Adrian Tan, The King of Singapore, Reminds Singaporeans To Play
Top image: TSMP Law Corporation

Adrian Tan, affectionately known as Linkedin’s ‘King of Singapore’, passed away on Saturday at 57 after his battle with cancer. He will be fondly remembered by Singapore’s literary and legal community as well as many others his words left an impression on.

As President of the Law Society of Singapore and as a celebrated author, Mr Tan’s indelible dent on Singapore’s cultural and legal industries still rings loud through Singapore society today. Online tributes poured in after news broke of his death.

Law Minister K Shanmugam led the tributes, remembering Mr Tan as a “true Renaissance man” with a “sharp mind with a wonderful heart”. On top of his law degree, Mr Tan also held a degree in Computer Science from The Open University. 

Besides his academic achievements, Mr Tan is a beloved author who made Singaporean teens feel seen back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He published The Teenage Textbook in 1988, an unpretentious, nostalgic portrayal of school life in Singapore in the 1980s. The success led to a follow-up, The Teenage Workbook.

The coming-of-age story, which resonated with students at the time, also alluded to the larger Singaporean psyche. Mr Tan profoundly compared Singaporeans to the durian in his book—with an “impregnable, impassive shell” on the outside and “soft and mushy on the inside”. 

Since taking over as President of the Law Society of Singapore, Mr Tan branded himself as an “advocate for advocates”. His thought-provoking Linkedin posts about how to create better working conditions for junior lawyers reached far beyond Singapore’s legal fraternity. 

Video: The Legends Never Die / YouTube

‘Not Considered Literature

Mr Tan left quite a mark at last year’s Singapore Writers Festival (SWF). Once again, he participated in SWF’s highly anticipated opening debate. The motion? This House believes that the remake is better than the original. 

He was a fitting speaker for the Opposition, especially since his original work The Teenage Textbook has been remade several times—into a movie and a television series. 

Mr Tan walks to the rostrum, positioned centre stage at Victoria Theatre. He is dressed for the debate. His red Star Trek uniform becomes obvious as he steps into the spotlight. Audience members settle as they await Mr Tan’s turn, the final speaker for the opposition. 

Expectations are high. After all, Mr Tan was a Senior Litigator and Partner at TSMP Law Corporation. Debate was his bread and butter. He did not disappoint. 

Memories of the particulars of his speech are hazy. What remained with us, however, is his clever balance of disarming wit and incisive arguments. He makes Star Trek references during his speech to cheers from audience members.

As the author of The Teenage Textbook and The Teenage Workbook, Mr Tan had a knack for honing in on the absurdities of everyday life as a Singaporean student. Adaptations of The Teenage Textbook speak to the timelessness of his observations and musings. 

Personalities from the SingLit community mourned Mr Tan’s passing. “SingLit has lost one of its sharpest minds, its wittiest voice. We’re the poorer for the loss,” author Felix Cheong remarks. 

Mr Tan himself, however, did not consider his works as literature. Goh Eck Kheng, who runs the publishing firm Landmark Books, recalls how Mr Tan once confessed this to him.

“This great storyteller was wrong,” Goh explains. 

Adrian Tan, President of the Law Society of Singapore 

Outside of the literary world, Singapore’s legal fraternity remembers Mr Tan as a sought-after litigator. According to TSMP Law Corporation, Mr Tan’s notable cases include the Thomson View Gilstead Court cases. As counsel, he successfully resisted en bloc applications by “exposing unfair or bad faith practices”.

He was also a tireless President of the Law Society of Singapore. He officially took on the role of President in January 2022 with plans to “raise the morale of lawyers” and stem “the Great Resignation in the legal industry”. 

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in March the same year. And yet, when confronted with the question about whether he should have stopped working, the answer came easy to him. 

“For me, life is a contact sport,” Mr Tan writes in a Linkedin post. 

“I need to strive with my team towards a common goal. When the clock runs out, and the game ends, I want to feel that, win or lose, I gave my best, and that I am standing on the field with my friends and comrades.” 

“That was the path I chose. I would fight cancer, fight my cases in court, and fight for lawyers as their President, until the clock runs out.” Despite battling his illness, Mr Tan’s work ethic was boundless, frequently weighing in about how to improve working conditions for Singapore’s lawyers.  

Mr Tan, in his role as President, strove to be honest about the realities of the legal profession in Singapore.

Perhaps, his work ethic was inspired by the same advice he gave at an NTU Convocation Ceremony. “Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.”

“Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.”

Joint Managing Partner at TSMP Law Corporation, Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, remembers how Mr Tan directed his legal efforts towards community service.

“You had all the time in the world for the most insignificant cases because people mattered to you.” 

Adrian Tan, The King of Singapore 

“Lawyers know who you are but you made the law and issues of the day relevant and easy to understand to all Singaporeans,” Ms Thio writes on Linkedin in the same tribute to Mr Tan. 

Indeed, Mr Tan was an excellent public communicator with an uncanny ability to parse legal jargon for everyday Singaporeans. His Linkedin posts detailed astute observations in a language accessible to the layperson. 

His most provocative posts include questioning the volume of media coverage surrounding the Titan submersible compared to issues in deaths in other countries and explaining Singapore’s strict laws on drugs. 

Some of his Linkedin posts also included inhabiting the King of Singapore persona. He often ruminated on the changes he would like to see in the country if he had the power to change them. 

“As King of Singapore, I’d pass a law to allow for assisted suicide,” Mr Tan writes in a Linkedin post. He shares that the question arose after his conversation with an old friend about his cancer diagnosis. His takeaway from that discussion was that death, like life, has value too. 

Our last encounter with Mr Tan occurred shortly after that post. RICE reached out to him for a profile piece to detail his life and contributions to Singapore’s literary scene and legal community.

We weren’t expecting a reply. We assumed our email request would have been buried under a pile of more important ones—pending law cases, work updates, and more administrative matters. He replied within a few hours and set a meeting for August this year. 

Although our correspondence was brief, Mr Tan’s compassion for people and sharp humour shone through. He was humble in his interactions and could put even a stranger at ease. We would have loved to speak to him. 

As did many others who did not get a chance to interact with someone of such strong will and such sharpness of mind. But as his words live on to continue making an impact on others, one thing the King of Singapore will want others to know: Do not go gentle into that good night.

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