LKY using chicken feathers to cure hiccups

From ‘Remembering LKY: Daughter Lee Wei Ling’s personal, touching eulogy’, 30 Mar 15, article in sg.yahoo news

…”After Mama died in October 2010, Papa’s health deteriorated rapidly. The past five years have been challenging. But as always, Papa was determined to carry on as normal as possible, as best as he could.

“He developed Parkinson’s disease three years ago which severely limited his mobility. He had great difficulty standing and walking. But he refused to use a wheel chair or even a walking stick. He would walk, aided by his SOs (security officers),” Dr Lee said, in an excerpt made available on the website of the Prime Minister’s office.

“Papa was also plagued by bouts of hiccups that could only be controlled by medication which had adverse side effects. Over and above the frequent hiccups, his ability to swallow both solids and liquids was impaired, a not uncommon problem in old age.

“Papa searched the Internet and tried a wide variety of unorthodox hiccup therapies. For example, he once used rabbit skin and then chicken feathers to induce sneezing, so as to stop the hiccups. Although the sneezing sometimes stopped his hiccups, it did not do so consistently enough. Papa also tried reducing his food intake, because he felt that eating too much could precipitate hiccups, hence he lost a lot of weight, and appeared thin and gaunt.”

To me, the most interesting aspect of a powerhouse like LKY are his frailties, and trust his descendents to bring bits of our late leader’s personal life into the spotlight, snippets which would otherwise be smothered by tale after tale of his many accomplishments. It’s ironic that it’s only after his death do we realise that there were parts of LKY’s life that weren’t devoted to nation-building, that beneath the ironclad exterior we uncover layers of a unique personality and history never made known to perhaps even his closest friends.

It’s unusual, however, that a man of his intellect and stature would resort to things a shaman might use during a ritual to relieve his hiccups. This being the same person who believed in eugenics and that there was a genetic basis for homosexuality i.e a man of science and hard logic. Lee Wei Ling concluded her eulogy by saying that she would not break down, being a tough ‘Hakka woman’. And we believe her. This is a woman with the tenacity to run up and down a 20m corridor 800 times, or do burpees on a plane. She can beat off all 3 of her dad’s SOs with one arm behind her back.

Here are some intimate things you’ll never read about LKY in history textbooks or TV specials, told by the people who love him the most.

1. He struggled with dyslexia, and before the Parkinson’s diagnosis, was suffering from peripheral neuropathy. Despite this, he still spoke more languages, and wrote more books, than you ever will.

2. LKY was given the name ‘Harry’ from birth, and found it a ‘political liability’, according to son Lee Hsien Yang. None of the Lee children or grandchildren have Western names.

3. He had a weakness for sister Monica’s Nonya cooking: rojak, mee siam, gado gado, satay. Occasionally tiramisu or souffle. Hsien Yang mentioned that he had the typical Peranakan sweet tooth for desserts. I always thought the old man was a culinary ascetic, being credited with the quote that one should eat only 3/4 full for longevity. For a man who we now know loved food just as any Singaporean does, he grew up without ever cracking a soft boiled egg.

4. He had his wife fix the elastic band on his shorts rather than buy a new pair. He also washed his own underwear, according to LWL. He didn’t change his jacket for 20 years.

5. When PM Lee was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, his dad sent him DURIANS.

6. He studied Christian meditation under the guidance of a Benedictine monk. LKY was an agnostic.

7. He once asked an SO to time how long LWL took to swim. He also despatched SOs to accompany Hsien Yang when he was trekking in Pulau Ubin. In other parts of the world, these hires are known as ‘bodyguards’.

LKY being lionised into an ubermensch

From ‘Recognise imperfections without diminishing stature’, 28 March 2015, ST Forum

(Ng Qi Siang): I AM greatly saddened by Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. He was a great leader and deserves our respect for making Singapore the great country it is today.  However, I am concerned that many Singaporeans have been accused of being “disrespectful” of Mr Lee by mentioning some of his mistakes or policies they disagree with. Mr Chia Boon Teck has even called for such speech to be punished with punitive action (“Take the disrespectful to task”; Forum Online, yesterday).

