Singapore has been in a state of grief and distress for most of the week. Thousands are spending hours in the hot sun, just for a few minutes before our late founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away early Monday morning.
As we reflect on the legacy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the state of our country, we might have forgotten that there is a larger world beyond our borders, and that many of their inhabitants are sharing Singapore soil with us.
Yesterday night, I received an email from Syn, a Singaporean who had felt distressed when she heard cheering from a pub along Boat Quay, an area just across the river from the Parliament House where Mr Lee is lying in state. The cheering was a result of the Cricket World Cup Semi-Finals, and to Syn, it was an unwelcome celebration located too closely to the Parliament House.
“I was walking along Boat Quay just now at about 6.30pm… Stopped at the start of Boat Quay along North Bridge Road, gazing at the Parliament House, missing Mr Lee, admiring the dedication of my many fellow citizens in the seemingly endless queue, patiently queuing to pay respects to the leader we all love.
I was surprised to hear echoes of cheering… I thought.. Maybe somewhere in the crowd, someone said something in honor of Mr Lee and the crowd started cheering….
I made my way slowly along the restaurants and pubs along Boat Quay… Nearer the end towards UOB Plaza where most of the pubs were located, I found the source of the cheers. Crowds gathered to support their respective countries for the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying the world stops because of Mr Lee’s passing on. But it was a very bitter feeling to be sitting at the centre of the river (where UOB building was), hearing cheers of joy on the left, seeing the many Singaporeans in tears on my right.
As a Singaporean, I was upset.
While foreigners may not understand the deep admiration Singaporeans have for Mr Lee, the least they could do was to be sensitive. So should have been the pubs. Cheer if you must, but air the match indoors, where crowds can cheer but not echo their happiness to the opposite side of the river where Mr Lee lay…
I called Penny Black to request them to perhaps request the crowd to be mindful of what’s going on just opposite them. The response was “I can’t help it — I can’t stop them from cheering for their country right?”
Imagine my grief.
We are in a state of mourning a deep loss… While what I have seen today instilled deep admiration in me for fellow Singaporeans… It has left me a very bitter aftertaste with regard to the insensitivity and lack of respect by the foreign crowd and pub owners.”
The incident could be read in several different ways.
For some, an ‘outrage against the foreigners’ may be classified as xenophobic behaviour. In one of the more recent incidents, there was anger towards organisers attempting to hold a Singapore-based celebration of the Philippine’s Independence Day used the iconic Marina Bay skyline in their promotional materials. Syn’s reaction in any other circumstance could be considered under this category – as the staff at the pub had said: “I can’t stop them from cheering for their country, right?”
But in this case, Syn’s concerns are probably warranted. To grieving Singaporeans, the dissonance of celebration at a dark time is a painful reminder that while we mourn the loss of our founding father, the world outside moves on. It is especially so in light of the passing of a great man, where the protectiveness of Singaporeans over our nationhood and patriotism seems to have grown tenfold. Shouldn’t we have the space to mourn, at least in our own country?
The most painful aspect is perhaps the close distance that Boat Quay is located to the Parliament House, which is something pubs in the area should have been aware of.
At the end of the day, the message is — as it has always been — to have mutual respect. Respect towards the neighbours who share this country with us while doing honest work, and respect for the people who call this place their home.