Saturday, April 4, 2009

Defending What's (Y)ours! NSMAN - No Studying, Man, Absolutely No!

Oh no, I hope I do not turn this post into another bitching session, but I am feeling very distressed over the entire episode. I have no idea how this will unfold.

I got my application for deferment from a 2-week reservist training rejected. The training is scheduled in September and is right smack in the middle of the third semester of my Masters programme.

Normally, full-time students will get exemption from reservist training. The Singapore Armed Forces will also plant at least a staff/member/friend to be on the board of directors at the local universities too to create a mutually beneficial agreement, which manifests in "black-out" periods in the University calendar to allow for national service reservist-liable Singaporean undergraduates to serve their reservist training. These "black-out" periods occur during the mid-year and end-year holidays. I have since served all my previous in-camp trainings during these holidays.

This time, the reservist training disrupts my semester. Well, the third and fourth semesters are crucial given it is the time when I start researching and writing. So I decided to apply for deferment. I shall paraphrase the response given to me, relevant to my "postgraduate studies" case, given the official response is classified a "restricted":

1) MINDEF has expressed its appreciation of the desire of its NSmen to improve their knowledge and skills with graduate studies.
2) MINDEF understands that graduate work involves a lot of research, but feels the research programme can be conducted before or after the ICT.

I feel shortchanged, and more so given the fact that I have given 100% every in-camp training, even getting awarded as best commander. I have put aside my personal distaste and hatred for the military and everything that it stands for, and got on with the training. I had my eczema, rashes, sprained ankles, rheumatism pains in the knee and ankle, fevers and what not, but still carried on with training. I am not your fittest, strongest or smartest soldier, but I have still served what you want me to serve.

This makes me wonder whether any graduate student can actually get a deferment. Are there exceptions?

1) PhD student in final year?
2) Undergrad/Masters/PhD student from a school outside Singapore? Can MINDEF pay for that airplane ticket?
3) A graduate student on research grant/funding from the government?
4) A graduate student on no scholarship, paying his own fees?
5) A graduate student from outside the Arts and Social Sciences? Remotely, I think, but it could be funny.

It is most unfortunate that this year's training is an important preparation for next year's. It is even more unfortunate that MINDEF does not respect the decision-making and prioritisation of a citizen like myself. I really do not mind serving my make-up training after August next year. I just want to concentrate full-time on my research, which equates to at least 6 days a week.

6 days a week. That includes reading the relevant literature and lots of writing. No amount of money can replace that, and I am not referring to the pittance they pay for reservist training. Can MINDEF get a stand-in for me to do my research and do my writing for those 2 weeks?

Being a slow adapter to things, I am also very worried that the 2 short weeks of training may prove to be highly disruptive to my research and might set me back further. Of course, how can an organisation ever value the existence and meaning of "momentum", or humanities research for that matter. Having no access to academic literature and my trusted LexisNexis and Factiva for two weeks is crazy too.

Yes, the government has given me lots of privileges, education subsidies, housing and other rebates and all that, to chase my own little middle-class dream. But that does not mean I have to surrender my passion to learn. I can serve any time you want me to serve. Can it be after August 2010? I can serve whatever that needs to be served.

Why should a local boy studying in a local school be penalised? If I were in the same situation now but am doing graduate studies in states, I believe they would entertain my application a lot more seriously. If that is the case, then it would appear that dollars and cents have greater priority over the aspirations of the Singaporean son. It does not cost MINDEF/SAF anything to get an NUS graduate student to serve his reservist training. But in the case of an overseas-based Singaporean graduate student, it might be a different scenario.

I feel that my hands (and feet, and will) are bound, like those sons whose heads have dunked in the water for national service. That nostalgic "lan lan" (lan4 lan3) feeling we acquire from being uniquely Singaporean has long set in. To feel "lan lan" is to feel that you are choiceless and helpless in a hopeless scenario.

In my appeal application, I have asked for other channels through which I can make my appeal. I am in the belief MINDEF/SAF are unsympathetic not because they choose to, but because they do not understand the style, relevance and importance of social sciences or in my case, humanities-based research. It certainly, for one, has no immediate impact on our social and national capital, as do the hard sciences (e.g. medical research, military research) or community-based research (e.g. on youths, ethnic minority communities).

It is a pity I am no big businessman or big money-earner, such that MINDEF/SAF is unable to "compensate" me. The system is about exemption based on what they cannot afford. This is weird. They can definitely do with the talent and brains of those top-earners.

There is also this cruel reality, where most of us are fed the middle-class ideology and dream, having material success and wealth. It binds us to the system. We end up doing the bidding of the system out of fear of punishment, we fear these materials get taken away from us, we fear having the middle-class dream to be unattainable and shattered. That is how the Singaporean son is tamed. In this case, I serve my MINDEF/SAF master well because I fear losing that dream to support a family and perhaps having to provide for (possible) children and given them as many opportunities in life as possible. Nevertheless, I serve to pass the time and it passes faster when you put in some effort.

2 weeks make a difference in academia and research. You can never replace the long hours of reading or writing or thinking. I am the square peg being forced into the round orifice that is MINDEF/SAF, same goes for my appeal application.

I would like to ask if there are other options to make my appeal. Do I go up the chain of command and make my appeal?

I feel frustrated and helpless.

1 comment:

Laremy said...

Would you like me to put in a word for you? Just drop me a msg on Facebook and let me know lah.