(this was meant to be a summation of my NS journey but since that’s what the past year has mostly been of I figure this serves as a year-end review too?)
I started this journey of a full two years, a mere two weeks after A Levels drew to a close. The night before the last paper I listed down everything I wanted to do, everyone I wanted to meet, every place I wanted to explore – essentially how I’d squeeze the juice out of each second before enlisting. I guess it was as acute a case of FOMO as it’d get.
And while, not unexpectedly, I didn’t manage to do even half of my ‘checklist’, the experiences I had essentially shaped the foundation of the first four months in PTP and BMT, and eventually the rest of my National Service.
It was somehow all neatly encapsulated in the form of a timely Nolan (!!!) film. Interstellar often comes off as a picture that is inexplicably complicated by the science of wormholes and space but at its heart lies a simple idea (heh, I just had to):
Many more films would challenge Interstellar for a place close to my heart in these 2 years and only a couple would come close (special mention to one later) okay sorry deviating.
Indeed it was nothing but love – in different places, people and forms – but sheer love all the same that enabled guts to conquer fear, that pushed me just that little bit harder, that showed me the light of hope in the darkness of what was seeming endlessness. And that’s what the purpose of this post is, to give thanks to all the people and things that have made and brought me to where I am today.
I’ll do this in chronological order. Also, the length of each segment is by no means a measure of my love for any group or individual – sometimes the exposition might be a bit of a runaway – for all of you, my heart has no bottom 🙂
2nd Coy Platoon 1
I remember sitting in the stairwell of my house after picking up the notification letter from MINDEF regarding my enlistment. While I knew it was set in stone that I’d be having a two year NS, I still held out hope that somehow it was a human sitting behind the screen who could see that it was only my SBJ (a station soon to be removed) that held me back from getting that pre-requisite silver. Or at the very least, that I’d be enlisted in the March batch so that I’d have enough time to pursue some of my own interests and go on the Bali trip that my SJI friends were eagerly anticipating. Alas, it would be a computer that worked on the principle of enlistment at the earliest possible date that decided my fate and so my journey began on the 9th of Dec.
Eating my first (VI) lunch on Tekong with my family, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be that bad after all… Then as soon as I stood in file in a sea of largely unfamiliar faces and begun walking/fake marching toward a bus (I was wondering why we weren’t just walking to the bunks because I didn’t know School 4 was literally in an another part of Tekong), I thought to myself that as soon as we were out of our parents’ sights we would knock it down on the hot parade square and be thrown straight into the deep ends of Army life.
Thankfully for me (all of us), that didn’t happen. But what followed were 4 incredible months getting to know people of different backgrounds, each of whom had their own stories that could make an anthology on its own, living with them and conquering each obstacles that came our way. There were times where I admit I felt terribly lonely but with each passing day and many moments of sheer incredulity, I grew to love each and everyone of these brothers. I missed out on Bali, on the chance to work or intern, but what I gained were cherished memories of:
- Bathing in the darkness with only light sticks for any semblance of light (first Rocky Hill blackout in 2 years!)
- Redoing the 16km route march with around an 800m track – 20 mind-numbing laps made better by F&N Alive energy bars and some mad jokes with solid company (I vowed never to skip a route march in the future)
- A build-up to receiving the letters from our parents that was as cinematic that it gets
- The shiok feeling of singing the bookout song as laojiao recruits relishing our only benefit over the new enhanced BMT recruits (i.e. booking out one evening earlier for CNY HAHA)
- A mere 2km route march back from the field camp site to bunk feeling like 2 hours and the sense of vindication once we saw Coyline
- Joking about curry chicken and other associated foods HAHA
- All the random stuff we talked about excitedly while sitting down waiting for last parade especially with Jia Sheng and Haoze (contrast that with our half-asleep faces early in the morning lol)
Before I knew it, those 17 weeks were done and dusted and we were in bunk packing up the last of our belongings, preparing for one last sleepless night as a platoon and a company. Where I once felt a sense of uncertainty heading to the island of Tekong as a recruit for the first time, l now felt a sense of loss parting ways with people I’d love to have serve out the rest of the 2 years with. It was only after those 17 weeks together that I realized just how little I knew of the bigger world in JC… I learnt of the myriad of struggles that were faced by different people, about a whole new spectrum of people’s aspirations, and a lot more about where people draw that extra ounce of strength and resilience when things seem to be all dark.
