MINDEF: “What would you defend?”
Singapore born males to one another: “What has NS done for you?”
My reply: NS taught me the concept of modern slavery. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lower ranked NSFs are like slaves to some regulars and higher ranked NSFs who abuse the system. I can resign from a job I dislike, but I am stuck with SAF.
Here’s a collection of some of the replies via EDMW:
travirjir: left me with a a torn ligament on my right ankle after i sprain it really bad during ippt in camp, had to rush to nuh take xray then go physiotherapy weekly at tengah airbase after that.
satayxp: it opened my eyes to national slavery and eye power tok only no action
doomed: Fear. NS taught me to fear everyone who is my superior.
rain_myth: it left me a harsh fact that i have tahan another 10years cycles ict.
jurples: i realise i do not want anything to do with it
silent_espy: It made me realise that my govt doesnt give a crap abt my future and my career even though ns might mean i lose my job and livelihood. They dont give a shiat i need to support my parents, pay bills and plan for marriage.
sadisticnoob: Left Me with slight permanent damage to respiration systrm as I got puneonmia . Now like sick Abit more easily
robolee: NS left me with dmg left knee and dmg right ankle. what does it benefit me? make me open my eyes of what human will do to get to their goal (backstabber, bootlicking ex.)
kingsfall: I learn how to suck thumb and move on when **** happens…
shawntyq: realized whats being a slave is like.
A New Guy: Made me realised how farked up some superiors are especially the old ones. Never listen to reason extra give here give there like free. But it trained me how to be invisible to the right people.
twinings: nothing. literally.
mistersatki_: it taught me one thing onlycivil servants dont really give a damn how gd is their performances aresince their promotions were already predetermined due to their toilet paper worth
Locksleychang: NS left me with a dessicated L5/S1 disc in my back. The disc is also torn and protruding. In the process of downgrading now (waiting for medical board). This is what happens when you chiong with GPMG. My advice to everyone is if you feel pain more than a few times in a certain body part, go get it checked out. I totally regretted not seeing a specialist earlier.
Geylang Prawn Seller: after NS, i realise that:any organisation that inflicts pain and suffering on me cannot be given any name other than my enemySAF has inflicted pain and suffering on me and so…
Wahkao3: New business idea – Consultancy business to help SAF soldiers downgrade in army
Zerozerozero: Two years behind girls of my age.You spend the 12 years hanging out with all the girls of the same age, and then suddenly, time just stopped for you. They moved on, you are left behind.
vlim4: right foot stress fracture during NSF, then left foot stress fracture also during reservist.
It would be interesting to see #WhatHasNSDoneForYou trend on Twitter. I am sure all Singapore born males have something to contribute, regardless whether they are positive or negative experiences.
From: http://limpehft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/avinology-and-ns-in-singapore.htmlhttp://alvinology.com/2012/03/28/what-has-ns-done-for-you/ and if you haven't, then you really must. It does give you an insight into the experiences of what us male Singaporeans have to go through when it comes to national service. It would've been hilarious if it wasn't so true. But you know me, I am so long-winded, that's why I don't use Twitter. I can't say what I wanna say in 140 characters. So I am going to respond to Limpeh's usual way. This might have been more funny if my friend Melissa didn't just remind me of this story which could have ended in tragedy. http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/18-old-recruit-attempted-swim-tekong-052017546.html
The kid was very silly to even attempt such a swim which would be challenging for all except very strong swimmers. Pulau Tekong Kechil to Changi is just about 2.5 km and to try to do this swim at night with no guidance, well that's a suicide mission. The kid could've easily swam in the wrong direction, got disorientated by the currents and it was extremely lucky that he got picked up by the police coast guard. Now this kid was an RJC student - so it's not like he's that stupid and wouldn't have been able to estimate the distance to the mainland or at least realize how dangerous or difficult the swim would be. What was he thinking? My thoughts turn to his parents who must have been distraught at the possibility of their son possibly drowning that night - then again, does this surprise me? No. I've been there myself and have spent time on Tekong during BMT.
|Oh those were the days...|
I served national service - all 2 years 4 months of it from 1995 to 1997. Yes I am of the generation where you had to serve 2 years 6 months if you were of the A-level batch but if you have done well for you physical fitness test before enlistment, you are entitled to a 2 month discount, hence I served 2 years 4 months. My parents foolishly thought that it would be good for me, "it'll make you a man" they told me. I beg to differ.