…Moreover, by deeming the discussion of Mr Lee’s faults taboo, we lionise him excessively and present an inaccurate picture of the man to future generations. For all his great deeds, Mr Lee also made mistakes. Some of his policies, such as the “Stop at Two” policy, led to undesirable outcomes like an ageing population. His strict governing style has also been the subject of much controversy.

In order to give Mr Lee an honest assessment, we should recognise these imperfections without diminishing his stature, as historians do with other great figures, from Winston Churchill to Thomas Jefferson.  This will allow future generations to better relate to him as it gives his legacy a human touch. It also allows them to learn from both his errors as well as his successes.

However, by lionising him to the point of ignoring his weaknesses, we risk mythologising him into an “ubermensch” that future Singaporeans cannot relate to. By glossing over his mistakes, they may be deprived of important lessons that may help them avert the mistakes of their forebears.

Mr Lee himself has acknowledged that he is not perfect. As a man who did not take to heart how others perceived him, he would not want the value of his legacy to be lost for the sake of universal laudation. Free debate will allow for a more meaningful discussion of Mr Lee’s place in history.

When Low Thia Khiang mentioned that LKY was considered a ‘controversial figure’ because ‘many Singaporeans’ were sacrificed and had to pay the price for his one-party rule during a solemn parliamentary tribute, he was swiftly rebuked for being insensitive in light of his passing. The Catholic Church’s Archbishop William Goh said that Lee would not be canonised because although he achieved a lot of Singapore, he had his FLAWS, in particular the crackdown on parishioners during the 1987 Marxist conspiracy (Time to move on from Marxist conspiracy, 28 March 15, ST), a dark period under LKY’s rule that is conveniently omitted from the memorial biographies. I doubt anyone would accuse the Archbishop of disrespecting the dead man, unlike the brickbats tossed at the leader of the Workers’ Party.

Some critics go for the jugular, and become the target of a witch hunt as you would expect given this emotional period. Playwright Alfian Sa’at condemns the ‘fishing village myth’ and how the week of mourning was also a ‘history revisionism free-for-all’ (Playwright Alfian Sa’at questions LKY legacy, 27 March 2015, ST). Loudmouth Youtuber Amos Yee posted a video titled ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’, calling LKY a ‘dictator’ and comparing the adulation to that for Jesus Christ. Yes this is the same kid who thinks CNY is bullshit. Once talent spotted by Jack Neo, now facing 15 police reports at time of writing.

To be sure, LKY was no saint, as much as we have to be thankful for his glorious work. The glossing over the ‘controversial’ aspects of his leadership is inevitable as Singaporeans, having no king, emperor, saints or superhero to revere since our founding, finally have the chance to mourn a strong father-leader figure, many to the extent of messianic idolatry. After all, rational behaviour is hardly expected when a nation is bereaved, if the 10 hour Padang queues are anything to go by. Respect the phenomenal heroics of the man, but also remember him as a mortal with hopes, dreams, loves, quirks, habits, and yes, the occasional mistake. Aspiration, not divination. And of course, it pays to get your facts right.

Tribute in India

If the exaggerated mythologising of the man is not kept in check, we’ll have our children believing that LKY descended onto our little pitiless island on a flying giant unicorn, threw rainbow confetti across the land which magically spring forth HDB blocks and skyscrapers over mudflats, his sweat and tears transforming into the clean drinking water that we all take for granted today. In fact, on the day of his funeral itself, one already remembered for the torrential, incidental ‘tears from heaven’ that accompanied it,  someone reported a full rainbow appearing over MBS (which turned out to be an image from 2010). Also, the birds were singing Somewhere Also the Rainbow while flying in formation over the travelling cortege. OK, the last one is made up. I stand corrected.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and we risk slaying it if we overdo this rose-tinted tribute to LKY’s legacy, the gushing sentiment leading to a mass selective amnesia. We want to celebrate the man and his people without whom all this would not be possible, not the myth.

