“If it won’t matter in 5 years, it doesn’t matter.”
I decided I would stay in bed 5 minutes longer to cuddle this little face. She loves to come into the room, bright and early, clamber onto bed and cuddle. I usually just get up and stumble all over the room to try and get ready for work. But I’m glad I have constant reminders to hug my baby as much as I can before she gets to a stage where she says “Ok enough!” to me when I hug her. (Yes, Allegra does that to me now!).
I also finished my first New York Times Crossword Puzzle, with dismal results. But because I did finish it, albeit with quite a lot of help, I realised some tips to keep in mind when attempting this confounding exercise:
The answer can be more than one word; and
Even though the New York Times Crossword Puzzle has this reputation for being super difficult, sometimes the answer is really simple. So simple, that you would roll your eyes and kick yourself for not guessing right away.
Also, I learned about a Chinese philosopher named Zhuang Zi because of a colleague who studied Philosophy in University. He is her favourite philosopher because his writings are in beautiful story form.
There’s a whole lot my kids have taught me, and it’s not just about being more patient, or not yelling or learning to put them first, by sacrificing the last bite of cheesecake (and a gazillion hours of sleep). I’ve found that if I pay enough attention, the lessons I learned are highly applicable to my professional life too.
Tip #1: Accept & Embrace The Mess
As a working mother, I work my life around my family and try my best to do that sometimes insane juggling act that seriously, sets even the best of us up for failure. And what’s more, I have tried to keep my professional life separate from my family life and try to kinda live my life in separate blocks. This big yellow one is for work. The red one is for my husband. Blue one is for my son. Pink one for daughter #1 and purple one for daughter #2. And none of them touch.
While that works to a certain extent, it doesn’t account for the spillover effect. The Spillover Effect. Yeah, because Life Is Messy and the gods of all that is chaotic tend to like to conspire to make life more interesting.
So instead of just getting frustrated that my day is not going according to schedule and getting upset that the kids are taking too long to [insert task here], I have decided to accept and embrace the mess instead of fighting it.
My son loves his blue sneakers (in the photo above) and always wants to wear them. But he takes a really long time (by adult standards) to put them on, well, because he’s 5. Instead of telling him to hurry up and scolding him for his choice of footwear because he is making everyone late, and in the process upsetting him and myself and giving everyone an unpleasant start to the day, I have suggested that he start putting on his shoes 5 minutes before everyone else does.
Because it is in accepting and embracing the situation as is, that I can figure my way out with much better outcomes, with a less stressed out Mummy and a happier kid (because Mummy is not yelling in frustration).
I have found that whether at my job or any venture that I might explore, it is pointless to wish something were a certain way when it is not. Try as I might, I can’t change people, nor can I change some situations. The sooner I accept and embrace the reality, the easier it would be to make a plan and meander through it with the best results possible.
Tip #2: Lego Blocks Should Be Part of Every Job Interview
If you want to find out the type of person you are hiring, get them to build something out of Lego blocks. The idea is not really in what they end up building, but to observe their thought processes and questions they ask.
When my kids and I play with Lego, it’s always intriguing to me at how they express themselves with this platform. My son, the fixer, step-by-step doer and perfectionist, would look at the pictures on the Lego box or in the booklet (if there is one) to replicate what he so desires. He is to-the-point and systematic. If he doesn’t know how to fix it, he tries to troubleshoot but gives up sometimes too soon because the perfectionist in him does not like to attempt tasks he thinks he is not good at. He doesn’t like to ask for help.
Daughter #1 on the other hand, is the imaginative and creative one who colours within and outside the lines, sees what she wants to build in her mind and just starts building (because who cares about instructions?!). Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes she screams in frustration because something is not going her way or a Lego block won’t clutch the way she wants it to. But she asks for help and figures it out in the end.
Of course, what and how the interviewee builds may not be an all-conclusive measure of how this person may be a great fit or useful for a particular role in an organisation, but I think it would be a good overview.
Tip #3: Savour the Highs and Use Them To Power Through the Lows
Life can be Tough. So can parenting, and work.
I love my kids to the moon and back, and being their Mum has brought me through Super Highs and Super Lows. When I watched my babies learn to roll over, or walk, or when they first said “Mama”, or when my two year old does her Happy Dance. It’s like sunshine on my face and warm soup in my tummy. It is heartwarming and nourishing.
