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Time To Bite The Bullet

, , , , , | Romantic | October 11, 2020

I’m fifteen, and I’m at a family dinner at my grandparents’ place. The conversation rolls around to my relatives’ time in the army. Every male in Singapore has to serve two years in the army when they turn eighteen, so I’m quite interested in finding out what I’ll have to go through. We call it National Service or NS.

Me: “So, what’s the scariest thing in NS?”

Cousin #1: “Live firing. You never realise how loud gunshots are until you’ve shot a gun.”

Cousin #2: “Don’t listen to him. He spent all his time on a desk job. What’s scarier is the explosives. However loud a gunshot is, they’re louder.”

Cousin #3: “Forget that. You’ve never left Singapore. There’s nothing scarier than camping in the Brunei jungle and waking up with a snake right beside you.”

Uncle #1: “Hey, I was part of the National Guards. Nothing is scarier than rappelling out of a helicopter.”

Uncle #2: “I was in NDU [Naval Diver Unit] in the eighties. Last time wasn’t as easy as now. Scariest is the drown-proof training. They tie you up and throw you into a pool.”

The conversation degenerates into my three cousins and two uncles bragging about their scariest exploits during their time in the army. My aunt decides she’s had enough of it.

Aunt: “Quit your d**k-measuring contest. I know what the scariest possible thing in NS is!”

Cousin #1: *Unconvinced* “What is it, Mom?”

Aunt: “Potong Jalan.”

There is an immediate and total silence among the male crowd.

All Five Of Them: “Yeah, that is the scariest.”

Me: “Potong Jalan? What’s that?”

Aunt: “It’s Singlish for your girlfriend getting stolen by another man while you are in the army.”

Me: “Pffft. Like that’ll happen to me.”

All Five Of Them: *Thousand-yard stare* “That’s what we thought.”

Cousin #2: “If you don’t believe me, you can ask around. Happens to ninety percent of the couples in NS.”

Uncle #1: “Yeah, trust me. By the end of BMT [Basic Military Training], half your section will have lost their girlfriends.”

Cousin #2: “Yeah. Like, in some places, they make the officers all go for training as breakup counsellors. My friend who signed on had to do that. It’s that prevalent.”

Cousin #3: “And depending on your unit, sometimes you can get compassionate leave if you have Potong Jalan.”

Uncle #2: “Yeah. All the sergeants bully you so much, like to make you suffer, but then when they see someone crying because of Potong Jalan, they stop shouting and actually treat you nicely.”

Cousin #1: “There are even marching songs about Potong Jalan. It’s that prevalent.”

Me: “Well, I won’t have to worry about that. I can’t even get a girlfriend.”

Everyone: “Don’t date until after NS!”

They were right. There were several breakups within the first week. By the end of the nine-week BMT, the number of intact couples was about two-thirds. By the end of the year, it was below half. It turns out that after seeing your girlfriend cheat on you, nothing the army throws at you is even remotely scary anymore.

Two’s Company, The Whole Family Tree’s A Crowd

, , , , , , | Romantic | September 8, 2020

Shortly after finishing college, a boy I am dating invites me to spend a week in New York City with his family. It falls over our three-year anniversary, so he promises to take me out for a fancy dinner.

I am so excited! I pack a suitcase and drive to his house, expecting to see their minivan packed with bags and everyone getting ready to go. What I see, instead, is a bunch of vehicles parked in the yard and a bunch of people going back and forth between the house and the largest vehicles — mostly two fifteen-passenger vans.

My boyfriend comes out to greet me. 

Boyfriend: *Sheepishly* “Hey. Uh, so, you can say you don’t want to go if you don’t. I totally get it.”

Me: “What is… I thought this was a family thing?”

Boyfriend: “Yeah, but then [One Of His Brothers] found out you were going, so he wanted to take his girlfriend. And [Aunt] and [Uncle] wanted to come, but they have to bring their kids. It kind of… blew up?”

I nod, slowly taking it all in.

Me: “Uh-huh. So, how does this change things up there? Our reservations are for your immediate family and me.”

Boyfriend: “Yeah, well, we’ll have our own room, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

It is, but I don’t want to say so because it seems shallow to not want to share a hotel room when I’m invited on a trip.

Me: “Okay, well, I already took off work, so I might as well go, right?”

