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while not my usual subject-

May 26, 2014

So I was reminded in a conversation last week of the 2011 GE, and more than that, my reaction when the news came out that Chiam See Tong had lost in the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC he had contested in (of which I am resident). It was still sitting around in my mind a few days later, so I went to look him up again- virtually, that is. Not much chance of me forming a relation/friendship with him, or any of the other old men I admire (there are a few). But anyway, it looks like 3 years haven’t done much or affected any change; a post extolling his faithfulness and courage brought tears to my eyes, and watching a speech of his at Parliament caused a cry session.

Potong Pasir HDB Upgrading – bet you never thought a discussion on HDB upgrading could be emotional.

So here I am, attempting to dissect my reactions wrt him in a sort of catharsis- ‘Why Chiam See Tong Makes Me Cry’.

His is a life we can identify with. Not in its illustriousness, perhaps, but in his story. After all is said and done, it boils down to the spirit of perseverance in him. We all have our struggles, as has he – and he has persevered indomitably. This in turn has inspired us to walk on with our own- and how, weary with our burdens, would we not be touched by a fellow pilgrim? His courage and faithfulness are par excellence and combined with humility, make him one of those new men C.S. Lewis talked about. Mr. Chiam’s service to my country is all the more poignant because he has given us his best years in the face of injustice and fire, and he continued to serve while in ill (physical) health, having suffered two strokes. It is one thing to espouse an opinion with popular (read: PAP) backing in Parliament, it is another to speak up with the risk of public derision. Mr. Chiam has carried out his public service with honour and conviction, and he has won the respect of many for that.

How much more, then, when regarding his vulnerability and love for Singapore. I consider his following statement to be magna cum laude– 

I am not a brave man, but I love Singapore, I love Singaporeans.

– Mr Chiam See Tong, 2011 General Elections rally

The greatest deeds are not always accomplished by the mightiest, nor is love won by much power. But love begats love.

I have not said Mr. Chiam is perfect, I do not think he is perfect and/or infallible. But neither do I consider perfection a requirement for respect and loyalty. Mr. Chiam has shown himself to be a man of courage, faithfulness, and love. He has served humbly as a lone voice in a powerful and overwhelming crowd; a voice in the wilderness. He has had the conviction to carry out his duties with honour and dignity. Most of all, best of all, he is motivated by love. All my life I have grown up to a national narrative of fear – fear of international failure, fear from our scarce national resources. I grant the premises, but could we not add hope to the stories? All we have ever done has not been good enough, and will never be. How extreme, how discouraging. What hope have we been given by our leaders, what vision to believe in?

Perhaps the reason why Mr. Chiam moves us to tears, is because of what he has been extreme for. His life testifies to a story of bravery and endurance that makes him a hero in so many of our eyes. He has been brave and has endured the context in which he moves in, acts in, speaks in- one in which he is a little person against Goliath. Little, and yet- he is the champion of the underdog, the voice that speaks out against unfairness. He gives us hope that a better person can stand up to be counted. Most of all, he breaks our defences simply because he tries – he has put his hand where his heart is, and followed through.

Throughout this post I have been wishing I was more eloquent, with better writing skills. I wish to do justice to Mr. Chiam; I am afraid I have fallen short. And yet- Mr. Chiam, if you ever (ever) read this, please know this- you have given Singapore a legacy of love; I will always think of you as my greatest Statesman (unless someone surpasses you in these qualities, and then I know you’d be happy cuz you’re selfless like that); and you have left us a heritage of hope. Thank you for your model of Christlike love to your neighbours, and just for the record, I think Potong Pasir is the most liveable town in Singapore. May all our land be as proud of our representatives as the people of Potong Pasir are. God bless you, Mr. Chiam.

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