Upon moving to Singapore three years ago, I recall my astonishment at arriving in a thriving modern metropolis with one foot planted in the past and one foot striding toward the future. It was a fascinating combination – a tiny city state with historic kampongs and hawker centers alongside some of the most progressive urban development in the world. Marina Bay Sands and the growing city skyline stood emblematic of Singapore’s investment in its future, while the charming neighborhoods of Arab Street, Chinatown and Little India were living proof of a society built on heritage and multiculturalism.
Three years on, I’m still fascinated by life on this little island. Life in Singapore is simple – unburdened by the need to own a car or pay absurd percentages of federal taxes. I go about my days speaking English. I’d love to learn Mandarin or Malay and be bilingual like everyone who has grown up here in Singapore, but until I do I’m just grateful to be able to communicate.
I’ve taken up Tai Chi on Thursday mornings – learning the art in the lush green spaces of the Botanic Gardens. I have an annual pass to Gardens by the Bay, too. I guess you could say I’m an enthusiastic supporter of this “Garden City” – a city that proudly welcomes visitors with a profusion of manicured trees and plants lining the highway to and from the airport.
Singapore’s economy is strong — in the top five for GDP per capita — and home ownership also ranks among the top five countries in the world at 91%. Unemployment is low, crime is practically non-existent, and everyone raising children agrees there couldn’t be a safer place in the world to do so.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, passed away today at the age of 91.
His fingerprints are on everything I love and admire about this country, even though he stepped down as Prime Minister 25 years ago. From the multicultural neighborhoods to the garden city concept to the emphasis on bilingualism, all of these things are products of his vision. He also created the National Service, transformed Singapore’s port into an invaluable trade connection with the world, and implemented an enormous public housing plan that made home ownership possible for all Singaporeans. His belief in attracting foreign investment has been the key to Singapore’s thriving economy and the reason why many of us expats have found ourselves here — much to our own surprise. Some may argue about his ideals, but no one can argue about his success. Lee Kuan Yew’s accomplishments are vast. He was a man of tremendous vision – ahead of his time, often controversial, but unfailing in his belief that this tiny nation — that split from Malaysia in 1965 — would someday be great.
Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday on August 9th — what’s sure to be a bittersweet day without the man who took Singapore “from third world to first, in one generation”.
Speaking this morning (in English, Malay and Mandarin) of his father’s passing, eldest son and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “We won’t see another man like him.”
May you rest in peace, Lee Kuan Yew. Your destiny is fulfilled. Your nation is great.