Then there’s the yucky part of parenting, when I’m surviving on 2 hours of sleep because someone got sick, or the babies had to be fed in the middle of the night, or all the kids decide to start fighting and yelling when you’re trying to do something. Those are the times when parenting feels like another job that I have to take care of and it feels like absolute drudgery.
I used to think that when good things happen, I shouldn’t celebrate too much, because when bad things happen, then the fall will be so much harder. But I’ve realised that the good and bad are just part of Life, like they are part of work and business.
The best way isn’t to not celebrate the highs, or to wish the lows away. But to celebrate these highs and remember them as much as possible, to build up a bank of confidence in my own abilities and a positive mindset so that I will be able to take on the lows with decisive action, drive and tenacity.
I was clearing out my supplies and found all this expired flour that I couldn’t bring myself to just throw away.
So I decided to make play dough with it with the kids. Just add water and salt and mix through to the right consistency. The salt is just there to make the dough stretchy so don’t go adding too much. 2 tablespoons to 1kg of flour is more than enough.
My mum used to make this play dough at home when I was a kid and I always wondered why we didn’t add any food colouring. Well now I do! Getting the colour to mix through the dough to get a consistent shade throughout is really tiring work. But I suppose great catharsis if you want to destress.
I call the patchy blue one cookie monster cookie dough – but now I realise it sounds like I’ve made cookie dough out of cookie monster
You’ve just turned 5 and you have no idea how proud Mummy and Daddy are of you.
You have grown slowly but surely into this thoughtful, inquisitive, cheeky and kind little boy.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the pre-term labour scare at 35 weeks of pregnancy, and then finally the 26 hours of labour at 38 weeks to bring you into this world.
Everyone says your first child is special.
As middle children, Daddy and I always scoffed at that statement because, well, what do you mean? We’re less special because we’re not the first or the youngest?
But when we had you, we finally understood this. (Although, we also came to the conclusion at that time (having no other children than you) that the first one will be special, the last one will be the baby, hence special, and the middle ones are *sigh* least loved! But I digress.)
And it’s not because we love your sisters any less. (Yes, everyone gets equal share when Mummy and Daddy kick the bucket).
It’s because with you, there were and will be so many “firsts”:
The first time we became “Mummy” and “Daddy”.
The first time I had to figure out breastfeeding and cursing at how painful it was at the beginning. (What do you mean I am supposed to do this for at least 6 months?! And why isn’t there some kind of epidural for engorgements??) In spite of all the pain and suffering, I did it for you.
The first time my heart broke when I had to leave you in the hospital when you were only 3 days old because of jaundice. I felt like I was leaving a precious part of me there. And it’s true, isn’t it? You are part of me because you were formed inside me, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.
The first time I left you at school and forced myself to walk away even though I could hear you screaming for me.
The first time you called me “Mama”.
Even though we were given this giant responsibility of shaping your life, you have no idea how much you have already shaped ours (and turned it upside down!).
You have taught me that gentle kisses from your baby are far more precious than anything that can be bought.
You have taught me the true meaning of sacrifice. Yes, I worked as a lawyer before you were born, and late nights at 1 or 2am were not uncommon. I thought then, that that was sacrifice, for my career. But, seriously, what did I know then? I was only responsible for myself and I could still be selfish. Nobody else needed me for their survival, but you did. And that meant I had to put you first.
I remember once I was holding you in the middle of the night trying to soothe you whilst I was crying because I was so exhausted. But I did it anyway because you needed me.
You have also taught your Father what it means to be his son’s hero.
I will always be thankful for your cheeky smile,
Your gentleness with your sisters,
And every time you look at me and say, ”Mama, I love you”, even when we’re in the middle of something. It’s almost like the Universe telling me to STOPBEINGBUSY and pay attention to what matters. Because there will never be a second chance at watching you grow up.
Oh and you know what? It is because of you that we understood, so deeply and assuredly, just how much our own parents love us. Other assumptions, parental mistakes and definitions aside (because I am a lawyer and I gotta catch’em all), it is that self-sacrificial, tender, unconditional, enduring love that will always be there. It is the kind of love that will catch you when you fall, continually and tirelessly look for you when you’re lost, and will be there when you finally want to talk, even if it is to yell expletives.
It is the kind of love that will choose to let you have the last bit of my Cornetto cone with all the yummy chocolate in it even though I really wanted it for myself. Not because I don’t love myself. But because giving it to you and watching you scrumptiously enjoy it made me so much happier.
It is the kind of love that will fight fiercely for you. To. The. Bloody. Death.
Daddy and I are so fortunate to experience these lessons of love with you, first.
