Archive for the 'National Service' Category

My NS Experience – Rock Bottom

Friday, September 16th, 2005

[Part 3 of a series of 3. Part 2 can be found here]

Fat people are forward-thinking visionaries of near-prophetic abilities.

Let me qualify: We are constantly wondering when the next meal will be and make us walk in the wilderness for more than 200m and we will fall to the ground, writhing, sweating, and murmuring religious devotions like "O! my god… Stercus, Stercus, Morticus Sum".

This happened when we donned our uniforms for the very first time. It was rather uncomfortable. Especially the 2 kg boots.

What’s worse was the SAF Standard Battle Order (SBO), more commonly known as the Army Bra.

However, as the pioneer batch of elite elephants, we had the best and the latest equipment, which include a new and improved Army Bra (design copied the Nazis, which says a lot) that could hold more equipment, had more padding (like we needed it) and would fall apart (ammunition, grenades, chocolates and other essential battle equipment) easily in wet weather.

Most soldiers are wearing it now, but for the record, we were the first.

We had to. It was the only belt that we could wear around us without the aid of a boomerang.


We were put into 2 companies of 3 platoons each. The two companies were called "Ninja" and "Marine".

Oh, how they mock us.


However, the quarters were rather pleasant. We were allocated rooms with a balcony that had an excellent view of the outside world.

We spent many evenings with the cool breeze delicately mingled the scent of the jungle with our liniment lotion (Sloan’s Liniment is the best) as we lay on the floor groaning.

It was four to a room. Double-decker beds were too risky.

SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corp) is always around.

Area cleaning was quite tedious. Apparently, our CSM (Company Sergeant Major, AKA Encik) disapproves of leaves despite the fact they decompose into excellent fertilizers for the tree, thus bringing about a closure into the cyclical wonder of life.

[This was written in 1996 as part 3 of a series of 3. Part 1 can be found here.]

My NS Experience – The Descent

Friday, September 9th, 2005

[Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. ]

Serving National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces, or at least for the first 5 months of it, is like contracting a terrible disease.


Well, it has all the symptoms of one. Observe: you lose your hair, the rate of weight loss will make an aneroxic faint, large areas of your skin turn reddish brown whilst others parts remain dead-fish white, and there is a tendency for a person to go weak in the knees and squat at every opportunity.


The processing of us new recruits were carried out in the most efficient military manner.

Getting us outfitted was another matter.

I remember being herded into pens where we each took a number and waited our turn to collect what was to be our wardrobe for the next 2+ years. What was annoying was the stares that we received from the women and men there.

Lining up in railings and waiting in pens did not help.

Neither did the long wait. Here’s a tip: Fat people cannot stand for long, and we cannot squat properly.

Some of my fellow inmat- err, fellow recruits could not find a uniform large enough.

Anyway, I collected my uniforms and the largest boots I have ever seen. My green no. 4 uniform was a recycled one. Apparently someone thought that the uniform was too new to be discarded. Waste not want not.

In my future months, I encountered uniforms that belonged to dead soldiers but were too new to be burned (being green coming in vogue then).

That is a story I may not be allowed to tell.


It was all a blur. First to CMPB (Central Manpower Base), then to collect our kit, then finally to Nee Soon Camp, School of Basic Military Training, SBMT.

It was almost evening when we stepped out of our "tour" bus. We told would be occupying old abandoned buildings.

They did not tell us that a single company of men will do a battalion’s worth of area cleaning, nor were we told of the other "occupants".

What caught my eye as I trudged up to my bunk was my sergeant’s door. It had a sign saying "The Best Welfare is Siongness".

This did not bode well.


One of the most traumatic events in a NSF’s (National Service, Full Time) life is the first haircut.

You can tell whether a NSF was from SBMT or Pulau Tekong from the haircut. Ours was without the fringe.

Our barber had a sadistic sense of humor. He had 2 other helpers. Specialists, the lot of them.


The first would mow the center of your head, from front to back, leaving the other parts untouched. Sort of an inverse Mohawk.

The second would do the sides and back. And since it took longer to do this, often, you sat on a row of chairs with a group of misguided punk rockers and waited sullenly.

SBC (the Singapore Broadcasting Corp) was there to film us. Not exactly our finest hour.

The last was the barber. He was the man to watch. With a cigarette hanging from the corner of the mouth, we would watch apprehensively as the ash grew longer and longer, waiting for the moment it would fall on your face.

It never came.

However, when the cameras were rolling, the cigarette disappeared. I think he swallowed it.

He would mutter extremely unflattering comments.

"Wah, you so fat, what you eat? I want to be fat too."

"Eh, can find uniform ah?"

"Army got give you bra or not?"

[This was written in 1996 as part 2 of a series of 3. Part 3 can be found here.]

Finally spending days playing computer games has finally paid off in Singapore

Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

This would look good in the old resume.

My NS Experience – The Beginning

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

Tuesday, 15th January, 1991, US President George Bush signed a National Security Directive authorizing the use of force unless some last minute diplomatic settlement was reached or Iraqi forces withdrew in mass from Kuwait. He then told Secretary Cheney he was authorized to sign the "execute" order which would be passed to the military National Command Authority after the U.N. deadline passed.

All this had nothing to do with my story except the fact that it was the same day I entered the Singapore Armed Forces as the lowest life form in the Army – the recruit.

Time: Several months before.

Bright was sun as I trotted along the overhead bridge from Bukit Merah Bus terminal to the SAF Recruitment for the first of many medical checkups.

I was told months before that I would be on the pioneer 5 month BMT programme.


Place: Clinic.

Ok, so I was mildly overweight. I say this in perspective to the person sitting next to me. He was the size of a certain Hawaiian Sumo wrestler.

Thwack! "Wah!"

Piak! "Ouchhh!"

"Hold still lah!"

"Yah! Yah! I can see the vein already! Get ready the needle!"



It’s not a nice thing discovering that you are so fat that your veins can’t be seen to get a blood sample. They have to slap the back of your hand so that a bruise will raise a vein.

Thank goodness the medical orderlies were too tired out to hit me after the pineapple-eating giant.

Actually, my veins were pretty visible.

But it pays to let people go first. Gripping hard on the edge of the chair works too.

Courtesy wins in the end.

"Ok, take off your clothes… Yes, underwear also."

"Ok, turn your head and cough."


"Oi, you trying to be funny ah? Turn the head on your neck and cough lah!"

Sorry. Wrong head.

Medical people can be so touchy sometimes.

That was nothing compared to my next encounter. SAF’s most powerful personnel – the Clerks.


Able to wipe out your entitlement of leave with a single stroke of "liquid paper", these people are not to be trifled with.

"Please write your father’s chinese name here."

Oh shit.

"What? You tell me your own father name you dono how to write ah?"

Nope. I usually use my name, not my father’s. Doesn’t everyone?

"Aiyah, neber mind lah, just sign here lah."


Time: 15th January 1991

Place: After swearing in (I insert-name-here hereby swear…). Clambering on board bus to Nee Soon Camp.

"Wah! SBC also got come ah!"

"Pioneer batch must show show lah."

"Lucky haven’t cut hair yet, otherwise botak not swee lah. Must call home to tape."

"Eh? I thought got give phonecard one? My friend’s CC got give free phone card leh!"

"Wah, kena cheated, man."


[This was written in 1996 as part 1 of a series of 3. Part 2 can be found here.]