Saturday, December 10, 2005

Melvyn Tan

Melvyn Tan? What do I think of Melvyn Tan? I want to sympathise with him, for his parents are old and he wanted to come home to take care of them. Who wouldn't? I would if I were in his shoes.

But when I heard that all he got was a $3000 fine for dodging his 2 1/2 years ( I don't know how long it was back then) of National Service, it made my blood boil. What made it worse was that he said he could not remember how much he was fined. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating when I said that my 'blood boiled', but at the very best, I could not find even a single ounce of sympathy in my heart for him.

Melvyn Tan faced a possible jail term when he decided to return to Singapore after many years in England. Being a gifted pianist who was about to attend a prestigious music school, he decided at a very young age not to return home to face what every other singaporean with a dick had to go through. His family subsequently lost $30,000 as a penalty... I imagine $30k thirty years ago to be a fucking large sum of money.

So what did his $3,000 fine mean to us? Well to me at least, it meant that as long as you were rich and talented, you could get away with it. Let me get this clear before I go on, I don't see NS as a punishment for owning a dick, I see it as a rite of passage. I see it as some force, that would stand up and defend our tiny little 640sq Km of real estate that we call home. That even if we fought and died trying to stop our women from being raped and our buildings from being razed to the ground, we did our duties. I see it as something that would unite us all in our darkest hour.

One person's contribution is insignificant. Just like any other guy in the street, I am just a small fry, a small fry in a really really large box of fries. Melvyn Tan's absence didn't make us any weaker or cause any harm to Singapore. But if everyone were to think selfishly and back out when the time came for him to shave his head and don some stupid grey shirt with the word "ARMY" behind it, then I think we can all kiss our "clean and green" city goodbye and jump into the sea.

Soon after the media blew this case out of proportion, the defence minister mentioned that he was personally in favour of jailing NS dodgers. I guess they didn't want to make our future chow recruits think that there is an easy way out.

In the weeks that passed, Melvyn Tan was the centre of much debate, he cancelled his sold out concert and stepped down from a judging post in some violin competition or something like that. Weary of all the hoo-ha generated by the media, he must have been feeling pretty alienated.

Today, I don't feel so unsympathetic/angry as I did two-three weeks ago because to some extent, he has received his punishment, not meted out by a court of law but by the people of Singapore.

My lady friend asked me this: What if my son turned out to be a gifted pianist, would I be worried that he injure his fingers during his NS? Would I want him to go through it? I couldn't answer at that moment, my mind weighing between the money and fame he could attain :p and his responsibility as a Singaporean boy.

After some thought, I will tell him to bite the bullet and keep his hands away from hot barrel of the rifle during and after firing.


At 5:52 PM, Blogger solitudex said...

Look at things from the other perspective instead of basing ur reactions on just your personal view of NS. You see NS as a essential rite of passage. A very optimistic perspective, which I'm sure helped you survive your service term.

Here, I speak as a Singaporean musician currently serving NS. As part of the arts community, I see the SAF as the organisation that functions on the dreaded emotion - fear and where every single individual is forced to conform, which is a seriously impedes creative processes.

Some parts of your blog seem to state that NS is essential for the defence of Singapore against invasion, but if so, why does this issue make your blood boil? Is it truly because deep inside you, you still felt it was redundant and a waste of time? You commented on the cost of the fine, which implies that if you have that amount of money to spare, you would have gladly paid it to avoid NS, and that starts to contradict your view that NS is essential.

I don't know if I had misunderstood what you wrote but I just hope to provide an alternate viewpoint as one who is in the arts circle, yet serving the much dreaded NS at the same time. =)

At 5:45 AM, Blogger siyang said...

Hi Solitudex,

To a certain extent, every male Singaporean puts something on hold for 2 years - 2 1/2 years..the same way you feel NS impedes your creative process...(how fear is used to make people conform, is another story) Not just for musicians or writers. EVERYONE sacrifices something. I had to start University late and watch all my female peers graduate and have their careers jump started.

At the same time, I see NS as an essential duty, like I mentioned in my post. Perhaps... deep inside I do sometimes feel that it's all a waste of time, but at the same time, deep down inside I do feel a sense of responsibility.

Perhaps it's my mind trying to rationalise the sacrifices that we all make or maybe it's the patriotic voice of a boy born and bred in Singapore. It's kind of a love-hate relationship that's why it sounds so contradicting.

And...NO, I definitely will not pay myself out of NS... even if I had the chance to five years ago. What I was angry about, was not how little Melvyn Tan was fined BUT how he took it so lightly, that he was arrogant enough to forget the amount he was made to pay. And my concern here is that other rich kids would use this whole episode as an example to follow.

I hope that I have made myself clearer and answered your questions.


At 8:36 AM, Blogger Mark said...

once upon a time, not so long ago, britain had NS too. yet it didn't stop its dreamers and artists from flourishing. if anything, it gave them more exposure and experiences to write about. to name some off the top of my head: roald dahl (royal air force. WWII), wilfred owen (army. WWI. poet), sir arthur conan doyle (army crimean war). There are also excellent creatives from other countries such as miguel de cervantes (spanish navy. oran war)...

and i'm quite sure there are many more.

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not doing your NS does not NOT make you a patriot.


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