Saturday, February 28, 2015

Loving Relationships that Last a Lifetime

Someone posted on facebook the eulogy that Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered at the funeral service of his wife in 2010.

It was a really touching eulogy. It revealed a lot about their relationship, and of the 63 years that they spent together as husband and wife.

From his eulogy, one can tell that he had a great deal of respect and tenderness for his wife. They were each other’s confidant.

The eulogy made me reflect on my own relationship with my husband. Can I build up such a tender and loving relationship that last a lifetime?

Now we are at the stage where we are busy with our career and, what little remaining time we have, was mostly spent taking care of the young kids. But one day, we will retire, and our kids will grow up and leave the nest. We will then only have each other for company.

They say that a relationship is like a tree. We need to take care of it when it is just a young sapling. Constant care and attention is what it needs. However, in husband and wife relationships, it is often the opposite that happens.

Although deep down we do love each other, when you live with one another day in and day out, the daily grind of life gets at you. And though my relationship with my husband was important to me, it was also, unfortunately, the relationship which I was most likely to behave badly.

I have a nasty habit of flaring up and saying contemptuous and testy comments, especially when I am tired. I show that side of me to him more than to anyone else.

After reading the eulogy, I decided to make a commitment to try to be a more loving wife. I will try my best to only say loving words to him. When I feel my temper rising, I will use my greatest self-control to firstly, not say anything, and secondly to react with humour and lightheartedness.


Eulogy by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the Funeral Service of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, Mandai Crematorium, 6 October 2010


The last farewell to my wife

Ancient peoples developed and ritualised mourning practices to express the shared grief of family and friends, and together show not fear or distaste for death, but respect for the dead one; and to give comfort to the living who will miss the deceased.  I recall the ritual mourning when my maternal grandmother died some 75 years ago.  For five nights the family would gather to sing her praises and wail and mourn at her departure, led by a practised professional mourner. Such rituals are no longer observed.  My family’s sorrow is to be expressed in personal tributes to the matriarch of our family.

In October 2003 when she had her first stroke, we had a strong intimation of our mortality.

My wife and I have been together since 1947 for more than three quarters of our lives.  My grief at her passing cannot be expressed in words.  But today, when recounting our lives together, I would like to celebrate her life.

In our quiet moments, we would revisit our lives and times together.  We had been most fortunate.  At critical turning points in our lives, fortune favoured us.

As a young man with an interrupted education at Raffles College, and no steady job or profession, her parents did not look upon me as a desirable son-in-law.  But she had faith in me.  We had committed ourselves to each other.  I decided to leave for England in September 1946 to read law, leaving her to return to Raffles College to try to win one of the two Queen’s Scholarships awarded yearly.  We knew that only one Singaporean would be awarded.  I had the resources, and sailed for England, and hoped that she would join me after winning the Queen’s Scholarship.  If she did not win it, she would have to wait for me for three years.

In June the next year, 1947, she did win it.  But the British colonial office could not get her a place in Cambridge.

Through Chief Clerk of Fitzwilliam, I discovered that my Censor at Fitzwilliam, W S Thatcher, was a good friend of the Mistress of Girton, Miss Butler.  He gave me a letter of introduction to the Mistress.  She received me and I assured her that Choo would most likely take a “First”, because she was the better student when we both were at Raffles College.  I had come up late by one term to Cambridge, yet passed my first year qualifying examination with a class 1.  She studied Choo’s academic record and decided to admit her in October that same year, 1947.

We have kept each other company ever since.  We married privately in December 1947 at Stratford-upon-Avon.  At Cambridge, we both put in our best efforts.  She took a first in two years in Law Tripos II.  I took a double first, and a starred first for the finals, but in three years.  We did not disappoint our tutors.  Our Cambridge Firsts gave us a good start in life.  Returning to Singapore, we both were taken on as legal assistants in Laycock & Ong, a thriving law firm in Malacca Street.  Then we married officially a second time that September 1950 to please our parents and friends. She practised conveyancing and draftsmanship, I did litigation.

In February 1952, our first son Hsien Loong was born.  She took maternity leave for a year.  That February, I was asked by John Laycock, the Senior Partner, to take up the case of the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union, the postmen’s union.  They were negotiating with the government for better terms and conditions of service.  Negotiations were deadlocked and they decided to go on strike.  It was a battle for public support.  I was able to put across the reasonableness of their case through the press and radio.  After a fortnight, they won concessions from the government.  Choo, who was at home on maternity leave, pencilled through my draft statements, making them simple and clear.

Over the years, she influenced my writing style.  Now I write in short sentences, in the active voice.  We gradually influenced each other’s ways and habits as we adjusted and accommodated each other.  We knew that we could not stay starry-eyed lovers all our lives; that life was an on-going challenge with new problems to resolve and manage.

We had two more children, Wei Ling in 1955 and Hsien Yang in 1957.  She brought them up to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight as the prime minister’s children.  As a lawyer, she earned enough, to free me from worries about the future of our children.

