It is uncanny the emotion I have felt all day at LKY’s death. I am in Japan, with my 9 year old daughter on her school break, in the snow, something Singapore cannot ever provide. I awoke early to the news and felt overwhelmingly like flying ‘home’. After all these years, I am frankly devastated not to be on the island to be part of this paramount event, to participate in the closing of this extended, seminal chapter, and to experience the loss with my fellow Singaporeans. It was expected of course, but somehow I think the entire nation has been holding its breath, hoping against hope that the Minister Mentor could somehow hang on until Singapore’s gala 50th birthday; if only for his sake. So that he could enjoy it, revel in it, experience the milestone which but for his own existence would not exist.
Why? My politics differ from his in many ways, yet my admiration for his life’s work is almost beyond words. I have watched it, and lived through a great, important chunk of it, in the past nearly two decades. I watched as the open ocean became a controlled and lovely (two words I might not otherwise put together in a sentence) urban marine basin, witnessed (and still witness) landforms taking shape where before there were none. I have experienced the literal morphing of a jungly island into global city in real time. On my watch, or really on LKY’s watch. I’ve not always agreed with the trajectory, but I have been and always will be gobsmacked by the success and pace of the transition. Before becoming a photographer I was an urban development professional in New York City: what I have seen transpire in Singapore is surreal and unparalleled. Someone had a plan and knew what they were doing.
It is a strange never-world I inhabit. After nearly 19 years in Asia, the vast majority of them in Singapore, my status as ‘Permanent Resident’ is oddly ambiguous: Permanent (like a stain?) but not a citizen. Resident, well no one could argue with that. I inhabit a grey region between citizenries, both in my native USA and here in Singapore. I feel at the same time part and not part of the collective in each place. It’s an odd space in which to dwell, but it is a place of perspective, for which I am grateful. In fact, over the years I have become perhaps even more grateful for the place of perspective, than for the place of belonging.
But today, like it or not, I am a citizen of Singapore. I stand aligned with my neighbors in loss, admiration and gratitude. PM Lee Hsien Loong is right: there will never, ever be another man like Lee Kuan Yew. I feel very grateful for my time in his nation — and his nation it truly is– and for the happy childhoods of my three children, all of whom were born during our time here in Singapore, and none of whom know of any other ‘home’. I am not sure if I know of another home myself: I can remember other homes, but I have not lived in one for a long, long time. For me home is no longer defined as a place, it is a state of being, and the requirement is loved ones, not real estate. For me, Singapore fits the description as much as its contenders.
Rest peacefully Minister Mentor. You have touched so many outside of the island citizenry for whom you gave your life. I will remember the twinkle in your eye when we spoke on Christmas night 2012: it seemed to me you were pleased that a foreigner was out, with her whole family on that holy night, admiring the city you built, same as you were. Maybe I’ve invented that interpretation in hindsight, but I hope you were pleased for that reason. You had every reason and right to be. You will be missed by people you likely never imaged would miss you. Like me.