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.