A lucky few got into Parliament before barricades close

A lucky few got into Parliament before barricades close
JUST IN TIME: Madam Eliza Wong was the last one to make it to the queue before the gates closed.

As the barricades close on the queues to pay last respects to Mr Lee last night, a lucky few made it with seconds to spare

She broke into a sprint and made it just as the gates closed.

At 8pm, Madam Eliza Wong, who is in her 50s, was the last one to make the queue to pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew lying in state in Parliament House.

Panting and perspiring profusely, she made it seconds before two policemen shut the yellow barricades behind her.

"When I heard them announce that it was going to close, I just ran," said Madam Wong, who is self-employed.

It nearly turned into a second round of disappointment - she was at the same spot on Friday night when the Padang was temporarily closed.

Madam Wong was aware of the cut-off time but had been tied up at home: "I rushed all the way from my home in Waterloo."

Many - old, young and even the pregnant - were spotted dashing to get past the barricades.

Some could be heard shouting in victory after: "We did it!"

One who made it past the gate was Ms Corina Koh (above, right), 51, a sales representative.

Panting, she said: "I'd never run so fast before.

"I've already tried to queue unsuccessfully twice, so this was my last chance."

TENSION

Ms Koh's journey to the Padang last night had been fraught with tension.

"I took the train but it was delayed. I was just praying to God to let them open the doors for me," she said, on the verge of breaking into tears.

Not so lucky, however, was 25-year-old accountant Trina Lim.

She ran as hard as she could but just missed the cut-off time.

"I was really pumped up because people were shouting, 'The gates are closing soon!' But my legs were hurting because I wore the wrong shoes," said Miss Lim, who was wearing pumps.

But she took comfort when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong turned up at the gates to thank everyone for coming.

"When I saw him, all my annoyance at being asked to leave disappeared." she said with a laugh.

Over the last few days, the crowds trying to get in to pay their respects had swelled dramatically in a massive upwelling of emotion.

Across the street from Parliament House, Mr Daniel Dharmaraj (right) was seen raising his arm in tribute to Mr Lee.

The 51-year-old safety officer has been paying his respects in this manner since Wednesday.

He made it inside Parliament House on Friday with his wife.

Within hours on the first day, organisers extended the visiting hours from 8 pm to midnight, and then again, to 24 hours.

The queues were around five-hour long each day, stretching up to more than 10 hours at one point.

Organisers repeatedly asked people to go to the 18 community tribute sites across the island.

Then, on Friday night, organisers felt it necessary to close the gate and end the queue temporarily to ensure the "safety and well-being of those in line".

Despite being heavily pregnant with twins, Mrs Felicia Tem, 34, a physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital, was in the queue earlier yesterday.

She insisted on paying her respect to Mr Lee at Parliament House yesterday.

Mrs Tem, who expects to deliver twin girls in the coming weeks, said: "I wanted to come and bow face-to-face, to really respect him."

Ms Juliet Yap, 53, was among the people caught off guard.

The Hong Kong-based Singaporean touched down at the airport at 2am and headed directly to Padang.

She had returned specifically to pay her last respects to Mr Lee.

The kitchenware merchandiser, said: "The police told me I couldn't go in.

"But I didn't care, I called my friends and joined them at another queue outside Peninsula Excelsior Hotel where other people were waiting."

The queue reopened at 6.15am yesterday.

Ms Yap exited Parliament House at 9.30am.

"The moment I saw his picture sitting in front of his coffin, I cried non-stop."

Ms Yap is returning to Hong Kong tonight.

"It's okay even if I feel tired. I desperately want to be here for his funeral," she added.

Last night PM Lee spoke to reporters in front of the Padang and thanked well-wishers, calling it a tremendous, unique experience.

More than 1.3 million people had visited either parliament or the 18 tribute sites across the island.

Madam Eliza Wong said she was disappointed on behalf of those behind her, and was sanguine when she was told that she would have an eight-hour line ahead of her.

She summed up the sentiments of all those who have made the effort to queue when she said: "For Mr Lee, this is nothing."

THE NEW PAPER TEAM: Choo Chwee Hua, Jennifer Dhanaraj, Ariffin Jamar, Maureen Koh, Ng Jun Sen, Catherine Robert, David Sun


This article was first published on Mar 29, 2015.
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