The Straits Times - 24 Mar 2015
The Straits Times – 24 Mar 2015

24 Mar 2015, I woke up at the usual 6.27 am, only rousing at the sound of my alarm clock. After brushing my teeth the same way I had for the 20 over years and taking my trusted NTU mug filled with plain water the same way I had for the past seven years, I sat down at my favourite seat, greeted by the morning papers, printed in black and white for a change.

I took a longer time than my usual reading through the papers, trying to absorb what was going on. Right, the old man was gone. The news broke yesterday while everyone was asleep. By sheer coincidence or by his last strength and last breath, Mr Lee decided that it was best if everyone could get a good rest at night for the new day, passing on at 3.18 am the day before. Most people will be sleeping at that time and most people will not know until they are well rested.

For Mr Lee, his job is done. Now, he will rest.

I drive down that usual highway which I knew very well to school, all 25 km, but I switched off the usual techno trash that I had on my radio. Reaching the school, I did my morning sprints on the track, bathe, before having my breakfast and starting work for the day. I spent most of the time reflecting.

At the auditorium
At the auditorium

In the afternoon, an observance ceremony was held in the school auditorium. It was a rare occasion that members of the faculty, staff and students sat together.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that it was totally voluntary for our staff and students to come to the observance ceremony yet our thousand-seater auditorium was packed to the brim that we left many standing. There was an email that came in yesterday addressed to all the staff and students that said, “You are encouraged to come.”

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that all the students who decided to come came on time. More than half the students are usually late for my class.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that when the principal begins to speak, everyone was attentive at what he had to say about you. Many students would be looking at their phones during my class at one point of time or another.

Mr Lee, I want to let you know that there was no announcement telling everyone to remain seated, to allow the school’s management to leave first but everyone did that anyway.

The state colours flew half mast at school
The state colours flew half mast at school

Yes, maybe you might also think that these are simple things and simple gestures.

I view it as the amount of respect you command among these young men and women in my school.

Yes, I also wonder if people are just there because they were curious or they just needed a break from their usual routine.

But the fact is I have a student whom told me that she cried when she heard that you had to go.

But the fact is I have a Malaysian colleague who joined in the observance ceremony even though there were still lots of things for him to do.

But the fact is I would also like to think that everyone is there because you’re just a bloody great man to us.