NS: I Had It Way Easier

Note: Originally published on Oct 20, 2012

Earlier this week, we were shown an episode of Every Singaporean Son II as part of a monthly gathering.

A lad hugs his mum, bids her goodbye and then leaves with his dad to report for his first day in OCS. The dad tells his son to be mindful of his limits, as parents always do. The son replies, somewhat dramatically, with a comment about limits being meant to be challenged, his enthusiasm bubbling under.

And then OCS begins. The OCTs jogged up a tall building to a scenic view of the trees and buildings around, lifting the team psyche. The commander says, if the only thing you learn is individual excellence, then you are at the wrong place. Soon it was down to the weaponry trainings…

As the video went on, I rubbed my eyes a few times, trying to shake off the lethargy of an earlier rise. The video sure paints a motivated atmosphere, not the kind you commonly associate with when you are part of the NS experience. There are many good bits in grinding it out with your peers, but surely, having digital eyes following our every movement will skew our impression, and the impression we give to others, of NS. Just like how we are more mindful of our behaviour in the presence of others’ eyes.

I can’t speak for the officers and specialists who deserve their own verdict on the experiences they had. I’d be glad to listen to what my peers feel about what they are going through, even though the only thing we share may just be having an ORD. But I can only speak for myself.

With the certainty rendered by a permanent PES E grading, I am gradually appreciating how easy an NS life I’m gonna have relative to so many others. I get to go home every day. While others sit to take a well-deserved rest, I work in my seat. I have a much more comfortable environment with much more freedom of action. And perhaps more crucially, I need not concern my mind with weapon parts, functions and use, nor do I need to worry about my body and that of others. And that is such a boon for a thinker and writer like me.

Before I found out (finally) my actual health condition, I griped a little about my almost monotonous life, and felt the grass is perhaps greener on the other side. That a more military experience is more bonding, more memorable, makes you interact with very different personalities and makes you grow.

It was a picture I had to construct, because there was a real chance I had to, belatedly, join that legion. Those who are going through it will probably tell me it is not so simple. I struggle to appreciate it because I am like the video camera which captures bits of action that don’t tell the whole story. Now that that chance has evaporated, I no longer need to keep myself open to the ‘choices’. And this is when I begin to feel fortunate.

But I can’t be satisfied. There are pros and cons to the different vocations available. Some stretch us more, some give us more space to stretch ourselves as we wish. Rarely do we get a good fit, having our NS experience stretch us the way we want to be stretched. But doesn’t it often play out the same way in so many people’s work lives, that they have to trudge to work?

The challenge of my certainly easier vocation is to find my own impetus to stretch myself. Some people find it easy to fill their free time with engaging activities. I struggle. While I am thankful for the abundant time I’ve had to sort out my tangled mind susceptible to philosophical impulses, I know it’s the “part 2” that defines my personal success in this period of my life. It’s so much about initiative; about getting to doing things and doing things better.

I lay myself at risk of getting flooded with envy and disdain. But rather than completely resisting our given experience, why not we use this opportunity to engage our abilities to choose how we respond to the bits and parcels of these 2 years? For those who are having a much tougher, more challenging life than I do, and who don’t get the luxury to rub their lethargic eyes anytime they wish, I respect you. The good thing is that you can probably emerge from NS having grown more than me. But I won’t make it easy for you, no way.

Let’s grow together to be more proactive and engaged people!

NS: I Had It Way Easier
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Socio Empath

Hi, my name is Eugene. I am a Sociology graduate from the National University of Singapore. This blog is an invitation: To see our selves as colored by cultures, and to brighten the colors of our society. I seek to help you create freedom in everyday life, with empathy and the sociological imagination.

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