NS draws to a close

An ex-schoolmate of mine wrote in a 2005 edition of Marguerite, my school magazine, on the question, “Should National Service be made compulsory for all school leavers?”

There are several points to ponder and I’m definitely not going to give National Service a resounding yes. Every now and then I’ll be quoting several points from the article which was featured in the school magazine.

“Through National Service, trainees are able to make new friends and widen their social circle. The trainees in one camp come from different parts of the country. Therefore, new and lasting friends are made through the National Service programme.”

On the one hand, I was sent to Camp Miri to find solace in a group of true friends. It’s strange, but I’ve discovered that the majority of people who supported me back there were Sarawakians, and not people from KL. (Jealousy perhaps ?) These true friends lifted me up and revered me as ex-commander, a friend and a creative tour de force. During the First Aid practice, when I played dead, I felt how it was like to be physically and spiritually dead, and I knew who would come running to save me… only to cry when they found out I was dead. The Bravo and Delta companies were sororities in their own right. The kind of teamwork and support put in was admirable.

I experienced high-risk activities, notably the flying fox (where trainees are suspended from a height of 12m and they have to make their way down… literally flying) and the M16 target course.

I designed an immortal symbol for the En Avant Bravo and I did everything to make my company win. Well, at least we won. ^_^ I sang on stage thrice. In every activity, even if I didn’t fancy it, I did my best. At the end of it all, even the trainers and trainees from other companies saluted TNÉ, with only three words to say : “…like no other.”

I learned every single bit of the drill routine and I must say that my walk is a lot sexier than ever ! I managed to get myself into that ideal weight ever since I returned from Camp Miri and I’m a lot keener on walking now.

I discovered a new parish in Taman Tunku and I had experienced mass in Bahasa Malaysia for the first time. All this while my masses were in English.

I learned the Iban language and I made quite a lot of Iban friends, most of whom have never had the chance to get to know their fellow Malaysians of Indian origin. And for many of them, I was their first Indian friend. And it was in this place that I got to share my experiences with my close friends, and I also had the opportunity of getting to know a group of wonderful trainers.

On the other hand… well, move aside, everyone ; I’ve got a mouthful to say.
“Unity is an important element in a multiracial country like Malaysia.”
“Courtesy among teenagers nowadays is non-existent. They tend to be rude and do not respect their elders.”

Indeed, I support the first view fully. And though I was initially s* scared of going for National Service, I relented when my admission letter stated that I was bound for Camp Miri. But to what extent can we foster unity – particularly among eighteen-year-olds, whose personalities have already been formed and corrupted by their elders themselves ? See, violence and disputes are a staple in every NS camp. And for what reason ? I’ve noticed that most of the perpetrators of the disputes are people who have never made friends from other ethnic groups, apart from their own. This is something we see rather regularly in the peninsula – Ah Seng goes to flock with his own kind, Arumugam goes off with his own kind and Ahmad goes with his own kind. The more open-minded ones are more than willing to mingle with each other regardless of skin colour and thus, we have our rays of hope in the peninsula. Generally, the Sabahans and Sarawakians are much more united than we are. In the camp, the same thing happens. And it pisses the hell out of me. We’ve been living in an independent nation for like, what ? Fifty-two freakin’ years ? And there are still problems regarding unity ?

We can’t put the blame on the teachers. We definitely have to punish the perpetrators for their lack of courtesy, yet the blame doesn’t lie solely on them. The weakness lies in the very FOUNDATIONS of our programme. Even at the age of 18, some people have never had the experience of mingling with other cultures. They have been bred in a world apart from their own, a monoculture, living among people with like minds. And throughout these 18 years they could’ve heard insults towards other ethnicities coming from their elders themselves, and they’d have considered these insults as normal reactions ! It’s therefore a Herculean task changing brazen personalities within just three months ! Instead, we should’ve taken the steps to unite our young ones during their school years. If they are in single-ethnic schools, they could at least have visits to schools with other ethnicities, have mingling sessions, co-organise cultural events and student festivals. Seriously, it may be a lot riskier to organise this than to go with National Service, but it’s definitely bound to reduce disciplinary problems over the long term. It’s during our tender years that we can be filled with the right qualities. Not at 18 years, s’il vous plaît.

The meals are horrible. Enough said. But here lies the pitch : they did tell us that a lot of money was spent on each trainee’s meal. But look at what the poor workers at the cookhouse say ! They have RM50 a month ; RM45 is spent on their provisions/whatever they need/ingredients and they are left with a meagre RM5 a month ! For all their hard work this is what they get ? And they’re definitely not lying – many of us have seen them living in squalor and how I wish I could do something to help them.

Next, how is it possible that the logistics bureau is closed almost every time of the day ? They open when we are in the midst of doing our activities. If we don’t go for our activities without valid reasons, our companies will be de-merited. This makes me wonder : 1) could the bureau possibly change working hours to cater to the needs of trainees ? 2) should the time frame of physical activities be changed instead ? 3) what shoddy workmanship did they do for our clothes and shoes to be easily damaged, even under normal circumstances ? What’s going on up there ? Yes, in camp we talk about corruption and how to prevent it, but hello ! we’re not dickheads not to realise that something’s going on wrong up there – for the cookhouse to be so terrible and for the clothes to be in such bad condition. If they had put in their best input from the start we wouldn’t have to dump all these clothes in the NS camps and change them like, every three months. More often than not the bureau runs out of stock. I mean, like, come on, give us a break…

The power supply was cut twice, and the water was cut a few times. And on my return to Camp Miri after the one-week break, the water was rust-coloured. There’s internet here, but it’s pretty slow because we’re in the middle of the forest… well, I guess I can’t complain about that.

