There isn’t much I can say about the passing of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, the late wife of Lee Kuan Yew, that isn’t already evident from the eulogy he gave her (and for my overseas Singaporean friends reading this who may not have seen the news clips, it’s significantly sadder if you watch him deliver it). But Yaacob Ibrahim (Minister for the Environment) told an anecdote about her in the newspaper coverage of her death that I particularly liked, and since I didn’t know if it would be as readily googleable in the future as her family members’ eulogies were, I saved the snippet:

She asked me about the words to describe when rain is falling down and drops of it sort of splashes through your window. She said you can’t find an English word for it, but there’s a Malay word for it.

I said, the word I remember is tempias. She said yes, see the beauty of the Malay language. You cannot find a translation. So I was a bit surprised.

And she added: “I give you another word – sayang. Can you find an English equivalent?” And it struck me for the first time – I could not.

Rest in peace, Mdm Kwa. We owe you a lot.


  1. thanks for putting this up cos i didn’t see it. i liked all the eulogies very much (i only read them though) and i hate the pple who are being assholic about it. complaining about the gun carriage and worse, saying just nasty stuff like when will it be his turn. this is not the time. when you do half as much, then you talk.

  2. Fluffy Mutt: I liked them too – read them in the office since I don’t subscribe to the Straits Times, and then found myself teary-eyed at work!

    pinkmutton: I’m far from knowledgeable about the nuances of Malay so I will gladly be guided by anyone who speaks the language properly on this point, but I’ve always had the impression that “sayang” connotes a certain level of tenderness and devotion which “eros”, “agape” or “philia” do not quite convey. “Dearest” does seem pretty close though!

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