I am a sceptic, a cynic, a realist.
And a "realist" is how a "pessimist" describes himself.
So I might be a pessimist too.
Recently, I said to my colleague, "I fear the best years of Singapore are over. It ended with LKY, when he handed over the country to his successor."
PAP and LKY were handed SG to rule when Barisan Sosialis walked out of Parliament in the 60s. PAP then became the default and only choice of a small island city state (political joke) ever at risk of spiralling into the trash heap of history.
That we didn't, is a miracle of sorts.
Some believe that our success was fated, predestined, or at the very least inevitable.
That we make too much of LKY, and we Merlionised him in his death.
But it is understandable if Singaporeans Merlionise him, but what of other world figures?
Anyway, the point is Singapore best years may be over, I told my colleague.
I mean, realist.
Then at NDR, PM Lee read the letter of an old friend of LKY who asked LKY if there would be a Singapore in years to come.
There among his old and trusted friends, LKY who had always been reticent or sanguine about the future of Singapore, for the first time, gave an unequivocal answer: "Of course! Even better!"
I almost teared when I heard that.
'Cos cynics don't cry.
And Lee Kuan Yew wouldn't have wanted me to.
Of course, being a cynic, I started to consider the circumstances of that remarkable assertion.
Lee was among old friends. His words were intended only for them. No one was recording or reporting his words. It was the start of SG50 (the group of old friends met in January 2015). They had just tried to persuade Lee to attend as many of the SG50 events as possible. He had listened but had not committed to anything.
They then asked him the question.
Is it unimaginable that in that moment of camaraderie, of shared history, of the intimacy of friendship, LKY decided to tell them what they wanted to hear? Perhaps he had an inkling that this might be his last meeting with them, and gave in to a moment of sentimentality, and spoke as a friend instead of the Father of Singapore. Maybe for that moment, for that occasion, he wanted to and was able to let go of hard-headed objectivity, and could indulge in some pleasant scenarios.
The counter to that is, Lee was always more concerned about being factually correct than about being accepted or politically correct. And for a logical, rational, hard-headed realist like Lee, it is not a burden to be hard-headed. It is not a difficult role to play. It is his natural role, his natural inclination. So there is no, "ok, I'm tired of being realistic. Let's indulge in some pleasant fantasies."
So his assertion that "Of course there will be a Singapore! Even better!" seen in his tendency to always speak the truth, must be his true assessment... If it were reported truthfully.
All we have is the word of an old friend who reported this conversation in a letter to Lee's son after the passing of Lee Kuan Yew.
Did he embellish?
Did he want to offer comfort to the son who is PM of Singapore, and has a vested interest in ensuring that Singapore will persevere and thrive?
Did he want to assure the son that the father had confidence in him?
[I know. You listened to the NDR and this was (maybe) one of the highlights for you, and now I have ruined it for you. I am sorry. But do read on. I promise it will get better.]
Logically, rationally, I cannot believe that LKY would do something so uncharacteristic as to state with utmost certainty something that will depend on so many factors.
Maybe when the friends ask LKY if there would still be a Singapore in years to come, LKY eyes suddenly brightened. The intellect behind those eyes roused, looked around, and gave his pronouncement.
I can only imagine what he might have said.
Maybe he saw the fall of the PAP. And saw little or no anguish in that. It is what it is.
Maybe he saw the impending conflict between China and the US and Singapore having to choose sides and choices were fraught with hazards and perils.
Maybe he saw the floundering global economy laying waste to many economies and Singapore trying hard to keep our head above the water.
Maybe he saw Nicole Seah rise to be PM of Singapore, with Riz Low as President.
[This is getting heavy, so I thought we should lighten up a bit. Look, all this doom and gloom is just speculation. We do not know what he might have said to his friends. It might have been deep and heavy and depressing. Or not.]
The thing is, as a sceptic, a cynic, a realist, and someone who thinks he knows at least the public persona of LKY, I find it hard to believe that he would say something so absolute and so unconditional. It is uncharacteristic.
I believe the friend embellished.
