Some answers to the questions posed during a recent e-mail interview with Art Jam, a publication by Nanyang Technological University’s Cultural Activities Club. If you scroll all the way down, you can find an embedded PDF of the magazine for your reading pleasure.
- Back by popular demand! Wow! ArtJam congratulates you. How does it feel to make such a comeback?
It feels great to be staged again, and I’m glad to have an opportunity to work with such talented thespians in the creative team, cast and crew.
- Even though the times have changed, the topic on NS never fails to fall far from the conversation when guys gather together. Why do boys always talk so happily about NS?
National Service is a shared experience for the majority of Singaporean men.
Full-time National Servicemen (NSF) talk happily about NS because they have no choice; it is their life, so there are only these experiences to talk about.
Operationally-Ready NSmen talk about NS because it provides a sense of nostalgia for them and allows them to bond over this shared experience.
- Full Tank! sounds like great fun. Why did you choose to write a play about army boys going AWOL?
The original concept for Full Tank! sprung from the story of Corporal Dave Teo Ming, the soldier who absconded from his camp with a SAR21.
Many people, from netizens to Members of Parliament, were asking questions like: “Why was security so lax?”, “How could this have happened?”, and “What action will be taken to prevent this from happening again?”
I felt that the questions that should have been asked instead were: “Is Dave okay?”, “Could the military environment have exacerbated his condition?” and “Is there anyone else like him who is at risk of engaging in this behaviour, and if yes, how can we help them?”
I hope Full Tank! will provide the space within which we can discuss these issues so that we can carry on with our transformation into a more caring society.
- In what way has writing about NS allowed you to reflect on your personal army days? And what has NS imprint on you that you perhaps may have used in your pieces?
My Full-time National Service (NSF) was one of the best experiences of my life.
I learnt a lot about administration, management, organisation, fitness, etc. while in service, and met some very interesting characters along the way.
Nevertheless, I also had my fair share of frustrations such as having to stay back on weekends for duties and ‘burning’ public holidays for extra duties, so there were unhappy moments too.
I went through the entire spectrum of NSF ranks – I was a Recruit, Private, Corporal, Third Sergeant and Officer Cadet before finally commissioning as a Second Lieutenant.
That, coupled with the fact that my various postings to different units required me to constantly utilise different skill sets, resulted in a very challenging two and a half years for me.
But it also meant that I saw many things that most people would never get a chance to see.
This alternative perspective has a part to play in why I have chosen to write about NS in Singapore: while I fully understand the importance of NS to Singapore, I have also managed to get a glimpse of the tiresome yet comical aspect of military bureaucracy from various angles, along with the segments of military life that seem really absurd in both the original and the philosophical senses of the word.
I feel it necessary to juxtapose these tensions dramatically in order to highlight little known facets of the Singapore military to society at large, as part of my outlook on education and how it should also seek to provide different points of view for and from as many people as possible.
The style and tone of the absurd exchanges in ‘Full Tank’ have been culled from my own experiences with the bureaucracy and social rituals of the military.
At the same time, the comedy, camaraderie and warmth of the characters is something I have also experienced during my National Service.