She saw the price I paid for not having mastered Mandarin when I was young.  We decided to send all three children to Chinese kindergarten and schools.  She made sure they learned English and Malay well at home.  Her nurturing has equipped them for life in a multi-lingual region.

We never argued over the upbringing of our children, nor over financial matters.  Our earnings and assets were jointly held.  We were each other’s confidant.

She had simple pleasures.  We would walk around the Istana gardens in the evening, and I hit golf balls to relax.  Later, when we had grandchildren, she would take them to feed the fish and the swans in the Istana ponds.  Then we would swim.  She was interested in her surroundings, for instance, that many bird varieties were pushed out by mynahs and crows eating up the insects and vegetation. She discovered the curator of the gardens had cleared wild grasses and swing fogged for mosquitoes, killing off insects they fed on.  She stopped this and the bird varieties returned.  She surrounded the swimming pool with free flowering scented flowers and derived great pleasure smelling them as she swam.  She knew each flower by its popular and botanical names.  She had an enormous capacity for words.

She had majored in English literature at Raffles College and was a voracious reader, from Jane Austen to JRR Tolkien, from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian Wars to Virgil’s Aeneid, to The Oxford Companion to Food, and Seafood of Southeast Asia, to Roadside Trees of Malaya, and Birds of Singapore.

She helped me draft the Constitution of the PAP.  For the inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall on 4 November 1954, she gathered the wives of the founder members to sew rosettes for those who were going on stage.  In my first election for Tanjong Pagar, our home in Oxley Road, became the HQ to assign cars provided by my supporters to ferry voters to the polling booth.  She warned me that I could not trust my new found associates, the left-wing trade unionists led by Lim Chin Siong.  She was furious that he never sent their high school student helpers to canvass for me in Tanjong Pagar, yet demanded the use of cars provided by my supporters to ferry my Tanjong Pagar voters.  She had an uncanny ability to read the character of a person.  She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons; often, she turned out to be right.

When we were about to join Malaysia, she told me that we would not succeed because the UMNO Malay leaders had such different lifestyles and because their politics were communally-based, on race and religion. I replied that we had to make it work as there was no better choice.  But she was right.  We were asked to leave Malaysia before two years.

When separation was imminent, Eddie Barker, as Law Minister, drew up the draft legislation for the separation.  But he did not include an undertaking by the Federation Government to guarantee the observance of the two water agreements between the PUB and the Johor state government.  I asked Choo to include this. She drafted the undertaking as part of the constitutional amendment of the Federation of Malaysia Constitution itself.  She was precise and meticulous in her choice of words.  The amendment statute was annexed to the Separation Agreement, which we then registered with the United Nations.  The then Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley said that if other federations were to separate, he hoped they would do it as professionally as Singapore and Malaysia.  It was a compliment to Eddie’s and Choo’s professional skills.  Each time Malaysian Malay leaders threatened to cut off our water supply, I was reassured that this clear and solemn international undertaking by the Malaysian government in its Constitution will get us a ruling by the UNSC (United Nations Security Council).

After her first stroke, she lost her left field of vision.  This slowed down her reading.  She learned to cope, reading with the help of a ruler.  She swam every evening and kept fit.  She continued to travel with me, and stayed active despite the stroke.  She stayed in touch with her family and old friends.  She listened to her collection of CDs, mostly classical, plus some golden oldies.  She jocularly divided her life into “before stroke” and “after stroke”, like BC and AD.

She was friendly and considerate to all associated with her.  She would banter with her WSOs (woman security officers) and correct their English grammar and pronunciation in a friendly and cheerful way.  Her former WSOs visited her when she was at NNI.  I thank them all.

Her second stroke on 12 May 2008 was more disabling.  I encouraged and cheered her on, helped by a magnificent team of doctors, surgeons, therapists and nurses.

Her nurses, WSOs and maids all grew fond of her because she was warm and considerate.  When she coughed, she would take her small pillow to cover her mouth because she worried for them and did not want to infect them.

Her mind remained clear but her voice became weaker.  When I kissed her on her cheek, she told me not to come too close to her in case I caught her pneumonia.  I assured her that the doctors did not think that was likely because I was active.  When given some peaches in hospital, she asked the maid to take one home for my lunch.   I was at the centre of her life.

On 24 June 2008, a CT scan revealed another bleed again on the right side of her brain.  There was not much more that medicine or surgery could do except to keep her comfortable.

I brought her home on 3 July 2008.  The doctors expected her to last a few weeks.  She lived till 2ndOctober, 2 years and 3 months.  She remained lucid.  They gave time for me and my children to come to terms with the inevitable.  In the final few months, her faculties declined.  She could not speak but her cognition remained.  She looked forward to have me talk to her every evening.

Her last wish she shared with me was to enjoin our children to have our ashes placed together, as we were in life.

