Long, slow queue to history

Long, slow queue to history
Crowds meandering through Hong Lim Park as part of the queue to enter Parliament House.

We queued - the old, the infirm, the famous, the nameless.

We lined up - the native, the foreigner, the glorious rich, the huddled poor.

The admirer, the critic, the silver-haired who remember when Singapore was just an idea, the later-born who know nothing but - we came.

On the first day that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's body lay in state at Parliament House, tens of thousands of people queued for up to eight hours under a blazing sky to see him.

At about 10am, I joined the line near Elgin Bridge in North Bridge Road, one among thousands streaming in from all parts of the country.

Some were carrying flowers, others umbrellas - and every single one of us had the same look of dismay and self-doubt on our faces when we discovered how long the line already was.

Fifteen minutes in, the gentleman next to me left.

Two hours in, policemen began putting barricades in place to separate the snaking queue. One of them informed us that it would be six more hours.

At this, a middle- aged woman named Janet peeled off. She had to start her work shift at 5pm, she said.

The rest of us tried to stay strong. Mr Geoffrey Low, a 63- year-old retired policeman, valiantly insisted it would pass quickly: "We're almost at UOB Plaza."

We were fortified by cold water and orange punch that a kind- hearted shop owner in Canton Street left out for us.

My fellow queuers and I were a band of brothers. We shared umbrellas and tissue packets, and urged one another to use the toilet and get lunch while we held the places.

I fell in with the Ho family. Mr and Mrs Ho had taken the day off, and Xingda, a 20-year-old Singapore Polytechnic graduate, was there as "I'm quite free nowadays, just waiting for national service, so I came along".

I asked him what he knew of Mr Lee and he said the usual, phrases like "he built the country", repeated so often lately that they sounded almost rote.

Did he know about any of the more controversial things that Mr Lee did? I asked.

"He locked up some people for, like, 20 years, right? I know he was quite hard on the opposition."

Satisfied that our young people are alive to the complexities of his legacy, I told Xingda about some of Mr Lee's lieutenants, like Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam, who also built the nation.

Mr Lee always credited the importance of a good team, I said. He would not have wanted anyone to think he did it alone.

They are all gone now. With Mr Lee, the last leaf has fallen. In a way, we are orphans now.

I sensed Xingda losing interest when he said, pointing at a lavender-haired pint-sized woman up ahead: "Eh look, there's Xiaxue!" The local celebrity blogger was in line with about 50 friends.

The wait became easier when we reached UOB Plaza. The cool river breeze and wide open vista were a welcome change from being stared at by the office lunch crowds over their mee goreng.

But I began to lose heart around 2pm, about four hours in. "Why are we doing this? I'm so tired and I think I'm getting a sunburn," I complained to Geoffrey.

He gave me a pep talk that, to my surprise, had little to do with how much Mr Lee sacrificed for Singapore.

"You'll never get a chance like this again," he told me. "This is history. It's like when Mao Zedong died.

"There won't be another like him. So we should be here."

It reminded me of that Shakespearean quote, when Cassius calls Julius Caesar a Colossus who "bestrides the narrow world".

"We petty men/Walk under his huge legs and peep about," goes the line.

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