In this crazy and uncertain world we live in, of this you can be sure:
Your sisters will always annoy you,
Mummy and Daddy will always love you,
And Mummy will always be the one who introduced you to chewing gum 😉
The great thing about having kids this small (4 and 2), is that they are easily excitable and anything can become a great adventure. And, they love Kung Fu Panda (who doesn’t!).
We walked, took the train, set up a little picnic with pizza and popcorn, the kids ran around a little and watched pandas roll around the screen under the stars.
Of course the biggest worry was getting bitten by mosquitos, but this was easily fixed by a 3 step defence: 1) mosquito patches, 2) citronella spray and 3) citronella diffuser/circulator gadget which does the same thing those citronella tiki-torches – skadoosh!
This was NPark’s first time organising a movie screening like this and they are planning to do it for a year. I thought it was really great and I plan to be back every month, if the weather permits.
What would bring it over the top though would maybe if there were snack food vendors (like at Films At The Fort) so that people can have the option of buying food, and maybe fun little keepsakes from the event (e.g. bubbles for the kids to blow, light sticks etc), so that they’ll be reminded of such events and/or Botanic Gardens. Though I realise that there are additional costs involved, I’m sure NParks will be able to find vendors and sponsors who want to reach out to an audience made up of mostly families with young kids.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of the Botanic Gardens so this was interesting for me too. Loved this!
Seemed like ages ago and I’m glad we had the chance to take this photo.
I actually cancelled this shoot because I had been in the hospital 2 days before for a second pre-term labour scare. We thought the baby was arriving and I was kicking myself for not planning this shoot earlier in my pregnancy.
And since we decided that this would be our last baby, I wasn’t going to get anymore chances to take photos like this!
But it’s a good thing the contractions tapered off and I was allowed to go home the day before the shoot. That was a Friday. I managed to reinstate our appointment.
On Saturday, we took the photos.
And on Sunday night, I was back in the hospital again.
Alexa was born in the early hours of Monday morning.
Life is only beautiful when you’ve had enough sleepgood quality sleep.
This is not just about not sleeping well or not sleeping enough. It’s about not sleeping enough because you have to look after your infant at night.
When I say “look after” it’s not just plugging the baby to a bottle of milk and being done with it. This is your baby, so you’d put her first before everything else i.e. making sure she’s sleeping in the correct position, checking on her when she fusses in her bed (which can be multiple times throughout the night), staying up with her for an hour or 2 when she tries to go back to sleep but can’t, etc.
(By the way, the sound of a crying baby and sleep deprivation are proven torture techniques.)
The net effect is I probably only get 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Even if I do get another 2 or 3 hours of sleep in addition to that, it is usually peppered with a night feed, baby soothing and checking on her.
And because you’re not sleeping well, falling sick is inevitable.
I am the worst at handling situations like this.
Everything becomes more prickly to handle. I am less patient and could care less about being understanding. My previously positive mindset and world view is automatically coloured and terribly negative. And when my mindset is negative, even the smallest challenge in my day can seem like a monumental task to overcome.
Then because I’m not at the top of my game, things don’t move as quickly as I want them to. And then I get frustrated and then I feel like giving up. And then I feel like telling people who tell me to slow down and smell the roses,”I already know what roses smell like! Next!”
You get the picture. I’m a grouch in such situations. Empire building while grumpy is not a good idea.
But what’s the solution to such madness?
Hack #1: Be Flexible
I’m a big list maker and planner, and for me to feel like I’ve achieved something meaningful, I would need to have accomplished tasks on the list within the stipulated deadline.
But I’ve learnt not to force it along according to plan because the end result is always a bigger mess than it was previously, if my mind is not in the right place. I need to be flexible.
Having a 3 month old baby is not something I can just gloss over and delegate at night for now. The consequences of this are big factors I need to take into consideration in all my lists and plans.
For example, instead of writing on my laptop, which is to me is easier, I have now mastered writing on my phone while I put the baby to sleep in the baby carrier. It’s a real time saver and I do love multi-tasking effectively.
Hack #2: Be Kind
I tend to forget how much energy it takes to look after an infant at night. This means me giving of myself, my sleep, my energy and my time. And that also means I need time to recharge and be kind to myself.
That is a tall order for someone who generally imposes exacting standards on herself. I don’t think there’s anyone tougher on me than me.
I’ve learnt that I need to step away and do something restful or rejuvenating first. Meditation. Exercise. Sleep. Get a massage. Go play golf. Look at things I like. Do something I like.
