Lee Kuan Yew

January 29 2010

Who was the most impressive person I met at Davos in the years when I was there, in the small capacity of a contractor?

I won’t answer that here, but Lee Kuan Yew is a runner-up. Why would the head of an oppressive Chinese Hakka emigré family clan have that position? Well, his achievement was impressive.

“He got us where we are today,” as most Singaporeans will say to you, in zombified tones.

The answer is, because he seemed so historic. This was an authentic figure of the British empire in its dissolution. Almost the last. Though he does get shown Twitter and Facebook by his grandchildren. I do not count Robert Mugabe, whose speech at a WEF dinner in Harare in May 1997 I count as the most boring I have ever half-heard. It lasted an hour and a quarter and dwelt heavily, ominously, on agricultural reform. Mahathir didn’t enter national politics until 1964.

Somebody introduced me to Lee at a reception at Davos circa 1998 and it was like being introduced to Raffles. In my memory, he is wearing a white suit, like a ghost. He was standing alone, which was odd enough, at a round table laid with snacks.

This is a man thought to be obsessed with hygiene to the point of Howard Hughes-like paranoia, who (I have read) takes several baths a day. Labs will find spots of human urine and sweat on bowls of peanuts, and germs, and insect faeces. Yet Lee’s hand plunged into one as I approached.

I can’t remember our brief conversation.

3 Responses to “Lee Kuan Yew”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    At the National University of Singapore Society, circa March 20 2009:

    “We are caught in a bind – we’ve got to decide this is our country, our society and we must remain the majority. Yes, we will take immigrants; yes, we will take talented people, but we must be the majority.

    “Otherwise, they will change us if they are the majority. So I think 25 years from now, Singapore will be more cosmopolitan because we’ve got many people from China, India, Malaysia and from the region. We have European children doing National Service.

    “I cannot tell you what’s going to happen [to the economy]. I can say the optimistic scenario is in two or three years, we’re out of this (crisis). At the worst, four, five or six years. As the IMF said, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are going to be hit. Why? Because we are export dependent.

    “I’ve got economists saying you’ve got to change your system. Wall Street Journal has said, ‘Oh, this won’t work, consume yourself’. Four million people to consume and keep an industry that supplies the world with top-end goods – it’s rubbish.

    “If you get capable people forming the next government, people who know what they have to do to make Singapore work, then I’m not worried. I’m not worried whether it’s PAP or SDP or whatever government.

    “But I am worried about the quality of people who get into power. Integrity (is) crucial, (and) ability, experience and a willingness to do what is necessary for the people, and not for yourself.”

    Reported at channelnewsasia.com.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Lee’s cleanliness did not amount to a fetish. Nor was he teetotal: I have heard him refer in an interview to drinking wine at official dinners.

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