April 8, 2015

Our way of mourning Lee Kuan Yew

By Mindy Tan In Documentary Photography

Over the week of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, I was out photographing the reaction of Singaporeans – what was to me an unexpected flurry of emotions too. Many of us had grown up and benefitted from his policies, I knew his viewpoints well, my father was a great admirer who believed strongly we are indebted for many of the good things and clean government we enjoy in Singapore today. I remember my heart aching when he turned up for National Day Parade 2014, the last time I saw him on TV. Our family fell silent when he appeared. Sure, we were delighted he came, but shocked he had so quickly gone so frail.

When the news reports came that he was critically ill, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know it would hit me so bad. I awoke that morning to the news on my phone, an empty sunken feeling hit me, a very sour awful feeling… a sense of lost, like as if a relative had passed away… only.. that family was my country, and that man, was the leader of Singapore.

I had to walk to the window to check if the cars were still running, if the trees were still green, just to make sure Singapore was still the same. Then I turned on the TV, saw the banners flashing across the screen, and the tears came, ever so unexpectedly.

How do we begin to explain what Lee Kuan Yew means to us?

Ironically, it was in photographing Singapore’s week of mourning that I got over my own grief, and found instead from fellow Singaporeans a display of kindness, strength in adversity, and the great sense of belonging of home.

These pictures have been posted on my Facebook profile.
Some of them will also be in the book titled “Thank you, Mr Lee” 




25th March
Dear Mr Lee, on your final journey, even as we queue to bid you goodbye, you made sure we have a beautiful road lined with grand trees and bougainvilleas, and a gleaming Singapore River where we can all stand alongside in spirit.

A few images from this morning’s gun carriage procession.


Our police have heart.
They tried to let through a singular old man who was extremely enthusiastic about getting pictures on his mobile phone when the carriage passed, but was pushed to the back when the barricades came up.


It was a difficult morning, standing among the crowds, obeserving the shadows of the trees cast on buildings against the morning light, surrounded by shouts of “Mr Lee Kuan Yew”, as you headed for the Parliament house, on a historic route, for the last time.
It is so hard to believe he is in that carriage.


Could not decide if this image should have been in color or monochrome. The bougainvilleas so pink, there was greenery everywhere, and if this had been a video, you’d hear the birds chirping. 


The tension in their mouths say it all.


Mr Lee’s coffin had gone in, and that is when one of the pall bearers , in their retreat could finally wipe his tears or perhaps sweat, down his cheeks.


The crowd, braving the heat at The Fullerton immediately after Mr Lee’s casket had been placed inside the Parliament House where the public can pay their last respects. It was a first a shock that I could not find the end of the queue after walking around for an hour, only to see its tail on a bus later at Hong Lim Park.
Visiting hours were later extended from 8 hours daily to 24 hours.


Raffles Place MRT.
Look around you, he is everywhere



27th March:
Our giant is asleep. He’s still on TV delivering speeches. We are here as a nation, slowly but surely, marching past him with all our blessings as he takes his leave.

For a few thousand people gathered here at 4:30am. we were awfully quiet. The streets were chock-a-block with cars, but it felt surreal. No horns, no hustle, only patience of people trying to find the end of the snaking queue.

In this part of town was where his voice once rang loudly in all the languages we speak. fighting for independence and PAP votes.

Perhaps this queuing and waiting to say our goodbyes was a way of dealing with the grief, made better by sharing amongst masses, we were people with only one intention, to say Thank You. It felt like a kampong, all were family.

It was the sight of families arriving together, the awkward elderly father and filial son interactions, or a child in school uniform being awoken from sleep by his parents -” because you are Singaporean”…. We all have a bit of Lee Kuan Yew in us. His pragmatism, incorruptability, and I think, that sense of responsibilty as Confucian-Asians.

The energy of the masses is good for the soul.

The crowd passing through the war memorial. LKY once said a Japanese soldier kicked and shoved him. What the pioneer generation like him has gone through, I can only respect.
Some came alone. Most were dressed for work, and hope to be done in time to turn up at the office.


At 4.50am on 27 March, Day 5, of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. The queue was projected to take 8 hours, the public strongly advised not to queue, but the crowd was steadily streaming in.
Our taxi driver gave us a discount and was very shy about it, everyone wanted to do their part to chip in.


And we strolled… tiny in the giant shadows of trees


We waited… and waited… 


At times the queue began to move, but it was just row after row of lines at the war memorial. By the time this portion was over, we’d walk about 10 times (U-turning) on that single plot 


Finally… it was time to cross the road


Break of dawn: A spirited volunteer persuading the crowd to take some biscuits, as we still had many hours to go.


Ushered into barricades finally… and with the space, there was some coolness of night’s air. Dad got into priority queue, he can be accompanied by one family member, that was to be me, how lucky

Umbrellas, donated by a group of volunteers – for when the sun strikes.


Policemen have been patiently answering questions from the public. They’ve been awesome
Dawn is breaking…
Such a pretty backdrop of the National Gallery.
Lots were checking live updates about the situation, and reading the news. Some calling their family to inform of the situation


Arriving at the security checkpoint.
This couple reminded me of Mr & Mrs Lee… they’ve been holding hands throughout. The mood got more solemn as we entered Parliament House. 
The Priority queue.. as we passed the gates, nearer to the entrance of the Parliament house foyer, where Mr Lee’s body lies


Bottom L:
This is largely the crowd coming out after paying their respects. The sun had just risen and golden, after queuing in the darkness. A strange feeling

Bottom R: Public Homage.
Did you know the words “Clean & Green” “Garden city” was coined by LKY and his team. He said, “I did not have money to hire a PR agency” and ‘minted’ those terms as they pushed out the policies. 


