Blogging has certain advantages that I was not aware of before. Although I don’t consider myself a blogger – one who blogs as a career or for financial gain, and my page really does not generate much traffic, I am happy to be referred to as a blogger (rather than homemaker). This space is just a place where I record my experiences and practise my writing. So, it’s a nice surprise when once in a blue moon, I get invitations to attend an event usually reserved for media or VIPs (not that many, just three times.)
Yesterday evening, I was invited as part of the blogging community to attend a cocktail event on board Singapore Navy’s RSS Persistence. This is an outreach program by the Navy to introduce themselves to Singaporeans. In his welcoming speech, Chief of Navy C P Ng recounted how whenever a vessel visits another country, overseas Singaporeans are invited on board for a visit, and it was ironical that Singaporeans at home never had that opportunity. So the navy decided to arrange this event for Singaporeans at home too.
I brought along Ivan as my partner. RSS Persistence was docked at Vivo City and we arrived at 6pm, joined by other invited guests like the retired pioneers from the navy. Security was tight but once on board, we were free to roam around without escorts. RSS Persistence is one of four such vessels owned by the navy and Ivan had been on RSS Endeavour during his guards conversion course. He was happy to see his ‘buddy’, the Light Strike Vehicle he had commanded just a year before on display, alongside the Super Puma Helicopter.
We followed a group of young men in civilian clothing, who appeared to be familiar with the vessel to the Bridge, the ‘eye’ of the vessel. This is where navigation takes place with boards of electronic buttons and display screens. I later learned that the commanding officer, CO or captain, has his own chair at the right and no one is to sit on it. The CO also has his own extra large armchair in under in the officer’s mass which no one gets to sit on either. ‘No, we won’t get punished, but we don’t sit on CO’s chairs despite that,’ we were told, much to both the speaker and listeners’ amusement.
The vessel was well equipped with gym, officer’s mass, conference room. In the room where tactical decisions are made – the ‘brain’ of the vessel, we met Coxswain Ruan, a friendly chap who took the trouble to introduce the working of the ‘brain’, and the ‘control centre’ for the helicopter pit to us. Then he pointed to us the toilet and explained that toilets are called ‘Heads’. Why? Because in the old days, sailors relieved themselves overboard and they had to shout “Heads” to warn their colleagues whose heads might be out of the port holes below deck. We chuckled at the story. Then, Ruan (I don’t know his rank) noted the time and told us not to miss the Sunset Ceremony, a flag keeping ceremony held punctually at sunset. As I made my way down the narrow stairways, the nice officers warned me of the steep flight and the low overhead beams. I was reminded of an earlier incident when my low heal got stuck in the rows of angling-holes (to angle down objects) which Ivan had warned me about a little too late. I felt like a fish out of water – totally claustrophobic and clumsy.
The sunset ceremony was a pompous affair. A troupe in smart white ceremonial uniform marched in and we were forewarned ahead – 10 minutes to Sunset, 5 minutes to sunset, and then one minute to sunset. At precisely 7.08pm, the trumpeter played a short piece and the flag was kept.
Dinner was served buffet style but what I enjoyed was the finger food made and served by the chefs at the scene. Our host informed me that when they hosted Makansutra and company, they were really impressed by the standard of the chefs. By the way, the stuffed mushrooms were delicious, so were the tuna and bacon rolls.
After dinner, guests were assembled into groups and taken on a guided tour. My guide Officer Audy was enthusiastic and well informed and answered our questions easily. He related how he had spent time at the Gulf was was rewarded by sightings of dolphins and just once, he even saw a whale. He told us of how turbulent the Indian Ocean can be and things practically rocked and rolled during those times. I asked him? ‘How did you eat then?’ -expecting them to eat dry food like burgers or sandwiches. Instead, he said the menu during turbulence is porridge. It’s easier on the stomach.
Our guided tour ended at 9pm and we were given a goodie bag each as we bade farewell to our hosts. Ivan and I made our way down and I was pleased to see Ruan again on our way out. He had made our visit warm and hospitable, being there at the beginning and then again at the end.
Although I have two sons who had served NS in the army, I can’t say I am familiar with the Navy. This event has certainly made me more aware of what our navy is all about and what they do. Officer Audy had mentioned, unlike the army or air force whose friendly visits to other countries are limited, the navy is like an ambassador whenever our ship pays a friendly visit to another country during its sail. We certain felt the gesture last night.
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