Couple: Six-hour wait to say goodbye was worth it
Under an unrelenting sun, the queues snaked for kilometres, from as far as Fort Canning all the way to Parliament House yesterday.
At its longest, advisories were issued to tell people that the wait could be as long as eight hours before they could pay their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
But hardly anyone budged from the several lines that zig-zagged on Elgin Bridge, Circular Road, Raffles MRT station, Clarke Quay and Fort Canning before converging at Parliament House where the body of Singapore's first Prime Minister is lying in state until Saturday.
Among them was Ms Stephanie See Toh, 52, and her husband Wai Sang Hong, 53, who joined the queue at Clarke Quay at 11.30am.
They were willing to stay the course for as long as it took, they told The New Paper.
By 2pm, the couple were redirected to Hong Lim Park, where the lines formed across the 0.94ha heritage park.
Their determination was finally rewarded after a six-hour wait when they finally got to say goodbye to Mr Lee at about 5.45pm.
"It hits home when you are in there. Our eyes welled up," Mr Wai said.
The couple were pleasantly surprised when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stepped out to greet them.
"He actually stopped and asked us how long we had been queueing. When I told him six hours, he said, 'Wow that's long. Thank you for coming'," said Ms See Toh.
During the afternoon, when the temperature hit 34 deg C, organisers sent out teams to hand out bottles of water to those in the queues.
Tanjong Pagar MP, Dr Lily Neo, and her team of volunteers also handed out bottles to those queueing at Circular Road.
She said: "I feel very thankful to the people queuing up and because it's such a hot day, I thought this is the least we could do for them."
Also spotted were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who were among the leaders in the Parliament House area thanking people for coming.
Among those who braved the scorching heat was a housewife, who refused to give up despite having her three young children with her, aged 18 months, three and five years old. Her 66-year-old mother was also with her.
Wanting to be known only as Madam Kumari, 38, she said: "It was tough with three kids. At one point, they wanted to sleep and we ended up carrying them."
But it was their last chance to see Mr Lee, and the family, who started queueing at about 3pm, paid their last respects at about 7.30pm after they were spotted and allowed to join the priority queue at about 6pm.
The organisers had given priority to the elderly, those with young children, expectant mothers and the disabled.
Also prepared to wait under the hot sun was Ms Balkist Hajar, 56, who turned up with her sister and niece.
"We would have waited through rain or shine for such a great man," she said.
Parliament House was originally scheduled to be opened to the public till 8pm last night, but the hours were extended to midnight initially because of the long queues.
When the queues did not thin, it was announced that Parliament House would remain open 24 hours daily and until 8pm on Saturday.
Among those paying their last respects were an Australian couple, Mr and Mrs Michael Ryan, whose eyes welled up.
Mrs Ryan, 37, a chief marketing officer, who struggled to get her words out between sobs, said: "I didn't think I would be this affected but he is a man who has been around during my entire lifetime."
Mr Ryan, 38, a Singapore permanent resident who works as a managing director, said: "I've lived in Singapore for 11 years and I call this nation my home.
"Seeing him go feels like losing a father. It's like an umbrella of protection that's always shielded us has been ripped from above our heads."
For many in the queue, it was night by the time it came to their turn. By 11pm, it took less than an hour to reach Parliament House. By midnight, about 40,000 people had paid their last respects to Mr Lee.