Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are you the dead woman, Lee Wei Ling?

Are you dead yet, Lee Wei Ling?

If not, why did you write an eulogy like that - as if you were the one who's dead?

Look, every few weeks, the whole of Singapore already have to endure reading your narcissistic column in the Straits Times where you write about nothing but yourself:
  • how you had won many gold medals but do not feel important about such things (but somehow important enough for you to boast to every Singaporean, 40 years after they were won in your childhood in primary school!),
  • how you had refused to give some money to a beggar who gave you directions on the streets in USA (but which you distort to a heroic situation where you stood by your principles in the face of a fierce robber!)
  • and so on and on, weeks after weeks, ad nauseum!

Haven't you boasted enough to us - unwilling readers held ransom by the only major English newspaper in the country?

Now your mother is dead, not you!

You have to write an eulogy for her, not for yourself.

But no, even at such a moment, you can't resist the chance to boast about yourself yet again, can you?

Let me teach you how to edit your self-absorbing narcissistic eulogy:

Mama was the steadying influence on me for most of my life. I have always felt strongly about injustices, or the unnecessary suffering of humans and animals. I used to be very upset when the police came to shoot stray dogs in the Istana grounds. So from young, I was perpetually on "missions", as I saw them, to right wrongs most of which were not my duty to right.

Mama understood how passionately I felt about these missions.
She did not stop me but would calmly put things into perspective for me and gently bring me down to earth.

When I was miserable because I failed in a mission, she was simply there for me, knowing words would be cold comfort.

As I grew older, I was more controlled in the way I took on challenges, and confided less in Mama. But her very presence when I failed in any mission was comforting.

Between Mama and me, there were times when we seemed to read each other’s mind. She intuitively knew when something was bothering me and would often preempt my request for mundane items just before I verbalised my needs.

Once, I emailed to her: "I need a new tooth brush". She replied: "I must be telepathic. I just took one out from my store for you. But one day, the commissariat will no longer be around.If you don't know the word ‘commissariat’, look it up in the dictionary.”

Once I had a accident while on a holiday in New Zealand. The car was totaled and it was a miracle I was not killed. I carried on with my hiking plans after getting another vehicle from the car rental company. I did not inform my parents and thought to myself, "you are real cool." But I suppose the worry that my injury or death would have hurt them was subconsciously present in my mind. So when I landed at Changi Airport, I immediately called home and said, “Ma, I am home safe.”I had forgotten that my usual habit was to greet my parents only when I got home. My mother realized that I must have been in danger. She told my cousin Kim Li, “Something happened to Ling on that trip. I rather not know what it was.”

Mama’s (and Papa’s) most significant influence on me was to teach me to treat people from all walks of life with the same empathy and kindness. Neither parent taught me in words but by action. When the friends of our black and white maids visited our home, Mama treated the visitors with courtesy and as equals. Our maids felt that their mistress, who also happened to be the Prime Minister’s wife, gave them a lot of face in treating their friends so kindly.

She encouraged me to treat the children of the staff who lived in the Istana grounds as friends without any thought of status. To this day I remember Flora, Stella, John and Aloysious, the children of the butler, Peter, a Catholic Indian. I played rounders with them, and we watched the black and white TV in their small sitting room. Over the years since we parted company, I have met Flora or Stella in the hospital on the occasions their children are ill. They usually recognized me before I recognized them and they would call out “Hi Ling, how have you been?” The years fall away –- and we are back in the time when we played together, the children of the Prime Minister and the children of the butler, as equals. Mama wouldn’t have tolerated any other attitude on my part. She taught my brothers and me not to behave as the Prime Minister’s children.

Flora and Stella came to my mother's wake.

On the evening of 9th August 1965, the British high commissioner to Malaysia, Viscount Anthony Head arrived at Sri Temasek to see my father urgently. I was playing under the porch in my tee-shirt and shorts. I asked him: “Do you want to see my father?” I did not think I was rude. I would have greeted any unfamiliar adult who arrived at our doorstep in the same way, regardless of how distinguished he looked.

Mama herself treated people as her equals regardless of their status in society. Even during this last illness, she still treated her Women Security Officers or WSOs with kindness and courtesy. Many of her former WSOs SMS’d me for permission to visit her. In the initial months after her devastating strokes in May 2008, she was able to recognise them and continued to treat them as her young friends. One WSO related to me how Mama even after the third and nearly fatal bleed into her brain, joked with the young woman: “When are you going to have babies? You should not just be studying your books all the time!”

Mama was the one I ran to when I was hurt as a child, when I felt played out, or when I was simply sad because I felt life had been unfair to me or to my pets or to an injured wild animal in the Istana grounds.

As I grew older, I stopped bothering her with these "trivialities". But she continued to be there for me when I needed her most.

Mama taught me how to "xue zuo ren" – be an upright human being. On rare occasions when I was a child, she punished me by caning. But it was always in circumstances when I knew I deserved the punishment.

The final two and a half years of Mama’s life was painful – eased only by Papa’s enduring and limitless love. But we must remember Mama had 87 years of happiness, beginning from her childhood in a close-knit family, through her school years, and then University. She found a perfect partner and spouse in my father. She was happy with and proud of her three children. She enjoyed and was successful in her profession. While I mourn Mama’s passing, I am grateful to have had her for 55 years.

I am who I am partly because of my genetic makeup, but also because of the way in which I was brought up. I firmly believe that you should treat others in the same way you wish others to treat you. Mama taught me that social hierarchies exist, but we must not treat people differently according to their position in society

Even in a short piece like that, you manage to usurp your mother's position to "squeeze in" boastful nonsense about yourself:
  • your sense of "justice",
  • your "duty",
  • your "mission",
  • how "cool" you think of yourself,
  • how you "treat others"!
  • And yes, you even manage to repeat the toothbrush story that you have already mentioned in your Straits Times' column. Are you a broken record, like your father?

Go learn from your two brothers and your niece and nephew. They did not write their eulogies the way you did!

I shall leave it to others who have worked with you and who have seen your true colour to expose your nonsense about your sense of "justice" and how you treat others. Meanwhile, I just want to say, neither you nor your mother are the frugal person you keep boasting about in Straits Times and again in this eulogy.

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