Monday, September 21, 2015

Training In Australia

Australia is everything Singapore is not.  They have no shortage of land while we are land-scare. They have abundance natural resources while we have none of it.  They are generous with handouts to their citizens while we are definitely less generous.  Australia can afford to change five Prime Ministers in short span of five years but many of us here do not believe abrupt removal of Prime Minister one time too many will do us good.  Given their sheer size and wealth aplenty, they can afford to shut away from the outside world and still survive while we will sink almost immediately once we shut our doors.  Suffice to say, Australia is an ideal destination any immigrant would dream to settle on.      

My first encounter with Australia was in 1982 and it was my first overseas trip.  It was not a holiday trip for I can barely afford as a young adult.  It was an army stint as a NS soldier. Australia was already a highly developed country while we were still playing catch up in the early 80s.  Indeed, it was a honour that we were the first army battalion from Singapore to be sent there for more than a month training which subsequently becomes an annual training ground for combat units to present times.  That was also my first time flying a commercial jet and best of all, with Singapore Airlines to Brisbane but boarding was via the cargo complex at the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to the Australia government, we can never have another great overseas training opportunity for our soldiers had that not been granted.      

The training was very tough and the terrain was exceptionally challenging.  In the day, it was hot which can hit more than 40 degree C and extremely cold at night.  The entire training ground including our campsite is 4 times the size of Singapore in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland.  Throughout our training, we can hardly see any human habitat in the vast area allotted to us - really, it was that huge.  Kangaroos and wild horses were common sight when they ran past us from a distance - so surreal like in a movie.  The cries of wild animals at night that sounded like wolves can be heard loud and near when we camped out.  We can never have such experience in our mostly urbanised Singapore's terrain.

I still remember Australia currency then was stronger than US currency.  It was more than two Singapore dollars to one Australia dollar.  Now, one Australia dollar is traded for slightly lesser than one Singapore dollar.  With our peanut NS pay, it was such a pain to us when we converted our currency to Australian currency then.  

Due to the strong Australia currency, our commanders told us that our hard earned 3 days rest &relax (R&R) after more than a month of hard training was not at any hotel but an army barrack in Brisbane, Each platoon was allotted an open space where we will set up our basha using each of our togo rope to form a long rope. We had to bring our own safari beds too.  We did not have the luxury of even the bunks at the army barrack but an open compound instead.  Officers or soldiers, we slept together - it was really that budget.  Our 3 days R&R were spent in Brisbane touring and sightseeing.  Dream World impressed me the most and I even had my first picture taken with a nice Australian lady.  As a greenhorn or 'mountain tortoise', we truly enjoyed the tour.  I believe present troop training in Australia should now enjoy better amenities and facilities compared to us then.

We were given one day off in between our long training.  We were ferried to Rockhampton town to spend our free time.  A few of us were walking and checking out the town.  A burly man suddenly came out from the bar to invite us in.  We declined his invitation and he then hurled out verbal abuses at us.  He even challenged us to a fight.  We knew if we confront him, we will be outnumbered.  We do not want any trouble.  We just ignored him and walked away. This was my first encounter to be openly abused by someone for doing no wrong.  This incident has etched deep in my memory to this day.

Photo contributed by army mate, Chua Kok Poi

In one of our training, our company had to be airlifted to simulate an attack.  The Australia army loaned us few Chinook helicopters for the exercise.  It is a twin-engine heavy lift helicopter which can easily take in a platoon of men.  SAF did not have Chinook helicopters as only few advanced nations can afford then.  We were still using the already phased-out UH1H helicopters.  I am proud that we were among the first few in SAF to be airlifted by Chinook.  If I can remember correctly, it was only in the 90s, Chinook helicopters were introduced to SAF.  We were still far behind the Australia army in term of equipment and weaponry.

Photo taken by an army mate, Chua Kok Poi during the exercise 

Even their combat rations were so much better than us.  It came in few varieties.  We can choose menu A to E and it was so good that most of us prefer to eat their combat rations when back to camp from field training than taking the cooked food in the cookhouse.  For many of us, we will definitely remember the tasteless 'dog biscuits'.  It was so hard that we used to joke that our 'dog biscuits' can knock one unconscious when hit by it.  Our combat rations used to come in two types, Muslim or non-Muslim.  Save for the meat, everything was the same.  I am not sure if our combat rations have made vast changes compared to our times then.  However, I do relish those experience.

