Tales from Two Years is a record of Aaron Chan’s experiences during National Service. Aaron is now based in the USA.

This guide does not tell you how to arrange your locker, or how many clothes hangers to bring; instead, it deals with bigger picture things that can help you now,before you even cut your hair. Are you ready? Let’s go.

We were tasked to an old and mostly abandoned camp—rumors said it was one of the most haunted camps in Singapore. It looks benign enough during the day– old, boarded-up multi-storey barracks with faded, white paint coming off in dirty flakes, long winding roads shaded by the dense branches of tall trees, and a quaint museum the size of a small house hidden behind hedges in a depression in the ground. But at night, everything changes.
What made Tekong Island my personal hell wasn’t the training, the army discipline, or the homesickness–none of that could compare to how painful it was to have my internal world completely collapse. To explain my sudden inability to socialise with anybody, I tried and tried to find some reason, some way I was behaving differently from before, but I couldn’t find anything.
Before I could say anything, he reached his bare hand into the bowl, right at the waterline, and began to scrub the bowl with his fingers. Splish, splash. We watched wordlessly, stunned into silence. After a few seconds, the PWO stopped and straightened up, satisfied. But he didn’t turn around to leave. Instead, he pressed the flush, and dabbled his fingers in the running water. “See? Can wash hands also.”

Times like these are when you curse the infantry, the army, and your miserable life with every questionable Hokkien phrase in the dictionary, wishing you were at home, not traipsing through the jungle on a Sunday, dragging someone’s body up a hill. But that’s just another regular night in the field, another mission to complete before the next one tomorrow.

Some units threaten offenders with extras for the sin of a single piece of candy. And yet, many choose to carry on committing edible crimes. One can understand why –most servicemen hate combat rations, and the sweaty, sleepless grind of missions leaves everyone longing for some sweeter fare.