The trip was an absolute disaster. We did not get our own room — even though we paid for it by ourselves — because the hotel was completely booked and the added family members didn’t want to stay elsewhere; we ended up sharing our room with his aunt and uncle and their three children. I’m pretty sure it was against policy to have seven people in a room that sleeps four but they never got caught and never offered to split the cost of the room, either.

We also never got our anniversary dinner date because his brother and girlfriend wanted to do a double date and wouldn’t take no for an answer; it later came out that they wanted to get away from their annoying, clingy family members. The irony escaped them.

My boyfriend was truly sorry and did his best to make it up to me when we got back. We dated for a while after that, but when the next family trip came around, I made my own bookings in my own name and put my foot down on sharing.

You’ll Always Be His Peanut

, , , , , , | Related | August 19, 2020

Growing up, my paternal grandpa is my best friend. My parents like to tell the story that we were linked the second he held me in his arms; he saw my tiny face with my little peanut nose, and from that moment on, he only ever called me Peanut… unless I was in trouble, of course. 

My grandpa put me on my first horse, and he taught me how to change my oil and check my tire pressure, bait a hook and catch a fish, and shoot a BB gun — much to my parents’ disdain. He was at every softball game and every musical, choir, and band performance I had. He was my biggest fan, always encouraging me to go the extra mile and celebrating every step of the way.

I’m in my mid-thirties now and he’s nearing ninety. His health has been declining for several years now, but this year, 2020, has been especially rough. He often gets confused, thinking my dad is his brother or thinking it’s the 1990s and that we need to get ready for the big snowstorm coming in.

I go home one day in June for the first time since the health crisis began and see that his home care nurse is there. My grandma is in the kitchen with my parents, waiting for the nurse to finish dressing him so he can sit in the living room.

I stand in the doorway, not sure if I am really up for seeing my grandpa in such a dissociative state; my mental health has really taken a hit with everything going on and, standing in the doorway, I debate if coming home was a good idea.

The bedroom door opens and Grandpa comes out with his walker, focusing on the floor.

Nurse: “That’s it, [Grandpa], one step at a time. Don’t you feel better now?”

My grandpa speaks in a tone that shows he doesn’t mean it.

Grandpa: “Uh-huh…”

The nurse looks up at the table.

Nurse: “Oh, you have company! Who’s here today?”

Grandpa: “Um…”

He looks from my mom to my grandma, confused.

Nurse: “It’s okay; take your time. Who do you see?”

My grandpa looks to my dad.

Grandpa: “I see [My Uncle].”

Nurse: “Well, they do look alike but I think that’s [My Dad].”

Grandpa: “Okay.”

Nurse: “Who else? Who is that by the door?”

Grandpa looks at me for a second or two and then smiles.

Grandpa: “Hi, Peanut!”

Me: *Trying not to cry* “Hi, Grandpa.”

I haven’t seen him much these past few months, but I’m hoping to be able to go home and see him again soon.

This story is part of our feel-good roundup for August 2020!

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Read the feel-good August 2020 roundup!

Turning A “We Will Rock You” Singalong Into A Colorful Event

, , , , , , , | Related | August 17, 2020

This happened back in the late 1970s. My family had a TV in the living room. This was back when TVs were analog, with lots of mechanical switches and dials to control the channel, volume, and, most importantly for this story, the picture.

This particular TV had “Hue” and “Color” sliders. The mechanism in one of them was either dirty or faulty and the color would randomly go out. We found out pretty quickly that tapping the TV on the top would vibrate the slider enough that the color would come back. And soon after that, we found that stomping our feet on the floor had the same effect, but we didn’t need to leave the comfort of our seats.

One evening, a friend of my brother’s stopped by to pick him up. As he was standing in the living room making small talk with me, my mom, my dad, and my sister, the color on the TV went out. Cue a few seconds of furious stomping of feet by everyone before the conversation returned to normal.

The friend later asked my brother why his family suddenly started stomping their feet during the small talk. After my brother stopped laughing, he explained that it wasn’t personal; that’s just how we fix the TV.

My Family And Other Shapely Animals

, , , , , , | Related | July 13, 2016

(We are driving through a section of New Mexico where there isn’t a lot to see. My brother notices something out of his window.)

Brother: “Hey, look! A cow!”

Me: “That’s a horse.”

Brother: “I don’t really know my shapes.”

Me: “…”

This story is part of our Horse roundup!

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