When I was young, I used to harbour the hope of emigrating to countries like Australia, New Zealand or Europe.  Perhaps I did not have much opportunity to realise the emigration dream then and it slowly fizzled out.  It was during my working adulthood, I have come to realise how vulnerable our little red dot is.  I used to assume our peace and stability is a given.  This is my country, for better or for worse and I will defend our shores if I have to.  My emigration dream has long gone.  Singapore is my home and always will be. It is not a perfect place but I cannot ask for more.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Landslide Win For PAP

I am always been on the side of ruling party since the day I am allowed to vote.  PAP has been too domineering and in the early years, I can still remember when election was called, they were immediately returned to power as more than half of the seats were not contested by opposition parties.  It happened not once but I think at least twice.  Lives were much simpler then.  People were content with a roof over their head and enough to eat.  Without a hinterland after gaining full independence, the government under LKY were focused on making sure the 'needs' of the people more than the 'wants' were met.  We were a rapidly growing economy. We were named the 'Four Little Dragons' of Asia, an accolade we shared with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

Lives are so much better now than before though we complain about high cost of living here.  Our people are better educated now and have travelled to many places.  Then, we were mostly relying on mainstream media to be kept informed of current affairs but news can be embargoed, rightly or wrongly.  With social media in present times, we receive uncensored news almost instantly.  The word, 'embargo' has become passe now.  In a short span of five decades, we have become an affluent society.  Those who are unable to keep pace have unfortunately fallen behind and they need help of sorts from the private and public sectors to get by.  We are not a welfare society like many Western countries where big handouts are given and medical is almost free.  We cannot afford to do so though some insist we can because we have accumulated huge reserves over the years. We have to be prudent and be always ready if a recession were to hit us time and again.  This is what a responsible government should do.  

Sometimes, I do relish on the slower pace of lives then, cost of living was so much lower and I must admit, we worry lesser.  Had we remained stagnant in growth, can we, a small dot on the world map survive on own while the rest of the world continue to evolve?  Like it or not, we have to progress and not just progress but to punch above our weight if we want to stay ahead of competition.  Nobody is going to take pity on us if we fail.  We may even end up seeking refuge elsewhere had the government of the day failed to deliver. Fortunately for us, they did not disappoint - give credit when due.

PAP has been so domineering that many felt they are not listening to valued feedback from the ground.  This proved to be their Achilles heel and perhaps, it was so.  The election in 2011 did send a warning sign to them when Aljunied GRC was lost and their win majority dipped too. Some may say government are more receptive to feedback and it is all thanks to the opposition - I agree somewhat.

The political landscape has changed.  The expectations of people in the past and now differ greatly. People are not content living in HDB, they yearn to live in condo or landed properties if they can afford to.  Even HDB has to transform.   Some HDB flats look almost like condo.  I have to say I do not envy the present government.  They have to work really hard to appease the wants of many. Failing which, they will be blamed for the slightest of mistake or oversight.  Yes, we are complaining more something some may not agree with me.  Singapore is seen like a well-oiled machinery that cannot breakdown.  Fact of the matter is machine does break down sometimes.  We are not perfect, can never be.  We are still a work-in-progress.

When PM called for election this year, I do fear the worst.  I do fear freak result may see PAP not in power.  We need to have stability in our government to give assurance and confidence to overseas investors.  We need that or we will sink.  General consensus wanted PAP to remain in power but at the same time, wanted more opposition in.  However, nobody can control which ward will go where and then decide how many seats to be distributed between PAP and opposition parties.  A freak result may be possible, however remote it may be.

When the final result was revealed, I am happy that PAP has regained some lost ground.  A 69.9% win is simply too good to be true and on this note, I can conclude majority of Singaporeans still want PAP to be in power - a sensible decision indeed.  I hope to give one message to PAP.  Be humble, continue to listen to the people and work to bring stability and progress to our country going forward. Majulah Singapura!