Friday, October 29, 2010

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Chang's memoir which chronicles the lives of three generations (grandmother, mother and herself) serves to be more than just a recount of past experiences and a retracing of one's roots. It also serves to be a detailed testament to the living conditions of China under Mao from the inside and a hard look at the facets of millions that are living in fear, death, hate and destruction.

The appeal of the book lies in the fact that it never pretends to be a critical work of analysis and commentary about the Maoist regime. Rather, it is a portrayal of what life is like through the anecdotes of author. Having said that, I applaud Chang for her lucid expressions as she weaves a sense of poetry and prose into a tapestry that inspires, shocks, saddens and enrage the reader. Never once did she let her personal emotions mar her writing for she never succumbed to exaggeration or off-the-cuff kind of ranting about the misery of the time. Instead, she lets the events speak for itself and speak for itself it did.

These qualities make this book an important document for it helps to clarify what the various revolutions that brutalise the country was really like. It stretches far beyond ridding China of capitalist elements as it also sheds light on how the revolutions are a tool for Mao to galvanise power as well. It is certainly a far cry from the commonly perceived notion that the Maoist experiment consists a crazed man bungling through and brutalising the country in the hopes gaining power. An unsettling piece which shows how Communism started out as a hope for the future and ends up as an unspeakable display of horror. This certainly compels one to contemplate the nature of governance and the distribution of political power.

On a personal front, Chang's work presents the polemics of human behaviour. It is moving to see how one can be selfless, resolved to protect the ones we love and an unyielding faith in a good cause while, on the other extreme, the paranoid witch hunts that becomes a game of revenge, the rape and the perverse tussle for power certainly makes a sick in the stomach. Yet, it is a sobering reminder of the potential as well as the vulnerability and perversion of the human condition.

However, I do harbour some doubts as to the ability of Chang to research and relate the events to such a minute detail. For there is quite a lapse of time between what happened and the start of this endeavour. Furthermore, the details of the lives of her grandmother and mother is even farther back in the pages of history and the only few sources Chang has would be her elderly mother and perhaps a few other elderly friends who have known the family.

While such lingering doubts are important in the consideration of this work, it does not mar the excellence and the strength of the story-telling to any degree. A must-read!

As such, I will now set out to buy a copy of the biography of Mao by this fantastic author.

For a detailed summary and review of this book please visit:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Verse of the Day

Our steps are made firm
by the Lord,
When he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall
not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us
by the hand.

Psalms 37:23-4

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Leadership

'In this day and age, clone armies are weak armies. Rather, leadership is now about chemistry among people, allowing them to draw energy from one another.

For that to happen, those who are in leadership positions have to respect each individual in his own right.'

~ George Yeo, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Fullerton - SJI Leadership Lectures


Here's a rubbish poem that I wrote as my mum needed a poem to describe a plant as part of some cohesive activity she's having at work. I'll buy anyone drinks for whoever can guess the plant!

I hail from the Peruvian lands,
Where I decorate abodes
With my wide foilage, and
Emerald leaves which the
Creatore adorns it with mosaic
Pattterns for all to see.

I also boast beautiful white flowers
And a curly stem,
In which if you keep me
Warm and sheltered,
I'll bring the beauty
of Spring to those who
Possesses me!

Excerpts from a Soldier's Diary II

The previous post chronicles the days before my first ever book-out. This set of entries is written in the middle of my BMT.


This would definitely be one of the hallmarks of my life as firing a live round into a target is the closest one gets to experience real combat.

Firing the rifle is both an exciting and harrowing experience for me. The excitement comes from the adrenaline rush if a series of good shots. Yet, as I step back from the experience and contemplate the implications, I shudder in utter horror for it means that I have killed innocent men. What a lethal mix it will be when rage and excitement meet on the battlefield and killing becomes more than just winning the war, or staying alive, but a sport that disregards the sanctity of life!

As I was pondering on this issue repeatedly, I start to weep for the many children out there that are made to be soldiers. Their innocence is stripped at such a young age as they will be either plagued with nightmares of war or turned into a dehumanised killing machine. Peace is the best gift upon this broken world.



Another long and slow day has just passed as the other half of the company spends the day at the range, we were dismayed to find out that our second bookout will be on a Saturday rather than on a Friday. Nevertheless, bookout is always a welcoming prospect.

The movie, 'Drumline', do bear an extremely close resemblance to the army. Yet, there are some compelling insights that I was left with. The first would be the idea of professionalism, the balance between craftsmanship and a crowd-puller. I, for one, am a fan of the former and the motto of '[Excelling] through Basics' does hold true because at the end of the day, we have no one to prove except ourselves.

Another theme that runs through the movie would be the flexibility in instilling discipline. While those two ideas seem in direct conflict, I believe that it is very important to marry the two. Doing so will actually motivate one to endure the tough training but it will also forge a closer bond between the superior and the subordinate.



Today was by far, the most boring and uneventful day as half of the company are at the range re-shooting while the other are back at the company line rotting away. As for me, I came down with a nasty bout of cough and sore throat. Thus, not being able to go for the re-shoot.

We literally spent the whole day cleaning the rifles and getting frustrated of the fact that the rifle never seems to be clean enough. All I could think was the fact that I'll be going home tomorrow and will cherish the pathetic day's rest before returning to continue training.



We were all quite surprised when we were told that we will be having an excursion to the Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC). To my delight, it meant that I will get to bookout somewhere nearer to home.

