Monday 19 May 2008

Sailing off into the sunset (without puking)

I get sentimental over the weirdest things. Like, say, missile gunboats - known as MGBs for short. Just call me Mr Softie.

When I read that the Republic of Singapore Navy had decommissioned the MGB squadron in a sunset ceremony at Changi Naval Base last Tuesday after over three decades of service, a part of me died a little.

Though this was nothing compared to the death pangs I felt when they shut down Brani Naval Base in 2000.

I had spent most of my full-time national service at Brani Medical Centre as a medical orderly who refused to wear a tunic because it didn't flatter my body type.

What is now called HarbourFront is from where I used to make a daily commute by sea to Pulau Brani early in the morning before the Sentosa-bound holidaymakers arrived.

One of the more bizarre and joked-about aspects of the supposedly high-security naval base was that you could see the Sentosa golf course across the water just 150m away from the wharf where the warships are alongside.

So if you really wanted to, you could actually ding an MGB with a golf ball with a decently hit drive from Sentosa. I think that counts as a water hazard with a penalty of one stroke.

Dinged or not, the MGBs were at the time the pride of the fleet, the most advanced vessels we had.

But going on an exercise in one was like being in a teacup during a tsunami. You've never been seasick until you've been seasick onboard an MGB.

As a medic, I would be attached to different ships for exercises. The plum attachments were, of course, the giant Landing Ship Tanks or LSTs which had survived World War II.

Size does matter.

Those old LSTs have since been replaced by sleeker models with a computerised bridge that resembles the Starship Enterprise (from Star Trek: The Next Generation, not the dinky original series).

During my service, the MGBs themselves were already being edged out by the newer, sexier-sounding missile corvettes (you know, like the sports car) as the navy's most advanced vessels.

But even the corvettes have now been outstripped by the recently commissioned stealth frigates in terms of technological doodads.

And in a few years, the stealth frigate will be made to look like a sampan when the navy acquires an even more ridiculously advanced ship that can sail at warp speed or transform into a giant attack-bot or something.

It's the circle of life - but with weaponised boats.

All of us will be replaced eventually by someone younger and technologically better equipped.

But when we're forcibly retired, it will be with the comforting knowledge that our replacements will also be replaced eventually by someone younger and with anti-submarine capability.

So goodbye, RSS Sea Wolf, once a perennial Best Ship winner and Singapore's first missile gunboat.

I hardly knew ya. I was too busy trying to keep from puking my guts out.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 May 2008

Hi, SM!

I really enjoyed your humour me column today. It's delightful. Thanks!

Have sailed in MGB (the skipper was puking) and MCV. Wrote book about the Navy for the RSN in the early 1990s. Used to work in TNP.

Peter Lim

Catch Mas Selamat? Send Iron Man

Not long after Mas Selamat's escape on 27 Feb, I wanted to write a column about it.

But I was worried that the authorities would suddenly get their act together, catch the guy and put an end to our national embarrassment before my article came out, thus rendering it obsolete.

I expressed my concern to a colleague who scoffed dismissively with a cynicism that only a long-time New Paper journalist could muster. "As if," she said.

That was 11 weeks ago. I needn't have worried.

Mas Selamat is still at large, even though he's not in the news much these days, dominated in turn by seat belts, killer cyclones and earthquakes, not to mention killer grocery prices.

He's not even the most famous man in Singapore anymore. That honour belongs to Iron Man this week. (Cue Black Sabbath.)

I mean what news is there to report about Mas Selamat since the sage culminated in the big reveal in Parliament last month that he climbed out the toilet window of the Whitley Road Detention Centre?

Not exactly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters - like say, Iron Man.

It was an anti-climatic climax that provided no closure whatsoever because, well, we still haven't caught the guy. Maybe we should send Iron Man. (Sing it, Ozzy!)

How is it possible that we could apprehend that 20-year-old National Serviceman who went AWOL with a SAR-21 rifle within 24 hours last September, but not a mole-faced middle-aged escaped detainee with a limp?

That's what leading to conspiracy theories, like the one Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang brought up in Parliament that Mas Selamat had died in detention.

To some, it's more reasonable and perhaps more comforting to believe in a successful government cover-up than a failed island-wide manhunt by the security forces on which our nation's defence depends.

Despite the authorities' insistence on the contrary, many take it for granted that if Mas Selamat hasn't gone from this earth, he has at least gone from this country.

This is based on no more evidence than the simple fact that he hasn't been found yet. Because if he's still here, Singapore is so small that we would've found him already.

I beg to differ. My niece is getting married next month and she is not sending me a cake. Why? Because she lives in Bedok and I live in Choa Chu Kang. She said it was too far for her to travel. Clearly, Singapore isn't so small after all.

Now I just hope they don't catch Mas Selamat before this column comes out.

As if.

- Unpublished

Monday 5 May 2008

Free money no enough

Like most Singaporeans, I can't resist free stuff. But unlike most Singaporeans, I don't believe in queuing for free stuff.

Because queuing takes time and time is money. So, if I have to spend my hard-earned time in a long queue to get the free stuff, how free is it?

Which is partly why I gave Free Cone Day a miss last week.

For the shameful few of you who don't keep abreast of dairy-related news, Free Cone Day is a 30-year-old annual publicity stunt where Ben & Jerry's gives free scoops of ice cream to those queuing for it.

To put it in ungrammatical economic terms, 'there ain't no such thing as a free lunch'.

But is there? A day after Free Cone Day, without having to do anything, I received $200 in my bank account.

According to a letter from the CPF Board, I will be credited another $200 in Growth Dividends on 1 Oct, plus another $200 on 1 Jul as part of the GST Offset Package.

So I'm getting $600 in all this year.

Well, happy birthday and early merry Christmas to me! And I guess to all Singaporeans. Free money beats free ice cream any time. And no queuing!

But wait, what was that earlier quote again - with the double negative about free meals?

Is the money really free? I know I was given an additional $100 because I was a national serviceman.

That's two and a half years of my youth right there. Not to mention the countless days in reservist training. This includes rehearsing for and marching in the 2001 National Day Parade while trying and eventually failing to keep my regular job.

So that $100 isn't exactly free. The Government taketh away, the Government giveth back.

And $200 is supposed to help me cope with the 2 per cent GST increase in July last year. Now, a mere 10 months later, we seem to need more than a GST Offset Package.

We need an Over-US$100-A-Barrel-Of-Oil Offset Package.

We need a Rice Price Rise Offset Package.

We need a Hawker Charging Me 50 Cents More For Food Offset Package.

We need a Not Sure Got Recession Or Not Offset Package.

We need a Great Singapore Sale Coming Soon Offset Package.

And just like that, my $400 Growth Dividends has become my Insane Inflation Offset Package.

It's enough to make a man regret not queuing for free ice cream.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 May 2008