Tens of thousands of Singaporeans undeterred by heavy rains lined a 15 kilometer (9 mile) route through the Southeast Asian city-state to witness an elaborate funeral procession Sunday for longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee’s coffin, protected from the downpour by a glass casing, lay atop a ceremonial gun carriage that was being led solemnly past city landmarks from parliament to a cultural center where the state funeral will be held. Walking slowly in the coffin’s wake as it exited parliament were Lee’s son, the current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, other family members and government officials.
Crowds of people that began forming not long after dawn for the early afternoon funeral cortege chanted “Lee Kuan Yew” and waved Singapore’s national flag. Four howitzers fired a 21-gun salute, air force fighter jets streaked over the island and navy patrol ships blasted horns.
During a week of national mourning that began Monday after Lee’s death at age 91, some 450,000 people queued for hours for a glimpse of the statesman’s coffin at Parliament House. A million people visited tribute sites at community centers around the city.
The expansive show of emotion is a rare event for Singapore. The island nation about four times the size of Washington D.C. is known around the world as a wealthy trade and finance center with a strict social order including a ban on chewing gum and caning for some crimes.
Lee was Singapore’s prime minister for more than three decades, ruling with an iron grip until 1990, and is regarded by Singaporeans as the architect of their nation’s prosperity and harmonious race relations. But his authoritarian rule has also left a legacy of restrictions on free speech, a tame media and a stunted democracy.
“He did everything for us Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion,” said Jennie Yeo, a 58-year-old teacher, who arrived at 7 a.m. to stake out front row positions with two friends. “Education, housing, everything you can think of, he’s taken care of for us,” she said.
Leaders and dignitaries from more than two dozen countries are attending the state funeral. The U.S. delegation is led by former President Bill Clinton. Abroad, India has declared a national day of mourning and in New Zealand, the government is flying flags at half-staff.
During the funeral service, civil defense sirens will blare across the island to begin a minute’s silence.
Pei Xia Chen, right, wife of slain New York City police Officer Wenjian Liu, weeps as Xiu Yan Li, left, mother of Liu, is comforted by family member Kevin Lee.
New York Post:
Today New York’s Finest will join with newly widowed Pei Xia Chen to bury a gallant officer: Wenjian Liu.
It was never supposed to turn out this way.
As recently as September, Pei was a bride planning a happy future with the man she loved. Her husband had come to this country from Guangdong Province in China as a teenager; he’d learned English at Brooklyn’s Lafayette HS; and he found his own path to the American Dream — as an officer in the finest police force in our nation.
It’s a reminder that cops have names and faces and families.
Detective Rafael Ramos, who was buried last week, had a wife and two sons he loved more than life itself. He was studying to be a chaplain.
We dwell on this because too often police officers are treated as cardboard cutouts.
These are the men and women we send into dark stairwells, down dangerous streets and into situations from which everyone else is running away. Their prayer each day as they put on the blue is that they discharge their responsibilities with honor and return home safely to their spouses and children.
We are encouraged by the outpouring of public affection for these men and what they symbolize, not to mention the incredible turnout for their funerals.
Notwithstanding the ugly chants about dead cops that have attended some of the protests, the public appreciates the men and women who stand between us and harm’s way.
In the first days after her husband was shot, Pei Xia Chen appeared before the TV cameras, distraught and shaky. Her message? To express the gratitude of the entire Liu family for the sympathy and condolences they have received.
In her statement, Pei detailed her husband’s devotion to the NYPD, his pride that he was able to use his Chinese language skills to contribute to the safety of this city and the joy he took in his chosen vocation.
Another way to look at it is this: While Liu may have started out in China, by the end of his all-too-short life he was a New Yorker through and through. On this sad day, we salute this dedicated police officer and lift his family up in our prayers.
Wenjian Liu was a loyal son and husband, a proud New Yorker and our protector. May he rest in peace.
The funeral on Sunday for Wenjian Liu, who is believed to be the first Chinese-American police officer killed in the line of duty in New York, will have all the trappings that the city’s traditions demand. Thousands of officers in pressed navy blue. A Police Department flag covering the coffin. A eulogy from the mayor.
But the ceremony will also include a tradition unfamiliar to the Police Department. While the services last weekend for Officer Rafael Ramos, who died alongside Officer Liu in an ambush in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, were held at a church, Officer Liu will be honored at a funeral home with Buddhist monks praying. Mourners will burn ceremonial paper money and objects in front of his photograph — riches, according to Chinese custom, for the afterlife.