The ubermensch is German for ‘Superman’ or ‘Overman’, and we hear of mourners calling out to Lee as their ‘superhero’, ‘idol’ or bizarrely ‘Papa’, unaware that the man himself was known to eschew a personality cult, and was always reluctant to have buildings named after him. Since his death, we have petitions to rename Changi Airport to LKY airport, people changing their Facebook banners and profile pics to LKY and black ribbon decals with his face on cars. He was ultra-pragmatic both in life and would want his death to be likewise, without the wailing grandiosity and postmortem epithets such as ‘Architect of Modern Singapore’ and ‘Chief Gardener of Singapore’. I can imagine him shaking his head from above, telling Singaporeans to go home to their families, get back to work and stop screwing up the Padang, doing injustice to his life’s work as the creator of the ‘Clean and Green’ movement. Life goes on, as what as he had designed in the Singapore ‘DNA’ all along, for us to carry on without him.

If there’s anyone disrespecting our late leader, it’s the grievers leaving behind a sad mess for others to pick up after them while deifying the man, not the critics trying to make him sound more like us;  a fallible, emotional, stubborn human being, warts and all.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 2

While it is heartwarming to see genuine acts of compassion from ordinary people on the ground, it would be nice to see such kindness being displayed on an everyday basis. Yes, even in Hello Kitty queues.

When interviewed by the ST (Critical battles: Letting go of past, but not forgetting it, 29 March 2015, Sunday Times), Otto Fong, son of banished Fong Swee Huan, alleged instigator of the Hock Lee Bus Riots, said:

..As I looked at everyone queuing up, I wondered how many of them would do the same thing for their loved ones while they were still alive. There’s a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving is about letting go, forgetting is not healthy for history.

Yes, you probably wouldn’t give your own flesh and blood a Black Knight farewell when they pass on, but if there’s one lesson to take home from the week’s events, it’s to cherish your loved ones while they’re still around. The Old Man, God bless his soul, would agree.

Breadtalk LKY bun in poor taste

From ‘Breadtalk apologises for Lee Kuan Yew commemorative bun’, 25 Mar 2015, article in CNA

Bakery chain BreadTalk has apologised for a “commemorative bun” it put on sale to mark the passing of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Proceeds of the sale of the buns were to be donated to the Community Chest, BreadTalk indicated. However, the move was criticised on social media as being in poor taste. Some on Facebook said it was a “disgusting” attempt to cash in on the passing of a founding father of the nation.

…The buns had gone on sale with a sign: “Thank you for your unwavering strength and dedication in transforming Singapore. Filled with gula melaka-flavoured grated coconut and mixed with attap seed, this kampong-inspired creation is a tribute to a visionary leader who gave his life to build a nation from a kampong to a successful Singapore today. Let us join hands and hearts to honour him, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”

D'ough!

D’ough!

This is just wrong. ‘Li Bu Kai Ni’ (can’t bear to leave you) should be made of a spicy red-hot tom yum filling, more representative of LKY’s fiery passion for Singapore, instead of some flaky coconut. While people in crutches are out there braving the heat queuing for hours to bid farewell to the icon, the people at Breadtalk were thinking of how to use this sombre event to promote their brand, for charitable causes or otherwise. They should just sell black charcoal red bean buns throughout this entire week of mourning instead.

It isn’t the first time that Breadtalk mixed pastry with puns; In 2010, they were accused of being racist for selling Naan the Nays. During the presidential election campaign in 2011, they dedicated the TAN-TART to all 3 candidates. When Steve Jobs died, they created the APPLE OF MY I.  I don’t recall Apple fans running riot over their stores demanding they withdraw this monstrosity. Not sure if they did any ‘Black and White’ creation when Michael Jackson passed away.

Occasionally they run out of ideas, naming one of their ring buns the ‘Circle Line’ to promote the new MRT line.  The commemorative ring pastries were launched in early October 2011. 2 months in, and the actual Circle Line broke down in one of the worst PR disasters in the history of Singapore’s public transportation.

