Lee Kuan Yew & The Red Box

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On the eve of Singapore celebrating its fiftieth anniversary as a separate state from the British Empire, we take a look at the legacy of one of the most well-known faces from Singapore, Mr. Yew.

Lee is one of those inspirational leaders who has served as such a source of inspiration to his community. Interesting and colourful, the way he talks helps certain kinds of people be more attentive to current affairs than normally they would permit themselves to be. He is someone who is more widely recognized for his relationship with the red box. In Singapore, the red box symbolizes power and control. But whenever it was in the possession of Lee he would put a great amount of emphasis on his tag as the Prime Minister of Singapore.

The box would come in first before Lee would come to office, at around 9 o’clock. His was used more than any Prime Minister ever before and the deep red wine box would carry his papers, speech drafts, letters, readings, a lot of different questions, perspectives and what has managed to get his attention. As an alert person, Lee was always in-the-know about everything, especially about anything that would seem wrong to him, following which a note would fall inside his red box. It was always something that would benefit the country and its people so it was a must for everyone in Singapore to get on board his plans.

His secretaries would be quite busy whenever his observations would take up something wrong, copying out notes he has verbalized, and any instructions, which numerous government agencies would need to follow through all at once. Lee was very good at micro-management so he would oversee all of this work and instruct his staff more and more on what needed to be done, for the future. His observations were also something mundane because something like trash in the river would come to his attention and he would ask his staff to snap it so that he could look into it further the next day. Evenings were spent exercising, and he had a whole range of them included his planner, from walking to swimming. Spending time in Lee’s company must have been entertaining to the people who were included because he was a friendly figure to his staff, he was someone who would share the inside jokes with the people who worked for him.

His wife was one of those ladies that loved looking at the trees in his office, and gossiping with her husband about dinner, about fellow women her age and what they would love to be doing with their husbands, such as food and the prospect of grandchildren. They would take a long stroll in the evening, together, when back home, so that meant a goodbye for his solitary “old-man” bicycle rides – one of his most favourite past time.

Lee was so in love with his bicycles, there was no changing it and there was something so conserving about his nature – his work space at home involved his son’s bedroom converted into a work space. The space had a simple table, manufactured of age-old wood, and it had clear glass stickered on top of it. How interesting! He was quite the man in reusing space and coordinating his beloved belongings, such as family photographs or ephemerae.

Lee’s son was also the Prime Minister later, and his family life mostly involved his wife reading till late while her husband worked. They loved to listen to classical music together and Lee was in such horrible grief when his wife passed away suddenly. The two’s love affair started out badly because they were in competition with each other in school. But they got married in England, eventually, in a secretive ceremony. He supported his girlfriend’s education, persuading the head teacher (through letters) of one of the colleges off the University of Cambridge to take her in, because she was worth it for her scholarship.

Other students were not as successful in getting into the University of Cambridge, through perhaps also students like Lee’s persuasion. Lonely times beckoned no more Lee and their family life was not like how powerful Singaporean families are normally like. The two worked in a law firm together and then they set up their own firm as partners, and Lee was always the busy family man. But the two shared a lot of common ground over everything, and although they might not exactly be fond of working women/mothers as professions that would help their own kids, or candle-lit dinners because they are perhaps too modern and practical, they loved their children unconditionally. Their children were sent to Chinese schools because as parents they came from that particular district of Singapore that did not really speak Chinese very much, and they did not really want to hold their children back or have them feel disadvantaged inside of Singapore.

Quite the devoted mother, Mrs. Lee was always at home when the children would be there for lunch. They were never allowed much access to the parliament grounds or the parliament house, during Lee’s tenure as Prime Minister because their mother believed that the children should have as much of a normal life as possible, growing up under the shadow of such a famous father. However, whatever time they did have inside it would be spent accompanying their father while he was playing golf. But most of their time was spent going to picnics, or they would take a boat ride to a prison in Singapore that had held anti-colonialists; the family would spend time enjoying life on the beach, until Lee was done and dusted with his public service work. Fun time also meant trips to South Africa, cottages, or foggy mountainsides and hill stations.Embed from Getty Images

Author: Osmi Anannya

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