While Singapore was waking up to the news of the death of the nation’s founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, on their Monday morning, I was home following it on my Instagram feed on what was my Sunday afternoon. I’ve gotten accustomed to the 12 hour time difference between Trinidad (or wherever in the world I am) and Singapore, spending many late nights chatting with friends there.
I’ve heard people say Singapore lacks culture or the “happening” vibe of Hong Kong. People have said it’s boring, that it is a concrete jungle. But to me, Singapore became my second home and it is all thanks to Lee Kwan Yew.
Maybe I heard about Singapore growing up, maybe I didn’t. But I only became fascinated by this city state in my last two years of high school. My Economics teacher, Mrs West, would always compare Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) to Singapore, both nations became independent around the same time in the 1960s yet Lee Kwan Yew took Singapore to first world status while T&T remained light years behind. Ok not light years but you get my point. Afterall, Lee Kwan Yew himself once called Trinidadians lazy…yes we are, I admit it too. When it came to studying the resources of a country, Mrs West would proudly announce Singapore’s only natural resource was its people and Lee Kwan Yew capitalized on that.
I thank Mrs West for introducing me to Lee Kwan Yew, his policies and his transformation of Singapore. I went on to university in Australia determined my first job would be in Singapore…yes I went across to the other side of the globe at such a young age much to the shock of people at home. But studying and getting work experience in their first class transportation system was a big part of my plan…and the start of my globetrotting hotfoot.
I first visited Singapore in 1998 on a stopover on my long trek to Trinidad for school holidays (which was December -February in Australia). I returned after graduation as planned in 2000. I may have only worked in Singapore for three years but I’ve gone back umpteen times to visit the friends I have there. They’ve become more like family actually – Chinese, Indian and Malay – all of them. Every time I return I feel like I’m going home; home to my concrete jungle.
I’ve seen Singapore transform even more in the last fifteen years on my many visits but despite more shopping malls, taller apartment complexes and iconic buildings dotting Singapore’s skyline, the culture has remained the same. Lee Kwan Yew ensured the history of this tiny island remained in tact despite exponential growth and development.
So as I reflect on how this man inspired me to visit his country and the world at large, I remember the many firsts I learnt in Singapore over the years.
I learnt to eat with my first chopsticks in Singapore. It was a group project by my colleagues to teach stubborn left handed me nevermind eating with the left hand was taboo.
I mastered the art of speaking Singlish (Singaporean English) so much so that when I finally moved back to Trinidad, my new boss said to the department “we need to get that sing songy accent out of her asap.”
I spent many a nights having supper…yes Singaporeans love to eat and supper was a late night meal “#onetoomany” for me but coffee shop life was a fun evening thing to do at nights when the temperature cooled down.
Spending time with the elderly, I may have been horrible at Mandarin but we bonded nevertheless. I learnt karaoke very fast. Singaporeans have a special love for karaoke, I still don’t!
From Chinese New Year to Deepawali to Hari Raya, I joined in the celebrations, weddings and funerals traditions I was quickly introduced too. Singapore is where I really understood the real meaning of culture shock which educated me for my world travels.
Reminders of old Singapore from Chinatown to Little India, Arab Street and Geylang I’d frequent for the architecture, ethnic shopping and incredible local food.
Modern Singapore fascinates me just as much. Changi Airport remains one of my favourites in the world, I afterall studied transportation and logistics. I continue to be fascinated by this mega airport each time I fly in and out. Singapore Airlines and its top service I look forward to flying every time I head to SE Asia.
I could go on and on about my own evolution in Singapore, including my many shopping sprees, but I’ve learnt a lot from this great legend Lee Kwan Yew. He was a visionary indeed who had the future generations of Singapore at heart. If there are any words of his that would forever stay with me in life and my travels it is this:
“you begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes. That’s the way my life has been.”
And that’s how I live mines. Thank you Lee Kwan Yew for inspiring this little island girl from the other side of the world, giving her big dreams and encouraging her to conquer the world. I’ll be there later this year to join in Singapore’s 50th independence celebrations and we will all be remembering you.