If one was patriotic, one would gladly die for one's country. However, compelling young men to serve national service when they really don't want to will not somehow inspire patriotism - instead, it will drain what little patriotism there is left.
|How patriotic are you?|
If you were to look at a country like Israel where the Israeli-Jews are willing to die to defend their nation-state, they gladly serve national service and turn up on the first day of NS, willing to follow orders. In Taiwan, there is a sense of threat as well from China, so this threat makes young Taiwanese men willing to stand up and rise to the challenge and accept the responsibility of national defense. I could go on listing countries with conscription who also have some sense of imminent threat: Cyprus, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, North and South Korea - there's nothing quite like the threat of war to inspire a sense of patriotism. Now the problem with Singapore is that there is no imminent threat, it's by and large a very peaceful part of the world and the Singaporean government is very good at maintaining excellent diplomatic ties with our ASEAN neighbours.
Now to answer Alvin's question: what has NS done for me? Well I am trying hard to look at he positive aspects - to be quite blunt, I'm struggling with this. In fact, I struggled with this so much that I left this, wrote my previous piece on maids getting a day off before coming back to this. Okay, I will start with the more positive aspects before I stick the knife in.
|I learnt how to get along with others in the army.|
The biggest lesson I take from NS is to learn how to get along with people - NS was a big difference from my school days. Now as a student, you know you're not obliged to get along with everyone in school. You have your good friends, you form little cliques in school and few people aspire to be popular with everyone. Heck, I had my group of good friends and those I didn't like, I simply ignored. It was a luxury I didn't have in NS.
In the army, you do not get to choose whom you have to work with - that is decided for you by those of senior rank and you have to get along with those people whether you like it or not. It was the first time I was put in that position in my life and it certainly wasn't the last - later on in my working life, I have had to work with people I disliked and get along with them no matter how much I hated their guts. But of course, I didn't have to like these people - no, I merely had to be diplomatic and put on a front. So yes, those were skills I learnt from experience, adapting to my environment in the army.
In order to get along with these people, I learnt how to become the person they wanted me to be - I humbled myself and put them first. For instance, if I knew that this sergeant doesn't like people who speak English, then I would never speak English in front of him and act as if I can't speak English and don't like to speak English in order for him to feel comfortable with me. It was all new to me you know, contrast this to my student days when I was this idealistic young teenager trying so hard to express myself and tell the world who I am. In the army, it's the total opposite. In being whom they wanted me to be in order to get along with people, that process taught me far more about whom I was.
|The thought of studying in England was the light at the end of the tunnel for me.|
What was interesting was the way my brain internalized so many functions - let me explain: in JC, as a student, I talked so much. I talked to everyone from my siblings to my friends to my teachers, I never shut up. I talked non-stop. When I had ideas, I had to share it with them. When I had questions, I would ask them and we would talk about it. In the army however, I learnt the golden rule: shut the fuck up. Don't open your mouth. Don't even talk. Shush. Conversation is bad. Keep your head down and mouth shut and hope that no one notices you, keep an extremely low profile, don't provoke anyone, don't offend anyone and if you don't even talk then you're probably going to be alright.