(Just want to give a special shoutout at this juncture in particular to Section 1 – Ryan, Yu Ming, Calvin, Azri, Haziq, Tze Hin, Chong Yi, Sean, Kartik – for making our huge bunk a cray place to be with all the gossip and our outstanding stand-by areas)
It was my hope to make amends in NS for not putting in my best during my first 3 years in SJI SJAB and this desire was only further affirmed by the fact that my PC was also my SJAB platoon sergeant. This combined with the sharings imparted by PC, PS and OC cemented the idea that NS was my chance to “do it once, do it good”, to redeem myself, even though I never fit the role of an archetypal soldier.
On the eve of our bookout after our confinement period, I remember looking out from the bunk corridor to the Coyline, realizing that we had yet another 14 weeks to go and feeling sorely detached from the ‘outside world’ that I was about to go back to. Wouldn’t my friends’ lives gone on just as normally as it would have, without me? How many things have I missed out on? Should I have pushed harder for SBJ? These were questions that haunted me. And it was at the exact moment that one of my platoon mates who was passing by saw me and said “Don’t worry about the future luh, it’ll come whether or not you think about it, just enjoy the bookout.” He walked away with a reassuring smile, and left me with words that I still remind myself of till today.
Golf and Tango Wing
I was privileged with the opportunity to go to OCS after BMT, but it was a posting that I felt deeply inadequate for (I had scraped through IPPT and felt that I hardly showed any leadership skills in the army vein). Further still, it was a posting that I felt I didn’t deserve to have especially given the fact that there were peers in BMT who showed a keen interest in signing on as an officer not just serving NS as one, and that I had ‘wrongly’ taken the place of someone who showed a longer term commitment. Heading into CLM, I didn’t know how I’d cope with the rigour or those nagging thoughts but I have two people to thank for changing that mindset:
- LTA Reuben for making me jump the Confidence Jump a second time when we saw how I just barely made it through by mumbling the words “To Lead, To Excel, To Overcome”… I still remember thinking it was a joke and felt like having to do it again was the premature end of my OCS journey (doing it the first time was hard enough).
- and Yao Zhong, my Section Instructor, in Golf Wing, for telling me just a few words that was enough to get me going again – “You’ve done it once, you can do it again.”
It was hence why the feeling of leaving for Tango Wing, just after having felt like I was adjusting to life in Golf Wing during CLM, felt so terrible. Couple that with the fact that there were rumours that the instructors in Tango were really shiong, it made for a palpably scarier and more lethargic book in than the usual.
Thankfully, my fears would be proven wrong yet again, thanks to the effervescent and lively bunch of people in my section and platoon and the strong leadership from every level of the command team in Tango Wing, led by LTC Lucas. Every punishment was rooted in a lesson and every action always justified, reasoned and in moderation. Above all, the values of patience, resilience and support for one another were radiated by everyone in the wing and that made everything all the more easier to bear. In particular, Section 3 was a pretty wild and diverse bunch (shoutout to Javen, Zhi Kai, Mark, Arnold, Gin Wee, Kuang Ian, Jun Wei, Leon, Wen Hao, Wenhao, Ben, Wen Sheng, Sam and Naveen) and the long outfields, in particular the sleepless ones, wouldn’t have been possible to overcome without them. Shoutout also to Tun Yee for being a fabulous Section Instructor and for pushing me on during 16km route march when I was the rear scout with you HAHA. Toward the end of Service Term, I found myself wishing that Tango was a Pro Term wing too… But as was the case just a few weeks ago, the time to part came yet again. It felt terrible that we were rushed out within a few hours of completing our 24 click route march because I felt like I didn’t have any proper time to say goodbye/conclude this chapter. As we left the Wingline for the last time as Tango cadets, Wing Comm shared with us Loggies that we had the “difficult task” of motivating the underappreciated people who worked behind-the-scenes in often repetitive tasks… While I understood in literal terms what he meant, the full extent of what he meant would only become apparent once I was posted out to my unit.
Our days in SOL were extremely unique in that the learning was vastly different from anything we learnt in OCS… Logistics wasn’t as simple as “okay we gonna resupply this now” or “let’s just wait for them to radio in some request”, it was quite like economics to be really honest as I’d find out in my unit: making the most of what we had.
It was at this juncture that I figure I started getting weary and feeling that the whole journey was taking too long and it was just terribly draining, mentally. Each weekend’s book in on the other side of the island would be one of dread and essentially the start of another countdown to the next weekend. It was a mid-NS crisis of sorts and I think I’d have barely just dragged myself through it coming out all sapped on the other side had it not been for the people I met at SOL from senior officers to cadets, and in particular Syndicate 7.