The Circle Jinx

As if naming LKY after food isn’t bad enough, PAP MP Teo Ser Luck invented a crossfit workout named LKY91 dedicated to his hero, 91 being the age of LKY’s demise. No doubt the late LKY was an exercise addict, but surely he deserves better than be honoured by air goddamn squats and ‘double unders’. Not to mention in the late stages of his life he was suffering from peripheral neuropathy. LKY91 reads more like a torture manual rather than an exercise routine. Maybe you should rename it the #fml91 workout. Because that’s what you’ll say to yourself over and over 91 times for subjecting yourself to this physical abuse.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.30.39 PM

This clip is the perfect response to all this personality cult nonsense, one that says ‘I ain’t got the time for your dumbass bullshit’.

Fernvale Lea buyers demanding for refund over columbarium

From ‘Upset over columbarium plans, Fernvale Lea’s future residents want a refund from HDB’, 4 Jan 2015, article by Samantha Boh, ST

Upset about an upcoming columbarium close to their future flats, some would-be residents of Fernvale Lea have asked the Housing Board for a refund. Their request came even after Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, held a dialogue with residents on Sunday and said that there would not be a crematorium or funeral parlour services at the Chinese temple where the columbarium would be housed.

Some residents stood in line to leave their contact details with the HDB after a three-hour dialogue with Dr Lam and representatives from Life Corp, the company developing the temple. Residents at the dialogue said the HDB should have been more upfront about the Chinese temple housing a columbarium.

News of the columbarium, which is expected to be completed by 2016, had surprised many residents when it was reported last week. An online petition started on Tuesday to stop the development of the columbarium had garnered more than 800 signatures.

Speaking on the sidelines of the dialogue, Dr Lam said the authorities had been upfront, noting that it was indicated in the Fernvale Lea brochure for the new flats that the temple may include a columbarium allowed under the guidelines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). “There is really nothing to hide,” he added.

Some residents had also asked why the Chinese temple is being developed by a private company. Dr Lam said URA guidelines did not restrict the type of company that can develop a religious institution and he understood from the URA that it has been done before.

Sin Ming residents can relate. When a funeral parlour was proposed to be built in the vicinity of a school, one resident complained that the estate would be henceforth known as the ‘Avenue of the Dead’. But it’s not just spaces for the deceased that get people upset, but also void deck elder-care facilities and sometimes even community HOSPITALS, where residents may get traumatised by the ‘smell of medicine’ in addition to the threat of impending doom.

Fernvale Lea’s selling point, according to its online brochure, is that residents get to live amid ‘lush greenery’, which also happens to be the kind of environment you want to ‘rest in peace’ within. It does mention the future placement of a Chinese temple, but leaves the interested buyer to interpret the disclaimers at his own risk, namely the statement that ‘the proposed facilities, their locations and surrounding land-use….are indicative only and subject to change or review. These facilities may include other ancillary uses allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines.’ Which basically means HDB can do whatever the hell they want years after you’ve settled down in your new home, whether it’s building a private-owned ‘dragon and phoenix’ temple, a foreign workers’ dormitory, or a cut-and-paste shopping mall which turns out to be an foreign worker enclave. Heck, they could run a new highway or MRT line right next to your house and you can’t do anything about it.

In 1984, applicants of Clementi flats slammed the agency for keeping dead silent about plans to build a funeral parlour near the estate. It appears that HDB should know exactly the sort of reaction from people whenever you surround them with facilities reminding them of their mortality, but till this day continues to refrain from telling buyers straight in the face, like a property agent omitting the tiny detail of your flat being previously owned by someone who committed suicide in the living room. In any case, people are still going to hold void deck funerals right under your block anyway, columbarium or no columbarium.

If you’re diligent enough, you’d actually go the extra mile and read about URA’s ‘Development Control’. And by extra mile I mean sending an email to URA because I have no idea where these guidelines are from the website. Or, if you’re desperate for a house even if it means living next to a cemetery or a string of noisy pub/bars, you could look past the hazards of living near a storage for urns and maybe consider that you have quite a few decent schools nearby (e.g Nan Chiau), which may allay any fears of poor resale prices, since some parents would camp above a mortuary just to live 2 minutes’ walk away from a top school. You could also interview Yishun Ring Road residents if they had witnessed any creepy happenings living near a heartland columbarium, a mere 10 min walk away from the MRT station.

