Apr 06 2011
There’s a new reality series about Singapore on the National Geographic channel. “Every Singaporean Son” follows 14 young men as they trade in their iPhones for assault rifles and begin their mandatory national service. Singapore has an imposing armed forces and every male citizen spends two years in full-time military training once they turn 18. National service is viewed as a rite of passage and refusing to serve carries a fine up to S$10,000 and three years imprisonment.
I recently watched the first episode and the series starts right from the beginning — with the new conscripts packing their camouflage backpacks and moving to the Basic Military Training Centre on Pulau Tekong, one of the 63 islands that make up Singapore. Much like the first day of school, the young men are initially accompanied by their parents to make the transition easier. But it isn’t long before they have to say goodbye (the island is usually off-limits to visitors) and are inducted into army life — shaved heads and all.
The majority of Singaporean youth lead a very modern life and the transition to their simple quarters on an isolated island is not easy — some whine about the lack of internet access on the first night. What I like about the show is how diverse a range of training experiences they show. One new recruit named Danial has clearly been preparing for the fitness drills and stuns the commanding officers with his results. A softer, bespectacled soldier name Syabil does not have such an ego-boosting experience and, after being issued his SAR-21 gun, says he feels uncomfortable firing it because he’s left-handed. This could be an interesting two years…
You can catch new episodes of “Every Singaporean Son” on the National Geographic Channel Asia at 21:30 Singapore time (20:30 in Thailand). The full series isn’t online, but you can watch some clips from the show below:
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