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.

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