Asia

Lee Kuan Yew: A very Singaporean send-off

  • 29 March 2015
  • From the section Asia

Singapore is ending a week of public mourning after the death of founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

The BBC takes a look at some of the unusual ways the city-state and its people have been paying tribute to its first prime minister.

The queue

Singaporeans are well known for their love of queuing, but the massive lines which formed to see Mr Lee as he lay in state at parliament were unprecedented.

Authorities said they were overwhelmed by the response, but in typical Singaporean efficient fashion quickly marshalled staff for round-the-clock viewings, erected tents and organised public transport through the night.

Media captionSingaporeans queued for up to 8 hours to see the body of Lee Kuan Yew (Video credit: Ong Wee Jin/The Straits Times)

A cabinet minister even went on state media to reassure people that they were improving the queue system, while businesses donated water to those queuing and some florists reportedly gave out free floral tributes.

By Friday morning, officials were warning people the queue was 10 hours long and that they should pay tribute elsewhere.

New orchid

Singapore has a tradition of dedicating new orchids - the national flower - to the great and the good. As expected, it announced this week the creation of the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew orchid. The national parks agency said it was a "vigorous and robust new hybrid" in a "bright greenish golden yellow with light tessellations and a tinge of white at the base".

"The stately flower reflects Mr Lee Kuan Yew's stature, not just as Singapore's founding father, but also as an international statesman," the agency said.

Image caption The orchid was on display during Lee Kuan Yew's lying in state

Mr Lee's namesake orchid is from the same strain as the one named after his late wife, the Vanda Kwa Geok Choo.

Auld Lang Syne

Not many would readily associate Singapore with a Scottish folk song, but on Wednesday as Mr Lee's body was carried from the presidential compound on a gun carriage, a lone bagpiper on the roof played Auld Lang Syne.

The two traditions were inherited from the British when Singapore was a colony. The bagpipes were played by a member of the Gurkha Contingent, a special team of soldiers from Nepal first formed in 1949 when the British Army posted Nepalese battalions to various colonies.

The bun pun

Singaporeans are food-obsessed, so popular Singaporean bakery chain BreadTalk decided to launch a new bun designed to honour Mr Lee - its Chinese name was a play on his surname, roughly translating to "Lee will never leave you".

The bakery said it was donating the proceeds to charity, but it came under heavy criticism. It quickly withdrew the product and apologised. Though many thought it was gimmicky, that did not stop it from being a hot ticket item, selling out in several outlets before the buns were binned.

Social media trends

Many on Facebook have changed their display picture to a black and white icon depicting Mr Lee's head in silhouette against a black ribbon.

One man even appeared to have tattooed it on his arm, while another stuck the image on his car bonnet.

Debate also raged on social media on whether Singaporeans ought to wear a black top or a white top to honour Lee on his funeral day, a reflection of the varying traditions of multi-ethnic Singapore.

Smartphones

Young Singaporeans are smartphone addicts, constantly taking photos, selfies and video chatting. But there was widespread criticism after images from the day Mr Lee's body was moved from his official residence to parliament showed a sea of cameraphones.

One man, Samuel Tan Weicheng, started a social media campaign urging people to promise not to take photos as Mr Lee's funeral procession passed by but instead to salute. His campaign had nearly 18,000 likes by Sunday.

He wrote: "I know it may be difficult for many to resist but I am confident we Singaporeans can do better than being slaves to our digital devices and saddled with social media!"

Home

Written by local songwriter Dick Lee for Singapore's 1998 National Day parade, the song Home was sung by various choirs at Parliament House as the crowds paid their respects to Mr Lee. Clips of their performances, particularly one by the choir of St John's College in Cambridge, spread quickly online.

Image caption Mr and Mrs Lee frequented the bridge when they were students

Mr Lee and his wife read law at other colleges in Cambridge, but one of their favourite spots was the Bridge of Sighs at St John's, said their son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

LKY workout

One junior minister in Mr Lee's party drew criticism when he came up with a new workout to honour "LKY", who was known to be a fitness fanatic in his later years.

The workout involved repetitions of exercises like squats and burpees based on the numbers of Singapore's independence date, Mr Lee's age and the current year. Teo Ser Luck said it would help him and his workout friends "remember him in our own way". But he deleted his Facebook post after the critical response.