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All the about Pkchukiss's life in the Singapore Armed Forces

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Smelly Social Experiement

Entering into the army virtually strips any person of his civilian identity. You don't call yourself "Mr. so-and-so", and former-fellow civilians take special care to steer a wide berth from you whenever you attend a formal function in that dizzy green camouflage pattern. I know, it is like getting a contagious disease.

I was made to be extremely self-conscious on my very first book-out almost 2 years ago. Decked out in the smartest uniform, yet smelling from the physical activity I was forced to do for the ritual book-out bunk inspection, I could only flap my hands helplessly while commuters wrinkled their noses in their blatant expression of disapproval.

I can't blame them. Multiply me by the entire company of recruits on the train, and you get the picture, or rather, the aroma. Thank goodness for the Arctic air-conditioning on the trains (at least during that time). I doubt that recruits nowadays are fortunate enough (ever since the train operator decided to keep the thermostat at a warm 26 degrees) to dry up as easily as I did.

Come to think of it, surely the other passengers are suffering from the overwhelming stench of male pheromones? I doubt so. I was sure that hiding somewhere among the seated crowd pretending to sleep (while the elderly and needy stand) was some obsessed girl with a morbid fetish for men decked in army uniforms ogling at me hungrily. I could not put my finger on it, but I definitely felt watched.

The same thing happened all through my days booking out in uniform. It stopped the very first time I took the train home in civilian attire. No eyes boring through to my skin, nothing to make me stand out, which suited me fine. So recently, I decided to conduct an experiment, to see if I wasn't simply being pickled in paranoia.

There was once I had to attend a function in full uniform, and I took the opportunity to dress as immaculately as possible, before taking the train. I was surprised when girls actually picked seats next to me (on an empty train), in turn snubbing other males.

I didn't know what to make out of all these. Either I really was paranoid as a recruit, or I smelt too nice on that particular day, looked too smart, or it was really just girls with a fetish for men in army uniform.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

ATEC Stage One

My stomach is not exactly a very cooperative partner whenever an examination is immenient. It apparently chooses to seize up into a tightly-knotted bunch, which of course does not make breakfast any easier to go down. I didn't take any on the day of my battalion's ATEC stage one. That this is "paper one" of the finals for my unit made my throat scratchy, and I came down with bouts of coughing fits. Then again, it might be a cold, since I was wringing nasal discharge from my nose every few minutes, topping off each round with a snort, which I hoped would contain the worst until I could sneak into the bathroom.

The testers evaluate only a handpicked few from each platoon, and these lucky people are tested on one expertise out of the vast myraid of skills organic to the platoon.

None of the commanders escaped the gaze of the ATEC evaluators. Some were chosen for the thermal imager test, some had to go to Khatib Camp to be tested upon their directing of artillery fire.

Initially, when the name list for the tests first arrived, I had thought that everybody would be examined in one field or the other. As luck would have it, the rest of the platoon escaped unscathed, with the exclusion of five team signallers, whom were chosen to be tested upon their medical skills.

I pondered the irony for a moment, while the Platoon Sergeant shook his head with a smile and wished us luck.

The trouble was, I was not rather profecient with the entire test itself, since all my medical lessons in camp have revolved almost solely around the IV test. For a mere component of the evaluation, it was given a disproportionate amount of attention. Meanwhile, I struggled to recall that lesson far too long ago, and conclusively drew up a total blank. I knew that I had to rely upon the single practice session the day before the evaluation to get things up to scratch. That I could only practice one medical emergency (which included one haemohrrage and fracture in each scenario) at one single go, and the variations of the haemohrrages and fractures further complicated things. Without a proper re-learning of the entire lesson of haemohrrages and fractures, I was stuck with the scenarios that I have already practiced. I was pretty rueful that we didn't have time to re-do that lesson. The rest of the day before the test was spent going through the test format, after which the 5 of us had a choice pick of victims to do some needle poking practice. I immediately snagged the buddy who sleeps next to me, feeling confident. What are the chances that I miss his fat veins?
It turned out that I really messed up. Not only was I terribly off the mark, the catether was also slightly kinked when I drew it out.

"Oops..." I said.

The Senior Medic came around, took a nonchalant look at the blood on the newspaper (it is easier to throw newspapers than to disinfect the floor) and promptly droned urgently, "Go and take another shot at him. Go! Go! Go!" At which I could only give an apologetic shrug.
In the end, it took the Senior Medic's personal advice that I managed to successfully poke the other guy sleeping next to me. As he laid there with the arm outstreched, and I knelt there confounded by his invisible veins, the Senior Medic came around and guided my shaky hand (and needle) smoothly into the bloodstream.