Okay. Okay. I believed the friend lied. It was supposed to be a white lie, but it was still a lie.
PM Lee... embellished. There was no circle of close friends. Or there was no letter. Or there was no such conversation and LKY never made that unequivocal assertion. Or he made a conditional assertion
Here's the thing. I have a child. If I believe that SG will fail in the next 50 years, I would be making plans to leave the country and give my child a better chance elsewhere.
But I am not.
I believe that SG's systems in place are good and strong.
I believe that generally, Singaporeans know that they have a good thing and they want to hang onto it.
I believe that future Singapore will belong to the next generation to make and to improve.
Maybe if you ask me in 25 years if SG is better than today, I might say, no. This is not the SG of my youth, that I remember.
Maybe. But I had my SG. It was the SG of my youth, and of my young adulthood. The SG of my memories.
But the SG today, it's not so bad. We lost some things, but we gain new things too. It is the nature of progress.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. But most of all, it was none of your business what time it was. (From a Facebook status)The SG of the future will be built by my nephews' and nieces' generation (and my child). They will decide what is good and what is not so good. They will decide what is better.
And it is none of my business if I think it should be a little different.
This idea of letting the next generation decide is very liberating. Previously I had wrote about "What will you fight for"
In other words, if we have to defend Singapore, if you are willing to defend Singapore, it is not just the Present Singapore you are defending. It is the Future Singapore. It is the Singapore of our Children, of the Next Generation, that you are fighting for. And you are fighting for that simply because they are too young to fight for that future.Will SG be better?
You are fighting for a Singapore in which you can raise your family and you can shape their future, and you can have a say in shaping their environment.
But understand that "having a say" does not mean you have the power to create the environment you want. You simply have a say. You can participate as much (or as little) as you like in trying to influence national policies to the best of your ability.
The alternative is to go to another country, become a citizen (if necessary) and try to shape their national policies there. This is not better or worse than being in Singapore. If you can find a country with more policies (and practices) that you can agree with than in Singapore (all else being equal), then it is simply logical and rational to move there.
Maybe not from my personal perspective.
But from the perspective of the next generation or the Singaporeans living in the Singapore of the future, for the Singaporeans of SG100, maybe it will be.
I grew up with LKY as PM. It was reassuring. When I was old enough, I listened to his NDR, and was firghtened, and then assured.
That, for me, was the Golden Age of Singapore.
And that was my youth when everything is possible, and there were rainbows to chase.
The Singapore of the next 50 years will still have rainbows, but they are not for me to chase. They are not even for me to see.
If you are reading this, your role and mine, is to keep Singapore safe for the next generation. That is who we are.
What does it mean to be Singaporean?I started by saying that I am a cynic, a sceptic, a realist and a pessimist.
It means realising that you are a citizen of a small island city state at risk of being taken as a political joke. It means that we are a little red dot in danger of being irrelevant to the world, and being ignored by the world. BUT, we are not and that should be a source of pride and should also be a source of profound humility. We are where we are because of who went before us, blazing the trail, lighting a path, marking the hazards and the helps. We should therefore feel an immense sense of responsibility to build upon what they have done, safeguard what they have achieved, and not squander what they have earned. We are kiasu, not simply for fearing to lose what we won, but what those who had gone before us had won for us.
And what they have left for us is a city that works. The least we can do is to ensure that it continues to work. We have the responsibility as stewards of Singapore to ensure that the city that works continues to work. And because of that, we "measure ourselves by a higher standard...There is a sense of ‘we should be better than that'".
This veneer of scepticism and cynicism is simply an armour to protect me from the slings and arrows of outrageous stupidity.
Because if I truly believe that there is no hope, writing about it, is the stupidest thing I can do. I should be making plans to make tracks.
Not defend Singapore and LKY (with words - I am a thinker not a fighter) against ideologues and evangelists.
Not wonder about what it means to be Singaporean.
Not discuss politics and political ideology.
Not start and keep a blog called "Singapore 2B - The Singapore to be. Singapore version 2B, not the 1A or A1 version."