The pleasure of serving NS

Reading the letters “Examine answers of new immigrants” and “NS is the least they can do” (May 24) reminded me of an incident at a birthday party a few years ago.
One of the guests asked a renowned ophthalmologist: “Are you a Singaporean?” His reply: “If you’re asking me whether I served National Service (NS), the answer is yes.”I always think of this incident when the issue of NS crops up. If there is an experience that unites Singaporean men, regardless of race, religion and, more importantly, family financial status, NS has to be it. I take my own experiences as an example.One could say that I come from a privileged background. I spent most of my formative years abroad in an English boarding school.What I knew of Singapore was “condo-heartland”, and the people I knew were like me, part of the educated elite who understood that going to university was a given.

The army opened my eyes to the “real” Singapore. I met people who thought that secondary school, let alone university, was a privilege. I was dubbed “kantang” (westernised) for the way I spoke.

My perspective on money changed: I mixed with people whose parents earned what mine spent on holidays.

Despite this, I regard this period as one of the most important of my life. It taught me to look beyond who a person was and to look at what they are instead.

Life in the 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery was not a bed of roses by anyone’s standards. However, it was where I made some of my best friends, including one whose father owned a plastic factory and the son of a single mother who ran a fish stall.

This was the beauty of the real Singapore.

Would I have rushed to serve in the army? No. If I could have avoided it, I would have.

However, I went through it and accepted the lessons it taught me.

When I returned in 2000 to start life, I came back knowing Singapore for what it is, warts and all, rather than what someone would want me to believe it is.

I respect anyone who volunteers for NS or insists that their sons go through it. This tells me that they want to be Singaporean for what it really means rather than what it can buy them. These are the people who should be welcomed as Singaporeans.

I know because my NS experience made me a Singaporean.

by Tang Li
 May 28, 2012

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