Monday, 27 April 2020

It's raining outside

I look out of the window – that one window which gives me a peek of the world outside my isolation room. It has been exactly three weeks now; three weeks since I packed my duffel bag and stepped into a month of confinement with my Platoon boys. Outside, I see the usual Bus 90 go by. If I had boarded it, I would have gotten home in less than 25 minutes. But I can’t; we’ve got one more week to go.

All of a sudden, it starts pouring. From where I am, in the isolation room, I can’t hear the sound of the raindrops falling; but I see the grey skies, swaying trees and showers from above. “It is raining outside,” I think to myself. And then I realise that I haven’t thought about the weather for a long time now. There is no need to when you’re indoors every day, every hour, and every minute. I think about how life has changed so drastically in a matter of weeks; how no one can say for sure what will happen tomorrow, and how the Muslims got it right with the use of “Inshallah” (if God wills) when speaking of future events.

And I think about how we tend to plan for a single trajectory in life – be it to marry the love of your life and start a happy family, to travel the world and live a carefree life or to climb the corporate ladder and claim a C-suite title – but the reality is that sometimes, things happen unexpectedly that would throw you off your path or set you back for some time. A broken marriage. A death of a loved one. An illness. Retrenchment.

Yet, in all these, there is hope. The human race is the most resilient species in the history of the world, and that is why we are still here today in spite of natural disasters, world wars and global pandemics. We adapt. We work together and find solutions. And we make the most out of every situation.

In the midst of this circuit breaker, as families and loved ones are apart, business is bad, and we are all lacking a bit of Vitamin D, I see, on Instagram (my social media window), people being socially responsible and making essential trips with their masks on, making special arrangements to make sure that their friends’ birthdays are not forgotten, displaying hidden talents that I never knew they had, and eating healthily with their scrumptious home-cooked meals.

So, let us continue to mask on, support our local businesses, whip up a feast, read a book, TikTok away, Houseparty your loved ones, pick up a new skill and work for those abs that you’ve always wanted until this rain finally stops and we can all bask in the sun again.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Unwanted rags

She just wanted to be loved;
to be happy, to be free.

A couple of left turns.
I’m sorry.
Death of a loved one,
by murder. Stone cold murder.
Medicine or poison?
Bottoms up.
Friend or lover?
Maybe a pet.
Karma’s a bitch.

She just wanted to be loved;
to be happy, to be free.
But what’s left of her are
unwanted rags, a broken soul, hangovers;
caged by her own guilt.

But still,
you want me.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

My pandemic lessons

I’m not the type of person who would go on a Staycation – I mean, wouldn’t you rather spend the money on a short getaway instead? Last weekend, I went on a Staycation for the first time in my life. I was supposed to be on Overseas Leave but because of the travel ban, I had to settle with a makeshift vacation in the heartland of my bustling city. The silver lining was free flow alcohol between six to eight, and of course, the company.

I got a call from my boss on Saturday, in the middle of Staycay. I was to report to camp with my platoon on Monday at 2200H for a one-month isolation, as part of the nation’s effort for the Circuit Breaker. Yes, I am a Platoon Commander and also an essential worker. The rest of Staycay was a combination of scrambling to make sure everything was in place for the team by H-hour and trying to savour every last bit of freedom before going back to confinement. It was a mess, but I’m thankful for the Staycay nonetheless.

Like everyone else who was preparing for lockdown, I experienced a mix of dread (mainly because I won’t be able to see my loved ones for some time) and apprehension while understanding why I had to do what was expected of me.

It has been five days since we have been confined in camp; and instead of having to find ways to kill time or keep myself sane, I find myself having a very enriching time and being more grateful than ever.

Let’s rewind. I stepped into camp on Monday evening and saw that everything – and I mean bunk beds, new pillows and bedding, a large stash of snacks, and a bottle of water, a hand towel nicely folded into the shape of a bunny, and a welcome card lying on our individual beds – was prepared for us. And within the next two days, we had WiFi, a Washer cum Dryer, water heater and air purifiers set up for us. Whenever someone sends me a text to check on how the team is doing, the first thing I say is that the logistics team really outdid themselves. I never imagined that living in camp could be this comfortable. And I suppose the same can be said for the people outside, working at the back end to ensure that the Circuit Breaker causes as little inconvenience as possible. Thank you.

I have been a PC for a year now and as soon as this isolation is over, I will be taking on a new role as a Staff Officer. I think one of my greatest regrets as a PC is that I didn’t invest much time in my NSFs. At work, fulfilling our primary task already takes up all our working hours – and even more – that we have to sort the rest of our tasks in order of priority. For me, admin always ranks at the bottom, and I think this applies to many other officers. It is only after fulfilling the requirements from the higher ups that I would remember to approve my boys’ offs and leaves, think about who to nominate for Soldier of the Month and so on. This leaves me absolutely no time to get to know them or listen to their concerns, apart from the periodic PC interview, in which they never ever raise any concerns.

