Saturday, August 22, 2009

Doctrine of equal misery

My experience with the Service was not a particularly pleasant one. It was arguably the lowest two-year point of my life. In the capacity I served, I had no identity, no autonomy, no society, and I saw myself as mere cannon-fodder and slave to all. My proudest accomplishment was being singled out to exhibit my latrine-cleaning prowess, though my admiring audience left behind a stampede of bootmarks all over my spotless floor while they inspected every pristine surface and nodded their approval.

But it was my Service to my nation, and if it saw fit to deploy me in such a manner, then that was my duty. So I protected what was mine and thus earned my Citizenship with a monkey-wrench in one hand and a toilet-brush in the other. The Service was a humbling experience for me, and I probably still bear some psychological scarring from those days, but unlike my fellow citizens writing in today's Forum pages I see no reason for our new citizens to share that experience with me.

It's with a misplaced sense of fairness and justice that today's letter writers are proposing some kind of equivalent Service for our new citizens. But insisting on equal misery is neither constructive nor effective for the purposes of national security. Military service isn't primarily for the purpose of making people unhappy (although that might be a consequence) but it is for the purpose of keeping our nation safe from the threat of external armed aggression.

Unless we're already under attack, a rational defence force isn't likely to stick a gun into the hands of just any turnip that fell off the turnip truck and give it instructions to guard the nation with its life. From a security standpoint, it isn't wise either to give a newbie citizen access to our sensitive sites and facilities, or give him much opportunity to rise in the ranks such that the top brass could possibly comprise of his fellow first gen newbies. Yet, if we don't give them these opportunities but still conscript them into our military, there'll be cries of discrimination, making everybody defensive and nervous around everyone else. Best wait a generation or two, when they've sunk in their roots deep, then they'll actually consider what's ours theirs too, and therefore worth defending.

Besides, the military isn't the only line of defence we have. Our defensive doctrine relies on five pillars working together: military, civil, economic, social and psychological defence, so in reality everyone contributes to our overall national defensive strategy. I'd rather let every citizen serve where they can contribute best. For the newbies, that's in the pillars of economic, social and psychological defence, maybe civil too. But to serve in the military we'd have to build some trust over a couple of generations before we let them wear the green No. 4.

And to the letter writers, you may yourselves have worn the green as your Service via military defence. But going public with your stinky attitudes is actually undermining at least two key but undervalued pillars: social and psychological defence by your petty, unfriendly, jealous, shortsighted, us vs them mentality. Sure, you've served the military, but your Service counts for nothing if you do a Disservice to our overall defence strategy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Steamy surprise

In commemoration of a certain special event that took place, oh, quite a few years ago, June and I had a little celebration at Jumbo@Dempsey. And this bad girl was the very highlight of the evening.

It would have been a sacrilege to sully her pristine purity with any kind of sauce: black pepper, chilli, or otherwise. Served plain, she's been steamed to perfection with just a dash of rice wine for flavour, on a bed of silky smooth steamed egg. She's Marilyn Monroe wearing her favourite nightwear, Chanel No 5. Gorgeousness, indeed.

Lookit the size of the claws on this magnificent crustacean! The claws were so big, they weren't cooked all the way through. The meat at the pointy tips were gelatinous and faintly translucent. Biting into them released the saltiness of brine that shocked the tongue. But I tell you, the texture of the meat was so smooth and tender that it was all down my gullet before I realised I was eating unintentional crab sashimi.

I may have had a couple of runs to the bathroom since then. Coincidence? Probably not, but even if it was, for a crab like this, it was certainly worth it.

Must also sincerely appreciate the good folk on campus, Amy, B-lo, HP, Jojo and Wayne for the most excellent surprise gift of... yummy options that I know exactly what to do with -- before the year is over. Why so long? There's a matter of appeasing my conscience first before I act, and that could take a little while. Meantime, many thanks, my friends, for commemorating the occasion with me too!

Converting the heathen

Considering my own religious background, I really shouldn't be discussing this. There's been quite some unhappiness over the enthusiasm of my fellow believers in making converts out of the heathen. Up to a point, even I get uneasy about this practice because it just comes across as hard-sell. And it's easy to see how that enthusiasm can rub people the wrong way, living as we are in a society that values religious plurality.

