EXERCISE STARLIGHT (ARRIVAL)
Hello. In view of celebrating my enlistment anniversary on the 13th of June, I think it would be a good time to start blogging again. I have kind of settled down and adapt to this pandemic period and I have given up looking for a job so I guess I have more reasons to post regularly. I am planning to post an entry every Saturday morning so it can be something that you look forward to every weekend.
The last post was about my adventures at SISPEC ASLC. I promised to post on Taiwan next. Here it is. Have fun reading!
February 2001. It was winter in the northern hemisphere. It was also my first long flight out of Singapore. I cannot remember the time and date but it was at night when we checked in at Changi Airport. I was excited yet very apprehensive. I have never been away that far and that long in my life before. 4 hours on an SQ flight to Kaohsiung, Taiwan for exercise “Starlight”.
When we arrived, it was already morning. I am slowly forgetting these memories so bear with me with all these estimations. I was very sure there was already daylight.
We were told that all other Starlight participants will always alight at Kaohsiung and then head to this camp called Heng Chun Camp. But we are the lucky batch to go to a different camp. How lucky were we? I had no idea. We were told that we will be going to Puwei camp which I had no idea where. There weren't internet then and there and I really could not do any search or obtain any information. I was just following wherever they brought us to with no idea where we were and where we were going. Until today, I have no idea where Puwei camp is and where it is on Google Earth.
The travelling time to Puwei camp is supposedly longer than to Heng Chun camp. We took a bus and even had lunch along the way. 1st meal in Taiwan. Me being picky, I really wondered what it would be. It was ok actually. Rice with soup, stewed fish, tofu and scrambled eggs. After the meal, we continued on the bus to Puwei.
Upon reaching Puwei, it was already late afternoon. We checked in into this really cool camp. The premise reminded me of the setting in Ultraman TV series. Everything was grey. The city was grey. They buildings were grey. The skies were grey and this camp right smack in the middle of a town. It was not in some forested area. It was really in town. You would miss the main gate like it was a typical school along the road. Unfortunately I don't have photos of the exterior of the camp. Anyway you can go to street views in Taiwan counties. They all look the same.
It was winter and as the sun sets, the weather became much cooler. Our first task was to check in into our bunks and get changed to our admin attire. After that, we had our first meal at Puwei camp. It was already dinner time. There was a halal cookhouse and I was very happy that the meals were actually very nice. At that time, there were cooks stationed in camps so the halal cookhouse had normal Singapore style halal cooked food. So yeah we still had rice and spicy meat and fish and vegetables. It was all normal. One guy from Bravo company brought a big tupperware of sambal ikan bilis. He thought that we were going to have bland meals throughout our stay there and brought sambal over. Since we were all surprised to have normal meals, he shared the sambal with everyone in the cookhouse. It was very funny and we all had a good laugh. “I thought we were going to eat soup everyday!” he said.
After that we all queued to use the telephones. There was a room with public phones arranged in rows on tables like an old fashion call centre. You can use either coins or phonecards to make calls. There was also a small booth that sold phonecards (Tien Hwa Ka) but it was already closed for the day. I cannot remember where we got our coins from but we all used coins that evening to call home.
After that, it was all briefings and then we turned in for the night. I didn't have problem sleeping as the weather was cool and it was so nice to sleep even though the bunks were very crammed.
The next morning, we had our first morning exercise. The funny thing about this day that I can remember was, previously all of us will dread these morning exercises. But on that day, everyone was looking forward for it. Reason being, we were all so cold! We were freezing while we slept as dawn came. All of us walked quickly to the parade square and we really did our exercise with such energy so as to warm ourselves up. The funny part is the run. We always dread the run. But on this particular day, everyone were asking the sergeants to quickly finish up the basic exercises so that we can run. The moment our sergeants said, “Ok all form up for run, 10 rounds around the parade square!” we have already started sprinting around the square. Yes. We didn't just run. We sprinted! We were all so desperate to start perspiring.
The rest of the day were all administration duties and a lot of briefing about our 21 days stay in Taiwan. We had to collect our stuff such as sleeping bags, some military equipment and other stuff. We also got our uniforms. We were all given Taiwan uniforms to use during our stay. It also had our names in Chinese characters sewn on the right breast pocket. Mine had 2 characters and they are pronounced as “An Hua”. My buddy's name is Dzulkifly and his had 3 characters that are pronounced as “Chu Ke Fei”. Our Chinese friends said that it means “Pig Can Fly”. We all had a good laugh. At least they got the “Fly' in Dzulkifly right.
Our first main event in Taiwan is a 5 days 4 nights uncontrolled navigation exercise. If you read the previous posts, we had another navigation exercise in Pulau Tekong. This time we are going to be thrown into the Taiwan wilderness and make our way back to the finishing line on our own. We were broken up into groups of 4. We were given our navigation equipment that includes 2 maps and 2 compasses per group. We had our navigational data sheet (NDS) and protractor per person. We were also given the Mean Grid Reference (MGR) of the checkpoints that we had to look for and plot them on our maps. If I can remember correctly, we were supposed to look for around 12 checkpoints within these 5 days with the last checkpoint being the finishing line and the ferry point to bring us back to camp.
It was very exciting for me as I really looked forward to walk and explore the terrains, views, countryside and the forests of Taiwan. Of course there was always this constant worry of getting lost or injured in the middle of nowhere but I guess the excitement and being very youthful made us more excited than worry. Anyway we also had safety and communications equipment and was already throughly briefed on various exercise procedures.
We spent the night planning our route for our exercise the next day. Remember, we had no internet and none of us (except the commanders) have ever set foot on the terrain. We better not get lost. We better bring enough food, yet we better not carry unnecessary weight on our shoulders.
Tomorrow morning we will be off into a new terrain, a new wilderness, experiencing winter for the first time in my life.
NEXT WEEK : Exercise Longstride
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