Queuing to Pay Our Last Respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew: A Humbling Experience

As our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew lies in state at Parliament House, thousands of Singaporeans queue up for hours to pay our last respects to this great man. Mint Leong and myself went down yesterday afternoon to join the queue and here is summary of our experience, as well as some suggestions for our fellow Singaporeans who are planning to go down in the next few days.

#LKYQueue Tip 01: Find out where the end of the queue is at. We found that the best way was to keep tabs on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see where the latest "start of queue" is currently at.

#LKYQueue Tip 02: There is a priority queue for the elderly above 60 years of age, families with young children and persons with special needs. Go straight to the Padang to join this priority queue. It's shorter, but you'll still have to queue for at least an hour or so.

The queue to get to the actual queue
Image edited from gothere.sg

3.00 pm: We arrived at City Hall and started looking for the tail of the queue. We spotted part of the queue going around St. Andrews Cathedral and traced the queue back to the entrance of City Hall MRT station. However, we were directed by the ushers to walk through the open gates of St. Andrews Cathedral and join the queue from there.

As we walked on the road leading through St. Andrews Cathedral, we were quite lost on where to go next, as there were only sparse groups of people walking along that path and they were taking different routes. We walked through St. Andrews Cathedral and spotted another part of the queue on the other end, and after tracing the queue backwards, we finally managed to get ourselves into the queue. Or rather, the queue to get to the actual queue.

#LKYQueue Tip 03: Go with some friends so that you can have someone to talk to while waiting. It's gonna be a long wait.

#LKYQueue Tip 04: If you are intending to join the queue in the afternoon, bring an umbrella along with you as some parts of the queue can get really scorching due to the afternoon/evening sun.

3.30pm: We were moving around St. Andrews Cathedral. The queue was moving at a slow but steady pace. Most of the people around us were quite considerate, leaving enough breathing space for everyone and patiently moving along with the queue.

Along the way, there were kind volunteers who were giving out free drinks and sweets [on their own accord I assume] to the people in the queue. Thank you to all the volunteers for your acts of kindness.

3.45pm: We reached the War Memorial Park. From here, things started to turn a little hectic.

Orange line: Our queue
Blue lines: Other queues
Image edited from google maps

As we made our way around the War Memorial Park, the queue started spreading from a 2-3 person queue to a 6-7 person queue. Where ever there was empty space at the side of the queue, people from behind would just trickle off and form their own new lines by the side of the main queue.

Also, not sure why, but it seemed that there were multiple queues throughout the War Memorial Park. While we were queuing around the circumference of the park, we could see that within the park, there were some queues too. And even worse than that, some of the queues were cutting across the grass of the park, especially at the corners of the park. Seems like Singaporeans really do like to cut corners.

#LKYQueue Tip 05: Keep to your current queue. Don't try to take shortcuts.

#LKYQueue Tip 06: Keep onto the pavement! The grass are innocent! Don't trample over them. We are humans, not cows.

4.05pm: The queue kept getting wider and wider. And when we arrived at the underpass to cross over to the other side of Raffles Ave, the queue had already transformed itself to a free for all.

Queue? What queue?

Everyone was trying to squeeze into the underpass to get across the road. It felt like I was at the IT Show or going home from the National Stadium after the National Day Parade. I'm quite sure the inside of the underpass was already jam packed with people. And we were not moving at all.

Luckily our Singapore Traffic Police came to the rescue. They stopped any more people from going into the underpass and waited for the crowd on the other side of the underpass to clear up. They then managed to stop the traffic along Raffles Ave for a few minutes to allow the crowd to cross the road instead of having to use the underpass. This eased up the crowd at the entrance of the underpass and we managed to get moving again. Kudos to the officers for coming up with this idea.

4.15pm: Once across the road, things started to get a lot more organised. There were proper barricades, signboards and first aid stations set up along the path, and the queue started to move at a steady pace again. There were even ushers informing the elderly to keep right to the priority queue.

4.30pm: After 1.5 hours of queuing, we have finally reached... the start of the queue to Parliament House. Snaking queues within the barricades could be seen as far as the eye could see across the entire Padang. And at the entrance of the queue to the Padang, there were stations set up to distribute bottled water, biscuits and even umbrellas. Yes umbrellas. Of course, they have people and signage to urge the public to return these umbrellas to be recycled at the end of the queue.

It was pretty heartwarming to see the amount of effort and kindness coming from fellow Singaporeans when we are usually labelled as Kiasu and Kiasi. There were even the recognizable green tents set up by our Singapore Army Force to help shelter some parts of the queue from the elements.

