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May 23, 2010

Pay Last Respect to Dr Goh Keng Swee

Above photos courtesy of Channel News Asia, Friday, 21 May, 2010.

I personally went to the Parliament House on Friday, 21 May, 2010 at 12:20 afternoon to pay my last respect to the late Dr Goh Keng Swee.

"Wise Old Owl" Uncle Dick Yip, had posted "Paying Homage and Respect to a Legend" about Dr Goh Keng Swee on his personal blog to share with us.

As myself a "man-in-the-street", I was unaccompanied. I joined the queue at 10:45 as the tenth person in the queue that morning. Under the hot sun, I stood at the assigned queue area beside the Singapore River to my left, and opposite was the row of historical buildings of Boat Quay. We then walked in the direction towards the main entrance of the Parliament House.

While waiting for almost three hours, two friendly elderly Singaporean ladies, seventy-two years-old primary school classmates, chatted with me in Mandarin and Cantonese to while away the time. One of them grew up in Upper Cross Street ("Keiling Kai" in Cantonese) and another at Coleman Street.

What else to talk about the changes in the Singapore River and Boat Quay?

The more chatty lady I addressed as "kacheh" (elder sister in Cantonese) appears to be more knowledgeable the names and places around Singapore, while her friend was more reserved and said that her son brought her around places.

"Kacheh" then recollected her childhood days at Singapore River. She remembered the crowded, noisy bumboats, the "coolies" carrying sacks of essential merchandise from various parts of neighbouring countries, Indonesia, China. The "coolies" who stayed along Boat Quay rented rooms there for a spartan way of living just to survive as immigrants to Singapore.

We were strangers and did not introduce ourselves to one another. They did not know my name, and I didn't know theirs. Perhaps it was a chance encounter in the queue, be it in the street or anywhere else, but never to meet one another again. We could acknowledge and nod one another with a smile as fellow Singaporeans. We do not need to know too many people to know, "kacheh" said. Its ok and fine with me, we are contemporaries of "Facelook", not the modern social networking on "Facebook".

I should not embarass her to talk about "Facebook" when she admitted that "kacheh" and her schoolmate only had the opportunity to attend Chinese school for two years during the Japanese Occupation and never had the chance to continue schooling.

"Kacheh" felt that its not a shame for them to be illiterate without formal schooling due to circumstances beyond their control. They may be ignorant without studies, but they learn and graduate from "The School of Hard Knocks"! (translated indirectly). Many elderly Singaporeans could find ways to survive, earn a decent living to send their children to school for education. Many successful children or grandchildren from illiterate parents are grateful for the sacrifices of the previous generation of Singaporeans.

It would be impolite for me to ask "kacheh" and her friend too many questions about their personal and private life; rude to interrogate as a inquisitive stranger they first met.

It doesn't matter. We are Singaporeans, born here since birth and like them, I know not of any other home. We were both there to pay our last respect to our founding father Dr Goh Keng Swee. Our private tributes were done only in our hearts and without any news media under any interview of limelight for publicity. Most are shy.

The brief conversation with "kacheh" during the waiting period in the queue has much to learn beyond text book history of life, events and places in Singapore in the early days.

My friend Lam Chun See introduced "Good Morning Yesterday" for his reason to start the blog at "Why I Started Good Morning Yesterday"
. He said: "Firstly, I notice that people of my age group or older like to talk about the past. Whenever, my friends or relatives get together, at Chinese New Year gatherings, or dinners or even funerals".

The lying-in-state at Parliament House is not an ordinary individual funeral ritual though. It wouldn't be appropriate to chitchat and speaking too loudly in the queue.

I joined the process in the queue in an orderly and silent manner through the security scanning devices (similar to the electronic machines used in the airport), manned by police and army officers.

In the hall, I penned my Condolence Book to Dr Goh Keng Swee: "Rest in Peace. God Bless" with a heartfelt, personal express of gratitude.

It was a simple, solemn and dignified ceremony through the main hall of the Parliament House, bow once, pay our respect to Dr Goh Keng Swee silently in our private and personal ways. I had a last look of respect at Dr Goh Keng Swee as if he was sleeping, had a handshake with Mrs Goh to express her and family their condolences, then I left Parliament House within less than twenty minutes.