I have also realised that this recharging and being kind to myself thing is something I need to schedule in. Otherwise I will never have the stamina to go the distance that I want to.
Hack #3: Be Guilt-Free
Then the final thing is (and this is the toughest thing for me) to learn to stop feeling bad about these pit stops.
For this simple reason: I deserve these breaks.
I’ve learnt that feeling guilty and not taking any breaks for myself is just bad for business. I’m not as creative, I’m tired, I’m grouchy and I resent…well everything.
The application of these hacks might not be easy, but they are necessary. Let me know how they work out for you 🙂
I don’t have time to cook as much as I would like these days but when I do I try to involve the kids so we have something to do together. Making food is one of my favourite weekend indulgences. It’s relaxing, and I’m always amazed at how many good business ideas I come up with while bustling around in the kitchen.
The kids always want to help and the great thing about pizza is it’s easy for them to do so. Also, it’s a good trick to get your kids to try something they otherwise wouldn’t eat. My kids love to eat what they have helped to make.
One weekend when I saw figs on sale at the supermarket (rare sighting in Singapore!) I knew I had to try making Lorraine Pascal’s Fig, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Pizza. It might sound a little huh?? at first, but I guarantee the combination is absolutely yummy! Salty prosciutto, contrasted with the sweetness of the figs. The creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella is cut by the slightly tart tomato sauce base. Top that with fresh basil leaves and you get an unbelievably aromatic experience.
It’s lovely to eat on its own but if you want to kick it up a notch, I like to pair this with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. The fruitiness matches the figs and the crispness contrasts with the creaminess of the cheese.
It’s the ultimate lunchtime indulgence.
This recipe is super easy to follow and it has 2 parts. 1) Make the pizza dough 2) Top the pizza and cook.
Part 1) Making The Pizza Dough
For the basic dough
250g/9oz strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the water and oil together, then pour the liquid into the well of the flour mixture and mix to make a soft but not sticky dough.
Knead for 10 minutes by hand on a lightly floured work surface or for five minutes in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Bring the dough together to a smooth flat ball and place on a large, lightly floured baking tray.
Cover the pizza dough loosely with oiled clingfilm, making sure it is airtight. Leave in a warm but not hot place for 30–40 minutes.
TIP: If you have a mixer that has the hook attachment, I recommend that you use it to knead the dough. This is way less tiring and you can do other things whilst the mixer is kneading for you. But if you’re in need of some catharsis, kneading the dough by hand will do the trick.
Part 2) Topping The Pizza
This is the part where it’s easy for the kids to help out with minimum mess.
Remove the clingfilm from the dough and roll out to a 30cm/12in circle to knock some air out, then prick holes all over the dough with a fork. Spread over the tomato purée, leaving a 2.5cm/1in border, followed by the mozzarella, prosciutto and half of the figs.
Drizzle with oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, or until the bread is crisp and golden-brown and the cheese has melted. Scatter basil over the top and arrange the remaining figs on the pizza. Drizzle with oil.
Serve at the centre of the table so everyone can rip off their piece of Italian gold.
TIP: Be sure to use buffalo mozzarella or mozzarella balls. Don’t use regular grated mozzarella because it will be too salty and not at all creamy.
2 sick toddlers + 1 newborn does not a happy Mama make! I swear it’s the Universe’s way of pointing and laughing at me,
“HA. HA. HA. Supermamapreneur that.”
2 sick toddlers + 1 newborn does not a happy Mama make! I swear it’s the Universe’s way of pointing and laughing at me,
“HA. HA. HA. Supermamapreneur that.”
This is when running a business from home and mothering is a mishmash mountain of Icky, Sticky and Tricky.
#1: ICKY – When they are sick
This always happens to me. Two out of two. The 2 times I had newborns when there was already an older child around, the older child(ren) would get sick.
When Allegra was born, Kaius caught the dreaded Hand, Foot & Mouth disease (HFMD) when Allegra was barely a week old. He had the ulcers in his mouth and throat. But the most worrying thing was HFMD can be fatal for newborns. Luckily, Allegra didn’t get HFMD but she caught a mild version of the flu. The poor thing had a fever, cough and also a stuffy nose when she was not even a month old.
When Alexa was born, both Kaius and Allegra caught some bug from school which inevitably turned into bronchitis. They had to use the nebuliser for medication and were also on antibiotics. Alexa ended up with a stuffy nose.
I spent my confinement month* with all three kids at home (this was sonot the plan!), and ferrying the kids to and fro from home to the paediatrician.
