Friday, December 09, 2005

What Melvyn Missed

The debate over the famous pianist rages on with several letters to the Straits Times forum page today.

Frankly, I don’t see any need to get too upset over this. I am resigned to this fact of life: The talented and gifted will always get special treatment.

Take the sportsmen for example. During my NS days (which was a very, very long time ago) the sportsmen always got excused from duty while the average Joes like me have to carry the extra load. I suspect it is no different today.

I am reminded of my time as platoon commander in one of the combat engineer companies in 30 SCE back in the 70’s. Both my CSM and Coy 2IC were sportsmen. As such, we hardly ever saw them. (Although the CSM did occasionally appear out of nowhere and made his presence felt by screaming at the Coy HQ staff, and putting a couple of store men on charge and then disappearing unnoticed. Reminds me of this line from the famous poem, Sohrab and Rustum, “Like the lightning to this field I come, and like the wind I go away”) My OC was one of those, shall I put it delicately, ‘trusting type’ who left things pretty much to us. So the company was mostly run by the 3 platoon commanders, all NS 2LTs; which was a bit of a surprise to me – I thought the career soldiers should be much more ‘on’ than us NS boys.

Things got so bad that one day, one of my men, who was on guard duty asked me; Sir, you kena take (extra duty) is it? No. I replied. Why do you say that? Oh; because I always see you on duty; if not DO then standby PC. Sigh.

I know of someone who had a brilliant strategy to take advantage of the army’s high regard for sportsmen. Even though he was never much of a sportsman in school, once he got into army uniform, he became an outstanding sportsman overnight, specializing in one sport after another – depending on which sport was in season. As such, he spent a large chunk of his NS stint staying out of camp. Also, he was on good terms with some of the players in his team, who were themselves captains of other sports teams. Thus, he was able to become a reserve in sports that he knew nothing about; such as boxing. Every time there was a boxing match, he prayed harder than the officer-in-charge for the welfare of the regular boxers. Once his badminton team worn a championship and he went to his Bn CO and asked for 3 days off as a reward for his team members. “2 days. Take it or leave it”, countered the wise commander. He reluctantly took it ……. and then proceeded to see his Bn 2IC and got another day off.

The same applied of course to the talented singers and dancers. I heard some of them never even got to put on an army uniform, let alone carry a rifle and charge up Pengkang Hill. I heard that one of them even became a famous director or something.

Well; back to the average Joes. What can I say? It’s like that one lah. Just grin and bear with it lor; and tell yourself, “I have done my part. I don’t care about others. (Your friend here didn’t get to ROD until age 50 ok). Don’t begrudge the famous pianist. Just think of all the wonderful things that he missed; such as:

1. Blogging about the good old army daze.

2. Gazing at the beautiful lights of Jurong town in the still of the night from Tower 1 of Safti Magazine (the old Safti, now called Pasir Laba Camp – how I detest the government always changing the names of places and established institutions) and contemplating the meaning of life.

3. Gazing at the beautiful lights of Johor Bahru in the still of the night from Hill 180 in Marsiling (they didn’t change the name of that one; they simply bulldozed it away) and contemplating the meaning of life.

4. Watching beautiful tracers* skim the surface of Sarimbun Reservoir during night life firing, chased by their reflections in water below.

5. Trying to follow the path of the 155 artillery shell as it hurtles over a highway to the hill on the other side, in ROC (Taiwan).

6. Seeing many places that most Singaporeans never saw, nor will ever see; from the sand pits of Tampines, to the kampongs of Hong Kah, Bt Batok, Bt Panjang, Marsiling and Kranji.

7. Sleep-walking in a mine field (with dummy mines of course).

8. Sleeping in a flooded foxhole on a rainy night, after trying in vain to bale out the water with your helmet. At least nowadays, if I have difficulty sleeping at night, I can think of that foxhole - definitely beats counting sheep.

9. Buying hot coffee, fried bee hoon and other wonderful snacks from the village lasses in Sungei Gedong at midnight. (I hope my son’s canoeing team buddies read this blog. Maybe now they will understand why WN’s father is such a cheapskate – always like to buy those cheap chocolate wafers.)

10. Last but not least, seeing Lee Hsien Loong clear rubbish in PT kit.
* A tracer is a bullet that gives out light when it leaves the barrel. So you can actually see the path the bullet travels in the dark.


Victor said...

Here's a man who never carried a rifle nor digged a foxhole... but he never missed as much as Melvyn did 'cos he still served his NS in a way that he could.

Wah you post at 12:48 AM? Could not sleep ah? No wonder you think about the flooded foxhole in your post. :)

Lionel Tan said...

Why like that one???

Seeing Lee Hsien Loong clear rubbish???hahahaha,,,I want to see leh.

Lam Chun See said...

Boy, its called area cleaning. Before long, you will get to enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Melvyn also missed his parents...

That is a saddest thing. I hope he comes back.


Anonymous said...

Sorry for the typo - I mean to say "that is the saddest thing".


Lam Chun See said...

Actually this blog is not about Melvyn. I am not trying to criticize him or anything. As I said, my stand is; "I have done my part; I don't care about others."

His name was just an excuse to go into the ONLY subject of this website - to reminisce about the old times. So hope you guys don't bring up the issue here.