The fact that Officer Liu’s burial will include both sets of customs is proof of how diverse the city’s police ranks have become since the not-too-distant days when uniformed funerals were reliably Roman Catholic affairs. Yet it is a sign, too, of how wide the gap still is between one of the city’s oldest institutions and one of its fastest-growing immigrant communities.
“It really shows that Asians are more integrated or assimilated into the mainstream,” said Hugh Mo, a former deputy police commissioner. “One of their sons is also sacrificed, is also spilling blood.”
Officer Liu, 32, will be commemorated at Aievoli Funeral Home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a former Italian stronghold that has given more and more ground in recent years to Chinese immigrants.
A police ceremony with a police chaplain and eulogies will follow a Chinese ceremony led by Buddhist monks. Afterward, a procession will carry Officer Liu to Cypress Hills Cemetery, at a site chosen with the help of a feng shui expert.
Besides Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, an official list of who will speak at the funeral has not been announced.
The Chinese ceremony will be “very quiet and private,” said Joseph Aievoli, the funeral home’s owner, making it unlikely that officers and dignitaries will attend that service. Several family friends have said they plan to attend only the wake on Saturday, intimidated by what is sure to be a large showing by the Police Department on Sunday.
Lt. Tony Giorgio, commanding officer of the Police Department’s Ceremonial Unit, has been shepherding the police service. He said his department meets with the fallen officer’s family and asks “what do they traditionally do, and then fit our protocols and traditions around what they do.”
The blending will be complex. Some in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, which has expanded from Sunset Park to nearby Borough Park and Bensonhurst, are wary of authority figures like the police, in part because of some Chinese immigrants’ murky legal statuses.
Cultural and language barriers have bred such deep insularity that many in the Liu family’s circle seemed in recent days to be only dimly aware of the city’s policing controversy.
The family members, some of whom do not speak English, have turned to Chinese police officers who have been assigned to support them, acting as linguistic and cultural translators. A community affairs officer who speaks Cantonese and a lieutenant in the department’s employee relations section who speaks Taishanese, the family’s native dialect, have been constant presences.
“They’re really private, so it’s a lot for them to take in,” said Sgt. James Ng, the president of the Asian Jade Society, an association of Asian New York police officers. “It’s literally overwhelming. It’s going to be thousands of people coming to the wake and the funeral. It’s very hard to put them through this.”
Police officers guard their home. The news media has hovered. Dignitaries including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the mayor, the police commissioner and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have stopped in. Friends who have spoken with the family say Officer Liu’s parents are moved, but dazed, by the attention and the high-profile visits.
The family’s only public comment came from Officer Liu’s widow, Pei Xia Chen, who married Officer Liu in September. She gave a tearful statement two days after the shooting.
One complication of the funeral planning has been picking an auspicious day under Chinese tradition. Another involves accommodating the many people who did not know Officer Liu but want to attend, prompting the Police Department to set up community viewing areas. Also, the service had to be delayed until relatives from China could obtain travel documents to the United States and fly to New York.
Little in the rituals of a police funeral will be familiar to Officer Liu’s relatives. At a traditional Chinese funeral, mourners wail and sob throughout. Some fall prostrate on the ground. Many attendees pay their respects and leave, rather than staying for the full service. Eulogies are not usually given.
“The Catholic funeral is a celebration,” Mr. Mo said. “The person is going to a better place, the person is going to be seeing St. Peter. A Chinese funeral is not a celebration, it is a mourning.”
While Officer Ramos’s wife appeared “courageous and dignified in the face of such great loss,” containing her emotions during her husband’s funeral on Saturday, Mr. Mo said, “if you look at a typical Chinese funeral, that is not the way to behave. Should we bend the tradition in order to make it more palatable for Westerners? Those are all issues.”
Officer Liu was not the first Asian-American police officer to die in the line of duty; Officer Kevin Lee of the Bronx died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect in 2006, and Detective Richard J. Guerzon, who was of Filipino descent, was shot with his partner while driving a prisoner to Rikers Island in 1989.
But Officer Liu’s is the first funeral that Lieutenant Giorgio can recall that will incorporate Chinese traditions.
“We have to understand these customs and norms,” he said. “We can’t just say, ‘I’m Roman Catholic; this is the only way I know how to do this.’ ”