Somedays I brought just Alexa for her routine newborn check up, other days, 2 kids, and on really great days, all 3 kids would have to go.
Imagine the bills. And the whining (from Mama too).
#2: STICKY – When medication (& puke) ends up everywhere
I wish there was a magic formula to help young kids understand that if they scream and scream to avoid taking their medicines, they will cough and cough, and then they will puke and puke.
ALL OVER THE FLOOR.
Their bed. Mybed.
Y (insert appropriate expletive) W H E R E.
Kaius is 3+, so he understands that he has to take his medicine to get better and the nebuliser is part of that process. He’s calm and takes what he needs to without drama. But to be fair he’s not a dramatic kid.
My spunky Allegra on the other hand, hated taking the powdery notsonicetasting antibiotics and using the nebuliser. She would scream and cry and shout and fight each time she had to take her medication. We’d usually have to carry her and let her watch some TV to distract her.
So many times each medicine session would last 30 minutes and end with her in a pile of sobs and covered in sticky medicine and me exhausted. And y’know what’s the most “fun” part? When you think you finally got her to swallow her medicine, but she chokes and sputters and then pukes everything out. Which means you’ll have to do it all.over.again.
But I also had to remind myself that she’s sick and not even 2 years old, so she’s allowed to be afraid and cranky and difficult.
Oh and since my office is at home, my poor gem of an assistant had to work through all the commotionpandemonium.
By the way, I will gladly pay money to anyone who can make antibiotics for kids in gummy form. My kids LOVE gummies and it will save Mummies everywhere the heartache of having to force medicine down their kids’ throats.
#3: TRICKY – When EVERYONE wants Mummy
And you know it wouldn’t help even if you could clone Mummy because the clone probably wouldn’t have the same smell as Mummy.
This was the most tricky for me.
I had the newborn to attend to, and to get breastmilk production going for.
I had the aftermath of the birth to deal with – yes, painful boobs, stitches where nobody wants to have stitches (Google “episiotomy” at your own risk!), and just generally trying to bounce back quickly.
Then I had the 2 older children who just wanted to be near me because it made them feel better.
But because I couldn’t afford to get sick (cos if I do everything will fall apart), I couldn’t spend too much time with them also. They had to settle for brief cuddles instead of dozing off in the same room as me and Alexa.
The crying. The whinging.
On top of that, the Boss, I need your approval on this and that & what’s our marketing plan now? type questions. (Having the baby earlier than expected always brings about planning nightmares for work. And it doesn’t help when sometimes it is difficult to focus to get good ideas for marketing.)
There isn’t a quick fix for this. Only taking it 1 day at a time. Sometimes 1 hour or 1 minute at a time.
The general plan is usually this: When the shit hits the fan, eliminate shit maker(s), switch off the fan and then clean up the mess.
And when it is allover, we celebrate by going shopping!
*In Chinese cultures, the “confinement month” refers to post-natal care which lasts between 28 to 40 days. Usually, the mother is encouraged to stay at home to recover from the birth. During this time, a special diet is prepared and herbal medicines brewed to help her regain her strength and vitality. Everything is specially prepared including herbal and/or lemongrass baths, red date tea (that is drunk in place of plain water) and green papaya fish soup to encourage milk production. The confinement nanny is hired to do all these things for the mother and to also help look after the newborn for 28 days, typically.
My sister was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year.
Last week, we had a mini family excursion to Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) library for a memorial exhibition for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. It was especially exciting for us because TP was featuring one of its alumna and my sister, Cassandra Chew, in this exhibition.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year. And as a thank you, she was given one of the artillery shells from the 21-gun salute that occurred during the funeral procession and it is part of the exhibition’s central display.
To give an idea to non-Singaporeans of what a big deal this eulogy thing was, she delivered the eulogy in the presence of many world leaders, including Henry Kissinger and former US President Bill Clinton. So you see, I’m not bragging just because she’s my sister. It really is a BIG deal!
Lots of people ask me how she received such a privilege and the simplest answer is this: She interviewed Mr. Lee and his family for a book about his life at home (not yet published) and the picture book Lee Kuan Yew: A Life In Pictures whilst she was a journalist at Singapore Press Holdings.
Besides the fact that she is my sister, I thought it added more heart to the whole funeral because it was important to the decision-makers that the eulogist who represented Young Singaporeans actually knew Mr. Lee and got to spend some time with him.
