There are the teary farewells, the lonely days and even lonelier nights, the worry and the boredom.
And of course, you're not helped by spooky tales, gleefully told to you by your other male NS friends, of how servicemen go missing or die easily on Tekong. And the widely-held belief that relationships never survive the two-and-a-half years (or just two years if your boyfriend is a chao keng kia like mine).
Sad to say, my first relationship added to that statistic and contributed to that belief. My then-boyfriend entered Nee Soon Camp (no Tekong then) 3 months into our relationship in 1998.
True to form, I wept buckets, moped and pined before resuming my normal routines within a week (though I did leap on him the moment I saw him on his first book-out day and weep buckets again).
3 months before he ORD-ed, we became one of those doomed NS couples that don't make it through.
Fast forward 2 years to 2001...
It was the turn of my current boyfriend (hereafter referred to as The BF) for his chance to serve the nation and get soil on his face... our soil.
Ok, I digress.
But this time, 4 years older, a little more mature, and a little more experienced with regards to boyfriends in NS, I decided to accompany him into Tekong on his first day, together with his family, because I knew this time I could control myself enough not to burst into tears.
As it turned out, I had to control myself from laughing when I saw The BF's entourage. Where other enlistees were mostly accompanied by just parents, some with friends, some with siblings, some simply alone, The BF turned up with his grandmother, his mother, his 2 younger sisters, and his maid.
But I couldn't really blame him. Being the only son in his family, The BF is exalted and given treatment befitting Prince William at home. I should have expected such a sendoff for him.
Anyway, I was really quite impressed with my first sight of Tekong. It was a far cry from, say, Nee Soon barracks, with architecture reminiscent of holiday resorts (of course, it didn't take long for The BF to inform me of the truth behind the facade). But to be honest, I was more impressed with the hunky sergeant, who had the most enticing dimples, whose duty it was that day to show families around.
When it was time for families to leave, I gave the BF nothing more than a perfunctory hug and kiss and acted all very brave.
But when he called me that night just before lights out, I really started to wail. And The BF chose that time to break the news to me that he wouldn't be allowed out of camp at all for the first 2 weeks, which of course made me near hysterical.
I was miserable, and missing him terribly for 3 days, when on the afternoon of the 3rd day he called me.
Me: How come you can call me in the afternoon?
BF: I booking out now mah!
Me: Now?! For what?!
BF: I went to see the MO, take MC, MO give me Attend C some more! So I can go home for 2 days!
Me: You're sick? What happened? Are you ok?
BF: Ok lah, no problem. Just that people tell me might as well chao keng in NS since it's a waste of time anyway. So I'm starting now! Anyway, you do miss me and want to see me sooner right?
Me: What the hell? I do want to see you but I also want you to do something good in NS and not be lazy!
BF: Aiyoh, dear, I tell you, only the IDIOTS in camp go chiong sua. Other people are smarter. They want to finish NS as soon as they can and not waste too much energy on it.
This (extremely undesirable) attitude would eventually become a perennial feature in The BF's army life.