National Geographic : 2010 Jan
wearing a zippered blue jacket, looking like a int-eyed Asian Clint Eastwood circa Gran Tori- no, you know you'd better get on with it. While it is not exactly clear what a minister mentor does, good luck nding many Singaporeans who don't believe that the Old Man is still top dog, the ulti- mate string puller behind the curtain. Told most of my questions have come from Singaporeans, the MM, now 86 but as sharp and unsentimental as a barbed tack, o ers a bring-it-on smile: "At my age I've had many eggs thrown at me." Few living leaders---Fidel Castro in Cuba, Nel- son Mandela in South Africa, and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe come to mind---have dominated their homeland's national narrative the way Lee Kuan Yew has. Born into a well-to-do Chi- nese family in 1923, deeply in uenced by both British colonial society and the brutal Japanese occupation that killed as many as 50,000 people on the island in the mid-1940s, the erstwhile "Harry Lee," Cambridge law degree in hand, rst came to prominence as a leader of a le -leaning anticolonial movement in the 1950s. Firming up his personal power within the ascendant People's Action Party, Lee became Singapore's rst prime minister, lling the post for 26 years. He was se- nior minister for another 15; his current minister mentor title was established when his son, Lee Hsien Loong, became prime minister in 2004. Lee masterminded the celebrated "Singapore Model," converting a country one-eighth the size of Delaware, with no natural resources and a fractured mix of ethnicities, into "Singapore, Inc." He attracted foreign investment by build- ing communications and transportation infra- structure, made English the o cial language, created a supere cient government by paying top administrators salaries equal to those in private companies, and cracked down on corrup- tion until it disappeared. e model---a unique A custodian plucks a bit of trash off the gleaming floor of a downtown parking garage. Armies of cleaners keep the city nearly litter free. Tough laws help: Get caught dropping a cigarette butt or candy wrapper, and you'll be fined $200. Repeat the offense, and you'll be forced to pick up other people's litter. Mark Jacobson reported on a Mumbai slum in the May 2007 issue. David McLain was hospitalized in Singapore for a virus that turned out not to be swine u.