Ironically the developer of the ‘80% temple, 20% dead people’s ashes’ is called ‘Life Corp’.  People will continue dying in our ageing society and unless we move beyond the traditional way of remembering the deceased through tablets and urns, or loosen up on our superstitions, both the living as well as the dead will be fighting for space in this already very crowded city. Hopefully when it’s time for my demise, all I’d need to do is download my memories digitally into a thumb drive or upload my electronic ghost on a password-protected family cloud somewhere without having to hide in some basement of a posh temple designed to look like a shopping mall and scaring the shit out of the living around me.

UPDATE 29 Jan 15: In a surprising about turn, Khaw Boon Wan announced that there would be no commercial columbarium in Fernvale after all, as Eternal Pure Land (under Australia’s Life Corporation) was a private entity with ‘no religious affiliation’. Waitaminute. Earlier in the month, URA said that they did not restrict the type of company developing a religious institution and it has been DONE BEFORE, now Khaw says that this tender award to such a company without godly links was a ‘first’. So, has it been done before or not? Pray tell.

Cisco officer found dead in Changi airport toilet

From ‘Cisco officer found dead in Changi Airport toilet’, 5 Oct 2014, article in Today

A Certis Cisco auxiliary police officer was found dead in a toilet at Changi Airport. The deceased, Lance Corporal Mohana Singam, was discovered at 10.50am today (Oct 4) with single gun shot wound at a toilet in Terminal 1 of Changi Airport.

According to Certis Cisco deputy assistant commissioner Chua Chuan Seng, the 34-year-old Malaysian was on duty and had worked with the company for 7 years.

The last incident of a Cisco officer found dead from a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound was in 2013, when the body of a Malaysian woman was found in the toilet of the SUPREME COURT. Another Malaysian victim was found in the loo of Vivocity in 2011. One officer had his own service revolver turned on him by a former CISCO staff with fatal results, while another murdered his wife before doing himself in, possibly over what the Chinese papers reported as a ‘love triangle’.

Then there were the close calls. In 1998, one was jailed for a month for firing her weapon in a fit of jealous rage (Cisco constable jailed a month, 3 July 1998, ST).  Which leaves one to wonder what kind of procedures are in place to keep deadly weapons away from ‘unstable’ officers with domestic issues for the sake of their own, but more importantly, public safety. There’s no doubt that we need our CISCO men and women armed, just not ‘dangerous’, or susceptible to blunders like letting your gun come into possession of an untrained person and playing with it like a toy.

CISCO, or the mouthful that is Commercial and Industrial Security Corporation, was established in 1972 and promoted with awkward fanfare in the ST with the headline ‘Cisco Kid will ride Shotgun in Singapore’. In the article, Home Affairs Wong Kin Len mentioned that these CISCO ‘kids’ will be house detectives, dressed informally in ‘HAWAIIAN SHIRTS’ in department stores and are willing to be your ‘hired gun’. 3 years later, a CISCO guard got into an argument and scuffle with a CID detective which led to the former getting SHOT IN THE FACE. In 1978, one such ‘hired gun’ almost killed a cashier when his sterling went off in a bank. Maybe ‘KID’ was the wrong word to use then.

The logical alternative for CISCO wardens if you don’t want them to blow their brains out in public toilets would be the Taser gun, a nonlethal weapon currently deployed by the SPF to incapacitate miscreants like the violent drunk or naked, amok loonies. It not only makes you look as cool as Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, but deters anyone from using it for suicide as no one wants two needles stuck in the head followed by a prolonged, excruciating writhing, not to mention a relatively high chance of survival.

