So here, we go. The army series blog. This blog is supposed to be an “Arts” blog but since there is nothing much happening during this period and I really have nothing much to do, I shall blog about something else. I have always wanted to write about my army experiences before my memory fails, so I guess this could be a good time. Also from an encouraging response from 33 persons out of 110 viewers out of 313 followers on Instagram, I’ve decided that it is a good time.
I spent quite some time jotting down notes and arranging my thoughts on how to arrange this series. I hope it will be easy enough to be read and in some logical order. I really hope I won’t get into trouble writing all these down. I hope the pictures will all be safe for viewing. Of course I will omit some things that has happened which we all know can never be made public. Maybe you can meet me and ask, but generally I am a boring person so there won’t be much interesting things to share and also I have trust issues about sharing some things with people. But the main point is, I really want to write all these down before my memory fails. Already I have forgotten some details, so I better start as soon as possible.
We’ll start with enlistment day and the months after. Well technically it is not my 1st day because about 6 months before this, I had to go for a medical check up and IQ test. Got a PES A status. To be honest I was quite proud/happy with my status, meaning I am fit and healthy but also quite disappointed because it means there will be possibilities that I will be posted into tough units. I was hoping for some slack vocations. As for the IQ test, everyone else in the room just breezed through the test, like pressing “Enter” button incessantly and getting the test done quickly. I actually enjoyed the test and really took time to to calculate, formulate the questions before answering. I kept asking for extra papers for me to draw out the questions and formula. I was just actually enjoying myself. Many years later, I believed the tests did actually pre-decided my vocation.
So, enlistment day, Tuesday 13th June year 2000AD. Almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t ready. I am sure there would be people who are excited and all, but I wasn’t. A few days before that, I received my 1st army salary. $240 for a recruit. I used them to buy stuff for enlistment. Most memorable was $80 for a spare battery that was supposedly could last me for 2 weeks for my Nokia 6150 handphone. I wasn’t a rich kid, but not many people had handphones. I was one of the very few who had one. The phone wasn’t expensive really. I think it cost about $50 at that time. It was the plan that was expensive. I think it was 5cents per sms of 120 characters and 10cents per minute of talk time. That was expensive. $1 to talk for 10 minutes as compared to 10cents for 3 minutes on a public phone. We were also told that we can bring handphones to camp but we cannot charge them from the power sockets. I have no idea why. The other recruits just say that Pulau Tekong power supply is not enough to support everyone’s charging. So the spare battery made sense to me.
My parents accompanied me. We reached Pasir Ris Bus Interchange at about 8am, I think, I forgot (see i am forgetting and it annoys me), but definitely early morning. We then took a bus from the interchange heading towards SAF Ferry Terminal at Changi. My then girlfriend waved me off from the interchange when I was in the bus. She couldn’t follow. It was a sucky feeling. I still can feel that feeling every time I set foot at Pasir Ris Interchange. At that time, there were 2 Basic Military Centres. 1 in Pulau Tekong and the other at Nee Soon Camp. Of course I preferred to be at Nee Soon. Not only was it nearby to my place, but also because it is on the mainland. I had to be sent to Pulau Tekong. Why such a desolated place? Why not Nee Soon? I heard, Nee Soon camp allowed enlistees to charge handphones.
We reached SAF Ferry terminal after about 10 minutes bus ride. Board a ferry that looks like a ferry to Batam (I realised the ferries are the same ferries to Batam! Penguin ferry company) and said goodbye to mainland Singapore. It was another 10 minutes ride on the ferry. I was very anxious and nervous. I played them all down because I thought everyone would feel the same. Only recently I found out I may be having a condition (will get a diagnosis after the circuit breaker period) that causes anxiety to travelling and changes in routines. The island, Pulau Tekong, look so near from Singapore’s mainland, but the funny thing is, Singapore looked so far away from Pulau Tekong.
Arrived at Pulau Tekong Basic Military Centre. Did the same thing as everyone else now. Go through the administration stuff, go on a tour, take the oath and so forth. The only thing different then from now is, we were given a “Welcome Package”. It was really a cute paper bag given by a very civil servant auntie who looked jaded. The paper bag contained our NS Identification card (called 11B), it had a chip planted which I had no use of and no one had any idea what it was for. (The current 11B issued does not have the chip anymore.) Legend says it that you can put money into the card and use it as cashcard for payments like ERP, library fines and the army “Emart” stores. The paper bag also included administration papers like my details and my BMT assignment, a pincode for the 11B (which I assumed it is for the chip that we never use, thus I don’t remember the pincode) and a phonecard. I cannot remember how much was the value in the phonecard. Maybe $2? Good thing I brought spare battery for my handphone.
