If having my youngest child enter secondary school did not make me feel old, witnessing my son get enlisted into National Service(NS) certainly seals it. As we waited at Pasir Ris Bus Interchange for the ride to Changi Ferry Terminal, I watched the other parents hovering around their sons. Gosh, do I look as old as them? I turned to Mike. Does he look as old as those fathers there as well? A friend once commented to me the same thought as we attended a parenting teenager talk and I had rebuked her for still thinking herself as haven’t aged. She shook her head. It wasn’t about her. She’s quite sure her husband does not look like the Ah Peks around us.
My aunt had called the night before to warn me not to be ‘too emo’ about it. Her sisters had cried and she probably did as well when her only son got enlisted. I assured her I wouldn’t. I had been eagerly anticipating this day, and the only regret is what I thought was a three-month absence became nine weeks and then Ivan told me, ‘I’ll be back on 17 Feb.’ Huh? Why so soon?
As soon as we arrived at Tekong, a man in uniform told Ivan, ‘Tuck your shirt in.” I expected Andreas to be told the same thing but he was spared. The square yellow sticker on Ivan’s shirt had distinguished him from Andreas’ yellow round sticker. The new recruits were separated immediately and the families were ushered into a tour bus with a complimentary goodie bag each, comprising a bottle of water, an oreo pack and a tissue packet.
We toured around the facility. The beach and sea surrounding the buildings gave the island a resort feel. Despite the noon sun, there were many recruits jogging and playing ball. They were the early entrants because of the lack of fitness. They waved to the parents cheekily as we drove by.
The dorms we toured were clean and the thick 8-inch mattress could be even more comfortable for some recruits than what’s at home. Mike was particularly impressed with the steel cabinets. His had been wooden and they had to stick papers to the wooden planks. ‘Look!’ He exclaimed, “A compartment for the rifle!’ I think if given the chance, he would want to enlist again. The mothers were more concern about the domestic stuff. We were told they have to wash the laundry by hand in the one bucket provided each and dry the wet clothes on the strings just outside the window. The bed sheets are collected by professional laundry and changed weekly.
We were led to a lecture theatres and shown the light weight uniforms, the Acsics shoes, cool sandals, the state of the art water bag, the waterproof boots and even the strong insect repellent provided. The field packs had lotus roots with peanuts, glutinous rice or pastas.
Next, we were driven to the auditorium where the recruits were already seated and watching a video. We searched excitedly for Ivan. Not one recruit turn to meet our eyes or wave. They stared stoically on the screen ahead. None of us could locate him in the sea of similar faces.
The commanding officer gave us a briefing as to what was to come for these young men. He assured us that safety is the paramount concern and all recruits would be taken care of. There are many channels for these men to voice out. A short video was shown on how generations of men have gone through NS, something all parents should be proud of.
After the video, the recruits stood to take the oath. As they ended the speech about protecting Singapore with “My Life”, I felt a lump in my throat. (In case like my brother you didn’t read properly, it’s not a ‘tear to my eye’ but a ‘lump in my throat’.) As a mother, I gave him this life and to hear him swears his allegiance to his country somehow makes me feel as I had also contributed.
It’s often said doing NS transform a boy to a man, that alone is reason enough for me to support NS. Thus I am astonished that some parents are rather apprehensive about NS. A friend told me she knows of a German who actually chose to serve NS in Singapore. Yesterday, there was an angmoh in Ivan’s company as well.
We enjoyed ourselves yesterday and was assured and comforted by the arrangement done for the family of new recruits. My eldest son, Andreas, would be enlisting in the next few months and he is certainly looking forward to it.