We Fight for the Nation, But Who Fights for Us?

SAF day was actually quite a few days ago, and I wrote a post on that day, only to delete it. That post simply wasn’t good enough to show you guys the true essence of serving the nation, and all the burdens it foretold. So here’s another attempt. Lets get away from the typical army rant, and focus on what actually happens in the course of two years. These four short excerpts are actually surprisingly commonplace examples, and anyone who has served has probably heard of or even been in the following situations. So do take some time to appreciate them! 

* * *

It is deep in the jungle. Nabil has been sitting at the same spot, waiting for the convoy to pick him up. His uniform is dripping wet, wrecked by last night’s rain and horrendous humidity. He is waiting, aimlessly, for nothing to happen. He smells like a stale kitchen rag. His stomach growls. His buddy is asleep, gone to another world, his rifle by his side and field pack laid out neatly beside him. He uses the protruding root as a pillow, exhaustion prompting such a desperate choice. A thought fills Nabil’s mind, I need to eat. He is starving, and feels like he is about to faint. He knows he shouldn’t be eating. It was the sacred month. He had already finished all his rations last night, chewing mouthfuls of dry biscuit voraciously. But no, he thinks to himself, I am about to faint, any more of this and I won’t even make it to tonight. His stomach growls again, he feels light headed and inadequate. The cold was beginning to make him shiver. He looks over at his buddy’s bag. He knows exactly where he keeps his food, and knows that somewhere in there lay a pack of butter flavoured biscuits. He reaches over, and rummages through the bag. If I do this quickly, no one would ever know.

* * *

Jin Hong wasn’t used to this at all. He choked in between puffs, but he was persistent. He needed to relax, and his platoon mates (those that smoked) looked so relaxed doing this. He needed to get used to this. He thought about his last book out. It was supposed to be simple. They made each other a promise, that she was going to stay with him through this tough time. It was supposed to be like some sick Fault in our Stars plot. They would be there for each other! She promised! Why then, why did she leave? Why was it, that on a rainy Saturday evening along a quiet walkway, she let go of his hand? Why did she let go and tell him that they needed some time to themselves? He took another puff and coughed harder all at once. He could feel his insides groaning for some sort of reprieve. But I don’t need reprieve, he thought. Maybe if he smoked enough, this poison would drive out the thought of her, of the words she had said before they shaved his head. Maybe.

* * *

Shawn gripped his rifle harder, and looked straight ahead. A car stops by the guardhouse, and he notices that there is a red car sticker on the front window. Following routine, he salutes by raising his rifle to his eyes. The car stops beside him, and the window winds down. It is the chief of the camp. Shawn doesn’t know what to do, so he stays still. “Put your weapon down, recruit,” orders the chief. He sticks his hand out of the car as a friendly gesture. “Thank you for serving the nation during this Chinese New Year.” Shawn awkwardly steps forward and shakes the chiefs hand. “It’s ok, Sir.” Sean says this without betraying any sense of revulsion and contempt, because how was any of this ok? How was it ok that his family would not have him there, that there would be one vacant seat at the dinner table, a million questions asked and his mother hurriedly explaining to everyone that he had this absurd thing called guard duty to perform. How was it ok that his relatives hardly got to see him, and the one day in the year that they could, he is cruelly denied? No sir, he thought, save your thanks. I didn’t choose to serve this nation, and if you can, for one minute, believe that i’m ok with this, you must be as brainwashed as the people who put me here. 

The car drives away, leaving Shawn standing there, a mere instalment in an otherwise empty camp.

* * *

Alvin looks over at his bunkmate as he tosses in his sleep. As the fans rotate above, he stares adoringly at the shape of his body, and the curves of his face. It was a tranquil look, and made his heart skip a beat. The entire bunk was thick with sleep. At that moment, he felt something more than friendship. He already knew that this would happen, but how could he declare anything? No one would understand, less his parents. Hell, even he couldn’t accept himself! He sat there, nursing these thoughts. These feelings are real. That much he knew. He also knew how the entire world painted such emotions and tendencies. Disgust, fury, blatant rejection. The law was one thing, but to be an outcast, an alien from the norm? He certainly couldn’t deal with that. But in between his ears, in that little space called his brain, he knew his feelings to be true. He knew them to hold weight, and with that, he knew he would be burdened forever, down to the very core of his soul.

* * *

What I’m trying to show with the above examples is, that the fight to defend our nation isn’t the only battle we face when we, as guys, head into the army. There is also another unspoken battle that we often ignore, that is, the battle to not lose ourselves. You could even paraphrase this as the battle to find out who we truly are. It is easy to shrug it off and believe that after two years you “grow as a person” or “do some cool shit” but let’s look at ourselves a little harder, and ask ourselves: have our experiences changed us into something we didn’t want to be? Have we entered this journey called NS with certain ideals, promises and hopes, only to have them shattered, or at least obstinately challenged? The struggle inside our heads is always the hardest to identify, and even harder to acknowledge, and I hope the above examples have helped you gain a better understanding of our (or perhaps your) struggle in facing yourself out there. 

What About Sports Camp?

Sports camp was in full swing and a lot of things were happening in a very packed course of time. There were basically 14 hours of activity in a day, tightly scheduled, back to back with very little rest time.

The people you meet in such camps can come in all sorts because every faculty, every type of university student seemed to feature. It isn’t like science camp or Christian camp where a certain type of personality may be observed. I guess that was interesting, and what was more interesting to note was that the girls were all 2 years younger. Though people always say that “you can’t sense the age difference,” I’ll have to disagree on that. I just found the age disparity glaringly obvious from the start in the way I see my JC friends now as compared to the girls in my OG. I’m glad I can see such differences because it just shows I may have matured (albeit only slightly) while in national service.

Another thing I realised was that there was no way army was going to leave our system anytime soon. It’s the tragedy of shared experiences, that guys would invariably start talking about their army stories to ice break among themselves. It was a pity because it only did half the job of bonding everyone since the girls are always left out and generally nonplussed over such rhetoric.

To gel it all together, what made me think a little was a question I was asked by someone whilst we were night cycling. We were riding beside each other when he asked me whether I “had my eye on anyone”, and whether I had a “game plan”. It wasnt an entirely unexpected question but I had to think a while about it. I think this sort of theme is always at the back of everyone’s mind coming into the camps, and for all we know people actually head into these camps with the plan to find someone out there. But I guess I’m not that sort of person, and I’m confident enough to say that most people share my mindset. We come to these gatherings to merely make friends and have fun, to tire ourselves out and test our limits. The notion that camp is one giant matchmaking session has to be disassembled. You don’t need a matchmaking session for the best things in life. If it’s right then it’s right. I feel that things should happen naturally, and I’m old fashioned that way.

So how was camp for me in the end? It was great. I guess I was really quiet and pensive at times but that’s just me, taking my time to warm up to people and being way more talkative on alternative platforms like this one. I wouldn’t blame myself for anything, it’s just a preference. The times that I did get talking I realised that the people that I was about to share my Uni life with are just genuinely nice and ineffable people, both in talk and in action. They’d ask if I was thirsty, offer me help in many aspects and weren’t shy to speak up or stand up for each other.

The group leaders (our seniors) were a really charismatic and humorous bunch that did a good job in holding everything together. We established our identity in being the most lepak OG and just lazed through everything without protest from anyone. It was all cool and thats what I had to admire about the whole process.

So there we have it, my first experience of uni; fun, tiring but more fun than tiring. If this is the foreshadowing of my uni life for the next four years, then I’m more than happy to accept it.

Thank you, OG Rampage, for an insane 5 days and may we all keep in touch!