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The differences of our grandpas and grandpa Nathan

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By: 龍的传人② / Descendants of the Dragon②

The moment I heard of the passing of Mr Nathan, it evokes the memories of my grandpa. When he was alive, he used to relate many of his own horror stories during the Japanese Occupation. Many of it are about the indescribable living conditions, but the worse was the daily mental torture he endured for fear of crossing into the wrong path of the Japanese army. To him, the lighter punishment would be getting slaughtered and putting an end to his miserable life. The worse fear for him, was having the women in the family being raped and killed.

During the Japanese occupation, many of our grandpas today, were ordinary folks living through the worst nightmares of their lives. Contrarily, for Mr Nathan, it was the beginning of his dream and blessed life.

First of all, Nathan was engaged as an interpreter by the Japanese Army. Being an employee of the Japanese Imperial Army, naturally he was shielded by them and bestowed with privileges that the other folks could only dream of.

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As the sayings go, ” the crisis of others, may be the opportunity of mine”. With the entrepreneurship in Mr Nathan, he managed to progress into a businessman helping the Japanese army in procurement of daily necessities, and made a tidy profit.

Indeed, Mr Nathan had the Lady Luck with him. Even in the tumultuous era of Japanese occupation, he rode over the roughshod and escaped unscathed even after the surrender of the Japanese in 1945.

In 1965 when Singapore becomes an independent state, Nathan having slept with the enemy, entered into the next pinnacle of his life journey:

1966 Feb – transferred to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, appointed as Asst Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and subsequently as Acting Perm Sec, Ministry of Home Affairs.

1971 – Head of Defense Security and Intelligence Unit. Lead the hostage party held by the terrorist group, Japanese Red Army in the Laju incident.

1973 till 1986 – concurrently appointed as Chairman of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Singapore.

1979 – transferred back to Ministry of Foreign Affairs as 1st Permanent Secretary.

1982 – appointed Executive Chairman, Straits Times, Singapore.

1988 April – appointed as the High Commissioner to Malaysia.

1990 July till 1996 – Ambassador in USA.

1996 – transferred back to Singapore as Ambassador-at-Large, and concurrently appointed as Director of NTU Defense Policy Research Institute.

Undeniably, Mr Nathan has always been the blue-eyed boy of Lady Luck. In 1999 he became Singapore’s President without competition.

From the time of the Japanese occupation, the surrender of Japan, till this day, how many of our grandpas were as lucky as Mr Nathan? Perhaps, this is so called – Fate.

As State funeral is the highest honor bestowed, when it was announced by the Government that Mr Nathan is accorded one, it concluded his life journey with the perfect ending. With this episode, it truly reflected the power and privileges enjoyed by the ruling elites of Singapore.

At the same time, we shall not forget, in this same country besides Mr Nathan, there are many other unknown grandpas who have contributed immensely in our nation building, and for a good numbers of them made the ultimate sacrifice or had led a tumultuous lives. Let us also salute and pay the highest homage to this group of unsung heroes.


This is the translation of the article ‘我们的爷爷与纳丹爷爷不一样‘.

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