Sunday 7 April 2013

Thanks for the Safra vouchers, but... I’m no Bruce Willis

I finally received my Safra vouchers in the mail last week - $100 worth. Woohoo! Free money!

This comes about half a year after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced that all former and current NSmen will receive the vouchers “to enjoy a movie or meal with your family and friends” to commemorate the 45th anniversary of national service.

It has been so long since that announcement in October last year that the vouchers (which expire March 31 next year) can now also be used to commemorate the 46th anniversary of national service.

It has been so long that one of the participating outlets where you can use the vouchers doesn’t even exist any more. Shop N Save has become Giant as of last Monday. Fortunately, Giant is also a participating outlet.

It has been so long that last month, I received an e-mail from a Ms Yap Mong Nah, who’s the director of membership services at Safra, seeking my “kind understanding and patience” as they “strive to expedite the process”.

She wrote in the e-mail: “We are in the midst of processing your benefits but due to overwhelming responses, we need a longer processing time.”

Overwhelming responses? You mean Safra doesn’t know the number of NSmen we have?

Maybe that’s because Safra stands for Singapore Armed Forces Reservists Association and not Singapore Armed Forces NSmen Association

Maybe it’s about time Safra changes its name, although “Safna” sounds like a South African musical about apartheid.

There’s even an online forum thread dedicated to calling for Ms Yap to resign because of the delay.

That’s Singaporean for you. Even when we get something free, we complain that we’re not getting it fast enough.

(BTW, if you haven't received your vouchers, you did register for them, didn't you?)

Anyway, I got my vouchers and I thank Ms Yap and Safra for sending them to me along with the free one-year Safra membership card which I will never use.

You know what would be really useful? Bring back discounted beer!

That was how SAF used to show appreciation for the contributions of NSmen.

Even though I don’t drink beer myself, I still remember queuing up to buy cheap beer for my relatives with my green SAF-11B identity card at Beach Road once upon a time.

It’s a shame SAF doesn’t promote alcoholism anymore.

Although one of the outlets where you can use the Safra vouchers is a place called Barossa Bar, which offers craft beers, new world wines and champagnes, and “there’s no shortage of your favourite shooters, martinis and Mojitos”. Hic!

My initial plan was to use all my vouchers at my neighbourhood NTUC FairPrice supermarket, but then I thought how boring it would be to commemorate the 45th (or 46th) anniversary of national service by spending the vouchers on daily essentials like food, toilet paper and anti-dandruff shampoo.

I decided to follow the prime minister’s six-month-old suggestion and took my wife to see a movie.

And not just any movie but one that befits the 45th (or 46th) anniversary of national service. No, not Ah Boys To Men 2.

We went to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

It is the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen this year. I like Bruce Willis so much better in this than in the not-so-good A Good Day To Die Hard.

But most of all, I enjoyed paying for the movie with my Safra voucher. FYI, the vouchers can be redeemed at Cathay and Shaw cinemas.

The day after I saw G.I. Joe, I thought about Willis when I was at the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium burning paper offerings for my dead father and grandmother during the Qing Ming Festival.

Talk about dying hard. As I set the fake paper money alight, I wondered how long I had to keep doing this every year. My father has been dead for two decades and my grandma for twice as long.

Somehow, the fake money I was burning reminded me of the Safra vouchers. Both may not be real money, but someone still had to pay for them.

The difference is that not being dead, I actually have use for the vouchers.

But how long do I expect the Government to keep giving me money for my national service even though I have retired my navy uniform seven long years ago when I turned 40?

It's not as if I would ever be like 58-year-old Bruce Willis, whose retired general character in G.I. Joe was (spoiler alert!) reactivated to help save the day.

The only thing I can hope to save is 2 per cent of my grocery bill at NTUC FairPrice on Tuesdays after I turn 60.

Three years ago, I was so upset that the National Service Recognition Award, which amounted to between $9,000 and $10,500, wouldn’t be given to ex-NSmen who had already completed their service that I wrote a column to complain about it.

(As if to compensate, ex-NSmen get more Safra vouchers than current NSmen. Sons who get $80 or less worth of vouchers now envy their fathers who get $100.)

I had grown so accustomed to the extra money I got in my GST Offset Packages and Growth Dividends over the years just because I’m an ex-NSman that I felt entitled.

Now, realising that I’m no Bruce Willis, I feel the money would be better spent on the “living”, meaning the young Singaporeans who are still and will be serving our country as operationally-ready NSmen, to improve their pay and training safety.

Not that I would ever complain about getting vouchers and extra money from the Government just because I’m an ex-NSman. I would just complain less if I don’t.

I can’t wait to see what we’ll get for the 50th anniversary of national service.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 April 2013