What matters

Just found this hilarious conversation snippet from my last (and final 😢) in-camp training session in my e-mail drafts folder.

Just before we were about to commence our orientation route march around the camp…

Me: “Do you realise the entire battalion is not listening to [the route march conducting officer]?”

NSman A: “What he’s saying doesn’t matter; what matters is that he’s saying it.”

On keng-ing – with a valid reason.

I received a comment on my previous post which I don’t agree with entirely.

Nevertheless, I’m publishing it because it presents a counter-argument to the topic of keng-ing ICT:

Do consider that people can be held back from obtaining jobs and/or career advancements because of an ICT they have to attend.

Not everybody’s boss is as understanding about ICT and as willing as other bosses to give up their human resource.

Not every line of employment allows for work to be cleared from home, offsite or after a few weeks.

And not every unit is as kind or as understanding when allowing for deferment of an ICT for work purposes.

In the not uncommon case, consider the scenario when – mind you, it’s when, not if – one gets called up for ICT during the period of a major event such as a trade show.

If deferment is refused, one can kiss his advancement or even job security goodbye.

In a much more common scenario, one may just be refused at the point of hire because of an impending ICT or one’s NS liabilities.

So what’s fair and unfair?

What would you do to put bread on the table, especially when you know you need to be looking out for yourself?

Because our country sure ain’t gonna do that and not everyone is in this wonderful position where he can go for 21 days of ICT and expect to come back to the same job and income.

I, too, hope for changes to the NS system but let’s not play the moral police and demonize all who ‘keng’ for their myriad of reasons.

NS is military conscription. The citizen is not provided with an option or choice.

One cannot be faulted for simply wanting to find a way out from this arrangement.


  1. Back to normal programming – but at what price?
  2. Back to normal programming – but at what price? (Part II)

Back to normal programming – but at what price? (part II)

Compromise is not an option. But chao keng is.

Someone from my unit couldn’t join us for this year’s ICT, but he had this to say in response to my post [1]:

First, congrats on the ATEC evaluation [2]. I heard that the unit’s results were great, so kudos to all of you. I really wish I could’ve been there.

Anyway, I read your blog post so here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Let me start off by playing the devil’s advocate:

  1. It’s your own fault for not keng-ing too, and
  2. How equal is equal? What should be the level and the kind of compensation that would justify service?

On the matter of keng-ing
Unfortunately, I think the first statement is one that people who keng (and trust me, many people come to mind) will immediately respond with, and I don’t think that it is a necessarily bad option.

The fact that this statement can be made suggests that the system rewards those who keng; that is to say, the penalties for keng-ing i.e. not enjoying tax benefits for a financial year are not punitive enough.

To be even more cynical – given that this is Singapore – perhaps what we need are more sticks, not carrots, to get people to serve.

Parity and compensation
This leads me to the second point about parity: you served 2.5 weeks whereas I served none.

So what kind of measures would ensure our contributions were equal? If I did community service?

Unfortunately, the system again seems to be rigged, because those who can keng are those with the wherewithal to do so – be it finding a new job or studying overseas, or paying off a specialist to write letters so that they can get out of serving.

When the system seems to be so rigged, is there any way we can wring any kind of equivalence out of it?


I remember my colleagues and I once discussed this matter over lunch.

I naively wondered out loud if we could pay people who served their ICT a quantum over NS make-up pay.

Hence, servicemen would not only get make-up pay to ensure no loss of wages, but also an additional quantum on top of that based on a couple of factors such as rank, ability to be deployed in the field, etc.

Of course, my peers and bosses told me I was silly and that no one would pay for it.

But that’s the Singapore mentality, isn’t it?

Because they don’t care who does the work as long as it’s done, for a nice low price.

Hence, people who are stellar performers like [redacted] get earmarked to do more and more, and people who keng fall through the cracks.

The point I’m trying to make is that unless the current model of NS changes – and changes dramatically, at that – these systemic problems of inequality will be perpetuated.

And for that kind of change, we’ll need political change.


In any case, I feel bad about missing the ATEC evaluation. I really do.

And when it comes to my turn to make up the training I’ve missed, I know I’ll have to go to some other unit and train with perfect strangers.

And that’s a part of the price I have to pay, and it’s a price I’ve accepted.

But I don’t think that this kind of sentiment is common.

I don’t know, really.

Maybe I wrote this long message out of guilt because I missed the ATEC evaluation with you guys and your blog post was a convenient starting point…


    [1] …in response to my post:

    [2] the ATEC Evaluation.