In case you were wondering why I was bantering so much about the day before the test, when I actually started off with the day of the test itself, I ask that you bear with me. The links become apparent after it is revealed.

But back to the test itself. That morning, after the breakfast that I didnt eat, the 5 of us trudged beary-eyed into the medical centre for a crash lesson. With just 1.5 hours to the test, we were really hemming it in on a razor thin line.

The Senior Medic came back with some drinks a while later. To bribe you guys into doing well, he said. His eyebrows were furrowed into a temporary cast mold as we laughed at his joke.
Promptly, the examiners arrived at 8.30 and proceeded to hustle everybody out of the place. Something about not letting us have a sneak preview. The first was escorted into the hall, leaving 4 of us to do the handwringing routine, along with a few other medics unfortunate enough to get chosen for the same test.

The Boss came and gave a few words of encouragement, before floating off to another venue to dish out more of his canned words to others taking the other tests.

It was 11 when I finally got called up. At that point, I was already sick of the worrying (not to mention the frequent trips to drain the dripping nose), and went into the room with my guard down.
The lady gave me a once over, and decided that she didn't like me. Her frown told me so. I then proceeded to blotch my fractures and haemohrrages in a spectecular blaze of glory. She gave an audible sigh of frustration, and proceeded to re-tie the dressings with such a medical profeciency that I couldn't even recognise it from my lessons. I then realised that I was being tested by a civilian expert with the utmost regard for standards. I knew then that I had flunked my first two tests. At least she was pleasant enough to inform me that I had at least met her requirements for a pass.

My heart sank, since my next test would be on my IV skills, something that I was apprehensive about, since I had flunked so may times before. With no hope of a break in my failing spree, I sat there stoned. I wasn't even thinking about anything. Then my partner appeared.

"How's your veins?" he asked.

"Pretty fat, but they like to run, so you've gotta be careful when you stick them in. How's yours?"


"Er... Perfect."

When it came to be my turn to IV my partner, I took a long time to gather the stuff. The station tester smiled encouragingly at me as I fumbled with the pouches. Another shot consipring looks at me. I had to be careful. I took my partner's hand and examined it for the most obvious target for the needle, and the second tester immediately came up to me.

"Time starts the moment you check for the veins."

The other tester disagreed, an undercurrent of conflict passed between them.

"Er... Never mind that. I can start now." I cut in sharply.

And it went even smoother than I thought. The needle found its mark, and I was able to feed my partner some of the salt solution through his arm, gaining a satisfactory comment from the first tester.


The final test was on CPR, a dead gift, since I had done it so many times previous.
The Senior Medic was astonished when he heard how four of us managed to succeed in our IV test on the first try. He beamed so much that he called the company line up to spread the news. Which naturally made us feel really great. He didn't care that most of us only managed a pass mark for our fractures and haemohrrages. Which made me relieved.

The final results are not out yet, but it is the end of ATEC stage one.

IV, anyone?

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(The comments software is currently down. I will post the link once it is back up.)

Update 1: It has been one week since that software is down. I guess I will go back to using Blogger's in-built comment system.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

National Kidney Foundation — the scandal

NKF: Personal thoughts about charity

I have the utmost respect for charities: they are aid organisations which reach out to the needy, and provide much needed assistance, in the form of information, treatment, rehabilitation, etc.
A family which takes care of their charges, much like how the government serves the people at large, without the exhorbitant fees we affectionately label "taxes".

Yet their day to day operations requires funds to function (supplies need to be bought, supporting contractors need to be paid), and the government is not going to be responsible for the income of these charities. (Ok, so the government does give grants, but such money is always insufficient, given that it is a case of many mouths fighting for the small pie). Charities therefore have to resort to goodwill money from the public to continue to operate.

Making matters worse is that other charities have to do the same in order to meet their costs. We end up with volunteers totting donation tin cans in the street every day, fund raisers on television on Sundays, and advertisements solicitating for monthly contributions. Other charities put up big prizes as a reward for donating. Among the ranks of charities in Singapore, the National Kidney Foundation musters the most might, with deep reserves.


