Dec 29, 2009

Writers, Photographers, NS and Saving The Trees

Did I ever mention that I really enjoyed my NS? A big part of it, anyway. My military vocation was a rare one. It was "writer". Yes, believe it or not, there is such a vocation, and my job was to write for Pioneer, the SAF magazine.

Half the week I would be touring different military bases (not just the army, but also the air force and the navy). The other half of the week I would be in my Mindef office, writing articles about the people I had interviewed and the events that I had witnessed.

I also had an NSF driver to drive me around, and an NSF photographer to take photos for my articles. It was fun.

Getting that job was like striking the lottery. Out of maybe 18,000 or 20,000 NSFs in my entire cohort, only two became "writers" (me and another guy). I can honestly say that neither of us was a "white horse". We didn't have dads or uncles who were brigadier-generals or perm secs.

Instead we were hand-picked for our writing ability. We were also selected for our confidence levels. (When you are 18 years old and just a chao private, you really do need confidence, to interview a senior guy like a brigade commander, or the Chief of Navy, or the Minister of Defence).

There was another NSF guy - his vocation was "translator". His job was to translate our articles, for the Chinese edition of Pioneer (not such a fun job, since he didn't get to go out of the office). His command of English and Chinese was formidable. At that age, he was already writing serious plays in English, and serious poetry in Chinese.

(As a matter of fact, I just tried to google his name. If I've found the right guy, then this year he just directed a bilingual theatrical production, and also won an award for Chinese poetry).

Oh yeah, and my NSF photographer friend. He later became a professional photographer and one year he even won Singapore's Young Artist of the Year award (for photography). You can see some of his stunningly evocative and beautiful pictures here, here and here. Heck, I'll post one photo on my blog - I don't think he would mind.

Photo by Ken Seet

Ken even knows how to make SAF soldiers look cool. Check out the 56 military photographs available here.

You have to be a little impressed about how Pioneer has consistently managed to identify 18-year-olds with talent in writing or photography. Pioneer's alumni NSFs include people like Russel Wong, Adrian Tan, Colin Cheong, Simon Tay and Warren Fernandez. If my memory serves me correctly, once upon a time the ever-incisive Cherian George was also an NSF Pioneer writer.

Anyway, why am I writing all this today? Because I just read someone's blog post, and it reminded me of my NS days. The post is entitled How to Cancel Your Pioneer Subscription, and it goes like this:

    Just go to this URL, fill in your particulars; type in some reasons, such as: you prefer reading the cyber version to save the Earth or your family is receiving duplicate copies; request to unsubscribe; then click SUBMIT. That’s it.

    Here’s a template:

      Dear Sir/Mdm,

      I would like to unsubscribe and stop receiving Pioneer magazine in my mailbox as I prefer reading the online version for environmental reasons.

      Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.

      Best Regards,

    I cancelled mine once I ORDed years ago.

    Frankly, the magazine is a waste of paper and money. Help spread the word along to save the Earth as I believe most people will just chuck their Pioneer magazine straight into the waste paper bin without even tearing open the plastic wrapper.

    Subscription is forced for all NSF at 40 cents per issue (if not I would have cancelled it immediately after getting my first issue). It’s cheap, but it’s still money. Not cancelling it will be wasteful as I am not interested in reading news about SAF. Moreover, there’s
    the online version (slightly different) which is better for the environment if you really want to read.

    The Singapore government is moving towards an advanced e-government model, encouraging Singaporeans to do more government transactions and queries online. Why is the SAF always a few steps behind?

    At the very least, the cost of the magazine should be absorbed by SAF, given that NS and reservist are national obligations for Singapore males who are rendering a
    service for the nation.

Well, I won't pretend to be too sad.

I truly enjoyed my NS at Pioneer. I got to know some very talented young folks. I also had the chance to meet and write about all kinds of people in the SAF - from defence scientists and BMT recruits, to the elite Naval divers and the Commandos.

And while I was at Pioneer, I always did my best to write good, solid articles that gave due respect and credit to the people featured in them.

However, shortly after I ORD'd, I too cancelled my own Pioneer subscription.

The simple truth is that the SAF is a conscript army, and most of the conscripts aren't that interested in the SAF. The average NSman does want to know about things that directly affect him, such as new IPPT rules, or increases in SAF allowances. But not much more than that.

Most of us wouldn't want to read about yet another OCS commissioning parade. Or yet another upgrade of an old piece of military hardware. Or yet another overseas training exercise - unless it involved our own unit. Maybe not even then.

Also, you can't argue with the "let's save paper" environmental point. Well, I don't know how to argue with it anyway. Years ago, I cancelled my subscription to the print edition of the Straits Times .... for the same reason.


mrdes said...

Agreed with your point that at the very least, MINDEF could have absorbed the 40 cents...Then again, I am very sure the publication is heavily subsidised.

There are people who do not have internet access (I know, I came in contact with them in my work) and
MINDEF does have an obligation to not leave them out (whether they like it or not:)). The magazine is one method. Then again, for the content, I am not the one to judge, for I too cancelled my:)

Pardon me, I don't know why, but I just don't like the tone of this posting. It's like you are rebelling just for the sake of rebelling. Perhaps I am not in the right frame of mind:P

Anonymous said...

"You have to be a little impressed about how Pioneer has consistently managed to identify 18-year-olds with talent in writing or photography. Pioneer's alumni NSFs include people like Russel Wong, Adrian Tan, Colin Cheong, Simon Tay and Warren Fernandez. If my memory serves me correctly, once upon a time the ever-incisive Cherian George was also an NSF Pioneer writer."

Is there a Gladwellesque point to be made?

Lucky you, Mr. Wang. Your army days sound like a blast.


kilroy said...

Dear Mr Wang

Surely you must have felt exploited (as did all the other NSF) being paid a miserly allowance
for doing the job of defending the country guised as NS side by side with regulars who were getting much much more...or were you too excited by the exposure?

P/S I too have cancelled my subs to the ST but not merely in an effort to reduce paper wastage

@@ said...

looks like u are very lucky the whole life, easy job in SAF, got wife and kids, got good housing and big salary job.
There should not be any praising for SAF.
Now i want to see u write another article on the SAF bad side.
Do it now.

Anonymous said...

I do not think its just pure luck on Mr Wang's part. Its being at the right place at the right time with the right planning and skillsets. Luck is certainly a factor, but thats not all there is to it, right?

Anonymous said...

White horses are not meant to be given preferential treatment. On the contrary, the label is there to ensure that these privileged kids are NOT given preferential treatment.

Don't understand? It will start to make sense if you re-read Cedric Foo's parliament statement several times:
"Contrary to public perception, the White Horse classification is not to ensure that sons of influential men gets preferential treatment. Instead it is to ensure that they do not get preferential treatment."

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence that Mr Wang is writing about this. Pioneer is carrying a story about the experiences of the current DiTV staff.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Yes, you can see one NSF there, in the crew of five.

That would have been analogous to my Pioneer role.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


On the contrary, I felt very grateful for my NS posting. Consider the many other places that I might have ended up in. :)