I went from a chatterbox to someone who was quite quiet - and when I did speak, it was never what I wanted to say. Hell no, I said what I wanted others to hear, ranging from senseless banter in Hokkien in order to fit in with the Hokkien pengs to paying compliments to the officers of senior rank in order to massage their egos. I remember at this event, one of the officers I worked for made this terrible speech in broken English and I went up to him after the speech and told him how good his speech was. He knew his English wasn't good and was worried about people laughing at his mistakes. I reassured him that practically everyone in camp spoke English like him and in speaking the people's language - he was able to communicate with them at their wavelength, rather than sound like an English textbook if he spoke perfect English; and by that token, it was good public speaking even if it wasn't great English. You should've seen the smile on his face. Did I mean what I said? Not a chance. I just wanted this officer to like me.
Any conversations I had were not meaningful, but were merely carried out to help me fit in with the people around me. None of them wanted intellectual conversations anyway, not that brain dead army lot. I still had all these ideas in my head and no one to talk to - so I started writing a lot, not just in English but in French as well as I had no one to share these ideas with and putting them to paper felt less crazy than talking to myself. I wrote everything from essays on political and social issues to plays to short stories and I even won a prize in the 1997 in an international play writing competition when I entered some of my plays.
A friend did ask me then why I didn't just write a play about NS - and I thought, no it's way too close to home. It wasn't creative enough - I wanted to take one aspect of my life in NS (eg. my hypocrisy), put it in a totally different context, create a protagonist who was nothing like me, (ie. an older woman in a difficult relationship) but still doing a lot of the same things I was doing as a soldier. It wasn't meant to be autobiographical - such is art. Many found it hard to believe that the play was written by a man and not a woman - but there you go.
I remember just after my ORD, I ran into one of the guys from my camp at Boat Quay (outside the McDonald's). And he was so happy to see me and he was like, "so when are you going to England? When does term start? etc" He was so keen to keep in touch with me but I thought, I never liked you at all, I only was nice to you because we had to work together. As I stared at him, I thought of all the times I wanted to say something nasty to him but bit my lip and said nothing and guess what? I did the same thing again - instead I told him I was in a hurry and gave him a fake email address and phone number before rushing down Boat Quay to get away from him. I never saw him again and let's keep it that way.
|Boat Quay, Singapore|
I remembering being oh so naive when I enlisted and when I ORDed, I was wiser to the bullshit of this world. Let me give you an example, okay? I was very religious then and used to go to church faithfully every Sunday. When I witnessed some pretty awful bullying in the army, I went to church and asked a senior church member who was of very senior rank in the army. "Why is there so much bullying going on? Why does God let this happen? Why does the army let this happen?"
The senior officer put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Listen son, the army is not like in school, we could go to a war tomorrow and I may have to give a command to send some men to the front line where they have to face enemy fire and possible death. They may be blown up by enemy fire and they may feel afraid, nobody wants to die. So what some officers do is resort to this kind of method to teach the younger soldiers that they must obey orders no matter what the situation is, sometimes they don't use very nice language but it is all part of the process to instill in them a sense of obedience - to ensure that they know they will always have to follow orders. These young soldiers come from civilian life - maybe they're from rich families with many servants and they don't know what it is like to have to take orders. So our job is to break down their egos, teach them how to function as a unit, within a team, so sometimes, yes this kind of technique which you call 'bullying' is necessary - but it's not bullying really, it's for their own good you know?"
|Taming a dog and reasoning with a soldier are very different tasks.|
Bullshit I thought, but I guess I wasn't confident enough to challenge that answer. I merely nodded and accepted that someone had given me an explanation. Now 18 years later, I shall refute his explanation. Firstly, soldiers should obey orders because they respect the institution the army represents and they should be there because they have a sense of duty, a sense of patriotism to their country. And if they don't already have that sense of duty and patriotism, then surely some degree of reasoning can be applied to demonstrate to them why they have good reason to feel pride in serving their nation in this capacity. I believe in the power of reason - instead, this senior officer was treating these soldiers the same way one tames a wild beast, through brute force rather than reason. What does he take these young soldiers for? Cannon fodder incapable of thinking or reasoning? In condoning this 'bullying', this officer is allowing the bullies to behave in any way they want in a consequence-free environment.