Anonymous said...

My father served the VC and moved on to the Infantry in his latter years before he quit. The time of konfrontasi and that's when Singaporeans step forth to the security needs. Now I take up the duty, the onus to serve and again the Infantry. So what about the lucky ones who got away with it. Be it, pianists, top-people's sons and the rest of the many who have never experienced the true Singaporean's life as a boy, from school uniform to soldiers uniform. From the classroom to the training sheds. Mechanical pencils to Assault rifles. It doesn't matter the handful of lucky ones, today in 6XX SIR, there are many men like me, once we were young and grew up together.

It doesn't matter.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

I think NS is one of the things that make us truly "uniquely Singapore".

Chris Sim said...

Your narrations on people who "keng" by pretending to be "sportsmen" reminded me of white horses in the army. The white horses were the so-called sons of VIPs or MPs and lucky were the chaps who were platoon mates with the white horses, for they were the "chosen ones" who were assured of a sweet and switched off BMT. There was denial from you know who that such white horses were but a myth and a fragment of our imagination. But hey Chun See, you were a Commanding Officer, were you not? Tell us the reverse is true.

Somehow, we always reminisce about the army training with found memories AFTER the act, huh? Truth be told, most of us simply thought that army was a complete waste of time. IDM? Oh pleazzz. It's more likely to be SAF - "Serve and FCUK-off". I used to have that mentality, too. But times has changed. We are living in dangerous times. Especially after 911. Much as we hate to admit it, we can't deny that NS is a necessary devil.

pinto said...

I shall add a few of my own "wonderful things that he missed":

11. Watching the stars away from the polluting city lights on the RPL on the way to Tekong.

12. Appreciating the simple things in life after an exercise - a good shower, the feeling of wearing slippers after taking off your boots, dry clothes, the comfort of a mattress, the roof over your head, hot food...

Anonymous said...

nikholai mentioned that his dad was in the VC (Vigilante Corp) which was then a voluntary group helping to look out for saboteurs in the early sixties (especially terrorists). Should the Government restart this group ?
It would be very useful to recruit current unemployed Singaporeans into this service by paying them a decent allowance, so as to supplement their income (if any).


Lam Chun See said...

From where I am standing, I suppose it is easy to take a detached attitude towards people who 'keng' in the army; since it is already all behind me.

I can understand the anger and frustration of those who do their part conscientiously. However, if your conscience does not allow you to join them, then there is little to be gained in getting too upset, is there?

On the other hand, I too can understand why some people choose to try and get away with doing as little as possible. After all, they were practically dragged kicking and screaming into the army.

The people I respect least are those who 'keng', and yet laugh at others try to do their part.

BTW, I am just a humble Lta.

Anonymous said...

Your piece on what melvyn missed brought back many memories for me. I was borned in 1954 and like you admired the views of Jurong Town by nite from SAFTI's Tower 1 during magazine guard duty. Did duty in Tower 2 as well and it's not haunted although it scared the shit outta me then. Still recalled when the refineries burnt off the excess gas. What a sight. Did defence camp in SSL on 181 and saw JB by nite. From 265 I saw the fireworks at SAFTI LFA - the ilums signifying a nite assault in full swing. Yes Melvyn didn't know what he missed but I don't think we should be too hard on him. It's a quesion of personal values & priorities. I have friends who jump bail too and didn't come back. I choose to stay and serve - no regrets. And there is the famous Music and Drama Coy that produced so many of our budding talents in the media. Now how many of them ever dig foxholes along the coast and watch rust grow on their "wives". Once in a while when my die gang gather, invariably we will end up talking about the good old daze after several packs of cold beer or cups of black coffe. I don't mind contributing my share of these stories at your blog if you will let me. Like you I read Herman Wouk too. And Pearl Harbour. Used to fantasise a fine Sunday morning at 7.30 am at Changi Beach and seeing a squadron of fighter bombers appearing with the morning sun behind them, flying barely above the waves to avoid radar...... the fantasy quickly became a nite mare....

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Chin, welcome to my blog. Thanks for sharing your memories. Please do contribute some articles about your NS (or any other) experience. I am sure the young readers of this blog would love to read about things that they can no longer experience in 21st century Spore.

You can email your articles to me at:

As for your Safti Tower 2 experience, I think the fears were quite real (even though I never experienced anything to write about). When I did my recruit and section leaders, the guards were sent out 1 at a time. When I got back after my U education (I was disrupted case), they changed the routine. For Tower 2, they send out all 3 guards at one go and we remain there all night.

PS - the one next to the guard house is no. 3 is it? I always get the nos. confused.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks. Will do. Let me dig out some of my old army pics.

During my time only the prowlers were in pairs and we twuang & end up sneaking cat naps outside the magazines. Tower guards were alone and Tower 2 was the furthest in and therefore the longest walk in the dark alone after your buddy left you & climbed up Tower 1. First thing we did after climbing up the tower was to hook up the Tele-J and hoped it worked because that's the only way our screams will be heard by the guard commander should any supernatural mishap occured. As usual the Tele-J never worked. I think you are right. The guardhouse is on the left and they numbered the Towers counter clockwise 1,2 & 3 with 3 closest to the guardhouse.