Whether it was crashing Mark’s bunk every other day, guailan-ing each other with loads of bs, the frustration when building a tentage in the pitch black darkness of the night, eating Maggi straight from the packet OR spending all our water on cooking Maggi at the top of Biang LOL, or ranting in the bunk with my buddy (HAHAHA Krishnan you know what’s up), those 5 months were defined essentially by the 10 of you – Benjy, Joe, Marhadi, De Jin, Kang Wei, Tar Leng, Mark, Krishnan, Jia Ler, Rui Xuan – and one dedicated syndicate instructor in Barry :’) I’ll carry those memories with me for a long time to come and I just hope that whatever direction life takes us, we will continue to stay in touch.
Also, I’d like to also give thanks to Adrian for motivating me during our 32 click route march for CSB by telling me to give up at the next checkpoint and not at the current one at 12km and then repeating the same thing until we crossed the river by which point we’d been through too much to let the dampness everywhere get to me. Thanks for having my back man!
11 months at HQ taught me far more than I could ever wished to have learnt… Coming into the unit, I didn’t really know what the job scope entailed, all I knew was that it would be vastly different from what my peers would be doing. And true enough, a lot of what I had to do was learnt along the way. In particular, I learnt so much more about liaison and working with people of different working styles, how to think outside the box when it came to the execution of different events/tasks and above all, being prepared for the unexpected and being able to build things from the ground up.
These 11 months would not have been as smooth as I’d have hoped had it not been for really kind superiors who gave me all the guidance and support I needed while also being so forgiving and understanding whenever I made mistakes. And not forgetting, an outstandingly dedicated bunch of NSFs I had the chance to work with.
At this juncture, I’d just like to take the chance to say that if you ever meet NSFs who happen to be PES E or are not in combat vocations, please don’t ever view them as having the easier life or that they “chao geng” their way to getting to where they are. I will admit that I was very ignorant of what these NSFs did prior to becoming a Loggie but after a year and a half, it was very apparent that while their jobs may not be as glamorous or obvious to the rest of the world, it is in no way less important or less needed. The stresses may be mental instead of physical, the battles they face may be in the office instead of outfield but each one is doing their part and each is a gear that forms a part of the larger machine that is National Service – without any one piece the whole itself would cease to function. In fact, some of the people I’ve worked with envisioned their NS journeys to be very much different, however because of some medical issues that otherwise isn’t a problem but due to the erring on the side of caution of the system, results in a reality that is otherwise. But this has never stopped them from giving their best. These 11 months have taught me so much about the desire and heart of people to do their best no matter what the circumstance, so please don’t take anyone for granted – be it combatants or non-combatants.
Looking back now, I think being posted to a HR unit, where people was the core all the services we provided and work that we did, was just where I needed to be :’)
I’ll now move on to all the other groups of people who’ve supported me in one way or another throughout these 2 years. Likewise, order is by no means a statement of who is relatively more or less important – all of you are deeply appreciated 🙂 – it’s just the haphazardness of my brain.
God and Family
The big gestures are always easy to remember but it’s often the small ones that we take for granted… These 2 years have shown me just how much my family has given for me to have the life that I live today and just how many extra miles they’ve gone to see that these 2 years weren’t harder than they needed to be… Be it agreeing to my pleas to take the taxi to and fro camp every weekend and waking up at the oddest of hours to make breakfast, to the texts and calls of worry, concern and encouragement. It’s these little things that I’ve learnt never to take for granted and that remind me of the blessings that God’s given me.
Losing my grandmother on the last week of BMT, just days before the POP she said she’ll do anything to attend, was a reminder of how fleeting life is and how there is never too much of appreciating or being grateful. In her passing, I was reminded of what was the core of all I did – people. These 2 years have been especially trying ones, and I’ve stumbled, fallen even, far more times than I should have but I promise all of you, the ones around me, the ones above me and God, this – I’ll never stop striving to be better tomorrow than who I am today.
It’s hard to find anything as everlasting as this and I can only pray that it continues to stay the same even into the future. I’m sure it sounds weird to keep repeating the same words over and over but I’ll never be thankful enough for these bunch of guys who I can count on for banter and brotherhood. I’m not sure what the future holds for us, with all of us going our separate paths, and a large part of me is just bracing myself for things not being the same but I still pray that somehow, it’ll be like nothing ever changed. Thank you for being the green and white that courses through my veins 🙂
To the bros who’ve seen me at the high points and more often than not this year, at my low ones. Thank you for being understanding and retaining faith in me even when I lose it.
For being the first person to have lunch with me after I booked out, for spending so much of your time talking to me in BMT and OCS, for treating me even when I tell you not to HAHA, for listening to my rants, for being willing to talk even if it’s almost midnight, for being one of the greatest pillars of support, and one of my best friends that I’d be devastated to lose. Keep smiling and thank you for having my back 🙂
For reminding me to have a good night’s rest before enlisting, sending me my daily dose of tumblr posts and some crazy gifs, seeing the best in me, believing in me, squeezing out time to meet up even when you were swamped with applications, and for all the kinds words that I’ve never stopped taking heart in – thank you 🙂
I don’t think this movie could have ever been more timelier than it was. Thank you Cheryl Strayed and Reese Witherspoon for reminding me:
“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.”
