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PM Lee Hsien Loong
Photograph: Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook

PM Lee Hsien Loong's top five memorable moments

A lighthearted look back at iconic moments from the out-going prime minister's tenure

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan

May 15, 2024 – Mr Lee Hsien Loong hands over the reins of leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. It marks the end of a political era (and some might say, a political dynasty) and 20 years of Mr Lee's time in the top seat. Over the years, Singapore has flourished – with GDP per capita more than doubling, the economy diversifying, tourism booming, and gears shifting towards more social safety nets and sustainability. We've also rode out major crises, in particular, the Covid-19 pandemic.

For all of Mr Lee's wins and losses, successes and failures, there have been numerous lighthearted and endearing moments. We take a look back at some of the most memorable. 

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PM Lee's most iconic moments

1. The magic cup

We all know PM Lee's magic language-changing cup. The OG magic cup first captured the national imagination when it appeared in PM Lee's April 2020 live address about Covid-19. Intentionally or unintentionally, PM Lee switched to a different language each time he took a sip from the cup, generating memes and online discussion. Local brand Supermama even tracked down the origins of the cup to a maker in Kyushu, Japan. The same cup appeared in a few live addresses about Covid-19 – until May 31, when PM Lee appeared with a brand new cup. Watchers clearly had their priorities straight, with journalists writing articles and netizens taking to social media to ask what happened to the OG magic cup. It's all a bit ridiculous, but it sure provided Singaporeans much-needed levity amidst the challenging pandemic times. 

2. "Mee siam mai hum"

One of PM Lee's most infamous moments happened during his National Day Rally speech almost 20 years ago. In the speech, PM Lee took a shot at famous blogger Mr Brown's "bak chor mee" podcast, which poked fun at how the PAP went after Workers' Party James Gomez over issues with his election form submissions. To demonstrate the "humour" and "wit" he thought politicians should learn to approach new media, PM Lee said, "You put out a funny podcast, you talk about bak chor mee. I will say mee siam mai hum (mee siam without cockles)." The prime minister was trying to make a good point, sure, but Singaporeans immediately caught on to the oddity of the phrase – mee siam doesn't contain cockles in the first place. Many took it as a sign he was out of touch with ordinary Singaporeans, and the gaffe spawned countless memes and song parodies (even from Mr Brown himself). 

It seems that the misstep has been embraced though. The farewell cake prepared to mark PM Lee's final parliamentary session as Singapore premier this May 8 was stacked with meaningful items – including a big bowl of mee siam. 


3. His 0.5x selfie on National Selfie Day

PM Lee has some serious selfie game. It's not rare to spot him posing with diplomats, students, and members of the public during his many engagements. One picture that really took off was his 0.5x selfie he posted on National Selfie Day in 2023 on one of his famous #jalanjalan outings. Riding on the Gen Z trend of wide-angle, top-down shots, PM Lee captured a cheerful picture of himself against a backdrop of towering trees in Botanic Gardens. Facebook followers were delighted, praising him for "looking good". Some even dropped helpful tips, counselling him to "raise [his phone] higher and do not look at the camera, [like] how teenagers do nowadays".  

4. His sudoku solver source code


5. Emotional tears as he passes the baton

PM Lee Hsien Loong has never been shy about showing his softer side, having shed tears in Parliament and during interviews. One of his more memorable moments happened at the PAP Awards and Convention 2023, when he announced the handover of PAP leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. Reflecting on his many years of service and contributions, PM Lee had to pause to collect himself, eventually saying shakily, "It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country, first in the SAF, and then in the party and government for all of my adult life." He was met with thunderous applause from an audience of more than 1000 PAP members. 

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