This led me to learn how to question authority. I was brought up to be a very obedient Singaporean who didn't ask many questions - I suppose many Singaporeans are like that because asking difficult questions means not getting any simple answers. It is admittedly so much easier not to ask questions by that token. As a child in Singapore, one is taught to trust authority - obey the law, listen to the teacher at school, trust the government etc. Some of us break out of that pattern, others don't.
The other major wake-up call I had whilst serving NS was the reality of working under idiots. Oh boy, did I work under a few really stupid idiots in my time and I'm sure anyone who has served in the military can tell you the same thing. In the army, rank trumps intelligence - need I say more? When you work under someone more intelligent than yourself, you learn from them. When you work under someone who's clearly an idiot, then you learn other things as well - such as how to hide your feelings, how to subvert them covertly and how to manipulate them. The learning opportunities are abound in NS, you just have to approach these challenges with the right attitude.
Another important lesson I learnt in NS was to mind my own business. There's this word in Hokkien: kaypoh, which means "busybody". One learnt to look the other way and not get involved in the affairs of others even if it meant acting in a selfish manner. Let me give you an example.
Now all combat fit soldiers in the army have to learn how to use a rifle. Some of us had to use it all the time, others once in a while depending on our vocation. When we go to the rifle range to practice shooting with live ammunition, the ammo was deposited into the rifle's magazine. Now the magazine is detachable from the rifle so as to enable the loading of ammunition - it is the one part of the rifle that you're going to drop or lose.
One day when we were at the rifle range, a soldier in my unit announced that he had lost his magazine. That was a very serious offence - the army wasn't going to allow soldiers to get away with an offence like that. He faced a major punishment for that. We were ordered to scour the area to look for the magazine. Whilst a magazine on its own could not be used to kill someone, losing any part of the rifle was often treated as if you had lost the whole thing.
As we were digging around in the bushes, around the rifle range, a friend - let's call him 朋友 Peng You (Mandarin for 'friend') pulled me aside and confided in me. "I know where his magazine is. I took it. I stole it from him. I think I dropped mine or someone took mine. Shit, is that guy going to get into a lot of trouble now because of me?"
I looked at Peng You and then instantly checked that I still had my magazine. I then paused for a moment and said to Peng You, "You and I never had this conversation, is that clear? I don't know anything, I don't want to know and if I were you, I wouldn't say a word to anyone, okay?" I got up and walked away.
Months later, I found out through another friend, let's call him Nanbar (Tamil for 'friend'). It's too long to retell how I got to know the whole story, but here it is: Nanbar had realized that he had dropped his magazine during a lunch break, so he took advantage of the fact that some of the men left their rifles on the ground as they were trying to get some lunch. Nanbar spotted a rifle on the ground with the magazine still attached and without knowing whose it was, he swiped the magazine.
Moments later, Nanbar was approached by his friend Kawan (Malay for 'friend') who said to him in a panic, "I have lost my magazine, what should I do?" Unaware that he was speaking to the very person who took his magazine, Kawan didn't suspect a Nanbar at all. So Nanbar said to Kawan, "See Peng You over there? He's leaning against a tree and is fast asleep. If you took his magazine quietly, he probably wouldn't even notice."
So Kawan took Peng You's magazine and Peng You then in turn took someone else's magazine. The tale ended there because the guy Peng You stole the magazine from was simply too honest to steal one from another soldier. We know how the story ended but I have no idea how it began. But you get the idea, back when I was a student, if I knew of any story like this, I would be very tempted to run to the teacher and divulge the whole story but in the army, I simply minded my own business and looked the other way.
|The rifle magazine|
There you go, this is what NS does to people like Nanbar, Kawan, Peng You and myself. Those of you who have done NS, perhaps you have similar stories to share? What did you learn in NS? Leave a comment, thanks.
Update! Part 2 continues here: http://limpehft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/how-to-rationalize-ns-in-singapore.html