Monday, August 22, 2011

Why and wherefore

Singapore's President SR Nathan will be leaving office in 10 days' time. His last day as President is the 31st of August 2011. He has served the longest of all the Presidents Singapore has had - 12 unbroken years (well there was the matter of his re-election 6 years ago, but he was returned un-opposed). His Presidency has, by all measures, been a successful one. Of course, there are detractors, people who think that his actions (or in-actions) as President has lowered his standing among all previous Presidents. But these, in my opinion, are not the majority view. During his presidency, Mr Nathan has written a short book on his time as a Seaman's Welfare Officer in the 1950s. He had graduated from the University of Malaya. He wrote that the reason why he got the job was because he had written about Seamans in Singapore. The post was a new one and in the first few years, Mr Nathan shared the responsibilities with fellow civil servant, Mr Goh Sin Tub. Gradually he defined his own work, which was to help one and all Singapore seafarers with their problems, which ranged from lodging, meals, unemployment to unfair treatment by their employers. He has spent a fair amount of time describing the social situation of Singapore seafarers, and occasionally about foreign seafarers stuck in Singapore, and the challenges and hardships they faced.

Mr Nathan gives some anecdotes of seamen and their families that he had helped, and described how these same people have risen in their social standing in life. This is an easy-to-read book, and absorbing in its contents, if only because it describes real situations and real people. I used to live in the Singapore Naval Base, and as a youth, have had neighbours who sailed the seas for a living. While many had fathers around every day, like mine, these others will be gone a considerable length of time. They are sailing the seas, I am told. I even wrote an essay in Primary school about my ambition - to be a sailor - without quite realizing the harsh and hard life of a sailor - people that had often to turn to others, like Mr Nathan, for help.

Why the title of the book "Why am I here?" I thought it wasn't such as great title at first. I mean, all of us would ask that question of ourselves. A book that focuses only on a few years of one's life hardly qualifies for a biography. But as it turns out, that question helped to define Mr Nathan's years of service, not only as a Seaman's Welfare Officer, but also as an Ambassador, and ultimately, the President of Singapore. Read this book to find out how exactly he learnt to ask that question.

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