Who is Lee Wei Ling

The answer is obvious if you are talking about who her family members are. But is her identity anchored to who her dad and brothers are?

As time goes by, Lee Wei Ling appears more and more in the media with her frank and relatively balanced insights. Her father and brother are typecast already and whatever they say is clouded as politically biased.  I always wondered if she is the unofficial moral signpost for the Lees on social issues from thrift (below) to being egalitarian to her critique of Singapore’s biomedical industry under Philip Yeo’s watch. Even if she is, does it matter? Do we judge the message or the messenger?

Lee Wei Ling: My house is shabby, but it is comfortable

Written by Lee Wei Ling, for the Sunday Times, 04 Jan 2009
ST link

In 2007, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote: ‘Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.’

Slump time has arrived with a bang.

While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.

Decades of the good life have made us soft. The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore, have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities.

A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect working order.

A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate.

The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories. I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.

The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption. Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse. I am not an economist, but wasn’t that the root cause of the current crisis – Americans spending more than they could afford to?

I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don’t believe in the supernatural and I don’t think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me: ‘Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.’

My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal. My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today’s standards, but it is simple – in fact, almost to the point of being shabby.

Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s home is so humble. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison.

Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate.

But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times.

No matter how poor you are in Singapore, the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore.

Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle. They would hardly notice the difference.

Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy. Enjoying the fruits of one’s own labour is one’s prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously.

But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering. After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to?

Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true meaning of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye.

When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?

We know which is the correct choice – and it is within our power to make that choice.

In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely.

To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.


25 responses

  1. me

    her house is shabby?

    i’m sorry she owns a district 10 house. wow. how shabby. can i also live like that?

    January 6, 2009 at 11:34 am

  2. Desmond

    hey, there are many houses in district 10 that are not “modern” according to current standards. In fact, my aunt lives in one that has never been upgraded since she bought it. it looks very old and yes very shabby.

    just because you live in a landed property, doesn’t mean that you house is ultra modern. in fact, it can be shabby too, when it has never been upgraded.

    January 6, 2009 at 2:28 pm

  3. cy

    hypocrisy disguised as self-righteousness.

    January 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm

  4. me

    hey, she bought a condo in district 10 too.that was the controversial case that dragged everyone in the Lee family in. i am sure you will agree with me that condo should be pretty new and pretty expensive, and which does not fit into the description of shabbiness.

    January 6, 2009 at 11:04 pm

  5. ciaos

    excuse me, she never buy that bungalow. the bungalow is from her grandfather days.

    January 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

  6. Teo Eng Hock

    I just do not understand why she needs to tell the whole world that her family is frugal, seems to me she is trying too hard to paint a nice picture of her family. Just like giving $10 to charity and tells the world u are a kind soul. Honestly, I have read her previous entries and they seemed balance and sincere. This article seems unlike her previous writings, is too hard sell!

    She is getting lots of media exposure, are they positioning her as candidate for President??

    January 7, 2009 at 12:51 am

  7. Soul-lessness

    I think she is getting old and very lonely. And she needs lots of attention. That’s why she is becoming more and more outspoken and getting herself into the lime light – now having a regular column in the Sunday Times. It is good for her and her soul (if she has one – didn’t she said she does not have a soul?).

    The question is:

    If a person admits openly that she does not have a soul, can she be able to do a soul-searching in search of her own soul?

    January 7, 2009 at 1:12 am

    • Read Carefully!

      She never said she doesn’t have a soul.
      What she really is saying is:
      … that she is not a spiritual person and does not believe that a person’s soul lives beyond death of a body!


      October 9, 2010 at 12:34 am

  8. Gemami

    Sure, your parents are still living in the same humble home of their childhood. How many of our parents can say the same. They were humbled into giving up their homes to live in cloistered pigeon holes.

    Does it take a whole lifetime for one supposedly so intelligent to realise that not all people clamour after materialism? Tell it to your father and brother and teach them the lesson you are trying to teach here. Your effort would be better served this way.

    For those of you out there who may be taken in by such hypocrisy, I have this to tell. She, being the director of NNI, is well known for deriding those who work below her. In this case, it’s EVERYBODY. If only you know how she goes about giving you a piece of her mind. You are nothing but dirt in her face if she does not get what she wants.

    Did you know that both NNI and TTTSH have to make special arrangements just for her and her patients? If only you know how much trouble these hospitals have to go through just to accede to her preference. Even the CEOs of these institutions have to give way to her.

    Perhaps she is still waiting to learn the other important lesson, that she has a soul like everyone else. This will hopefully make her a better person, spiritually and emotionally.

    January 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

  9. getaway

    Obviously the Lees are far from poor and make it a point not to be showy about their huge wealth. So where are the millions being stashed away. The word is they are parked in properties, overseas purchases and more properties.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:11 am

  10. Olivia Lum

    I think she may secret harbor a crush for darkness of the brotherhood press so on and so forth blah blah blah.

    If you look closely at the way she writes. The mood and tone is the roughly similar to candy darkness. Only she has no talent, style, presentation, bang, elan, aplomb and probably diction.

