1. We could never envisage thriving rural business enterprises all over Singapore that could succeed until we did our defense camp on one of the ridges of Hill 265. Today that location is the Singapore Sports School at Woodlands Drive 15.
One thing impressed me about those villagers; their business acumen. Their clients were SAF NS personnel. Many went into the drinks business whilst others did the catering.
For those into the drinks business, they either set-up permanent structures (like in this photo) or pedaled their bicycles with crates of Coca-cola and plastic bags/straws. The profit margins must have been very attractive because whenever a SAF detachment arrived, you can find many such stallholders. Some resorted to using their beautiful daughters as "magnets" to attract potential SAF lads, similar to those you see as "Tiger Beer Girls" in today's kopi-tiams. The girls or more likely children looked like they were under 16 years. Of course the village girls did not dress like "TIGER Beer Girls" but their facial beauty was enough to turn on most SAF lads. Imagine a youthful Fann Wong at 16 years of age with two pony-tails would have mesmerized every SAF lad. That girl was none other than what most SAF personnel referred to as the "Marsiling Girl". Unfortunately she was very shy to face my camera and all I have is the back of her body.
For those who went into the catering business, their kitchens were turned into frying Bee-Hoon with Mai Ling canned braised pork and canned "Fu Yee". It cost S$2 for a big plate which could feed 4 NS men. We sat at make-shift tables and were served with small porcelain soup bowls and black wooden chop-sticks. The catering business survived because nobody was keen on the SAF Wet Ration which tasted like "Sai" on most occasions because the rice was soggy and the chicken was still raw and still had strands of hair.
2. The other thing I learned was how reservoirs were able to keep the rain water. I had wondered for a long time whether the hydro engineers laid some kind of plastic sheet at the bottom of the reservoir to prevent water seepage. Well I found my answer through our exercises in the deep jungles of the Upper Pierce Reservoir and Bedok Reservoir. Actually, all you needed were huge granite boulders piled in layers until at the very top there was a layer of smaller granite aggregates. During "Exercise Red Beret", we walked to the bottom of the Upper Pierce Reservoir before emerging at Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station to continue our journey to Hong Kah.
The other exercise was a platoon withdrawal at the Bedok Reservoir. In 1974, Bedok New Town was under construction and Bedok Reservoir had been recently excavated. We withdrew from one end of the reservoir near Kaki Bukit to the other end near the "Clearwater Condominium and the Prison Department Sports Club (previously called the Bedok Reformatory Center)". At that time the Bedok Reservoir had not been laid with granite boulders and contained yellow earth. I can tell you that at the center of the reservoir, the depth must be at least 20 meters deep because when the platoon withdrawal exercise ended, we were all puffing and were "dying". The gradient was very steep. Guess who I piggy-backed in full battle orders? Gerard Ee the chairman of NKF Foundation. In his NS days, he weighed more than he does now.
Actually, the kampong lasses sold much more than the soft drinks that Peter mentioned. There was also fried bee hoon, fried prawn cake (hea piah – circular shape with strands of bean sprouts, eaten with chilli sauce), fried tau kua (bean curd), hot coffee, and what I remember most, cheap chocolate wafers like the ones in this photo. I recall with great fondness, what a welcome sight those girls were to us cold, tired, rain-soaked soldier boys, appearing out of the darkness of the night in Area D, Sungei Gedong, where we did our field fortification exercises.
I dedicate this post to all the girls who ‘took care’ of us all those long years ago. I wonder where they are now. I hope some of them, or their children at least, are reading this story.