Next week, my teacher wife will accompany some female students to spend a few days at some ‘adventure village’ in Johor, Malaysia. At the same time, my son will also join a group to spend 10 days in a remote mountain village in Kunming, China for some kind of community involvement project. I think the idea is to expose the kids to kampong life and maybe toughen them a bit. All these remind me of a question put to me by some young people a few months ago.
I was being interviewed by 3 final year students from the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media. They were producing a video of Singapore’s last kampong at Lorong Buangkok and wanted to interview people who grew up in a kampong. They interviewed me and my friends Chuck and Peh, both of whom also grew up in kampongs. One of the questions they asked was if we thought the young people of today would be able to survive the kampong life of the 50's and 60's.
Even as I reflect on this question, it occurs to me that it was a strange question. These young people must have heard many 'horror' stories of conditions of the old days, and repeatedly been told that compared to their parents, they are soft and so on. Thus they have begun question their own 'toughness'.
For the record, my answer was 'no problem'. Of course if you were to dump them suddenly into those types of conditions, 'cold turkey', they will find a great deal of discomfort. But I believe young people of any era are adaptable and innovative. Give them a bit of time, and they will certainly be able to adjust ….. although I simply cannot imagine how my two girls can cope with the mosquitoes of my kampong days.
But if the question had been, "Do you think the young men of today can survive the NS (National Service) training of the early days; i.e. the late 60’s and early 70’s?" I may have some doubts. Certainly the incidence of breakdowns and attempted suicides would be higher. The physical and mental abuse of those days were really quite terrible.
I recall a conversation with a regular officer of the SAF. This was probably in the late 80's or early 90's. He told me that he couldn't understand why the number of attempted suicides among recruits had gone up in spite of the easing of many of the pressures imposed on them. I guess only the professional psychologists can figure that one out; but our conclusion was that it was probably due to the fact that many young men came from small families nowadays. Most families I know nowadays adopt the NTUC principle – Never To Use Cane. In my home we used to have a cane, but I mostly used it to make noise only; like beating the table and chairs in a show of force. As for the schools, I believe any teacher who lays a hand on the students the way our teachers did would probably lose his or her job, or worse.
Photo from: Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture
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