Wednesday, March 03, 1999


Of the many things HQ Platoon were tasked, one of the more mundane was the organising of entertainment for the officers and men of the company. We had OC’s Evenings, which were events with stage skits, dancing, singing, but mostly beer drinking contests. We also converted a classroom into a video screening room and borrowed videos from Boon Lay to play on Nights Off, for the benefit of those wise enough to stay in camp instead of making the 20km journey into town, wasting more than half the Night Off.

In the platoon commanders’ office on the ground floor of company line, we had an aquarium inherited from the previous batch at ‘A’ company. It was empty when our batch arrived at 46 in March 1989, except for the pebbles and a plastic shipwreck.

HQ Platoon filled it with water, and went to Boon Lay to buy guppies. Encik Ang was unimpressed. The aquarium had to be something more entertaining. He asked for "fish that ate other fish". So we bought bigger fish, the names of which I do not know. These buggers ate all the guppies and then took bites out of each other. Encik Ang was livid, and abused the platoon for buying "useless fish". One of my bunkmates, Pte. "Big Fat Yoyo" Teo Ho Yeo, who was the soldier with the most "kang tow" (or connections), told us he could get piranhas, even though it was illegal to keep them in Singapore.

So we bought the piranhas, which looked more harmless than we imagined. But boy, did they eat every damned thing. Funnily enough (and to our benefit), they were not into cannibalism. On slower nights on company line (and there were few), we’d catch lizards and cockroaches and throw them into the fish tank, then watch the little buggers tear at them with their razor sharp teeth. Great care was taken to keep the creatures we caught alive until we put them into the tank.

This blood sport continued throughout my national service days. Money was extracted from the officers and NCOs of ‘A’ Coy for the maintenance of the aquarium, and for the purchasing of little frogs from Boon Lay market. Yes, we fed the live frogs to the piranhas. The officers would jostle for viewing space in front of the fish tank on "feeding nights" and members of HQ platoon including myself would take turns to throw the frogs into the tank.

Cleaning the fish tank was a task none of us looked forward to. There was always a risk of the little fish biting our fingers off. A garden hose was used to siphon the dirty water through the office’s window into the back garden. We’d empty the tank until the dorsal fins of the poor fish were above water and their bellies were scratching the pebbles. Once, an absent minded member (ok, it was me) of HQ platoon left the operation unattended and came back to find the piranhas thrashing about in two centimetres of putrid water. Clean water was then put back into the tank, and there’d be another fortnight before we drew straws (ok, lom chiam pas) to decide who would clean the tank.

Near the end of service, during the month of April 1991, 46th was billeted to train in Taiwan for three weeks. Usually, there’d be a few slackers left behind on medical grounds. This time, amazingly, ‘A’ Coy was at full strength. On hindsight, it was probably because Taiwan was the most fun of overseas training destinations. No one wanted to miss out. Everyone had heard of the "easy Taiwanese chicks", even though that turned out to be more fable than fact.

Company line had to be looked after by some sick soldier from another company. HQ platoon painstakingly instructed this soldier to look after everything — water the plants, lock the doors, and FEED THE FISH. We told him that the fish were "meat eaters", as that was the closest Hokkien equivalent we could muster for "carnivore".

When we returned from Taiwan three weeks later, the fish tank was empty save for the pebbles and the plastic shipwreck. Encik Ang came into our bunk and said simply, "Fish are gone". We went to ‘C’ Coy to interrogate the caretaker. He said the fish had all died. We asked why and whether he had remembered to feed them. He said he did as instructed, feeding them "meat". We asked what "meat" exactly.

The stupid bugger had fed Spam to the piranhas.

Tuesday, March 02, 1999

Japanese Gardens

Sungei Gedong Camp 2 was a traditional Army camp. Four company blocks surrounding a parade square cum heliport. Each company block had a small carpark and little patches of green which were designated "platoon gardens". Each platoon was responsible for the design and maintenance of their little patch.

'A' (for Attila) Company's 1st platoon, which I belonged to for 5 months as M203 grenadier, was possibly the laziest. Platoons 2, 3 and HQ platoon came up with Japanese Gardens complete with koi ponds and aviaries (they went to the market at Boon Lay to buy canaries. Regularly too, considering the poor birds' lifespans were abysmally short once they arrived at 46th.)

We had a Garden Competition, which was won by Platoon 3 hands down, for their beautiful horticulture and koi pond. Platoon 1, led by Sergeant S. Nathan and 2nd Lieutenant Alan Ang, came up with a theme garden which I thought reflected our ingenuity more than our laziness. We called it "The Grand Canyon". It was made of nothing but rocks and pebbles of all shapes and sizes.

Garden Comp was the brainchild of Staff Sergeant Ang Teck Hock, the cunning but illiterate Company Sergeant Major (CSM) or Encik, as he was formally addressed. The competition’s aim was to foster camaraderie and hopefully provide little oases in an otherwise drab camp environment. "Boost morale", Encik would say. But one look at "The Grand Canyon", you'd only want to look overhead to check for vultures.