It was blazing hot with the usual buzz of the public and vehicles along Orchard Road, but that did not deter Singaporeans from all walks of life to queue up outside the Istana to pay their last respects to the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew. I attended the wake with a friend of mine, queuing for a total of two hours just to get past the security checkpoint just inside of the Istana’s Orchard Road entrance.
The queue was silent, except for the occasional giggles and laughter from people trying to make small talk amidst the solemn atmosphere. Some aunties were deliberating on what time they would finally get to see the casket and how long will they be allowed in there, another couple argued on whether the traffic control could have been better. SPF’s Security Command officers and ushers patrolled regularly on the lookout for suspicious characters in a bid to maintain order and peace, and a poor guy queuing outside The Atrium was turned away due to improper attire.
Our journey into Istana was a brief one, not mentioning the long queue under the scorching sun. We cleared security, jostled in a bottleneck and finally boarded the 19-seater bus ferrying us to Sri Temasek, where the wake of Madam Kwa Geok Choo was held. Everything was systematic and orderly, under the watchful eyes of the Gurkhas armed with MP5s and shotguns. *shudders*
Sri Temasek was a place never visited by any member of the public prior to this wake, and so as much as I’m strongly against it, it was generally not surprising to see people taking the opportunity to snap a few shots of the area. As disgusting as it may sound, we witnessed a group of office ladies getting a group shot of them with the grand residence in the background, laughing and joking loudly within the queue. In another move of boldness, the guy in front of me requested my help to capture his photograph with the building backdrop, of which I gladly did so by cutting his face into half in the picture.
Pardon me for the move but I feel you should have a tad more respect for the deceased and her family. Nobody takes photographs at a wake, even if you’ve never seen Sri Temasek before. There’s always Istana Open House events. It would be similar to an incident of the public carrying strobe lights and DSLRs to your relative’s funeral and decides to macro shoot the coffin decorations. So fuck you, whoever you are for that group shot AND that individual shot at the wake.
We were ushered into the air conditioned and beautifully decorated living room of Sri Temasek, where Mrs Lee’s casket sat in the middle of the room, flanked by flowers. At the foot of her coffin sat a cheerful photograph of the late wife of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, smiling to whoever stepping up to the area. We bowed three times, paid our last respects and the ceremony was over. A two hour queue, a somber 10 second ceremony, and it’s over.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his brother, Mr Lee Hsien Yang stood by the side to thank the public for their condolences and acknowledging their presence at the wake. What struck me deep was the fact that I did not see the Prime Minister himself, but rather, a son, or two sons rather, trying hard to hold back their tears as the public paid their last respect to their beloved mother, heads bowed with an occasional peak upwards. It was perhaps the only time the public will ever see PM in this state, and it’s definitely an image that will be stuck in my mind for a long time.
Funeral wakes are never nice ceremonies to attend, but something I feel we should hold significance to our hearts, at least when we’re there and sharing the grief. I overheard one member of the public commenting: “Poor Lao Li (Senior Lee – a hokkien term referring to Minister Mentor Lee). Hope he stays strong man.” My heart goes out to the family and all affected by this passing.