lky

I finished the book over a leisurely holiday week.

I enjoyed it. I learned a lot from it. That’s not to say that I appreciated the entire book. I just wanted to present the big picture, my macro takeaway – it was a good book from which I learned.

LKY is very much a big picture kind of guy. He has an amazing ability to see the forest for the trees. Actually, he sees both the forest and the trees. The book covers his point of view on China, the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, India, Southeast Asia, Middle East, the Global Economy, Energy & Climate change, and his personal life.

When LKY paints his point of view of a country’s future (or a region), he draws not only on current affairs and leadership but also on the collective history and psyche of the nation. In my view, this lends substance and gravitas to his analysis. He has a firm grasp (or at least a strong point of view) on political systems, and their advantages and limitations.

In the process, I learned a lot. And I like learning.

Though I respect this man, I recognise that he is not God. At points in the book, he comes across to me as self-indulgent. For example, when he cites a conversation he had with Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Deng was apparently impressed with Singapore and congratulated LKY on the job he had done so far.

From the book:

He had congratulated me over dinner and when I asked him what for, he said: “You’ve got a beautiful city, a garden city.” I thanked him but added: “Whatever we have done, you can do better because we are descendants of the landless peasants of south China.* You have the scholars, you have the scientists, you have the specialists. Whatever we do, you will do better. He did not answer me. He just looked me with his piercing eyes and then he carried on and switched the subject. That was 1978.

In 1992, he went down to Guangdong in his famous southern tour to urge the leadership to carry on with the opening up and he said, “Learn from the world and, in particular, learn from Singapore and do better than them.” I told myself, “Ah, he has not forgotten what I told him.” Indeed, they can do better than us.  

There were some missing bits I would have liked to hear his point of view on such as the wisdom of his support of the “graduate mothers” scheme and on his political opponents, especially those from the 1960s to 1980s.

Although LKY is a thorough pragmatist, there is an aspect of the man, in this man’s view, that breaks down when he contemplates religion and the after-life. He admits to being some sort of nominal Buddhist, admits that he does not belief nor disbelief of a God, makes reference to “heaven” not having enough “space” for the dead who may inhabit its realm as spirits, and admits “not knowing” if he will meet his wife again.

Some excerpts: (read the book for proper context)

“I wouldn’t call myself an atheist. I neither deny nor accept that there is a God.”

“I am not a Christian. I am not a Taoist. I do not belong to any special sect.”

On Buddhist traditions he admitted that he would “go through the motions and the rituals like offering to his ancestors food and so on.” He went on to say, “It is like clearing the graves during Qing Ming. With each passing generation, fewer people go. It is a ritual.”

I wish I can meet my wife in the hereafter, but I don’t think I will. I just cease to exist just as she has ceased to exist – otherwise the other world would be overpopulated.” (Emphasis mine)

“I am not given to making sense out of life – or coming up with some grand narrative on it – other than to measure it by what you think you want to do in life. As for me, I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.”

“But human beings on this earth have developed over the last 20,000 years into thinking beings, and are able to see beyond themselves and think about themselves. Is that a result of Darwinian evolution? Or is it God? I do not know.

So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God – nor deny that there could be one.”

For me, the most telling in that there is a hint of his wishing to see his beloved wife again:

“All that is left behind are her ashes. I will be gone and all that will be left behind will be ashes. For reason of sentiment, well, put them together. But to meet in afterlife? Too good to be true.” (Emphasis mine).

For all his pragmatism, LKY’s love for his wife is incredible. It’s  divine – a match made in heaven. Oh wait. (See my blog post on the Humanity of Lee Kuan Yew).

My favourite bits must be LKY’s opinion on world leaders.

It’s easy to see whom he respects and whom he doesn’t. To be fair to LKY, he does give credit where credit is due, even if he doesn’t think very highly of a leader (Sukarno).

His non-answer when asked for an opinion of a certain leader is particularly scathing – for example, when asked about Jimmy Carter. Read the book to feel the sting of his answer. Ouch.

He clearly has his favourites.

I can see why this book is called “One man’s view of the world”. It implicates no one but himself. It’s not Singapore’s view, it’s not the party’s view;  it’s LKY’s view. At his age and with his accomplishments, I think it’s ok to indulge him.

The book has been referred to as a “no-holds-barred” account of the world. But I sense he has held back in some places. But still, it is interesting, insightful and for me, I learned. It is also readable. I’d recommend it.

PS: LKY makes a lot of reference to iPhone and iPads but I don’t think he ever mentioned Android. He’s still got some to learn. And knowing him, he will.

* DD note: As an Indian Singaporean, it makes me feel ignored.

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