If we don't proselytise, we're told we're not doing our part in the great harvest that our supreme authority wants us to bring in while we still can. So being able to proselytize is an integral part of the belief we have the freedom to enshrine in this society. But I also believe that my freedom to swing my arms ends where your nose begins. And this is the balance we have to accept, living in this society of ours, where everyone else's beliefs are equally accepted and respected.

Because of our religious freedom in this society, no one is about to curtail our freedom to express our beliefs, even the ones entailing making converts. But no one asked us to be obnoxious and offensive in exercising those rights either. Perhaps it may be beyond my limited wisdom that there is indeed a place among us for our full-time walking religious billboards with their fervent deathbed-stalking-fanaticism (they do have the best of intentions, really), but I don't think we need to pursue proselytising so aggressively. All the time.

If we truly lived up to the ideals espoused by our beliefs, people will see in us something of the divinity that we purport to represent. When we walk the walk, people with the, um... more existential questions will have the confidence that we can also talk the talk, so we don't have to accost random people, they'll come to us instead. I may be being somewhat judgemental, but that's how real, effective proselytisation takes place.

Sure, easy to say. Have I done anything of the sort yet? Er, as far as I can tell, no. Then again, what do you expect from the family's black sheep? Baaa...!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Noone wants to see the back of a pickup

I'm not exactly sure why it is but private car drivers will absolutely avoid driving behind a pickup carrying a cargo load of people. It doesn't matter how many passengers there are, even a lone rider is enough to put a wide buffer between the back of the pickup and the car directly behind it.

I've seen cars frantically signalling (if they're polite) then switching lanes as quickly as humanly possible just to clear the rear of such offending vehicles. That's pretty dangerous road behaviour, and I don't quite understand the rationale behind this traffical bizarreness. But monkey see, monkey do, I've picked up this habit too and dance the ol' lane-change switcheroo as safely as I can. I can only speculate on the following possible reasons:

1) Pickups have a speed limit -- slow -- and no one wants to get stuck behind one of those things for long because we all have places to see, things to go and people to do. Three minutes ago.

2) The passengers are not secure in their seats, and at any time can get flung out back, denting the car immediately following.

3) No one wants to make eye contact with a hoarde of tough-looking manual workers 'cos no one wants to see them for the people they are, but are happier to just let them work behind the scenes, out of sight, out of mind.

There's nothing we can do about 1) and 3), but at least for 2) there are going to be new safety regulations regarding their personal security being transported in pickups, so no more fling-dings to worry about any longer.

Oh, wait. There IS something we can do about 1) and 3)! The Traffic Act should make it compulsory that the only passengers allowed to be transported by pickup are babes in bikinis. That way, every male driver will absolutely want to plant himself behind a pickup, and that might bring the overall highway speed down to safer levels.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Over the mountain, not over the hill

A couple of the ladies from our local Everest climbing team, Joanne and Yi Hui, dropped by on campus to deliver a motivational talk. It was an easy going session with a pair of very ordinary gals-next-door who have done some very extraordinary things.

Their message is typical of many Singaporean success stories. Dream big; learn from the best; plan everything knowing that sh*t happens anyway; take small progressive steps training like mad; be persistent in asking for financial and moral support; be open about the scary stuff; go it alone but as a team; set realistic goals; get the job done; be humble about the accomplishment; give motivational talks and write a book about the adventure. More or less in that order.

Nice girls with a story to tell their grandchildren.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back to God

Attended my first burial service. It was a plot at CCK Lawn Cemetery on which there is no room to stand around, other than on top of the plots of the other previously depated. A couple of hymns, a short message by the Pastor -- just long enough to allow the mechanical excavator to complete filling up the hole -- and a prayer of blessing for the family.

We lingered just a little longer for a little chitchat and for the immediate family to shoot some commemorative pix. Then as a group, we turned to walk towards our cars, leaving one of our own behind, beneath the peaceful, sombre, silent lawn, returning the body back into the hands of God.