Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Friends that You Make

My Favourite Young Politician is having a few thoughts about enlistment and I'm not sure if I've been helping by telling him that he'll meet "Real" (not well educated) people as opposed to the people approved by the PAP. I'm trying to give him encouragement and all I can tell him is that although the army is full of bureaucratic b***, it is the place where you meet the best friends you will ever meet. Needless to say, he does not believe me and I think he's not alone. My mother once expressed a bit of a dissapointment that I didn't seem to have a feeling for university the way I had for the army.

Perhaps my experiences and views of the army are clouded. Unlike my peers, I don't have "kampong" or "school"  experiences or friends in Singapore. My first real formative experiences in Singapore are in the army and so you might suggest that my views are clouded. Then, I think my batch was unusual in as much as we had to go through the tragedy of Swift Lion where we lost two people who had been part of our larger group. 

Having said all of that, I don't believe I'm wrong to suggests that the friendships you make in the army are probably the best that you will make in your life. With few notable exceptions, the people I met after that were usually fake in comparison and if I were to ask the people in my batch, I think most would agree with me. And if I look at the exceptions in my post military friendships, most of them have served their time in the military - most are from countries with a form of military service. 

I won't colour the military. Like most institutions, its filled with political crap. Unfortunately, Singapore's political leadership is also sensetive to the fact that we're a small nation in a region where military coups are the rule rather than the exception. As such military leaders with relevant experience and respect are subordinated to women and homosexuals who's only qualification is to push paper clips in the Ministry of Defence. 

Having said all of that about the Ministry of Defence, I think the realities on the ground are such that you end up finding out who your real friends are. I haven't done a psychological study on this, but I think it has something to do with the circumstances that you are placed in. This is especially true if you are in one of the arms that requires some form of team work. 

One of life's truisms is that prostiutes or at least the prostitutes mindset is not confined to the brothels of Geylang and similar areas. There's a saying that one should never ask a whore how one's manhood compares with others, particularly if business has just finished - she'll sing your praises even if you're as endowed as an ant. This fact is especially true when one carries the air of having money, power or both. A good proportion of people will find themselves doing their utmost to ingratiate themselves with you if they think you have any of mentioned attributes. A good proportion of those people are actually acomplished in the whore's art of singing your praises and it can go to your head rather easily. Before you know it, you start to believe God reports to you. 

But what happens when you are stripped of everything? How many of the people who once promised you the world actually stick around? The answer is shockingly few but the nice thing is that you discover that these are the people who care for you for being you rather than who you are. 

This is pretty much what happens in the army. To a certain extent, the powers that be try to segregate people into classes - A-level and Polytechnic students in one batch and O-levels and less in another. However, the faggots system is thankfully not fool proof. In my day, which was in the dark ages of the early 1990s, you still managed to get a good cross section of society in a batch.

Even with the White Horse System in place, the army had ability of reducing people to equality. Suddenly, when everyone is equal in the eyes of the institution, you get to see the character of a human being rather than meaningless illusions like education and social status. I think this is especially prevelant in the artillery and combat engineers where the basic functions require a group of men to function as a team rather than as brilliant individuals. Small detachments of grown men become close because ....well they cannot function otherwise if they are not. 

When unit life is relaxed, everyone is friendly and helpful. Then when you go on excercise and the excercise is tough, you'll find your friends pulling together with you despite their obvious fatigue and the dispicable suddenly giving up because they're tiered and unable to do what they need to do. I've had real friends and real leaders insist I report sick when I was on excercise. 

This is something many male Singaporeans should remember as the economic crisis deepens. Business partners and colleagues are buddies when there's plenty to go round - but when the goodies start to dry, you'll find many of the friends becoming less friendly and in fact down right nasty. This being Singapore, we actually saw a nice perversion of this fact of life in the Mini-Bond saga - Upper Middle Class folks who never bothered with the Chinese Educated Aunties and Uncles, suddenly found themselves rallying to them in order to gain public sympathy. 

I remember my army friends best because they knew me for who I was. It was never about who we'd become or who our parents were. We never looked at each other for what we could gain. Two of my clossest friends are from diverse backgrounds - one is the son of a fishmonger and the other the son of a plastics factory owner. We have never looked to each other for "gain," provided each other with needless advice and encouraged each other with the most genuine feelings from the heart. 

I personally hope this aspect of National Service endures. There's a growing effort to create classes in the system. You have "White Horses" and "Schoolar Platoons," which don't actually benefit anyone. Anyone who has seriously served the nation, will realise that REAL White Horses don't want to be exempted from the experiences of their peers but the system tells them they are different because of an accident of birth - hence the fag in MINDEF stunts someone who wants to contribute to society thinking he has achieved what is politically and socialogically desireable.  

My life has had allot of ups and downs. The highs have been pretty darn good but the downs have been all the more bearable because of the friends I've made - namely the people who have stuck by me because they've accepted me for who I am rather than what I am. 

As I've said, Geylang is not the only place where prostitutes hang out. One's environment daily environment is filled with people who relate to you in ways that would make the girls in Geylang blush. To a certain extent, you become a prostitute yourself because, hey, you need money to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. If you have any principles, you find that being a prostitute amongst prostitutes is very tiering and you need friends who see you for what you are and have feelings for you for being you. 

Without such friends, life is poorer. I pray that my young politician will experience life as it is rather than as his dellusions tell him it is, once he has enlisted. From this, he'll find the strength in the friendships of people who like him for who he is rather than what he can do for them. If he fails to find this in the army, our society would have failed him to giving him what's really important in life. 

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