Last Saturday (16/1/16), my nephew graduated from the 3-month residential Police Officer Basic Course (NS) at Home Team Academy. He was amongst the 600 over National Servicemen enlisted to serve in the police undergoing the 3-month training. There were 36 of them in his squad. My nephew will turn 19 soon. How time flies. I could still vividly remember carrying him in my arms when he was just a baby. I still have that photo underneath my glass table top in the living room. My son is 2 years younger than him. Like all male Singaporeans, he will have to serve his NS obligation after his studies.
But my nephew is unique. I believe he’s the only one in his squad who is a “foreigner” even though he was born here. Nearly 9 yrs ago (maybe about 8 yrs), my brother brought his family over to Vancouver. My nephew was midway in Sec One then. Being a patriotic Singaporean, he flew all the way back by himself from Vancouver to serve his NS. His parents and 2 other siblings are still living in Vancouver. He did not complain at all. In fact, he was looking forward to his NS stint here. After his 2-year NS obligation, he shall go back to Vancouver to complete his university education. He posted his picture on his FB in his crisp brand new fitting police uniform with corporal rank on his shoulder. We are proud of him.
Before the commencement of his 3-month residential basic police officer training, there was a reception for parents and friends. Only my mother and her god-daughter attended the reception. I sent them there. On the day of his graduation on last Saturday, my mother and her god-daughter also attended. I was there to fetch them. Home Team Academy is situated in one ulu corner of the island and taxis are hard to come by. When I was waiting to fetch them, there were tons of pax desperately wanting to jump into my cab! I had to lock my cab doors to prevent my taxi from being hijacked. Taking the bus or MRT is not so convenient cuz he had to bring back lots of personal belongings home since he had to vacate his barracks. He will report to the Land Division for duty.
I did not attend both receptions – before and after the training. I only fetched and sent them there. I heard from my mother that the food especially on the graduation day was fantastic. She enjoyed tremendously.
My nephew’s police training brought me back to memory lane. I became quite nostalgic when I pondered over my own police training more than 30 yrs ago at the old Police Academy. In Mar 1983, I got myself signed up as a regular and undergone 6- month of police officer residential training then. I joined with a full A level certificate with distinction in GP. There was no opening ceremony before the 6-month course or ending ceremony when we graduated! It was a quiet affair. We were merely informed of the Land Divisions to report the following day. Some of our squad mates just adjourned to Whitley Hawker Centre under the Thomson flyover across the old Police Academy.
In those days, the old Police Academy only belonged to the police. We did not share the facilities within PA grounds with others. Now, it’s the Home Team Academy – the police force is only part of the Home Team. Some of the buildings in PA are antiques inherited from the old colonial days. The sprawling PA grounds including the parade square are full of lush greenery with huge ancient trees spread over undulating hills and slopes with winding pathways and narrow roads. Even the carpet grass lining the sides of the pathways and roads were carefully manicured and trimmed. Mind you, there were no cleaners or gardeners in PA. All done by trainees. That was the first impression when I went for the interview at the gymnasium. It was so blissful and serene on PA grounds even though there would always be lots of movements, buzzing with activities of recruits and even senior officers having their courses. Sometimes, we would get officers from other neighboring countries attending courses here.
Now that we are quite well off, the government could afford to throw a feast before and after the 3-month residential training for parents and friends of the trainees. Those instructors must be very delighted for the extras. Let me state categorically that I’m not against the government spending money on such occasions. Whenever I see money spent, I got worried. I drive taxi everyday and I notice that almost every corner of Singapore it’s always renovation and construction. Almost every major road, there is bound to be digging and road works. Widening and construction of roads – for example along Braddell Rd near to Toa Payoh and nearly every housing estate there is either upgrading or some form of construction going on – like building more and more shelters, link ways, fitness corner parks etc. All these on top of the digging of tunnels for the so many expanding MRT lines.
One prominent blogger mentions with the aging population, more will have to spend on them. He even suggested setting up a Ministry to look after the increasing aging population which will become a huge burden and headache. But with a sluggish economy and bad times looming ahead, could the seemingly limitless spending power on public infrastructure (mentioned earlier i.e. roads and housing estates), defense (more high tech weapons like more sophisticated drones or costly F35 fighter jets?, multi-platform warship or aircraft carrier?), medical (more hospitals and subsidies for the aged poor), workers (workfare payouts, future skills credits etc) and the list goes on and on … be sustained? We know that once it is given, it is always very difficult to take it back. When the rolling good times are over, the things we take for granted like those NS receptions mentioned above, may have to be scaled back drastically. So long as these goodies keep coming, no one is going to complain. The problem arises when it’s not coming anymore! If there’s a dip in revenue, expect GST to go up to 10% or even15%!
Back to my memory lane, life was simple then in those good old days. Our pay was low but we enjoyed our life then. There was no swimming pool or air con in my schools. Only the small library had air con. Yelp, no computers also. When I was in team policing, the police cars also got no air con. It was just a simple patrol car with only a built-in walkie talkie set. Now that our schools or ITEs (those days it was Vocational Institutes) have some of the best facilities in the world. Who pays for these? The parents and also the government of course. Question is – Is the money worth spending? Have we trained a younger generation better than those in my generation? Some depict them as the “strawberry” or “durian” generation. I hope they are better than us in terms of commitment and loyalty to our nation, not self-centered individuals.
I was quite sadden to notice that the two Malay words “Setia Dan Bakti” removed from my nephew’s group photo only to be replaced by “Training Command!” It’s quite obvious that those recruits were trained by Training Command isn’t it? Why must it be highlighted? I do not see the logic. Just look at those officers sitting on cheap plastic chairs and the plain concrete structures behind them. Every police officer going through the basic course will have a group photo taken before they graduated. If you take a closer look and compare with my group photo taken more than 30 yrs ago, you will sense the history and proud heritage of the police force. Sadly, not in my nephew’s case.
I told my nephew on the way back home that I also had a group photo taken like him more than 30 yrs ago when I was undergoing the police basic training in PA. There were 26 of us in the squad then. We set off together as equals (police constables) when we graduated. We then set off individually finding our own paths in life.
Some ended up as failures in life whilst some became very successful. It could be due to fate, circumstances or luck that they ended up what they are today I really don’t know. Just to randomly quote few of them – one of them became a famous singer-musician. He wrote a Mandarin song “等你等到我心痛” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NIT1XbiE3Pw&autoplay=1 It only became a hit when one of the 4 Heavenly Kings sang it. One became a top criminal lawyer. Another shot himself on the head with his service revolver. Many including me left the force. I told my nephew to frame up the group photo and keep track of every one of them as the years pass by. The same could also be applied to your school graduation class or whatever graduation courses you may attend.
As one grows older and the finishing line gets nearer, accumulation of memories also grows in tandem.
“Life … is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
My nephew’s response.
“Just read your article! One correction: there’s actually a lot of international students like me who come back from overseas haha!”
Good work mate! Serve your nation, finish your obligation, and then spread your wings!