It was a very familiar feeling. The dread and misery was there. However, the difference was that it occurred 3 years ago and it's not me, but my brother. Today's my brother's enlistment day. Strange enough, I felt the dread I experienced 3 years ago even though it was not my enlistment day. It was as if I am being enlisted. Anyway, we woke up early, packed the stuff and took a taxi to Pasir Ris interchange.
The taxi ride was long since we stayed in Jurong. Mum cried along the way. I remember those tears. She cried a lot when I was enlisted. It was 3 years ago, but somehow it felt so real.
We reached the interchange and went to the bus that will lead us to the jetty. The queue was already there in the early morning. I looked around and saw young men with their family/friends/relatives/girlfriends. They were all in different shapes and sizes. Some looked fit while others looked unfit. The bus came and we took the bus. Before I entered, I turned my head and saw two ladies crying. I think that they are the mum and sister/girlfriend of the enlistee. It was a sad scene. I remembered when it was my enlistment day, my mum cried so often that it made my day even worse. It's one thing to be enlisted, it's another thing to see your mum cry. Yet they are both similar in that they can really ruin your day.
In the bus, I looked around and the road seemed familiar. It brought back memories. I won't say that they are good memories. The long and winding road seemed to reflect the confusion and dread I had then of being enlisted. Why the dread and all? Well, the transition from civilian to military is definitely a very tough change. It's worse than puberty. Bad analogy I know.
I remembered how on our first day we were treated in a distasteful manner. One sergeant entered the room and kicked the red pail on the floor. It flew across the room. Luckily it didn't injure anyone. Thinking back, I wondered why on earth would he do such a thing? We are humans. We are all Singaporeans. If you want respect, you can begin by showing respect and not by kicking a pail. The pail was not all. He shouted and gave a very black face. He asked us to sign some forms. My friend signed his signature and his signature touched some line. Guess what happened? The sergeant flared up! Oh please, it's only a signature. It's not as if he lost the first prize for Toto or his house was on fire. What followed was a fine and exquisite show of skilled expletives that so smoothly flowed out of his mouth. He's a natural! I guess that's the only talent he has, or at least that's the impression I had then. All these pail kicking and expletives just on the first day. So you can imagine the despair one would feel away from family and with people like the sergeant who is suppose to take care of you. Ironic.
I grew angry at all of these and then the bus reached the jetty. We alighted and waited for the fastcraft, which is something like a boat that ferries people from mainland Singapore to Pulau Tekong. So far, not many people cried. I guess it's natural as they won't be experiencing what I experienced. Why? Because the intake was a PES E intake. A PES E intake consist of only a 1 week stay instead of 3 months or 6 months. Also, the recruits are treated very nicely because of their PES E status. So what's this PES E anyway? In short it means that an enlistee is unfit for strenuous and demanding physical activities. The sergeant on duty informed us the fastcraft reached and told us to board it. It disrupted my train of thought and we went to take the fastcraft.
My family and I sat down in the fastcraft. We gave some advice to my brother like drinking lots of water and making sure that he gets enough sleep. The overall mood then was light. The my mum shed tears again. It reminded me of the same thing that happened 3 years ago.
3 years ago, I sat down in the fastcraft with thoughts of what life would be like in the army. Would I adapt well? Would the people be fierce? That's a stupid question I know. I looked at my mum and saw tears. It was saddening. I turned to look at my dad and saw a distressed faced. It was also sad. I looked in front and just prayed for the best.
Back to reality, the horn sounded. I recognized that sound. We have reached. I looked at my family and this time they looked much better than 3 years ago. We alighted from the fastcraft and went to Pulau Tekong.
After walking through the main entrance, the enlistees went to a certain place while the visitors were given a tour of the place. Everything looked the same. The only difference was that the paint on the buildings looked worn off. Then we arrived at Mohawk and Leopard company. It all looked so familiar. My brother is posted to Leopard while I was posted to Mohawk 3 years ago. They are just beside each other but things operate differently. It was like two different worlds placed side by side. Anyway, I was happy that my brother was in Leopard. Leopard is good. We went into a lecture room and were briefed about the things the current soldier has. I learn that a lot of things has changed since my time. For example, the field bag is different. Anyway, the lecture was kinda informative. After it, we were directed to the auditorium.
We were guided to the auditorium. It looked the same. There, we watched a video on NS stuff. Then suddenly, I heard something. I looked behind and it confirmed my suspicions. A senior looking man was sleeping and snoring so loudly! Oh man, that was so unprofessional. The lady beside himr looked at the senior man and produced a smile. Anyway, after the video ended, a major gave a talk. He sounds sincere and nice. It looks like that day only had a PES E intake and not any other.
After the talk, we went for a meal at the cook house. The food was the same I had tasted 3 years ago. Same taste. They said that the food now is now much better. I can't imagine how it was then. Maybe I am just so used to food in the mainland. I didn't eat a lot as somehow, the longer I stayed there, the more I am reminded of how my first impression was and it totally destroyed my appetite.
They say first impression counts and I believe so. So it is no surprise that a first impression made by kicking a pail and hurling expletives really leave a deep impression in me. It was a total turn off. Yes, I made good friends and would say that the OVERALL experience I had was okay, but that first day was totally off, it really ruined my day. Of course as time passed by, I soon got adjusted to the scoldings and expletives mouthed.
Anyway, after the lunch, we went home. At the checkpoint, my brother went with the others to this training shack and the visitors (us included) went to the fastcraft back to the mainland. Finally...
I am happy that my brother need not experience the trauma (yes, it's traumatic) I experienced on my first day. I am also happy that the sergeant who gave us the tour seemed friendly and nice, unlike the pail-kicker sergeant I had.