“What are you going to do after you retire?”


Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew

Source: Used with permission of Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd. Copyright 2016. All rights reserved

The first time I met Mr Lee was in May 1975 when he came to Changi to tour the site of the future airport on the eastern tip of Singapore. I was a mid-level engineer at the time so I didn't get to speak to him. He had an awesome and intimidating personality (his aura continued till his advanced age). We were fearful and yet excited that the “Thundercloud”, which was what we used to call him, was coming to visit us. We could feel his aura from afar!

It was Mr Lee who had decided that the new international airport should be built in Changi instead of expanding Paya Lebar Airport. He singlehandedly pushed for it. In 1974, we had already started the planning, design and construction works to expand the existing airport at Paya Lebar. I was then a young construction engineer busily building new aircraft parking aprons and looking into the 11,000 families that had to be resettled to make way for a second runway.

By some good fortune, when Mr Lee was in the US and flew over Boston's Logan Airport, he noticed that it was cleverly built as an “offshore airport”. It dawned on him that building a new airport with reclaimed land at the coast of Changi would give us the flexibility to expand the aerodrome into the sea to meet future expansion needs. There were other advantages ...

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