find it amazing? How Mr. Lee commands such respect globally.

My theory is that– you can see Mr Lee’s heart via which leaders he maintains strong relationships with. And it reflects in whether they came down personally to pay respect, wrote in tributes, and so on.

Why did so many powerful global leaders send in condolences? Every powerful country which mattered in the modern world wrote in. You see Russia, Japan, US, China, India and UK sending in tributes. It certainly wasn’t by coincidence–I believe Mr. Lee planned the foreign relationships strategically in the best of Singapore’s interest, given time and resource constraints. And then, somehow Mr. Lee and them probably built really good relationships–always professional and sometimes personal.

Russia’s PM Putin, for instance, wrote in especially kind words. I mean–Mr. Putin is close to the most powerful man on earth and his attitude is pretty much “I do whatever I want. We are Russia.” Putin didn’t have to be politically correct. Yet here’s what Mr. Putin wrote:

“Over his decades of work as prime minister and in other high government posts, he earned his compatriots’ sincere love and respect and won the highest international influence.”

And 49 countries represented–Dear Lord! That’s many. Thank you our foreign friends, we are really humbled.🙂 Can you imagine how visionary and hardworking Mr. Lee Kuan Yew + his team had been?

You know, recently we also hear some critics say, “Mr Lee Kuan Yew probably did it for money, too. He was paid really well, no?” That’s nonsense. If you do it for somewhat for money, you don’t need to do your best to build up networks with 49 countries, powerful entrepreneurs, and global NGOs and international organizations.

If it’s for money, you don’t even need to maintain ties with North Korea or Russia. You don’t have to go down to Israel to learn stuffs about the distillation of water–just be secretly corrupt, retire with a lot of money, and retire early, no?. Oh yes, unsurprisingly, Israel wrote in too. Cheers to Hyflux and New Water.

Those countries who are not exactly very global did not write in. You don’t see Finland on the list, for instance. But Norway’s on the list, due to Singapore’s close ties with Norway in the oil industry.

What has this taught me, as a middle-class overseas Singaporean? It taught me that Singapore has significant global presence. Not a mean feat for a little red dot.

You know, sometimes I get mildly irritated when some folks in Finland don’t know where Singapore is. I know some Singaporean folks in America/ UK have experienced this too. The thinking is: Whites= can speak English; Asian= cannot speak. All Chinese are from China, etc. All Malays are from Malaysia, and all Indians are from India, and so on.

But I’d grown not to feel indignant anymore. Because of this list.

Mr Lee’s legacy taught me ONE THING– WALK PROUD, my overseas Singaporeans, no matter what. The next time someone tells you something like: “Oh so which part of China are you from?” There is no need to feel offended–because of this list. Whichever country which is important is represented. Whichever has weak global presence isn’t.

Important countries to us know who we are, because of Mr Lee’s leadership.

If people don’t know where Singapore is, it logically means that –(1) Their knowledge of current affairs sucks and (2) It’s their loss, really. There are so many things Singapore can offer to the world. So don’t feel offended. Feel sorry for them because they don’t know, and try to educate them if you have the patience. If you don’t have the patience, then just ignore. Because it really isn’t our loss–it’s their embarrassment.

Guess what? Because of our Ah-Kong, I know my value on the global stage better now. The Singaporean brand signals the hard work and efficiency of most Singaporeans.  One thing for sure is that Singaporeans/Singapore is pretty global, and we are in a thriving Asian region. This means continued prosperity.

You want to know what is trouble? Come to Europe now and witness the sky-high unemployment rate. Even Finland has 400,000 Finns unemployed now, out of their 5million population, living on unemployment benefits. I’m not sure if they will ever want to work, because it’s quite comfortable living on welfare benefits due to “equality”, no?

Singapore? Unemployment rate 1.9% as of Q4 2014. That’s around 100,000 residents unemployed out of our 5.7million population.

So don’t lose sight of the value YOU offer to the world. And for God’s sake, don’t ever beg overseas, or live a shagged life. Hold your head high and uphold the Singaporean brand. YOU are supposed to live well, work hard, do good to society, value-add others and do proud to the brand of Singapore on the global stage. If you are unhappy overseas, there is always Singapore where we call home to return to, to contribute to.

And there are always jobs at home for us overseas Singaporeans. This IS Mr Lee’s legacy.

Thank you, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, for all that you have done for Singapore. I’d always wondered why my circle of fellow Singaporeans friends and I are so driven and ambitious, for instance. Perhaps it is because we have great national leaders. Your bad-ass, determined and inspiring character definitely has an impact on all of us.

Some idealistic folks might argue that it is never good to be too pragmatic. Yesterday I watched two of your interviews, and you said it is important to start from the right foundations– to start from a position of pragmatism, instead of idealism, because an idealistic foundation is a luxury that Singapore can ill-afford. But in being practical and no-nonsense, you have led by example and shown me the importance of walking the talk. You have inspired a whole cabinet who do not over-promise but consistently over-deliver. You have contributed to many, many significant changes in Singapore.

I’d learnt, therefore, that “Singapore” is a brand. A born-global brand built on toil, sweat and blood. That’s no understatement. And with all brands, it takes effort and passion to maintain its excellence.

Let’s not lose this. Let’s walk proud and continue Ah-gong’s legacy.

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