Following the passing of Mr Lee, 1.7 million residents and guests in Singapore paid tribute to him lying-in-state at the Singapore Parliament House and at community tribute sites around the country. The mourning was planned for over a week before the state funeral. Thousands of people queued up for hours at a go to pay their respects to our late minister mentor, who served the country even to his last days. This post documents my experiences and 6 hour journey to the Parliament House to pay my respects to the founder and first prime minister of modern Singapore.
The queue to the Parliament House started forming up at the Padang. I entered the Padang queue after knocking off work at 6pm. There were several Army personnel grouping people into batches to wait under make shift tents under the midday sun. Though the sun was already setting, a number of these said NSFs army personnel, and event volunteers dressed in white were handing out sun block lotions and umbrellas, which helped in the day periods in the Padang, where the scorching sun can get pretty unbearable in the open field, particularly if your queue line does not lead you into the sheltered army tents holding areas.
My queue was such a line, heading straight to the adjacent Esplanade park. Various volunteers groups in the queues were singing and conducting mini performances in the queue line as entertainment, and more volunteers running around with trash bags collecting waste from the people in queues, ensuring that the Padang and immediate areas remains clean. The solemn moment did put up the best behavior from people the people in the Padang, which was rather spotless from trash.
There were also several Army boys distributing Chocolate cookies, SAF night snack pastries (reminiscent of my army night snacks), packet drinks and bottled water. There were many independent groups and random families coming along the queue lines distributing large boxes of cakes, brownies and bananas at the queues entrance and even cans of Jia jia herbal teas as drinks. The queue will bring you from Esplanade park under the Esplanade bridge past the esplanade and water-side performance area. From here, the queue will run under the esplanade bridge past the esplanade mall, it was unreal seeing shoppers and diners eating in air conditioned comfort right beside the busy packed queue.
A thing I particularly enjoyed is the strong sense of comradeship between people in the queues. We all know that we are in this ordeal together, so why not make the best of our time here. During my stay in the queue, I got to know a lot of the people and families around me, the chatting and cracking jokes to lift up the solemn atmosphere and helped to pass the time better. And they say, time passes when you are having fun, after 3 hours into the wait, it was not long where we found the queue at the next major holding area by the floating platform. A wait here will be roughly 2-3 hours more at its peak. However, the organizers were excellent in ensuring there were enough support facilities such as toilets, umbrellas, water and trash points. There were also several holding pens and space for people to sit and rest in the queue.
The queue then retraces itself back past the Esplanade back into Esplanade park where various student unions (I reckon University unions) were distributing fresh sweet potatoes in packs as you exit the park towards boat quay. These hot fresh food items were distributed right into the crowds and passed down to hungry queue goers on the last stretch. The line then passes by Anderson bridge and it’s adjacent underpass which can get rather stuffy when packed, as such, marshals were stationed at the underpass to facilitate crowd control through the tunnel in batches.
As you go past the Cavanagh bridge at night, you will be treated to a building illumination tribute to Mr Lee projected on the Fullerton hotel itself, the walk from here past the Asian civilization museum was the most enjoyable part of the queue, flanking the boat quay area, with morale heightened as we neared the Parliament house with Elgin bridge in the distances. The queue areas leading up to the Parliament house were sheltered with white tents and lined with cool-air blowers, where cans of red bull and chilled bottled water were additionally distributed by volunteers. Condolence gifts, wishes and flower wreaths are all laid here along the Boat Quay river-side leading up to the security screening counters. A short walk along the front outer perimeter of Parliament ensues immediately after the security screening section, where you will be routed past the front fountains, through the main gate into the Parliament main compound itself. Here you will enter the Parliament building from a side door and first chance of air-conditioning after the 6 hour wait- a welcome with everyone all hot sweaty and sticky in the still humid air of the night.
From here, the sudden shrill of silence engulfs you, prompting a serious note and ambience of assuring and reminding you of the reason why you were here in the first place. Here, visitors get to enter on the west side and pass the casket towards the east. Everyone is here based out of a choice, on a mission themselves to give our country’s founding father a goodbye.
I can say the event itself has definitely brought Singaporeans together- a side of we seldom see every day in public, coupled with Singapore favorite pastime of queuing. Six and a half hours is possibly the most I’ve ever queued in my life. But it was worth it for a great man who spared his entire life devoted into building Singapore to his last days, a full sleepless day is the least I can do to pay tribute.
It was already past midnight when I stepped out of Parliament house, where I chanced upon Mr Shanmugam, who greeted me a smile. He asked:
“Have you seen Mr Lee?”
“Yes”, I replied.
“Why did you do so?”
“Well…”, I sighed. “It is the least I can do in tribute to a man who dedicated his life to this country. Without him, the Singapore we know today (as I point at the CBD skyscrapers in the background) may not cease to exist… we might not even be having this conversation. I have Mr Lee to thank.”
A warm smile appeared across the minister’s face.
“Thank you.” He replied.