Monday, May 5, 2014

Recruit Night

One evening, that NS reality program on TV, Every Singaporean Son, showed the recruits preparing for Recruit Night... an end-of-course function.

It reminded me of own BMT end-of-course event. But it was called OC's Evening back then. We were, of course, happy that our BMT had come to an end. For Echo Company Platoon 17, the relief was more than welcome. We had an especially tough training course when almost every other recruit company was having theirs easy. Yup, it was that obvious.

So, even though we were glad that OC's Evening was coming up, we didn't feel very liberated at all. We were still in that goddamn 'torture' camp of ITD in Sembawang, probably the second last batch to still train there before BMT training was later moved on to a redesignated Tekong Island. 

Needless to say, what everybody looked forward to that evening was the buffet. Recruits in any generation of NS could never seem to get enough of food! And during my time, food was still quite bad: the 'barb-wire' morning beehoon, the yellow-green 'bleached' veggies, the oily veg-stewed chickens, etc. Only food served in the Muslim section of the cookhouse offered any semblance of good grub. Some of us would even pretend to be "potong kia" (circumcised kid) and sneak over to get a bite of the delicious curries and such. Our NCOs were always on the lookout for such 'instant' Muslims.

I was never one to complain about food in general, thinking it's better to have the necessary calories than not. Besides, our meals were often accompanied by that jar of yellow sweet plum sauce on the table that made everything taste better! Thank goodness for those little scoops of golden salvation!

During Recruit Evening, I remember my platoon's PC acting like some bigshot. (It's true. A full-Lieutenant was like king in Recruit Camp. In OCS, a full-Lieutenant would be just a shoe-shine boy; nobody gave a damn! Throw a stone up in OCS and it would most likely land on a Captain or Major. In terms of rank, a 'full-Left' was just a tiny bit of bi-sai (boogers)!)

Our farewell evening function was conducted in camp - in a large theatre-like hall with a stage at one end.

That Evening's program was punctuated by singing on stage and sketches put up by the various platoons. The highlight of the program was that all important 'Miss Recruit' beauty pageant. A beauty pageant? Where come the ladies?

Well, we learnt that the pageant was a sort of tradition. The participants were all us recruit guys dolled up as sexy contestants for the occasion.

This kind of thing always makes me go "Hmm". I wondered why we couldn't have something creative instead, like performing a play based on something famous or well known. But no. We MUST have the beauty pageant, our NCOs told us. I think it was their one final not-so-secret prank on us. A final joke on us before they kiss our asses goodbye forever.

I don't think I would miss any of them NCOs aside from commando Corporal Raja who left us early for another posting. We hated one fair Chinese guy in specs. He had a plump face but was very cold in the heart. Of all the NCOs, he was the cruelest because he treated us like dirt. None of us could talk to him. For him, he was the emperor and we were his nobodies.

He was literally the one guy we would beat up if we met him outside, why I guess he never booked out of camp alone. That was how bad he was. Even our strict platoon sergeant had his redeeming ways.

That evening, sitting outside the barrack bunk and eating biscuits with my partner in crime Kum Fatt, I wondered about my BMT stint.

A sweet moment was when my eldest sister visited me during Visitation Day after the mandatory two-week confinement period.. She bought me a radio, one that could receive TV channels. I think she thought I could listen in on those HK serials that was popular on TV at the time.

But I don't think any of us missed home. Our batch was enlisted straight after our A-level exams. The reporting date was usually the 21st of December. So our three weeks of confinement was interrupted by the soon-to-come Christmas and New Year public holidays; we all got to go home. So that compulsory three-week confinement was mostly in name only.

But I loved that radio that my eldest sister bought. It kept me and buddies company in the bunk when civilian life seemed so remote, and in the past tense. I still have that radio in my collection of NS memorabilia. It still works!

Kum Fatt and I got along because we were both Cantonese and importantly, outgoing types. There were a few others in our clique too, all good guys. Another clique in the platoon sought to find trouble. It was led by a guy called Tuck Foo, who liked to always be the center of attention. He would pick on me or Kum Fatt. Kum Fatt less so because he was tall and big sized. I was skinny and a bit more introspective. Or maybe he just didn't like my face. Anyways, we almost came to blows on time. But it was one of his guys who came forth to be peacemaker. His name was Kwong, whose family owned a photo studio in Geylang, near the lorong where I grew up. We thus had some connection and as we spoke more, he came to realise that we weren't so much the threat as Tuck Foo was sensitive.

In any case, the altercation did not get worse and was soon forgotten. I would later meet Tuck Foo in OCS and was supposed to fight him in a boxing match. Unfortunately he was disqualified because he wore specs. I went on to be champion in my weight division.

Lucky him.

But that's the thing. BMT threw together very different people going through some very arduous training, mostly for the very first time. Some folks would crack, cause trouble, over worry, make the best of it, etc.

My only regret from that time was not knowing more folks intimately, make more friends.

But that is the nature of BMT or our sort of BMT. We had a hell of a torturous time and was glad for it to be finally over. For those of us going to OCS, it was another big question mark. Would it be a case of "out of the fire and into the cauldron"? Can we make it? Can I make it?

I had made my choice and decided to face it head on. So, goodbye ITD, hello OCS at Pasir Laba Camp!

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