Notice that cashcard looking chip. I had an annoyed face because prior to the phototaking, I had below shoulder length hair. And then I had it cut to shoulder length to take my final exams. Any male student with hair length longer than shoulder length would not be allowed to enter the exam hall. And then the day before my medical check up, where they took this photo, I cut my hair myself to above collar level because it was stated in the instructions that hair longer than collar level and can be seen from front profile will not be allowed to enter Central Manpower Base (CMPB) for checkup. I was annoyed because upon reaching, I saw a lot of students with long hair! And when they took their photos, they tied up their hair and tucked them inside their collar. I was so so annoyed.
After all that, we had our “final meal” with our parents at the cookhouse. It was said, that the food will only be nice when there are visitors to the centre. Once the visitors leave, the food will go back to being terrible. In all honesty, the food was nice. Very nice indeed. Western fried chicken with fragrant rice, mushroom soup, vegetables, apple. It was nice. But I didn’t feel like eating because it was a sucky day. And the talks that the food won’t be nice after the visitors leave, it was partially true. It would just be normal rice with meat, fish, soup, vegetables and fruits with occasional ice cream. BUT… in retrospect, it was because we were all choosy, spoiled youths. Thinking about it now, the food is actually great. Low calorie meals with the correct proportions. Very healthy. And the drinks are free flow. I would pay to eat them everyday now. Really. But at that time, everything sucks.
My parents left and off I marched with the rest of the enlistees to our various companies. I was assigned to Basic Military Centre School 2, Mohawk Company, Platoon 2, Section 4, Bed 10. I figured out that the arrangements were based on the enlistees birthdates. The oldest person would be assigned to platoon 1 section 1 bed 1, while the youngest would be in platoon 4 section 4 bed 12. So you can do your math and calculate how many enlistees were there in one / the company. Never mind, I help a bit. 1 company = 4 platoons. 1 platoon = 4 sections. 1 section = 12 beds.
I also found out that I was in a polytechnic enlistees batch. It made sense of course as we all just finished our year 3. I think there were about 8 companies enlisted that day and the enlistees were generally polytechnic students. They called it the “Poly Batch”. At that time, polytechnics’ academic year arrangement was like “July to November” for semester 1 and “January to May” for semester 2. We got enlisted on the 13th of June. That was like 13 days after I completed semester 2. I haven’t even receive my exam results yet. I was kind of hoping I failed some subjects and go back to school. Which I didn’t. I passed all. But we definitely have to go back to school one day to attend graduation.
Just some how, almost all my polytechnic friends were assigned to the police force. Only a few were assigned to the army and their enlistment day would be in July or August. I was kind of sad as I was hoping we would all be at the same place together. But there were a few people I know who were enlisted on the same day with me. Some secondary school friends and madrasah friends whom i haven’t met for very long. They were all in other companies. Mohawk company was a Ngee Ann Polytechnic company. 95% of the people there were from NP. There were only 4 persons from TP. Faizal Khan, an acquaintance in the Malay Cultural Society (MCS). He was in platoon 1. Shaufi, a good friend of mine from MCS as well was in the same platoon as me, in section 1. And Wan. I have no idea what is his real full name. There were too many “Wan”s in TP at that time so we had to give them nicknames. Wan Ching Chong is a friend of mine from School of IT but not the same course. He was from Diploma in IT. He was in platoon 4.
The first day in the army. We collected our army stuff, checked them, and checked in into Mohawk Company. Got to our beds and lockers and was told to change to T Shirt, shorts, white socks and running shoes. This attire is called, the “Admin Attire”. We got into our admin attire and then sat at the corridor near the staircase landing where we were introduced to our section commanders and platoon sergeants and to get more administration done. I was terribly disheartened. My only relief was looking at the only familiar face of Shaufi and that we are in this together. I cannot remember the names of my sergeants and officers. I told you I have started to forget details. But I remember my platoon sergeant’s first few words.
“You have no choice. You are already here. Might as well enjoy it.”
Categories : The Army Series
Web logs of art activities on a regular basis (hope).