For agreeing to join me for Comms Ball (and Les Mis!) and for all the support throughout 🙂
For the nights of FIFA, good runs, good food, and good conversation 🙂
(we really need to take more photos bro HAHA)
For our our everlasting Whatsapp conversation that I’m ever grateful we still keep alive even today, 7 years after it first started – with your jokes on everything and anything, uni advice and your constant belief and encouragement in me 🙂
(when we meet up, we need to take a proper photo ya hehe, #longlastingfriendship)
Tumblr (and Melissa Benoist aka Kara Danvers aka Supergirl)
For this gif reminding me to channel anger for good, not to destroy everything (and for all the other lighthearted moments of memes and laughter in a year filled with darkness):
For destroying my brain with so many theories and ideas and giving me so much to ponder on consciousness and what it means to be human.
The Lady in the White Shoes
Using a Westworld reference here but for being the reason I pushed that little harder for every 2.4 and every run, and for inspiring me to be the person I hoped would make you proud. And eventually though I messed some things up, for reminding me never to lose my determined and anchoring belief in life – thank you.
(also for those who’ve watched the show, is it the Lady in the Wyatt Shoes though 😉
(and definitely not forgetting, in no particular order) Dorothy, Kevin Mak, Puay Tse, Delia, Chen Hao and the other S78 guys, BMAT, Jamie, Darrel, Jonathan, Shuang, 40th, APYLS OT, Kevan, Jeevan, Rohit, Sanskriti, Varun, Sinchita, Ting Ting, all the amazing new people I’ve met this year, and everyone else whose names I may have missed out but who have journeyed with me at any point in life or even up until this day.
Thank you for everything – even if we are just passing acquaintances and the only things we’ve shared are a few kinds words of support and encouragement – it means a lot to me and I’m always up for a cup of coffee 🙂
As this year and chapter comes to a close, there’s too much to look back on and reflect but at the end of the day I guess a lot of this distilled down to the following:
- Sometimes in the process of getting things done quickly or saving whatever limited free time, I’ve been unnecessarily angry or impatient, more so than I’ve ever been in the past… for those of you who’ve had to bear this and any of the other ways that I may have wronged you, from the bottom of my heart I am sorry, and I can only hope you can forgive me.
- To those who I’ve not given enough time and effort to at any juncture of this journey for whatever reason, I only hope you can understand and I promise to be better in the future.
- Finding a balance between being right and being kind is beyond difficult… in some ways I wonder if I can ever go back to being kind instead of always wanting to be right… but I hope I can.
- I really hope that the day will come where intrinsically all nations and people understand the value of every single human life. You’d think that after 2 world wars we’d know the consequences of the violence that a seemingly small incident can trigger yet our species just unfortunately seems hell bent on following the same path. But I have faith that one day humanity will come to realize we are all “brothers and sisters in arms” – that it’s diversity that makes mankind great but at the core, we are all human.
- Living with the fact that no matter how hard you hope or try, you just simply cannot do everything and anything with the same amount of heart is painfully heartbreaking but deeply pertinent to understand.
- It’s of desperate importance not to compare your life with another person’s but when it’s all society seems to see at times, finding the innate courage to ignore that is immensely difficult.
- And I guess the sum of the immediate two points above is that sometimes the hardest thing to accept is yourself? Yeah.
- Sometimes you may love unconditionally but that love may not reciprocated in the same way, yet that doesn’t mean that you stop giving your all nonetheless. (add-on after watching La La Land: love can build us up in many ways even if it doesn’t succeed)
There were times where I truly wondered why I was serving… After all, it’s easy to feel like you’re just a number – a fleeting part of the system in which you just come and go. It always seemed like the answer could be found in the lyrics of the song we are required to remember days into our BMT but I felt that it could never be as prosaic as that.
One day, while I was running at 11pm in the night, I saw two ladies – one Chinese and one Malay, dressed in a hijab – talking at a bus stop. It was the clearest expression of the freedom of religious expression, of the harmony (not mere tolerance) between races and religions, and of the security and safety we shared in the country.
Love, in every form.
That’s worth fighting for.
“A lot of things can happen after ‘happily ever after.’ But when you have two people who share a memory, there is something very pure and nothing can taint that memory,” Chazelle said. “The idea was to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out” (and I hope I can learn to appreciate life for all of that and more)
Here’s to 2017.