Since young, I have always looked forward to fund-raisers: not only were they few and far between, they were also sincere, and were treated with good taste. I could still remember dialling the NKF donation hotline back when they still took $2 donations. I took money out of my pocket money to support the cause, and that really felt good.

However, in recent years, the landscape of NKF's charity shows have changed. No longer do they treat the suffering of the patients with dignity. Continuously reminding kidney patients of their suffering with many videos of real life cases in the bid to boost sympathy, not only do these patients get a harsh reminder of their exceptional vulnerability, they also feel exploited.
Television artistes commit dangerous stunts to awe spectators and their money. Some are hurt during practice, and make it to the actual event to drum up more sympathy votes instead of concentrating on recuperating in the hospital.

In addition to that, the NKF tries to lure in gamblers and practical donors with big prizes. A condominium. Big cars. Small prizes for multiple donations. Loyalty rewards for past donations. Call now, and get a chance to win these prizes!

This seriously undermines the aim and cause of charitable giving, degenerating it into a simple case of a business deal between a consumer and the organisation. The product? A chance at winning a nice car.

If this is the case, we need to relook the NKF's status as a non-profit organisation. With such a obvious purchase and sale of services, it is evident that NKF is operating as a commercial entity, and should thus be registered as such.

Entry into cancer and impact

These fund raising tactics, together with aggressive flag days, donation cards, monthly pledges by donors, have allowed NKF to reap in substantial profit over the years. In fact, a recent audit found that it had reserves capable of sustaining the organisation for 30 years if all fund raising activities were to halt at this point.

With all its aggressiveness at fund raising, and that massive reserves, kidney patients with NKF still find themselves paying hundreds of dollars for dialysis treatment. NKF subsidies only $300 out of the $2000 payable per month for an average kidney patient, who earns $1500 a month. With its runaway success, shouldn't NKF do more to help kidney patients?

Instead, the organisation chose to set up a cancer fund, in order to justify continuing their fund raising activities, muscling in on the Singapore Cancer Society and its patients with its massive marketing strength. Now, NKF Cancer patients are the only patients in Singapore with cancer. With its smokescreen advertising, it would appear that the Singapore Cancer Society and other charities do not already support cancer patients. This has resulted in funds originally destined for SCS being diverted to NKF's Cancer fund, leaving SCS's original patients with lesser support.

After cancer, what's next on your hit list NKF?

Scandal exposed

Recent events have shocked the country. More in the link above.

It appears that the CEO has been drawing so much bonuses without even justifying it to the public. He could fly on business class seats to other countries on public's donations while supposed recepients of NKF fork out money every month to continue dialysis, and bare their real life stories out to the whole country, to solicit for donations, all for the sake of more extravagent purchases by the management.

There is really something fundementally wrong with this system. Is this a real charity?

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

As promised...

The difference between something left alone in its wrapper and the same object sitting naked is something uncomprehendable.

Dust and water vapour introduces weird congs into a previously smooth and efficient running machine. I ran my printer for the first time in a year toay. Not having used it for such a long time, I had assumed that it would run with the same flawlessness as the very first time it did running out of its bubblewrap.

So it came as a total shock when I returned from the kitchen to find my whole stack of plain paper printed with nonsensical symbols. Almost immediately, thoughts of a paranormal entity entered my head: was my printer possessed?

I toggled the power switch. It flashed its led indicator lights randomly, before spewing forth even more weird symbols.

The printer stopped in the midst of chewing up another hapless piece of paper after I pulled the plug out of the neurotic machine.

It seemed to work fine again after I forcefully dragged the victim right out from under the entire feed tray. I printed a test page, which came out with alternate bands of light and darker ink, something that did nothing to reduce my ire. Though things improved after cleaning the cartridges, I knew that this printer would not survive another period of dis-use.

In The Cashflow Quadrant, Robert mentions the typical man (or woman, for that matter), trapped in the rat race of constantly fighting for raises in a job. When he gets one, he finds himself nudged into a higher tax bracket, which means more money out of his pay even before he gets to see it.
To make things worse, banks encourage these people to upgrade to a new and better property, with a very attractive refinancing plan, and of course, the nice interest to boot. After all these, the happy man goes out on a spending binge with his apparent raise (after all, he deserved it), and gets into all kinds of debt.

I am not particularly good at explaining such concepts (and I know that this is not an accurate portrayal of his ideas), since they were never my forte in all my years in school. (Come to think of it, neither were any of my friends.) But I assure Dear Readers, if you have been thinking that a job is all you ever need to be financially secure for life, then The Cashflow Quadrant is going to be a wake up call; rude but hopefully timely.

