I last met 'Red Underwear' Ang Teck Hock last year during In-Camp Training. It was the first time we had met since I ROD'd in 1991. I walked up to that familiar but slightly more wizened figure, and said 'Encik, Ho Boh?', and was surprised, shocked even, that firstly, he remembered who I was, and second, he spoke in English!
Eh, Buddha, how are you? You having ICT? I saw Tat Kai and Foong last year, he said, smiling.
He looked the same except he no longer sported his 'Encik' moustache, de rigueur for all senior NCOs back in the 80s and 90s.
I suppose he remembered me and my mates because our batch was his first tour as CSM (Company Sergeant Major, but for Ang Teck Hock, it could also stand for Company Shortest Man).
As a pensionable lifer back in those days (they now no longer have lifers in the Army), SSG Ang was your typical CSM, always barking, always turned out impeccably, always carrying that pace stick for to mark out the parade square and to knock you upside the helmet. And your typical CSM in those days spoke very little English.
Being the first 'A'-level battalion, we suffered fits of giggles every time Encik had to brief us. He'd have one 'official' briefing in 'English', then an unofficial one in Hokkien while brandishing his pace stick, just to leave us in no doubt as regards his instructions.
Encik was practically illiterate, and one of my duties in the company was to read letters sent to him, and to write replies on his behalf. We only realised the extent of his illiteracy when we found he had given himself a first English name, Stephen or Steven, but spelled it on a label on his briefcase as 'SSG STIVER ANG'.
Halfway through our trade course, we had a new company commander, an Indian captain called Dev. CPT Dev had a mean reputation. Rumour had it that his last company 'mutinied' by purposely not getting gold for IPPT. CPT Dev was also finicky and unreasonable. He decreed that while he was company commander, no one under his command would speak in any language other than English, because English was the language of administration in the Singapore Armed Forces.
Encik Ang die already lah, like that?
Immediately after this order was given, Encik Ang had to brief us on some pressing matter, and he assembled the company on the parade square and prepared to shellac us. Only thing was, he only knew how to shellac us in Hokkien, and CPT Dev was standing behind him. He shaped his whole body to bark at us, but what came out was:
'ALL YOUSE MMMMMM.... MMMMMM..... MMMMM..... MMMMMARRRRDER CHEEBYES!', followed by a long pause, then,
'YOU CAN COME HERE AND HOLD MY COCK AND COUNT THREE TIMES!'
None of us Marder Cheebyes wanted to hold his cock and count even once, so we listened very carefully to the rest of the briefing.
Near the end of our full time service, we were scheduled to go to Taiwan for training. We were very excited of course. And the idea of needing warm clothing and lip balm added to the novelty of the trip. Encik Ang was a veteran of eight previous Taiwan stints, and told us winters were cold enough to freeze our balls off, and that the green woollen jumper issued to us was not enough. Better be prepared, he said. If not prepared properly, your balls will drop off, your lips will drop off, and you will see your lips kissing your balls on the floor, he added.
So we went to Taiwan, and it was cold. The first day saw us digging out our freshly bought pairs of long johns and trying them on; putting on balaclavas; and smearing on lip balm. And smear we did. Till Encik Ang came and shellacked us for looking as if every trooper had eaten a bucket of KFC without wiping their mouths.
Encik Ang had his pair of long johns too. And like the rest of us, wore it underneath our daggy Taiwanese issued uniforms (we weren't allowed to wear our own on Taiwanese soil). These long johns worked a treat, and kept us really warm when we were up in the mountains.
Then during the second week of training, the weather warmed up, hovering around 20 degrees or so. Out went the long johns. And this is where it gets funny.
Encik Ang Teck Hock had no idea that long johns were Underwear. He thought they were like your track tops and pants. And so, while we were back at base, he'd walk around the bunk (there was only one bunk for the entire company) in his long johns, which didn't seem too unusual, given that the rest of us walked around the bunk in our underwear anyway.
But that morning at base, Encik told me he was going to Battalion HQ, billeted at the other end of the base, for a meeting, and so he left. He came back five minutes later, huffing and puffing, and with a stupid grin on his face that we weren't familiar with. The grin of embarrassment. He came up to me, slapped the back of my head and asked why I didn't tell him that long johns were underwear.
He had walked across the Taiwanese Army base in his long johns, clipboard in hand, to attend a Bn HQ meeting, only to be stopped by the Taiwanese base commander.
I told Encik that I thought he knew, since he'd been to Taiwan eight times previously. He said this was his first winter stint.
And the rest of the company had a really good laugh once I had escaped Encik's clutches and started spreading the story about 'RED UNDERWEAR WEAR UNDERWEAR GO FOR MEETING'.
Last year when I met him, Encik Ang held the post of Regimental Sergeant Major of the 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment, and he was very much the 21st century senior career soldier. English-speaking, soft-spoken, and not a vulgarity within earshot. Standing next to him was one of his CSMs, a female Encik. And I wondered if he had ever asked anyone at 42nd to 'hold his cock and count three times'.
Underwear, man, cold weather, cotton, johns, long. SSN 1234567890