Like most Singaporean males, I have a bunch of rowdy army friends, with whom I literally shared thick and thin, and shed sweat and blood. I've definitely have come a long way since the age of uninhibited, profuse cursing and swearing (Hokkien included). Yet when we met up recently for dinner and coffee, it felt just like good ol' times. Apart from a newly minted degree and more girl-related stories, nobody seemed to have changed much outwardly.
Amazingly, the entire evening's conversation revolved round that gruelling and trying 2.5 years of our lives which took place about 5 years ago. Haven't 25yo's who have spent a good 4 years on an, at the very least, eventful university education got anything better to talk about?? From the way we were reminiscing, these events seemed to have occured just yesterday.
Perhaps I've erased from memory all remnants of the trauma of temporarily losing my individuality and freedom in submitting to authority and a highly disagreeable system. But recalling numerous memorable incidents and colourful characters I'd met during NS did bring back many a chuckle or even a guffaw. And undeniably a warm fuzzy feeling.
*cue canned audience going "awwww"*
Once again, I'm reminded of the power of shared historical experience. In this case, one that is so intense and unique - physically, emotionally, and psychologically - and has left us with indelible collective memories to be laughed and joked about. From camou-sticks to maggie mee to hammocks to smelly berets, from acronymns to codewords to soldiers' creeds to infamous phrases, from a rat-infested camp to guard duty patrols to local training grounds to overseas training trips, from the mundane to the peculiar... Every detail was recollected and savoured, including the infamous mistimed curse muttered by one guy under his breath that aggravated an already furious barrage of corporal punishment.
My personal most unforgettable experience? Once, during a training exercise deep into the night, my team was unfamiliar with the terrain and had to resort to bashing (an NS term for insistently moving - sometimes hacking - through thick vegetation with connotations of foolhardiness) through a tapioca patch - its indomitable branches, the bane of all NS men. It took us almost an hour to clear through about 100 to 200 meters of it. At the end of it, I remember looking up and seeing HDB flats in the horizon. I imagined their residents all tucked under their covers, warm and cosy, and snoring through the night, while here I was - cold, wretched, and exhausted - suffering the glory of proudly serving the nation.
But it's true what they say, NS is a rite of passage, filled with eye-opening sights (and smells) and experiences. At the end of the day, beyond a greater wisdom, I know I have gained a group of reliable and trustworthy guys that I can count on as friends.
*cue canned audience going "awwww", followed by applause and cheers*