Tuesday, 24 March 2015

My (close) brush with Lee Kuan Yew

This is my copy of The Singapore Story, the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew who died yesterday.

I had bought it a long time ago, and possibly more than a decade has passed by already. This particular book of mine has a very remarkable story of its own. And I'm only willing to tell it only because this is a tribute to Singapore's founding father.

It started in June 2009, you see, about a year after the General Elections of 2008 which saw Penang and Perak falling into the hands of the Pakatan Rakyat. Lee Kuan Yew or LKY, the Minister Mentor of Singapore and who was already 85 years old, decided to embark on a tour of Perak, Penang, Kelantan and Pahang.

I was intrigued when I heard the news. Here was a great man whom I'd like to meet, if I can. But I couldn't. It wasn't in LKY's itinerary to meet people publicly. He only wanted to meet the people in government and talk with them. (Personally, I had thought that he wanted to come to Penang to gauge and assess the new state government for himself, and see whether Singapore could work with Penang on mutual projects. To me, it was a fact-finding mission. And I believe that I wasn't too far off the mark in my assessment.)

Undeterred, I asked a friend in the state government whether it could be possible for LKY to autograph my copy of his memoirs. I knew it was going to be a long shot because I had heard that very seldom he would sign his books and if he did, a sizable donation would have to be made to some charity of his choice. Anyhow, my friend said that he would try but gave no promises.

As it turned out, LKY could not autograph the book then and there as he would be leaving soon for Kelantan. But never mind, someone in his entourage told my friend to just leave the book with them and if they can catch LKY in a freer mood, maybe, just maybe....

So apparently, my book left Penang and went to Kota Bharu and from there, it travelled with the Singapore entourage to Kuantan before they arrived back in Singapore. A week passed. What had happened to my book? I didn't want to ask my friend about it because frankly, he wouldn't know either.

More weeks went by without a word. I waited and waited, until one fine day he asked me to collect the book from him. The book had come back from Singapore after all. It had travelled in a big triangle from Penang to the east coast of the peninsula and then down south to Singapore before returning to Penang. It had finished a remarkable trip.

I flipped open the book and there it was, Lee Kuan Yew's signature. Definitely, this will be a book for me to cherish. A precious book for me, and a book for my family. It wasn't easy to get his signature, and it is impossible now to get it again. Rest in peace, Lee Kuan Yew, you did well for Singapore.

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