And sometimes, when the decisions have to be PRACTICAL, there’s too much PROTOCOL going on. Indeed, the style is pretty much like the army – with a camp commander and everything – but we’re not in the state of having to get the green light from the higher authorities just to get something done ! What’s the point of wanting to say something when it never gets said ? I remember how disunited this group of trainees was, but how united they were in cheering on performers during concerts. And so I wanted to organise a mini-concert to unite all of us. I called it the Project Rêver (rêver being the French word for “to dream”). I wanted to start efforts immediately after seeing seven brawls in camp. That was too much. But even then, I had to wait for a response from the higher-ups – too much protocol – and at the end, it was already too late to begin the project. The 5th of September had already come and gone. The trainers were scared of bringing this up to the camp commander for fear that he would say no. Truly, in life, there has to be rules, but they should not hamper anyone’s creative efforts to bring peace and unity. Truly, there wasn’t enough unity at all because a practical decision was never made.

“…trainees gain valuable leadership skills through the month-long character building module.”
Indeed, but many people call it adult kindergarten. That’s because National Service has failed miserably in removing the two main weaknesses of Malaysian society : 1) we are ignorant, 2) we are scared. I have witnessed first-hand the ignorance of trainees when they just dismissed an activity as being too easy and did not want to participate. But when they finally did, they had to be controlled like kids. And a significant number of them either lacked the self-esteem or the desire to make themselves known – because they always declined from taking part in the character building activities. I, for one, may not have scored perfectly, but I was deeply involved because I knew I wanted to be. Sadly, this wasn’t the case with 80% of the trainees.

The air of discipline is strangely limited to the media. We have to put up a show whenever the broadcasters come, whenever some guest of honour comes, but after that, WHAM ! Every trace of “prim and proper” vanishes, and in its place, we see the usual barbarism and noncompliance of a large number of trainees. This seems to be a malady for every camp, even the best of camps. From the numerous advertisements and articles I was under the impression that NS was supposed to feature a culture of discipline. But in reality, where’s the discipline ? I believe that even my secondary school practises an even greater culture of discipline, and even the teachers know this !

I was also a rebel during the Nationalism module. That’s because I believe you can never combine love for the country with political ideologies. Yes, the government is a vital part of the country because without it, there’d be no administration. But what happens if there are just too many problems ? I only see Realpolitik in practice : the higher-ups would do just about anything – backstab, lie, bribe, cheat, imprison others, just to retain their position. It’s pretty evident even if the media reports say otherwise, it’s evident in the way they speak and the way they do things. A Malaysian with my upbringing would be able to see through them like glass, no doubt. And many youths believe that, despite all their reverence for a select few political figures, there are hardly any sincere politicians around. Excusez-moi, if you’d like to gain my trust and respect, respect other cultures, and don’t throw humble Malaysians behind bars without any reason. If you’d like to gain my respect, do this : instead of keeping all those riches and stuff, sell half your property and belongings at least, and give the money to the poor. This’ll resolve the problem of poverty in Malaysia. If you do this, I’ll honour you. But now, you’re no more worth than a piece of toilet paper to me. I expressed these views in the Nationalism module and my, the accolades that came after my rants !

So how did I survive, you ask ?

I started as any other young person, very sensitive to poor remarks. Slowly I stamped my mark as an artist : I drew, I sang, I designed, I became the PowerPoint techie for several events, notably the Appreciation of the Arts programme. And I did everything I could to be a good friend.

But there was one thing I could never do, because of our age : I could never teach them respect. I was brought up in a culture of respect. We hardly ever swear. If we do, it’s probably under the most dire of circumstances, but only light swears. Suggestive positions are a no-no, even among girls. It’s against my faith and my principles. I don’t tell my story to the teachers without reason. I spill out everything to them because I need to see a culture of respect. And there doesn’t seem to be one. Yes, I ended my stint as a “heroine”, but I still believe that the National Service programme shouldn’t have been made compulsory for all school leavers. It’ll only benefit some, but it won’t benefit all. And then again, I see more people out there in KL who haven’t been for National Service but have all the qualities that NS claims to be able to give, and more. These are the true, everyday heroes and heroines of our society ; these are the people who should be lauded.

Whose fault is it then ? The teachers’, the parents’, the trainees’ or the authorities’ fault ? Well, the trainees have to be given a lesson, no doubt. We could put the blame on the parents or the trainees’ environment for their conduct. But there’s definitely a flaw up there : don’t they see what we’re missing ? In KL there are integration programmes held within schools, but we still see people flocking to their own kind ? And you know what follows ! Nothing has been done to truly unite us. And who made this BLATANTLY STUPID DECISION of uniting us at the age of eighteen, when our harsh, brazen personalities have already hardened in the iron mould ?

I close the National Service Journal with the hopes of changing the minds of the young in Malaysia… someday. I leave for my hometown with the hopes of realising my biggest dreams, and with hopes of making my family proud of me.


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