    Apart from that she is the best writer who ever graced Singapore blogosphere

    January 7, 2009 at 4:16 pm

  11. me

    she never said she bought it anyway. the issue here is that she’s nothing less than a hypocrite. here she is deriding materialism and boasting about the “old house” she stays in as a testament of her frugality, when she owns properties in district 10. pathetic.

    getaway, we will find out one day. =)

    January 11, 2009 at 1:43 am

  12. Ah Beng

    i read here very buay tahan and buay song. many of u here got high educations but like to criticise everything garmen or related to the Lees. Why eh? compare u to other ppl elsewhere, want to get primary education oso hard no chance. stop being so critical here and still live here to enjoy benefits and all by garmen. ask wat u ppl have contributed to this country. very easy to criticise go. hong lim park now so easy and i go see your faces there ok?

    January 14, 2009 at 9:52 am

  13. han

    I recently sat on a Ferrari with my friend , the owner of the car. We went for a spin and a drink in a very luxurious hotel in Singapore. Did I fell guilty? Definitely not! He is the most non-materialistic person I know and is a very passionate and compassionate soul. He bought the car because he can afford it and enjoy driving it. I myself, is a humble free-loader, also non-materialistic.

    January 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm

  14. anthony

    I received this article in Australia (Canberra) from a Malaysian friend. After reading her article, I felt that I had to forward on this artilce to my numerous colleagues here (asians as well as whites australian). It was just well written and very impressed with her message. My gut feeling was that she is obviously a born leader. Being the daughter of an ex prime minister obviously helps. Out of curiosity, I googled her and found your site. I can’t believe some of the posts here – reasonably negative. Since I don’t know her or work with her so would have no idea of her people management skills or whether she lives by what she preaches. Nevertheless, I can only wish we have leaders or writers like her in Australia. I am looking forward to more of her articles.

    January 21, 2009 at 6:40 pm

  15. another

    Anthony, bingo! likewise. Received the message from a friend and thought i should check the source of the message and here we are with a multitude of comments. i guess its just a phase of life. All of us at some stage have this feeling of greatness that should be bestowed on others. I dont know much about the author, but I think if the message has an ounce of truth to it, irrespective of the person, shouldnt we embrace the goodness?

    January 23, 2009 at 10:05 am

  16. gagagoogoo

    ppl here r so rude! LWL is quite a gd writer u noe…

    January 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  17. Gnasher

    Whizzbangpop. Lee Wei Ling is not a hypocrite!

    January 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm

  18. singpurdonki

    if political leaders have half of her character n compassion, it would be wonderful to live there. there is the limit now what she could do for singapore, maybe she could improve it by 1 percent. it is a waste of her talent to serve singapore only n perhaps its time for her to help in less develop countries like indonesia, thailand n indochina esp in running n fund raising of hospitals n charity orgn. thousands of children will benefit from her action n tat is the happiness she always promote

    February 1, 2009 at 5:04 pm

  19. Ishariff

    Some of you who have negative thoughts about LWL – please wake up! There are lessons to learn from her article. I did not see hypocrasy. It is an introspection of one’s life – re-assessing one’s priorities, especially in this turbulent melt down economy. Is that bad! Isn’t she being intellectually honest! Whilst those who are exposed to her interactive style may chastise her behavior, I would look beyond that. Listen to her thoughts in the series of articles that she had contributed to readers and you will learn the values of humility and modest living. To LWL, I would urge you to continue writing articles as you have made llike minded people appreciate your philosophical mind.

    March 9, 2009 at 7:21 pm

  20. deb

    anyone may judge another person’s character, that’s not illegal. the issue isn’t about LWL’s character, she may be judged by anyone, maybe even God. She may fail or pass that judgement. But who is fit to be the judge of that? Is anyone of us fit to judge her, and who is fit to judge us even?

    Regardless, taking the message apart from the messenger is more important. Words of wisdom from ANY type of person may be gleaned and used for your own good if you know how. The writer’s intent, grammar or flair for writing is really secondary to the message. Isn’t it a sad discrimination to be so narrow-minded about receiving messages because of the messenger?

    March 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  21. Kermit the Toad

    Dr. Lee Wei Ling is warming up to join 2009 GE, takes over fom her Dad or to assist her Brother.

    LKY never trust anyone outside hsi family, he worries that the younger Lee won’t survive internal struggles in pap ( looks tamed now ) and external challenges ..

    after all, blood is thicker than water.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm

  22. borg

    This article is weird. So many who vacationed downunder heard from the tourist guides of LKY’s immense ranch there. And every ex-Singaporean living in Vancouver Canada knows that LHL owns a luxury bungalow with a view from the Gulf Is to the Lions Gate Bridge.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:51 am

  23. Pingback: lee wei ling | A Dunya News.com

  24. Gerald Heng Sr

    Isn’t rather tragic that this MD Doctor of Medicine in the Lee First Family of Singapore isn’t in the Singapore Parliament making the case for a more “Equal and Just Society” that was the clarion call to arms of the PAP leadership in 1959 and beyond, as currently it seems even to her the PAP has become a Tory Conservative albeit an effective PAP !

    Gerald Heng Sr.
    Metrowest Boston,MA.USA.

    November 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm

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