As I took a slow walk in silence, towards the Singapore River beside the statue of Stamford Raffles landing site, my thoughts in contemplation was filled with emotion, sentiments, about the place I grew up as a childhood, of a place I have lived for over sixty years. It was surreal about life and death, impermanence and mortality.

Many of my immigrant forefathers have gone. So are their "coolie" relatives and depending on living as an entrepot trade in Singapore in the past. Many things have changed. My late father had spent over fifty years a lifetime here while my late mother was born in Singapore. Both are now gone.

In birth and death, all living beings (human, animals and even insects) on this earth are equal at the beginning and the ending stages of the life process. Wherever located they are in between of their lives who appear not to be so equal. "If we dream too long" ... but Dr Goh Keng Swee once said that he wasn't a dreamer. He's a visionary and master builder together with other founding fathers for the future of Singapore.

Suddenly, the Singapore River Boat cruised by with some smiling tourists and waving at me broke my train of thoughts. Don't think too much to be philosophical...sunrise, sunset. Its time to leave for home...tomorrow is another day.

Staring at the Singapore River and the sky above reflecting past memories, the conversation of "kacheh" reminds me of how that same place in another time with different people and past historical events...and the transformation of Singapore of everyone, ordinary and extraordinary people through sweat, tears and blood to build the nation to be one. Incidentally, blood is precious for donation to save lives, not to waste human blood to demonstrate and violently protest people against any colored shirts to wear.

Once upon a time, Singapore was just a fishing village from nothing.

And that may be true centuries ago due to an accident of history. Today is the tomorrow of yesterday; the present is the past of the future...

Singapore may be uncomplimentarily described as "a little red dot"; but unlike other many "little red dots" (of which are bigger dots than us but remained as little red dots for centuries) all over the world.

As night fell, lets enjoy our breathtaking view of Singapore now.

Related Posts:
"The late Dr Goh Keng Swee and I (Part 1)" by "Rambling Librarian".
"The late Dr Goh Keng Swee and I (Part 2)" by "Rambling Librarian".
The Passing of our Great Architect by "Second Shot".



Blogger Unk Dicko said...

James, your sweet encounter with Kacheh and friend is a stark reminder of the little things, often labelled as unimportant, that make our Singaporean life more interesting as we all grow older together.
What they said made good sense!
Glad that you were able to make it to bid final farewell to a much beloved man.

May 25, 2010 at 12:21 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

You're right, unk Dicko. I was touched by the ordinary "man-in-the-street" to pay their last respect to Dr Goh Keng Swee for making an impact contribution to the lives of so many Singaporean in so many ways.

May 25, 2010 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

The authorities should name a road after Goh Keng Swee.

Honestly, many road names nowadays are meaningless.

May 25, 2010 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Ivan Chew said...

Quite a good idea, Andy. Ever think of submitting it to LTA for consideration?

May 26, 2010 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

James. Pls allow me to share something I remember about Dr Goh K S (in addition to the one I shared at Second Shot) By the way, I think you should also link to his article.

As you know GKS was an ACS old boy. I remember once he poked fun of ACS boys' reputation for being lousy in Chinese. He called them WOGs. Bet not many of your readers know what that stood for ... Western Oriented Gentleman.

Anyway, I mentioned this to my ACS classmates at a recent gathering - before GKS's passing of course, and they all agreed that that reputation is still being intact with the present generation of ACS boys; including our sons.

Recently I met a lady who works as a full-time Chinese tutor. My buddies had a good laugh when I told them that this lady said that ACS boys' tuition money is very easy to earn .... becos their parents had very low expectations and were thus easily satisfied with the smallest progress made by their sons.

May 26, 2010 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

On a different subject, I think the reason many oldies feel so sentimental about GKS's passing is not so much we knew him or much about him; but becos he symbolized the Spore that we so dearly missed and try to relive in our nostalgia blogs.

May 26, 2010 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Sure, Chun See. Icemoon's related post on "Second Shot" has been added. Thanks for the link.

May 27, 2010 at 1:04 AM  

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