The exhibition in SDC and especially the Army Museum was certainly intriguing as we got to see the different operations that the army was involved in. The various operations and historical events came alive thanks to our wonderful guide who added a personal touch to these events be relating his personal experience in the various operations. The most compelling story amongst them all was the story that made our guide signed on with the army. The story of how he was prohibited from entering a local pub, during the colonial days, due to the fact that was Asian stirred patriotic sentiments within myself. I sometimes wished that I could return and spend a few hours with the guide and listen to his stories.



To my surprise, I was awarded two days of light duties due to the fact that I had an MC till yesterday.

However, the officers seemed suspicious of the fact that a case of influenza warrants my staying away from camp. Yet, I believe that it is better for someone who has a serious illness to rest well for a day than to do menial work in camp and be perpetually sick.

Nevertheless, I do envy my fellow mates during the training as they get to do a routine of punches and kicks with the punching bag. In addition, I wonder if my results would improve from the last horrific IPPT results this Friday. However, I doubt that I would ever get to book out.



I'm glad that I'm feeling much better as I went on a long march and completed the fall grenade course despite being on status.

To my surprise, throwing a grenade is rather difficult and not as glorious as portrayed by the likes of many movies out there.

The combat training lesson was absolutely interesting as new techniques are incorporated into the training routine. The elbows, jabs and 'kneeing' certainly compels most of those on status to kick and punch a little. Ah well, I shall get back to full training tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Excerpts from a Soldier's Diary I

As I was clearing my camp locker, I found a diary in my drawer in which we were required to write about our experiences during Basic Military Training (BMT). It would be a waste if I dispose the diary without saving the pages of reflections. So here are excerpts from the diary as there are certain details that I am not at ease to disclose.


200109 (3 days to book out)

Today's training certainly proved how much I'm lacking in arm strength and stamina. I am increasingly worried that my physical inadequacy would result in me actually failing BMT.

The route march was interesting as we were able to see other parts of the island besides the usual training compound. Our captain's plans for us to do so certainly emphasise the point that to be good in anything, one has to know the subject inside out. This is perhaps what being a professional means.

The highlight of the day would be a lecture on core values by our captian in which he mentioned a compelling point that as soldiers, we do not hold a personal grudge against our enemies as the war is waged over a political reason. Therefore, we should always have a firm set of morals in dealing with our enemies.

Yet, this raises questions about the ethics of war and the government's role in it.


210109 (2 Days to book out)

Today was one of the unique days in the army as our schedule is not packed back-to-back.

The area inspection conducted was certainly tiring as all of us were appalled at the degree of precision that we were made to arrange our things and standardise it to a microscopic degree. This is something I have yet to get used to.

Speaking of standardisation, I do undestand the need for it as it ensures a quick, organised and efficient army. However, I still believe that variety is the spice of life and that a controlled measure of individualism will make the army more vibrant and dynamic in that respect.

An army that is worth serving is one which achieves unity in diversity.


220109 (1 Day More!)

Today we finally got to experience how it would feel like to shoot with a rifle. I'm absolutely intrigued by the sheer amount of mental control and concentration one must have in order to shoot well. Yet, one cannot help but wonder how is it possible to exhibit such control in the backdrop of a raging war?

Speaking of shooting, distant shots can often be heard due to the firing practice of the other companies. I often tried to put myself in a situation of war - the gragility, the fear that everytime a plane flies past, a bomb may land on us at anytime.

The precious commodity of life in conjunction to having experienced a sneak preview of a solider's life truly makes me consider whether the saying, 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', is true.


230109 (Book out day!)

There is a jovial atmosphere as everyone looks forward to their first book-out. The confinement weeks are definitely the longest weeks of our lives.

The obstacle course still worries me for I do lack in arm strength may result in me failing it. My poor fitness level is certainly a source of disappointment for me.

The topical discussion is slightly boring though it was useful in helping me understand the general direction that the SAF is taking in terms of its policies. I'm actually quite surprised at the drastic changes that the army is making in grooming the third generation. Such a shift definitely busts many myths about the army. What a welcoming change!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mature Lamentations

I am turning 20 tomorrow. While I have no idea what happened to the past 19 years, I am excited to hit big 20. I have finally step out of the ambiguous category of being a "young adult" into a real adult. At this juncture, there are so many things to celebrate about but I shall take the road less taken and lament. Yet, do not be repulsed for there is a good reason to lament.
I am going to be 20 and here are my achievements:
  • Completing PSLE, O Levels, A Levels and a tad more to go before National Service is out of the way.
  • Got a place in University (which I am grateful and totally excited about).

Isn't it a cause to lament when after 20 years of living your achievements can be summed up with 2 bullet points?

In taking a leaf out of history, people my age have invented stuff, commanded legions of troops (Napoleon was an officer at 16) and even start to conquer the rest of the known world while I am sitting here wondering what am I doing. Why?

My point of lamentation stems from the fact that when I look back at my parents or even grandparents generation, they are out there shaping their destinies in their own little way. Be it finding a job or going on further up the path of education. Even with extremely limited choices then, they seem to know who they are and what they want. What is it with my generation that we are so scared to carve out something for ourselves?

Most importantly, I often ask myself: what are you so scared about? You have unlimited opportunities; chances your parents would kill for and you are hesitating?

I guess it's time to leap.