I am not going to get any benefit out of promoting this book, since I am not an affiliate selling the book (I should probably join though). So take my word for it. Get the book, sit down for one afternoon, and get financially educated.

Footnote: There is no particular reason why my typings have gotten so rotten (at least it looks so from my point of view). Perhaps if somebody would be kind enough to point out any blatantly obvious flaw, I would be really grateful. Thanks. I really had some tough time hammering this out on my keyboard (it is taking the brunt of my annoyance with the printer). Inspiration escapes me these days.

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Enlightened Friday

I didn't go home when the rest of the battalion took off for the weekend.

Though I was officially not confined, I had a day-long bike orientation to driving on the WRONG (i.e. Right) side of the road on Saturday. Either I could book out at 7 pm and reach home around 9. Sleep early, wake up early, take an early train, and it's back to camp, or I could go on a crazed LAN session with a few others, and go back to camp to play the company's X-box, before collapsing into a similar heap, and end up with a splitting headache the next morning. Play was more than compelling enough to make up my mind.

And it turned out totally different from what I expected. I didn't touch the X-box, though the others who stayed behind were deeply immersed into "Winning Eleven". I was curious about "The Cashflow Quadrant", another book in the Rich Dad Poor Dad series. Financial intelligence is a remote, if not a completely alien topic to me. So far, the furthest I have stretched my mind upon this topic is when a broker-sponsored television series on investment aired. I knew that it wasn't what I wanted. $1,000 in seed money was something I had been unwilling to put up, so that stray thought on investment stayed at that: pure speculation.

Things moseyed along until I spotted a bunkmate reading "The Cashflow Quadrant". Having lent him the predecessor, I was rather tempted to find out just how much more this Japanese author had to offer, and I borrowed it for one weekend. Speeding through this book, I realised insights into the breadth of the financial world.

Robert exemplifies the predator-prey relationship (though these were not his actual terms) where people pay to take a risk in a piece of land, while the bank happily sits upon the loan agreement, secure in profiteering from the extreme interest rates due to it. Neither is it ever worried about payment lapses: they can simply foreclose the property and sell it again to another sucker.
As an "employee", I need to think like an "investor" in order to be able to achieve greater wealth: I should not be using the monthly paycheck for expenses: a prudently acquired asset (something which causes money to come in to me) would be a more suitable to finance my expenses, and to balance out liabilities (something which means money out of my pocket).

There's more which I would type about, if my brain were half-awake. More to come in the afternoon!

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Office Politics

A pure combat vocation is neither immunity nor a shield to office politics (and its derivatives, part thereof).

Don't get me wrong: we have none of the blade-wielding back-stabbers that are as common place as dust mites in our company line (such stuff are found in offices where people clamour for glory, promotion, and a lucrative pay rise, not among national servicemen), and the numerous quarrels we have back in our bunks are nostalgic experiences reminiscent of our childhood bickerings. In fact, I have never seen a fight break out.

However, absence of office politics doesn't mean that somebody isn't harbouring ulterior motives for their actions. One such person has recently revealed his master plan towards skiving. The premise was simple, yet at the same time, deceptively ingenious: get yourself involved in another big project with a deadline that wraps around you like a noose, then ask to be excused from the original program (usually always something unenjoyable, like getting IV-ed). It helps that you look at your boss with beady eyes, almost as if you were pleading to be arrowed for that big project. Spending time on these projects were worthwhile, since incentives are almost always guaranteed once the job is done, and there is the additional benefit of escaping tough (and probably necessary) training.

For anonymity's sake, I won't reveal the perpetrator's name, since his high-profile has already exposed his rear to some serious whacking by the commanders in recent days. For dear readers whom are my platoon mates, I am sure that this person's identity is crystal clear, so I need not risk exposing more hints of his identity.

But back to the project: this time, by consensus from some of the kings of sabotage, I got arrowed (trust me, I spent a lot of energy trying to deflect it) to aid the organisation of a battalion level charity car-wash. My inexperience in dealing with major projects (those puny projects we took on during junior college days were mere child's play compared to the scale of this one) probably led to frustrating episodes in bunk where I would fret over the undone work while the other two guys spent their time slightly happier: with their GameBoys. Thank goodness for guides on dealing with people.

I would just wait for them to panic, and let us all tear our hairs out together. It is lonely being the only one doing all that worrying.

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