The Late Lee Kuan Yew

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away last Monday morning (23 March 2015). Singapore, in my journey up to this point, has continuously impressed me with how well it is governed. The general flawlessness of public transportation (MRT, busses, trains), how clean the country is, the lack of crime, the way the government subsidizes the important things in life (food, housing), the way the schooling system works, how the amazing ethnic mix in Singapore is so functional, and even the government’s intense taxing of the “less-than-important” things in life (alcohol, etc.) have all contributed to this view. Not once in my time in Singapore have I felt troubled by the strict laws and rules that the rest of the world points a finger at Singapore for. From my observations, the country truly runs like a well-oiled machine.

Lee Kuan Yew’s passing came with great sadness to me. For only really learning about Lee Kuan Yew’s work in recent months, I’ve been greatly inspired by his incredible success at nation building.

I went to a hackathon this past weekend sponsored by AngelHack & MasterCard. Amy (University of Wisconsin-Madison) went with me and, though we didn’t place, our project (Teller) was selected for the final pitching round (top 6 / 26 submitted projects). Theme was about empowering women with commerce/payments. We built a crowd sourced ATM system (akin to Uber) for developing countries that have little electricity but have cell phone access. Many banks that try to service this demographic (women who support their family’s financial situation in developing communities) travel to villages, help set up accounts, and establish trustworthy local shops as tellers. The overhead falls on the bank then — and that’s an issue. Our system doesn’t require that step because the villagers are able to complete a financial deposit & withdrawal leveraging the fact that someone else, or a collection of others, somewhere nearby, need the equivalent inverse transaction.

The reason I mention the hackathon is, Amy and I were the 6th team to present of the 6 finalists, which meant we were the last pitching team at the whole hackathon. 2 minute pitch, 1 minute Q&A. In the last 10 seconds of our Q&A, a national moment of silence took place, cued by a fanfare, where I (unfortunately a little too slowly) was hushed and the country went silent for a few minutes. Standing on the stage of a hackathon and holding a mic when that happened was one of the most emotionally intense moments of my life. 32 hours with only 20 minutes of sleep, standing in front of a video recorder and 100-strong audience, being silenced, and brought into saddened thought about the passing of Lee Kuan Yew was a powerful sequence of events.

On another note, teenager Amos Yee was arrested not too long ago by the Singapore police for posting a video on YouTube praising LKY’s passing. The video was taken down and I haven’t found it yet, but I remember when I came to Singapore, I watched one of Amos Yee’s videos about Singlish (the Psuedo Singaporean-English language). My feelings about his arrest are mixed. I’ve been raised to believe that freedom of speech is the most fundamental thing to our existence, but then again, this kid is absolutely insane:

Actually, absolutely insane does not even cover how absolutely insane this kid is. Viewer discretion highly recommended. In “Why You Should Drop Out of School,” Amos likens “studying hard to learn something” to forcing rape to learn the lesson of relationship cheating. Since his video of Lee Kuan Yew and his arrest have become national & social news very quickly.

Update: I found it