The Civilian-Military Divide

27 01 2009

Since most people are booking in today after the Chinese New Year break, it seems like an appropriate time to rant about the rather undesirable consequences of military conscription in Singapore.

A common complaint I hear from my conscripted friends is how regimented life in National Service has affected their civilian lives. While many have made an effort to keep their civilian and military lives separate, some mixing between the two is inevitable. Most people have reported waking up at unnatural hours even after booking out, as a result of becoming accustomed to the early waking hours in camp. A few others have felt the impact of conditioning and drills in NS, relying more and more on trained reflexes and less on independent thought and feeling. An amusing point to note would be the sudden increase in pushup proficiency and the subtle encroachment of NS terms into normal conversation.

In situations involving NS guys and other non-inhabitants of the Tekong Chalet, both sides have noticed a growing divergence in terms of conversation topics and the tendency for the former group to revert to talking about NS, leaving the latter lost and disgruntled. I foresee a widening of this gap in time to come, as people settle into the mind-numbing rhythms of NS life. For now, most are still wistfully comparing pre-NS days with dreary (and sometimes interesting) in-camp life. In a way there is still a common ground, something to talk about, in the form of anticipated gatherings and nostalgia for bygone days before half the world lost their hair. There is also a certain degree of novelty that NS holds yet for the non-inhabitants of the Tekong Chalet.

As for the mainland side, who has not felt a slight sense of inadequacy when their friend/boyfriend/brother/cousin/etc complains about the hardships that they have had to endure (whether made-up or not) because of NS? And then there is the sexual frustration of not being able to understand anything; the feeling of being completely foreign to this overwhelming thing that is eating 18-year-old boys: NS. It’s the exclusivity of this experience that results in a divide between the civilian and military spheres, and leaves us on the mainland feeling like we have been cut out of approximately 2 years of our male counterparts’ lives.

It’s been unsettling to get adjusted to 10% of my MSN contact list being online at any one point of time during weekdays, to the sparkling bald heads of individuals formerly sporting full crops of hair, to having to say everything and more in a single weekend, to getting used to the idea that more than 50% of our cohort (statistically speaking) is collectively engaging in something that we will never be able to experience first-hand. *

This is why I continue to say that I dislike NS despite its obvious fulfilment of certain social engineering goals of the Singapore Government (which I shall not mention here.)

*While some people sign up for voluntary BMT, it is worlds away from the sharerd experience of alternately dreading and looking forward to one’s enlistment and what follows it.

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