I brought my 2 little girls along because I wanted them to be part of this moment in time with their Aunt (Kaius was at school). When they grow up and realise what an insane honour this is, they can also be amazed (like we were) at Ah Mai* Cass’ achievements. For this is her legacy, and they got to be part of it.
‘LKY & I: Remembering 23rd March’ The exhibition is open to the public from 24 March to 15 April 2016 during the Library opening hours:
Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 7pm; Sat: 8.30am to 1pm. Sun/PH & where the eve of PH falls on a Sat: Closed
*Ah Mai is Hainanese for an Auntie who is younger than her niece’s or nephew’s mother or father.
I did not know Mr Lee Kuan Yew personally for most of my life. We met while I was on two assignments as a journalist – documenting his life at home and collecting photographs for a picture book for his 90th birthday.
I met him up close six times, for meetings and interviews, from July 2011. Most were large, formal meetings at the Istana. Naturally I was on my best behaviour.
After all, this was the man who had led Singapore to independence, triumphed over his opponents in a storied political career spanning over 60 years, and transformed a sleepy colonial outpost into a bustling metropolis. And there he was, in person.
I didn’t dare to say a word to him until my editor made me lead one of the interviews. He thought Mr Lee would enjoy the interaction with a younger Singaporean.
I was so nervous I could hear my heart pounding before the meeting, and actually felt a headache coming on. I braced myself to be peppered with questions on whether I was married, when I planned to have children or whether I spoke Mandarin often enough – questions Mr Lee, as you know, was known to ask young Singaporeans he met.
But there was none of that during the 80-minute interview, which was focused on the beginnings of his political career. There was no room for nervousness either.
He came in, sat down, and asked, “Who’s going to start?” And with that, the interview began. As always, Mr Lee was focused on the task at hand.
Over time, I gained more glimpses of what he was like as a person. For instance, it was a thrill for me to learn from his oral history that he once failed an art exam in primary school. But that was of course a small blemish on his distinguished academic record.
I also learned that in his later years he craved his late mother’s gado-gado and mee siam, which thankfully, his sister, Madam Monica Lee, could replicate.
I made at least eight visits to 38 Oxley Road, where I went into all the rooms. But the only time I saw him at home was during our 20-minute photo shoot which began in his study, where he spent most of his time while at home.
He was in good spirits that day, dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, dark trousers and his trademark sports shoes. It looked as if he had been going through his email at his desk, which also had newspapers, magazines, binders of papers and stationery, all neatly arranged.
It was clear that even at home, his focus was on his work. It didn’t matter to him that his furniture was more than 60 years old and outdated. They served their purpose and that was all that mattered. That was how he lived his life: very simply and frugally, and always putting the country first and his own creature comforts second.
We moved to the living room, which was also a very private space because it was where the late Mrs Lee was remembered. Her photographs were displayed in two rows above her urn, and I was told Mr Lee would gaze at them daily as he had his meals.
I could feel how much Mr Lee missed his late wife. She was his partner, his anchor, for more than 63 years.
The last set of photos we took at his home are my favourite. Seated on a chair by a wooden table on the verandah, Mr Lee flashed a bright smile. They turned out to be the best photos on the reel.
No one knows about this, but to thank him for the photo shoot that day, I had prepared two chocolate cupcakes after learning how much he enjoyed chocolate. I even got the bakery to label each cupcake so he’d know exactly what kind of chocolate cupcake it was. But, on the day, I was far too excited and dropped the box before I could present them to Mr Lee.
I had been reflecting on what I was learning about Mr Lee, as a person and founder of independent Singapore, and had just begun to understand just how much he and his family had sacrificed to ensure Singapore’s success. I realised how much I had taken for granted, and how much more I had to thank him for.
To me, Mr Lee had transformed from an elderly statesman who our textbooks say did a lot for us but didn’t quite seem relevant to my daily life, to a man for whom I developed a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation. So much of Singapore began to make sense to me now that I had seen the world through his eyes.
I decided to try to express my thanks again, and wrote him a Thank You card. I had so much to say, but did not know how to say it, and ended up writing four simple lines. A few weeks later, I received a reply. True to his personality, his response was brief and to the point. “Thank you”, he wrote, and signed off as “LKY”. I was thrilled to have heard back from him, but a little sad that I did not convey what I felt in my heart.
This is my last chance. Mr Lee, thank you for everything. Some days I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have been born a Singaporean. We don’t have everything, but we have more than most, because of your lifelong labour. On behalf of young Singaporeans everywhere, I’d like to say: thank you.