A stunning beauty

Singaporean man setting himself on fire in JB

From ‘Singaporean man sets himself on fire in JB’, 13 April 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru. The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol. The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher. He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

In 1969, Ah Hock Keith Morrisson committed suicide ‘Vietnamese style’ by setting himself on fire with a tin of kerosene. His dramatic death happened within a few months of leaving the Singapore Infantry Regimen, during which he exhibited abnormal behaviour such as crying or staring in a daze. The ST described the fiery act as turning himself into a HUMAN TORCH, which is also a Marvel character and part of the Fantastic 4 assemble created in 1961.  A few years later, a Buddhist nun set herself alight ‘Saigon-style’ in a temple, using the same flammable liquid. It is not known if these were in fact inspired by a series of self-immolation protests by Vietnamese monks in the 60’s, or the result of a deadly obsession with a comic book hero whose entire body comes alight at will.

This man is on fire

This man is on fire

A quarrel over suspected infidelity combusted into suicide when 28 year old Madam Kalachelvi set herself on fire after hearing rumours of her husband’s cheating. The distraught husband followed suit. Suicide by self-torching continued into the 90’s, with a case of a 13 year old SCHOOLBOY performing the act after getting a scolding (Schoolboy, 13, set fire to himself after scolding in school, 28 Nov 1992, ST). In 2010, a man, reportedly suffering from mental illness, walked into a Shell petrol kiosk toilet and came out in flames. The most recent incident occurred at the Ceylon Sports Club, Balestier last August, with kerosene again found at the death scene. There’s no record of locals burning themselves to death for political causes as far as I know, though you could get in trouble for setting effigies of our Transport Minister aflame.

Singaporeans are renown petrol guzzlers in JB, some even stocking up petrol in cans in car boots to bring home. One Stomper caught Singaporean drivers attempting to bring these back across the Causeway disguised as engine oil containers (You can import up to 20 Litres without a licence). Other drivers are seen jacking up or shaking their cars  just to load more petrol, to get more bang for their Singaporean buck. With a reputation for such strange, kiasu behaviour, a lone man on foot asking to handcarry 4L of petrol wouldn’t seem too surprising, and the only reason I could think of as to why he had to do it in JB is that you can’t just walk into any shop to buy kerosene as if  it were cooking oil here.

A couple of years ago we were wracked by a spate of copycat suicides by drowning in reservoirs (which may actually be as painful and agonising as burning to death, both falling under the Top 10 Worst Ways to Die). One can only hope that this single act of self-immolation doesn’t, well, spread like wildfire.

Postscript: Stephen Lew Soon Khiang, 42, died of his self-inflicted injuries within a day, with doctors saying that he had just a 1% chance of survival.

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru.

The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol.

The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher.

He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singaporean-man-sets-himself-fire-jb-20140413#sthash.a38528Iw.dpuf

Schizophrenic NSman slapped with 14 extras before suicide jump

From ‘Coroner rules out foul play in NSF’s death’, 12 April 2014, article in CNA

A Coroner’s report has ruled out foul play in the death of a 22-year-old man who was serving national service last year. Full-time national serviceman (NSF) Pte Ganesh Pillay – who has schizophrenia – was found dead at the foot of his condominium in Sengkang last July.

His father has raised concerns over how the army deals with soldiers with mental conditions. The Coroner’s Court heard that Pte Ganesh’s supervisor did not know the full extent – and effects – of schizophrenia.

…Pte Ganesh was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18. But his father said his son’s condition had stabilised with medication. He said: “When the army told him that he cannot be exempted, but he will be downgraded to PES E, I was rest assured that the army will take care of him. I trusted the army.

“In fact, I trusted that much to the very last day. I still have that trust, until the time he died, then I start to figure out what went wrong.” On the day Pte Ganesh died, he was unwell and had returned home from camp.

His supervisor — Captain Jessie Goh — had earlier issued Pte Ganesh with 14 extra duties as punishment for, among other things, unsatisfactory work and improper bearing. Mr Reganathan said Captain Goh seemed oblivious to his son’s condition.