Bottom L:
Our men in blue, not just law enforcers but also patient marshalls

Bottom R: Doing what we do best?


Below Left: Need we say more about religious harmony? This was a man in the crowd who decided to start distributing umbrellas and cardboards to fellow citizens. It felt odd people were suddenly ‘caged-in’ once they had gotten to the Padang. By 9am, the heat in the Padang was unbearable – the humidity, and bodies huddled close together. However, not a single word of complain, only people looking after each other.

Below Right: Ironically, if you hang around long enough, you will notice it is the older generation who rejected umbrellas. They’d rather butt the fuss and brave the heat.


Pitching more tents, so more people could be in the shade. After the first day where organizers were taken aback by the large crowd and decided to move everyone to the Padang, tents -so many of them! – sprang up overnight. Super inpromptu efficiency & systematic deployment, organization of large crowds, who were all cooperative. SAF is amazing lah

R: I think he’s wondering why the queue is coming along much shorter than the expected waiting time. In Mr Lee’s words, the reply should be, “Under promise and over deliver”!!

Among the human traffic at morning peak hour, a man pushes an elderly woman on wheelchair, to join the queue. So much effort, I’m sure they all felt strongly they had to make the trip


I shelter you, you shelter me. Let’s take turns to hold umbrellas. 
Visually this came across strongly for me – old men, of Mr Lee’s generation, came dressed with a lot of dignity – carefully ironed shirts, proper pants and shoes, knowing they would have to stand on over-trodden grass patches. Respect.


One member of the crowd wanted me to take a picture of the first book PAP ever released. He had a collection of signatures inside, I felt the need to get that picture out somewhere, anywhere. Our pioneer generation.


An entire family volunteering to distribute packet drinks to people in the queue- way to go, Singapore spirit!!


Check out his sharp shirt. 





28th March:
On the last night of observing his funeral, it is fitting that I return to Jurong, a place where I lived the most part of my life, for a ceremony in his memory.



We sang three songs Mr and Mrs Lee loved to sing together.
1. Que Sera Sera,
2. Burong Kaka Tua,
3. One people, One nation, One Singapore.
The last song was the tear-jerker..


Ministers who were present – Second Minister of State Grace Fu, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Speaker of Parliament Halimah YacobLKY-final goodbye-17


Heartening to see many nationalities come together, a group of cleaners from India, wearing their uniforms, also hung around watching, half participatory.


Could not help but notice a parrot was in our midst.




L: Walking through the walls of walls of tribute messages showed the extent of how deeply his loss was felt.
R: This kid got it right


L: Penned by a new citizen.
R: A tribute by students and teachers of a primary school caliigraphy club. In LHL’s words “My father would have approved”



29th March:
On the muddied field we stood for over an hour, the rain relentlessly beating down on us.

Some on the field whispered saying this looked like the scene of 9th August 1968, Singapore’s first National Day Parade, where it rained heavily but the people stood still.

It was the same case today, as we come together almost 5 decades later drenched in this great rain, standing for more than an hour waiting for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a man we were all grateful for, a shining light.

It was basic. No fancy platforms. Just us, our feets on the ground in silence. It was such a torrential rain, no matter what shoes you were wearing, the water had come in. No matter what clothes you wore or umbrella you carried, we were soaked to the bone.

Quietly, I could not be more proud to be Singaporean, to be united in this mourning, to have the same sense of belonging & duty, this love yet trepidation for the future of Singapore.

“HIs physical manifestations has ended, but his legacy will live on forever through Singaporeans, through the success of Singapore.”- Bhutan King His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.


This girl, one of our future.


My parents as they walked through the Padang.

Mum lived through the Bukit Ho Swee fire in her childhood and moved into her first HDB flat in Commonwealth with grandma and her siblings. She would recall witnessing her father smoke opium to numb his illness, because if you were poor, there was no other medication back in the day.

Dad is a great admirer of LKY and often reminds us not to take things forgranted today. Years ago, Dad got addicted to jogging, completing marathon after marathon. Guess who inspired him?


A son comforting his mother.


Except for the skies mourning with us, there was silence as we waited for his last journey to begin. 


The path in front of the Old supreme court building, is where Army tankers have historically been driven down whenever we hold our celebrations at the Padang. Today. the path will be used for our grandest send-off.


This is a heavy crop on a picture. Look carefully, there is a man standing on the lamppost, waving a flag, saluting to LKY as his cortege passed.
That man had been clinging onto the lamppost for this moment for an hour.


I think the younger generation experienced something they could not feel before for Singapore today.
This week will go down in history few will ever forget.

If you had stood here on this day, this rain is something you will never forget.



As soon as Mr Lee’s cortege passed.. the rain softened to a light drizzle. How can you explain this.. and the mad rain the day before he passed? Is this a natural phenomenon? The National Day Parade of 1968?
LKY-final goodbye-12

The crowd clearing City Hall, almost crushing, people soaked and floor was slippery, but very orderly


Goodbye, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Thank you, for devoting your life to our Singapore.

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