This isolation with them gave me a chance, for the first time, to get to know them (not all, but at least the more vocal ones) properly – their BMT stories, their grievances in unit, their aspirations, etc. And what I learned from speaking to some of them over the past few days is that there is so much more potential in engaging your people as individuals with a mind of their own rather than as economic digits.

Large organisations have the tendency to create blanket policies for their people, for the sheer reason of efficiency. It’s all about generating results. The big picture. Why? “There are just too many people and we do not have the resources to adopt a targeted approach.” The problem with this is that we are dealing with human beings who think and are motivated differently. And this is why you find that in any form of governance, there will always be some form of opposition – of course unless you persistently eliminate them. In my conversations with the NSFs, I came to realise three things: (1) many of them have brilliant minds, (2) but they are motivated differently – some use their intellect to better the unit while others think of ways to slip through the loopholes; and (3) they are being “dumbed-down” by the way we perceive and treat lead them. What these imply is that the traditional army-way of treating our soldiers (i.e. ordering them to do something with no questions asked) doesn’t work anymore. Our young people nowadays are way more inquisitive, want to be heard and will do a good job if they are convinced of why it is necessary.

Obviously, we can’t expect our Commanders to engage every soldier individually and I think this is where my role as a PC comes in – as a street-level bureaucrat. We should be the ones to find out what matters to each soldier, make them feel important and cared for, explain to them the rationale of each policy, and be their voice to the decision-makers. Again, this applies elsewhere – in schools, in MNCs, and in politics.

In the past year I have been racing tirelessly to meet requirement after requirement, but to what end? The work gets done but our people’s morale is low, and they do not feel valued. I wrote earlier this year that it is the people who make up the organisation. People and not digits. I’m thankful for this opportunity to get to know my people better and I wish I had made time to do so earlier.

During this period of time, let’s remember to be grateful to our back end workers and do the things we never really made time to do in our busy schedules, yeah?

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Six years a blogger

I've never seen myself as a good writer, or even a writer. I was never particularly good at English compositions or GP essays. The first time that I found out I was mildly interested in writing was when I won the writing competition as a Recruit in my BMTC cohort. Basic Military Training was coming to an end and we were asked to write about our most memorable moment. I wrote about the night in my shell scrape during our one-week field camp. I had just received my A level results, and did not meet the academic conditions of the scholarship that was offered to me; but I decided to continue serving the Army anyway. I remember tearing up in my shell scrape, trying to stifle a sob in that pin-drop silence, as the moon shone down on our weary faces, feeling like an utter disappointment and unsure if I had made the right decision. But I also remember turning to my left and right, seeing my buddies around me, and thinking that this was so-damn-worth-it. Somehow, my story moved Commander BMTC, and I ended up reading it on the podium in front of three schools of Recruits. So yes, I've known writing about as long as I've known how to be a soldier.

I wrote my first blog post on 4 April 2014. I didn't really know what I was doing then, or what the blog would eventually look like. I wasn't even sure if anyone was going to read it. On hindsight, it was really quite a trashy post; but I liked it. 314 people read it - enough for me to continue writing the next one.

And then, over the next six years, I wrote about all sorts of things. I wrote about my travels; about my university experience, and about the people that I loved. For a brief period, I wrote advertorials, which I later realised I didn't quite enjoy. I also wrote about politics, about religion and my experiences in the military. And I wrote fiction, to hide the real pain I felt inside. But what I wrote most about was my seven-year relationship, which I was so proud of. About how we grew as a couple, our anniversaries, our engagement, and eventually, our break up. And I wrote about my struggle with mental health.

After my break up, I considered deleting some of my old posts but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. My blog, my writing, has seen me through my growing-up years. My coming of age. When there's a reason to celebrate, I write. When I feel an overwhelming sense of despair, I write. When I contemplate about life, I write. When I have nowhere to air my grievances about the injustice in this world, I write. Each post carries a piece of me; and when you stitch them together, this blog tells my life story.

I want to keep writing till the day I die. To write of the mistakes that I will continue to make. The things that convict me and make me who I am. The person that I will fall in love with. The countries that I will travel to once this pandemic dies down.

Today, I celebrate six years of writing this blog. To all of you who are reading it, thank you for walking this journey with me. I'm not the type of person to share my dark thoughts and struggles with my family or friends; so, by spending time exploring this intimate space of mine, you've become a dear friend that I sincerely appreciate. 
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