I am a product of the late 1970s. At the edge of Gen X, not quite Gen Y.
Those in my generation have parents who are part of the “grateful old” – a term I coined not to offend, but in recognition of the fact that they had witnessed the transition from what was to what is under the rule of the PAP.
But my peers and I grew up in a different era. We read English literature and watched American sitcoms. For us, leaders are not idolised, change is openly embraced and alternative opinions are often taken to be “cool” and to be a sign that one has personality.
As we entered the workforce, we heard phrases such as “Lee dynasty” and “false democracy”.
Suddenly, it was deemed intellectual for one to have another opinion about the man behind the Singapore Story.
Human rights and freedom of the press were pressing issues of the day for my generation – not wealth or capitalism. Mr Nelson Mandela won universal reverence, as did Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. What about Mr Lee Kuan Yew?
In the midst of this, I remembered my father’s advice, that I should always strive to have a mind of my own.
I believed it took special insight, otherwise known as wisdom, that comes only with time, to pass judgments or form opinions. More so on a man. I remained circumspect then.
Today, I do not see myself as a direct result of Mr Lee’s exceptional accomplishments. I do, however, look to the people whom I love the most as living testimonials of his legacy.
My mother once lived in what was effectively an illegal opium den, but later moved into a beautiful HUDC apartment by working long hours and walking home to save on 25-cent bus trips.
My father washed dishes to pay for his doctoral studies, but later could afford to take us on holidays to Malaysia and, eventually, New Zealand.
Eventually, my son will have a shot at making it to the best university in Asia.
He will be able to afford an HDB flat on his own and will enjoy beautiful greenery and waterways wherever he chooses to work or live in Singapore.
He will not have to worry constantly about air pollution, clean water and two-hour-long traffic jams. And he will be secure in the knowledge that hard work, good ethics and a good education will get him somewhere.
Perhaps these have come to be taken as basic expectations of many of my fellow Singaporeans. But these are needs that I have decided are important to me and my loved ones, now and for the future.
I remember vividly my meetings with Mr Lee. Some were formal and austere, rather quiet and awkward – or at least in my imagination. But there were also fleeting moments of intimate friendliness and genuine warmth.
It was hard to not be in awe of this man. I remember thinking to myself: This must be what it feels like to be a fan.
I remember one incident when we were to be photographed together. As I kept a respectful distance, he impatiently asked me to move closer to him.
Another time, he was in good spirits and asked me jovially who was the lucky man whom I was married to.
I like a smiling Harry. (This is how I address him – a rather rude way, I know, to speak to the founding father of Singapore, and therefore, I do it only in private.)
It felt like a very precious moment for me.
I remember singing his wife’s favourite song, Que Sera Sera, at the Business China Awards in 2011, not long after her demise. (Senior Minister of State) Josephine Teo later told me in private that she saw tears in his eyes. That was probably one of my proudest moments as a singer.