In a similar suicide case in 1979, Cpl Tan Cheng Eyong leapt to his death 2 days after consultation with a camp psychiatrist. He had obsessive-compulsive neurosis and ‘reactive depression’, a disorder reportedly triggered by his O Level exams.  A 1987 report on the incidence of mental illness among NSmen revealed that between 400 and 500 required psychiatric help each year, of which 10 to 15% suffered from schizophrenia, 30-35% with ‘stress related conditions’ and the rest from ‘depression, anxiety, HOMOSEXUALITY and various other NEUROSES’.   What was less reported in the 80’s was the phenomenon known as ‘possession-trance’, (40 cases referred to Woodbridge from 1979 to 1981) where the authors of a study published in 1986 discussed the effect of a stressful life event like NS on this ‘hysterical dissociation’. I would expect the rates of mental illness to be higher today, though it’s unlikely that there are any official statistics on this matter. Most boys escape NS unscathed of course, but some, like Ganesh, may have flown way over the cuckoo’s nest.

Ex military psychiatrist and colonel Ang Yong Guan identified schizophrenia as the MOST COMMON psychotic illness among NSmen, with only a minority of those diagnosed able to qualify to work in non-combat positions provided their disease was under control. 19 year old Julius Chan, today a peer specialist dealing with mental patients, wanted to pursue priesthood and avoid NS. He ‘prayed a lot, asking God to take away this time’ for him, went too far, suffered a schizoid breakdown and was eventually exempted from conscription. The most well known case of an NSman going berserk is Dave Teo, who went AWOL with a SAR21 rifle and ammo after his girlfriend broke up with him and eventually jailed for 9 years. He was suffering from behavioral problems including suicidal thoughts and depression, and also ‘began to HEAR VOICES of people who were not there’, aural hallucinations being one of the signs of schizophrenia. Thankfully, no one was massacred in Orchard Road where Dave was caught.

Then there are the other neurological diseases. Jonathan Lim Chong Ping, who drowned in the Singapore River over Christmas in 2013, had sought treatment for ‘adjustment disorder’ while serving NS.  Harmoko Julianus, 22, was suffering a relapse of bipolar disorder when he made a bomb hoax at the British embassy and only exempted from NS after the incident. Maybe the best management of mental disorders in young men is not helplines or risperidone, but a PES F status, whereby you’re medically unfit for any kind of service altogether.

Andy Ho of ST believes that NS, which takes the schizophrenic away from his family, stigmatises and punishes him for symptoms of his illness, should be exempted altogether (Exempt these young men from NS, 13 April 2014, Sunday Times). In any case, is clerical work so important that we need to desperately fill these vocations with boys with mental illness if we have to? What’s the value of fulfilling NS obligations for the sake of it if they don’t do anything productive or in Ganesh’s case, make things worse?

It is not clear when exactly an 18 year old Ganesh became schizophrenic, but only a study examining the onset of schizophrenia among Singaporean men will provide some insight as to whether the regimental rigours of NS has anything to do with aggravating the disease, adjusting for other factors such as family history. Any researcher, however, would be MAD to even propose such a hypothesis for a complex disorder, one that happens to manifest around the same time as NS enlistment. Also, we don’t have a base of non-enlisted men to compare to since NS is mandatory. A 1968 study by Steinberg and Durrell, however, showed a striking increase in admissions for schizophrenia among men joining the US Army, especially within the first month. Those include men who WILLINGLY signed up for war.

What’s unacceptable here is that for such a prevalent mental disorder among NSmen, someone of the rank of Captain would have totally no clue about what schizophrenia means. It doesn’t help that society also often downplays the term ‘schizophrenic’ as reference to anything that’s ‘unpredictable’ or mixes it up with ‘multiple/split personality’. Singapore’s Urbanism has been described as ‘schizophrenic’, and artist David Chan calls his exhibition about humans with animal heads ‘Hybrid Society: Schizophrenia‘.  It has also been misused to describe spouses, friends or bosses who are ‘extremely temperamental’. To an uninformed layperson like Jessie Goh, a ‘schizo’ attack may not be any more severe than someone throwing a really bad tantrum.

One of the extras dished out to Ganesh was for ‘failure to sign a logbook’. To lash out 14 extras on a human being, schizophrenic or not, is also a sign of mental disturbance, that of a sadistic psychopath. And there are probably more of these in the military than people hearing voices and thinking of killing themselves. The commando head dunker, the dog abuser, or the encik who insults your mother. Maybe all these nuts should get their heads checked as well.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 351 other followers