Saturday, November 27, 2010

To Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, credit where credit is due

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By now, anyone who has come across this blog even in passing would have no doubts whatsoever that I am no fan of the old man, the Singaporean dictator Lee Kuan Yew. But even for me, who thinks a dead Lee Kuan Yew is far better than a walking one, I have to admit that he is not all bad if you look at history. He has done some good.

And I for one would never deny a man credit when credit is due as in this case.

Let me tell you the reason for writing this. I am as you know principally dabbling in Immigration, Naturalization Law and Movement of companies and capital from the world to the US, apart from local criminal law. A few days ago, a 21 year old Latin American girl from Honduras came to my office. She spoke no English and neither did the friend who accompanied her; they only spoke Spanish.

Although I speak some Spanish, having lived in California for some time, but insufficiently, my Spanish speaking bilingual assistant translated the story. It was a heart rending story. She was picked up in a car travelling somewhere near Los Angeles, a long way from where I am in Northern California. She had entered the country illegally and had no status, and therefore liable to be removed from the US.

I asked her if she wanted to stay here and she said at all costs. She said her mother had died back home in Honduras, that her father had a medical condition in his leg and could not work, she was the oldest with 3 other younger children who were in school, there was no money at all and the Honduran government provided no social welfare. She herself had to leave school prematurely.

I am trying to help her as best I can and although normally I would have charged at least $2,000 for a case such as this, I couldn't in this case. How could I, in a heartbreaking story such as this.

It was then that I realised Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore of the 1950s. My elder brother and sisters had a hard time finding places in school since there weren't enough schools. I am not sure if it was the fault of the British or Lim Yew Hock, Lee Kuan Yew's predecessor. Near my home at 52 Exeter Road, Singapore 9, the only school nearby was Monks Hill School at Newton but I did not get a place there.

I remember my father taking me to see the school Principal Mr. Muthiah who told us there was no place in school but it was possible at the nearby Windstedt School which was either already built or was being built.

And it is for this reason that we have to give credit to Lee Kuan Yew because he deserves it. From the middle 1950s onwards he started a blitz of school building throughout the island. Schools such as Newton Boys School suddenly sprung up as well as Cairnhill School and several others in the vicinity. I am not sure but I think it was under Lee Kuan Yew's administration that the schools were built and almost every child who wanted a place got it.

And in my job I compare the Singapore of those days with countries such as Honduras and several others both in Latin America and Asia and see the difference in what they have and the Singapore of today. Although Singapore education was not perfect, at least it was something. And that credit has to go, I must unfortunately say, to Singapore's strong man Lee Kuan Yew.

I am not suggesting that the education I received was great. Hardly. I would have got a much better education in an Australian School or an English School. But surely I am comparing apples with oranges and that is not fair. Singapore of the 1950s was basically made up of a bunch of coolies and a few were trained to be teachers. For what it was worth, it was still better than nothing.

Singapore has it's shame of being a dictatorship in a one party state without a free press and a judiciary controlled by the state. This is all bad. Having said that it did also produce Gopalan Nair and numerous other upright individuals who dare to criticise and stand on their rights.

Although Lee Kuan Yew and his son now may be cursing themselves for educating someone like me, their life long critic, and hope I would drop dead the next minute, still they cannot deny themselves the credit of having created Gopalan Nair who they imprisoned but refuses to give up.

Gopalan Nair would not be writing this today from California had Lee Kuan Yew not built Windstedt School in Newton Singapore. Surely I have to be thankful for that. And thankful for the fact that I was not born in Honduras, Bolivia, Paraguay or even Pakistan but rather in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. To that extent, I have to thank Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's dictator.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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Junjie said...

It takes personal integrity to give credit where credit is due. I salute you for that. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes Gopalan, give credit where it is due.

It takes personal humility and integrity.

I love all your blogs.

Rafa said...

Hmmm...dont forget the British legacy in Spore. Tbey left strong foundations (judiciary, civil service port facilities) for Lim Yew Hock, David Marshall and Kuan Yew to build on. Gopalan Nair is what he is today, thanks in part to the British.

Anonymous said...

Lots of us have forgotten that the real brainchild behind Singapore's early economic success is Mr Albert Winsemius...

Anonymous said...

If Lee Kuan Yew has known that his schools are producing people like you, he would have closed the schools.