The last two years of her life were the most difficult.  She was bed-ridden after small successive strokes; she could not speak but she was still cognisant.  Every night she would wait for me to sit by her to tell her of my day’s activities and to read her favourite poems.  Then she would sleep.

I have precious memories of our 63 years together.  Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life.  She devoted herself to me and our children.  She was always there when I needed her.  She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning.

I should find solace at her 89 years of her life well lived.  But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Let a Little Adventure into Your Life

I’m half way through reading the book “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau.

I really love the title of the book. Instead of the more common phrase “the pursuit of happiness”, which by the way is a phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence*, the title of the book turns it on its head and put it as “the happiness of pursuit”.

Just by reading the title of the book, something “clicked” in my head.

Suddenly, I understood why I still keep to the tradition of setting New Year resolutions, and why, from time to time, I keep setting impossible goals for myself. There was something about chasing after a specific goal that was very invigorating and exciting. Just dreaming about a big, hairy, audacious goal is thrilling by itself. When you see yourself making progress, that’s when things become doubly exciting.

Of course the author, Chris Guillebeau, does not call the dreams “goals”. Instead, he called the “thing” that you are chasing after a quest. His book had one and only one simple message: “Go on a quest. It makes your life more interesting and adventurous.”

Adventure comes in many forms. You can go visit every single country in the world, which is what the author did, or just decide to knit or crochet 10,000 handmade hats. You can circumnavigate the world’s ocean on a 38-foot sailboat, or you can cook a meal from every country for your family. The idea is to just think of a crazy idea, and go do it!

Reading the book makes me feel very much like going on a quest myself. It is the kind of book that is very, very dangerous. It incites you to dream.

Alas, from someone who has repeatedly made audacious goals for myself, and not achieving them at the end of the day, I have a different take about goal setting. I think that setting the goal is the easy part, putting in the effort to do it is a different thing entirely. Take running a marathon, for example. You have to train for the marathon first, and that involves running three times a week for 10 km, 20 km and longer and longer distances progressively. If you speak to the runners, while many talk about the thrill of completing the race, not many talk about the monotony that comes with the task.

Don’t take me wrong. I think it is good to dream, even better to dream BIG. As the book shows, so many people have dreamt and achieved their crazy ideas. However, if you do embark on a dream, be prepared that achieving it will be very boring, very tiresome, and you will want to stop. As Colin Powel puts it, a dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

And with that scary advice, I will still say: This is a godamn good book! Read it, be inspired, and just go and embark on your dream. Better still, don’t read it, and still go and achieve your dream.

* The sentence from the United States Declaration of Independence states that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Credit: Determination image rom

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movie Review: Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

Some of the best movies I have watched have been watched on the airplane.

I don’t know why. Maybe there is something about having the small screen just in front of you, the headphones over your ears, and a small confined space that somehow makes things magical.

Last week, on my way back home, I watched this great movie on my flight.

As the name suggests, it is actually a continuation of the first movie. In the first movie, the main lady protagonist was courted by two men. One of them is a charismatic and playful guy who is also an ultimate playboy (acted by Louis Koo), and the other is a very faithful and sincere guy (acted by Daniel Wu) whom she nicknamed “the Martian”, as it was so hard to find guys like that in this day and age. At the end of the first movie, she had to choose between the two of them. She very wisely chose the faithful guy as she could not bear having her heart broken by the playboy.

In the second movie, the love triangle becomes even more complicated. To make the long story short, in the end, she chose the playboy instead, as he has clearly demonstrated his commitment and faithfulness to her.

The storyline is actually so cheesy that I feel embarrassed just to say that I like this movie. Nevertheless, I really liked it.

One reason why I loved the movie was because of its ending. For the first movie, although there was nothing wrong with the lady’s decision to choose the faithful and sincere guy, I still felt a sense of indignance that the playboy was left with nothing in the end. In part that was because the way the playboy character was depicted makes people love him despite his weakness. As the Chinese saying goes, women love the baaaad guys. So the guys who break our hearts are also the ones we love the most.

Another reason why I loved the movie was due to its comedy and lightheartedness. I grew up watching lots of Hong Kong movies, and really, Hong Kong comedies are the best. There is a great sense of rhythm about them, and you can feel that the actors are having great fun while making the movies. In terms of comedic effect, I thought the second movie was not as good as the first one. Nevertheless, there were moments of great humour as we see Louis Koo juggling with multiple women on his birthday, and there was a sub-plot about a fortune-telling octopus, which albeit not innovative, was also quite funny in itself.

Perhaps the real killer that sealed the deal was the use of music in this movie. In both movie 1 and 2, the female protagonist was seen singing to a song either far away or in a movie clip. The guys had to guess what song the ladies were singing and the answer was only revealed at the end of the movies.

For the second movie, Miriam Yeung, the playboy’s new girlfriend, sang this heartbreaking song that was really apt for her character in the show, and for the storyline. The movie ended with the song playing while the credits were ran, leaving a tinge of sadness and bitterness to its ending.