This is the story of The BF's POP - a momentous and, I believe, eagerly awaited event in every NSman's life.
When The BF called me 4 months after he got shaved bald and plonked into the monastery known as Pulau Tekong, he was in a fever pitch of excitement. His first words were: "Dear, next Saturday I P-O-P loh!"
My mind clicked into first gear. The engine roared. The wheels accelerated. And with that, my brain ran rapidly through my 21 years' worth of words stored in my cognitive database, trying to find one that matched and made sense of what The BF just told me.
P-O-P? P-O-P?! What the hell was that? 30 seconds of silence and very, very thorough thinking later, the closest I could come to a match was the sound a champagne bottle makes when it is shaken vigorously and the cork is removed.
I asked hesitantly, "What are you popping about?"
He replied, with a hint of exasperation, "Not pop, it's P-O-P! P-O-P!"
I countered, "Yah what! P-O-P is 'pop' what!"
The BF, sounding very deflated that his good news was met with such a reception, said, "Not that 'pop' sound. It's my Passing Out Parade!"
Orrrr... But soon...
Click click. My mind's engine geared up again before I realised: What in the wide world is a Passing Out Parade?
The BF explained, in slow, concise sentences meant to educate his stupid girlfriend, that the POP spelt the end of his BMT, after which he would be posted out to a unit.
"Why didn't you tell me this from the first?" I wailed, feeling extremely small and stupid. BF 1, Sheena nil.
Anyway, The BF then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to go watch his POP. "Up to 2 friends or family members can go per recruit. The persons invited have to put on the jockey cap for the recruit."
Of course, I immediately made up my mind to go. How could I disappoint him? I knew his parents would not be going. But as I was in a bit of a grumpy mood, my lack of SAF intelligence having been shown up by him, I lied to him and said, no, I didn't want to go because I hated having to travel all the way to Pasir Ris (I live in West Coast), cram myself into a TIBS bus and a boat, and wait around in the searing Tekong heat.
The phone call culminated in a big quarrel between both of us. It almost broke my heart, but I stayed firm about "not going". I wanted to see the surprise and joy on his face when I showed up that day.
When he booked out and met me that weekend, he threw me the invitation letter, saying that I needed it if I wanted to go and watch his POP.
I told him, "I already said I refuse to go!"
He turned his face away from me and said, "Keep it anyway. No one else will come for my POP so this letter is no use. Throw it away if you want."
It was all I could do to hold my secret to myself, just to sweep away his obvious misery and disappointment. But I am afraid to say that my sense of mischief overrules my sense of propriety and my love for The BF most of the time.
Anyway, I managed to get a female friend, a mutual pal of both me and The BF, to go with me on the POP Saturday.
As I'd predicted, the day was hot, the Pasir Ris bus interchange was packed, the shuttle buses were cramped, and the boats stunk. I bore it all stoically for the sake of The BF. As for my friend, she bore it stoically as well, I think because the thought of seeing hunky uniformed men was sustaining her (yes she has a uniform fetish like me too).
I got a moment of fright, though, when on the TIBS shuttle bus The BF called me. He'd just finished his all-nighter route march, and was getting ready for the parade.
"Are you really not coming?" he asked, forlornly.
"Err, I'm kinda out with N [my female friend] now, so obviously I can't come," I said, hoping and praying he wouldn't see through my trick.
He hung up on me, and I breathed a sigh of relief (tinged with a lot of guilt). He obviously hadn't seen through it.
When we got to Tekong, we got very nice front row seats at the grandstand, and it wasn't long before both N and I were almost hysterical with desire, seeing hunky, muscled, tanned officers and sergeants (all of whom had hair as an added bonus, unlike the recruits).
I swear, Tekong was chock-full of testosterone. N and I got a huge blast right in the face the moment we stepped onto the island. The pheromones in the air turned us both into preening, excited, giggly bimbos, and we just had to dash into the nearest female toilet to check our hair, arrange our clothes and apply make up. Yes, alright, go ahead and laugh and me. But seriously, i just... morph into a dumb giggly bimbo in the presence of men in uniform (and Jay Chou).
I know most of you are just going to say that what N and I felt was actually the stench of years of filthy, unwashed recruits, but nevertheless, it made us float on air. I am such a traitor to The BF.
Anyway, after the parade, the speeches (the boredom of which we alleviated by whispering comments to each other about this cute officer or that gorgeous 2nd sergeant), and various other things that I cannot remember now because my mind is full of memories of this particular 3rd sergeant with the most enticing dimples, who smiled at us and inquired politely if we were comfortable, the audience was asked to go down to the parade square and help the recruits put their jockey caps on.
I ran breathlessly down to Gryphon company where The BF was with N in tow, hoping that I'd be in time, because The BF had told me that his CO would ne putting on the jockey caps for the recruits who wouldn't have anyone coming.
I didn't count on the sheer size of the company. Over 200 identically-dressed, bald men standing together presents a formidable obstacle to searching for that one particular loved one, as I discovered much too late and to my chagrin.
All I could do was weave in and out of the rows, helplessly looking for The BF. All around me, parents and friends were happily chatting and hugging their sons/friends, and I began to have this sinking feeling that my trick may have backfired on me.
In desperation, I asked several guys whether they'd ever heard The BF's name and where he would be standing, but they shook their heads dumbly, even when I gave them all the details I could, including platoon number and bed number. Apparently they all had no idea how they were arranged. It wasn't according to platoon, or to bed number, or even to height (because The BF is one of the shortest guys in the company, and I'd already looked all down the front rows).
Finally, one of them told me the CO might know how the men were arranged, and pointed at this tall chap right at the other end of the company in a beret.
I was running towards the CO when suddenly I heard, "Dear, here! I'm here!"
I turned and saw my quarry, standing there with his jockey cap still in his hands, looking ecstatic.
I ran to him and flung myself upon him, almost sending him toppling into his company mates.
Just imagine the scene a la Meteor Garden, when Shan Cai is running towards Dao Ming Si and flings herself upon him and begins to sob with joy. Yes, later on I realised my melodramatic gesture carried all the elements of a Taiwanese soap opera, only without the tears.
Anyway, he pushed me away roughly, whispering, "Don't! You can't have physical contact with me; OC is over there! And my friends will laugh!"
I looked around and, indeed, the men standing around The BF were grinning at the ridiculous little tableau we presented. Some of them were covertly checking out N, who was in a spaghetti strap top, has a fabulous figure, and probably reminded them of how deprived they are stuck in Tekong Monastery.
I breathlessly put his cap on for him and gave him another quick hug before we heard, over the loudspeaker, orders to return to the grandstand.
So we went back, and after a few more speeches (which I tuned out, again), the men were told that they were no longer recruits, but privates.
At which a huge roar - "POP LOH!!!" went up from the guys, and thousands of jockey caps were flung into the air in jubilation.
I turned to N and said in amazement, "We came all the way down here and endured 2 hours of heat, hard grandstand seats and boring speeches, all for about half a minute of putting on his jockey cap for him, which he then throws into the air?"
N patted my back and tried to soothe my raging fury by directing my attention to a few other officers, who looked like they would fit in well in a Mr Universe pageant.
Later, back home, I told The BF how mad I was about seeing the jockey cap I put on for him being flung into the air (and later not retrieved because he lost it), and he replied, with a smirk, "Well, take it as retribution for making me so miserable all week."
I conceded defeat. BF 2, Sheena nil. Damn!