Lee Kuan Yew: A very Singaporean send-off

Singapore is ending a week of public mourning after the death of founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

The BBC takes a look at some of the unusual ways the city-state and its people have been paying tribute to its first prime minister.

New orchid

Singapore has a tradition of dedicating new orchids – the national flower – to the great and the good. As expected, it announced this week the creation of the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew orchid. The national parks agency said it was a “vigorous and robust new hybrid” in a “bright greenish golden yellow with light tessellations and a tinge of white at the base”.

“The stately flower reflects Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s stature, not just as Singapore’s founding father, but also as an international statesman,” the agency said.

Lee Kuan Yew's orchid is displayed as he lies in state in Parliament House
The orchid was on display during Lee Kuan Yew’s lying in state

Mr Lee’s namesake orchid is from the same strain as the one named after his late wife, the Vanda Kwa Geok Choo.

Auld Lang Syne

Bagpiper on the roof of the presidential residence in Singapore (25 March 2015)

Not many would readily associate Singapore with a Scottish folk song, but on Wednesday as Mr Lee’s body was carried from the presidential compound on a gun carriage, a lone bagpiper on the roof played Auld Lang Syne.

The two traditions were inherited from the British when Singapore was a colony. The bagpipes were played by a member of the Gurkha Contingent, a special team of soldiers from Nepal first formed in 1949 when the British Army posted Nepalese battalions to various colonies.

The queue

A man holds a sign with the estimated queue time in Singapore (27 March 2015)

Singaporeans are well known for their love of queuing, but the massive lines which formed to see Mr Lee as he lay in state at parliament were unprecedented.

Authorities said they were overwhelmed by the response, but in typical Singaporean efficient fashion quickly marshalled staff for round-the-clock viewings, erected tents and organised public transport through the night.

A cabinet minister even went on state media to reassure people that they were improving the queue system, while businesses donated water to those queuing and some florists reportedly gave out free floral tributes.

By Friday morning, officials were warning people the queue was 10 hours long and that they should pay tribute elsewhere.

The bun pun

Bread Talk LKY buns

Singaporeans are food-obsessed, so popular Singaporean bakery chain BreadTalk decided to launch a new bun designed to honour Mr Lee – its Chinese name was a play on his surname, roughly translating to “Lee will never leave you”.

The bakery said it was donating the proceeds to charity, but it came under heavy criticism. It quickly withdrew the product and apologised. Though many thought it was gimmicky, that did not stop it from being a hot ticket item, selling out in several outlets before the buns were binned.

Social media trends

Screen capture of a Singaporean's Facebook display picture of Mr Lee

Many on Facebook have changed their display picture to a black and white icon depicting Mr Lee’s head in silhouette against a black ribbon.

One man even appeared to have tattooed it on his arm, while another stuck the image on his car bonnet.

Debate also raged on social media on whether Singaporeans ought to wear a black top or a white top to honour Lee on his funeral day, a reflection of the varying traditions of multi-ethnic Singapore.


Written by local songwriter Dick Lee for Singapore’s 1998 National Day parade, the song Home was sung by various choirs at Parliament House as the crowds paid their respects to Mr Lee. Clips of their performances, particularly one by the choir of St John’s College in Cambridge, spread quickly online.

Picture of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo in Cambridge when they were students
Mr and Mrs Lee frequented the bridge when they were students

Mr Lee and his wife read law at other colleges in Cambridge, but one of their favourite spots was the Bridge of Sighs at St John’s, said their son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

LKY workout

One junior minister in Mr Lee’s party drew criticism when he came up with a new workout to honour “LKY”, who was known to be a fitness fanatic in his later years.

Teo Ser Luck Facebook post

The workout involved repetitions of exercises like squats and burpees based on the numbers of Singapore’s independence date, Mr Lee’s age and the current year. Teo Ser Luck said it would help him and his workout friends “remember him in our own way”. But he deleted his Facebook post after the critical response.