5.30pm: As we snaked through Padang, the queue behind us was seemingly getting longer and longer as more and more people came down after their office hours to pay their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

And within the queue, people were getting more impatient and pushy, as the queue had suddenly stopped moving about half an hour ago. [Later in the evening news, we found that that this was because of some international delegates who came down to pay their respects to Mr Lee.]

Our section of the queue was originally quite spacious and there were even people sitting down on the grass while waiting. But the queue behind us seemed to be jam packed with people. And as expected, these people soon pushed found their way into our section of the queue. Our comfort soon turned into discomfort as we were soon shoulder to shoulder with other queuers, and left with only a small space to stand.

#LKYQueue Tip 07: Leave LOTS OF SPACE while queuing. More space means more comfort and more breeze for everyone. How much time can you save by squeezing everyone to the front? 10 minutes? I rather swap that for comfort.

#LKYQueue Tip 08: Be patient and don't try to squeeze into any gaps in the queue you can find. You'll just end up being packed like sardines in a very uncomfortable position.

#LKYQueue Tip 09: Staying by the sides of the queue, next to the barricades helps to keep cool and minimises the amount of pushing and shoving you receive. Just take extra care while walking along so as not to trip over the stands of the barricades and not to get jabbed in the hips while turning along the edge of the queues.

6.15pm: The queue had started to move again, and the heat started to die down as the evening drew closer. Although Parliament House was within sight, we knew that it would still be some time before we would manage to step foot in it.

6.45pm: We had queued past Esplanade Park, through an underpass that went under Fullerton Road [which we never knew existed before], and now moving along beside the Singapore River. It was actually a good chance to take in the sights and sounds of Singapore. We are usually so busy with work and family that we seldom have the chance to slow down and [literally] smell the flowers along the way.

#LKYQueue Tip 10: Take the chance to enjoy the green garden city and the cleansed [as compared to many years ago] Singapore River that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had so strongly pushed for.

7.15pm: As we got nearer to Parliament House there were televisions set up by the side of the queue replaying Mr Lee Kuan Yew's historic moments. The sides of the queue was also lined with the well-wishes written by the public on the white cards.

#LKYQueue Tip 11: And if you have not written your well wishes, not to worry, there are ushers handing out the cards and pens for you to do so. Further down the line there are collection boxes for you to drop your completed cards into.

#LKYQueue Tip 12: You can also familiarize yourself with the white orchids named after the late Mr. and Mrs. Lee that are lining the base of the panels that the cards are displayed on.

Again, at the point in the queue, people tend to start pushing and squeezing their way through, as the queue snakes on for what seems like eternity. I would like to urge everyone to keep their cool, and just patiently move along while maintaining some space between you and the person in front of you. There's no hurry. Everyone will get a chance to pay your last respects.

Image taken from todayonline.com

7.30pm: We have reached the final checkpoint, the security check station. There are 2 rows, 1 for persons without bags, and another for persons with bags. As you would expect, most of the people queuing would have a bag or 2 with them.

You will need to put your bag through a scanning device, while you yourself will have to walk through a metal detector. Much like the airport scanning, I would advise everyone to place all their belongings in their bags before walking through the metal detector. Oh, and do take out your iPads and tablets from your bag. [I'm assuming that they might interfere with the scanning of the items in your bag]

#LKYQueue Tip 13: Leave your sharp objects at home. Items such as scissors and pen-knives are not allowed to be brought into Parliament House [for obvious reasons], and will be confiscated during the security check. [They probably would not give it back to you after you exit too]

7.40pm: The queue is moving along outside Parliament House. The Singapore flag at half-mast atop the Parliament House is a jarring reminder of the harsh reality. At the entrance, there is a "No Photography" sign pasted at the side of the door.

7.50pm: We finally got to pay our respects to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Don't bother trying to take a look inside the coffin as the only way you would probably be able to see anything is if you were 2m tall. Instead, feel free to take half a step back and bow to the great man.

#LKYQueue Tip 14: Contrary to some of the reports, they don't actually stop people from bowing as long as the queue keeps moving.

#LKYQueue Tip 15: Please show some respect. Do not attempt to take any photos once you are past the door with the "No Photography" sign. It's the most basic form of respect that you can give to any passing person.

8.00pm: After exiting Parliament House, the atmosphere was one of solace and solemn appreciation. Many were teary eyed and sniffing, but at the same time grateful that they had a chance to say a final thank you and goodbye to the Founding Father of Singapore.

Total time taken: 5 hours.

Our backs and legs would probably ache for the next few days.

If I could rewind the clock, would I do it again? Definitely.

It was a wonderful experience and also a good way to experience the good and ugly side of Singaporeans, to take in the sights and sounds of Singapore and it's the least we could do for all the Mr Lee Kuan Yew has done for our little red dot. Thank you sir.

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