From the White Horse’s mouth

Losers of the "Make My Head Look Most Like A Watermelon" Contest pose for a picture in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, October 2005

I was enlisted in December 1988, just as the Army was changing their combat helmets from heavy steel to high tech Dupont Kevlar, and apart from my dog tags that said I was allergic to penicillin and triple antigen vaccines, my medical docket had this mysterious ink stamp that simply said, “W.H.”


Water displacement formula, 40th attempt

Back when I was in full time NS, the cleaning of weapons was a mundane, time-consuming, daily chore. Between the 7 troopers in a combat section, we’d have around seven small arms (M16S1), couple of grenade launchers (M203), couple of light automatics (Ultimax100), two GPMGs, and a heavy machine gun (Browning .5 HMG).

Carbon residue would get stuck in the crevices and barrels of the weapons, which is the real reason why we were really really reluctant to fire our weapons during training. Of course, this was marketed as ‘ammunition conservation discipline’.

Every day when we were in camp, we’d be cleaning our weapons. When we were in the field, we’d clean our weapons. Nothing to do? Clean weapons. If there were to be a war, it’d have to have been put on hold because we were cleaning our weapons.

One of the hardest, and somehow most satisfying part of cleaning a weapon was the barrel pull through. This entailed putting a folded piece of flannelette (variously mispronounced as flannel-lite, fannelite and fantalite) in the eye of the pull through rod, and pulling the rod through the barrel of the weapon.

The thicker the flannelette, the more carbon residue it extracted. But the thicker the folded piece of flannelette, the harder it was to pull the entire thing through. Sometimes, you had to recruit your buddy to help hold your weapon while you pulled the rod through.

Four or five pulls, then another one with a new piece of flannelette usually did the trick, but not without a considerable amount of elbow grease.

Then one day, a platoon mate came to camp with a can of WD-40. He said it would work wonders with the weapons cleaning. Of course, we tried it. It worked. It cut down cleaning time by about 10 million years. We were free.

Queues at the canteen and payphones became longer. We spent more time and money on snacks, cigarettes and contact with the outside world. It was obvious that the fragile fabric of soldierly cohesion and solidarity was being threatened.

They banned the use of WD-40 in weapons cleaning. They then spread such disinformation as “WD-40 will cause barrel explosions and blow your pretty face off when you fire the weapon. Your buddy standing nearby will get it too”. Of course, that didn’t work, because one or two foolhardy troopers went ahead to try it, risking life, limb and the pretty face of their buddy standing nearby, firing their weapons uninhibitedly, knowing that they’d either die or have a lot of free time on their hands because they never had to spend so much time cleaning any more.

I had my car radio tuned to the BBC World Service yesterday morning, and listened to the most interesting story about WD-40, and how it evolved from a rocket scientist’s solution against missile corrosion, into one of the world’s most ubiquitous brands, but at the same time remaining unchanged as a product that always delivered beyond expectations.

I did not know that 20 years ago. Now I do.

When once the flag flew me

Flags for sale

Once, during NS, me and two other guys were made the battalion’s flag raising party for one of many early morning parades.

This task entailed picking up the flags from the Regimental Sergeant Major’s office, checking the cords to make sure nothing was frayed, and rehearsing our marching to the flag poles at the top of the parade square, and then doing it for real during the actual parade, complete with raising the national flag and the Army flag.

We were told several times to check and make sure that the loops for the flags were attached properly before raising the flag during the national anthem, and told in no uncertain terms, on pain of pain, that we should never, ever, raise the flag upside down.

To our horror, as the anthem played, the white portion of the national flag appeared to creep up the pole as we hoped against hope that the flag was merely impossibly crumpled and would unfurl itself soon enough.

It didn’t, and it was the longest Majulah Singapura I had ever heard. Our lives flashed before our eyes as we contemplated a long stint in detention, and we felt the ridicule and then the pity heaped on our backs from our battalion mates standing in parade behind us, as we raised the upside down flag the best we knew, and only took it down once the parade was over.

On sale

“..that there’s nothing that a little black tape cannot fix… …and that when there’s really something that black tape cannot fix, you need to mark it with white tape”..

I am very chuffed about my first book being on sale from today “at major bookstores”. I don’t know how other authors do it, or what they do, walking into bookshops and seeing their own work on the shelves.

What I’m going to do, is go to Kino and Borders, find the shelf “In My Time” sits on, bring a couple of copies to the bestsellers’ shelves and put them there. You know? So that people think it’s a bestseller? And will also buy? It works you know?

From today’s Straits Times Life!:

Blogger Mr Miyagi pens NS book

From water parades to ‘elephants’ in rifles, Benjamin Lee’s comic book chronicles the ins and outs of national service

by Stephanie Yap, Arts Reporter

IN November 2005, blogger Benjamin Lee, better known as Mr Miyagi, wrote a series of posts about his experiences during a Singapore Armed Forces exercise in Queensland, Australia, which his national service (NS) unit was a part of.

He took the posts down from his popular blog at, however, after The Sunday Times asked the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) what its policy on blogging about military exercises was, leading the ministry to conduct an investigation.

In the end, Lee was given the go-ahead to blog about his national service (NS) experiences, though Mindef did ask him to refrain from re-posting one or two photographs due to security concerns.

Almost two years later, Lee has published a book about NS – with the full knowledge and support of Mindef.

In My Time, a 120-page comic book published by Marshall Cavendish with Mindef, presents NS in a humorous and nostalgic light. The title refers to how former NS men like to boast that things were much tougher back in their day.

The book, which has an initial print run of 2,000 copies, was launched at the Army Open House on Sept 1, and is available at major bookstores from today at $9.30 without GST.

“I enjoy telling army stories, and I thought it would be a good time to put a comic book of anecdotes together since it’s the 40th anniversary of NS,” says Lee, 37, who holds the rank of corporal and serves in the 433rd Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment.

Organised as a guide to common characters and situations that NS men encounter during their years of service, the book makes inside references to water parades, elephants in rifles and the various
“kings” that one finds in a platoon – keng, bobo and topo, given respectively to malingerers, poor shots and bad navigators.

The book’s copyright is held by Mindef, and Lee says that the ministry helped him by supplying military-related photographs, which he used to guide illustrator Chua Jon Depp, a Malaysian artist based in Kuala Lumpur who was recommended to Lee by Marshall Cavendish after no suitable local illustrator could be found.

“He was really helpful… he saved some panels by injecting his own humour and style into the scenes,” says the freelance writer.

Meanwhile, readers of Lee’s blog should not expect to see as much of his trademark irreverence and sarcasm on the printed page. Lee says that the decision to leave out the more negative aspects of
NS was a personal choice.

“I do have darker stories about NS, but I intended for this to be a commemorative book. There are other forums for other NS stories,” he says.

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In My Time

I’ve never been to an Army Open House because I don’t have kids to bring them to, and my family would scream if I asked them “hey you wanna go to the Army Open House and see Army gear and stuff?” and they’d scream, “We wash your Army gear every time you come back from reservist”, and they’d scream, “if that’s your idea of a joke, it’s not funny”.

So I’ve never been to an Army Open House.

Until Saturday, that is. And I was pretty chuffed about seeing the latest in Army gear, and was even more chuffed to see a sign pointing to one of them:


Good thing I slowed down. Might have hurt some people:


The teeming crowds didn’t seem to be bothered though:


Apart from Army gear, it isn’t every day one gets to give a comic book to a defence minister:



And then spend a few hours telling people “yes” at the Open House who ask in Mandarin, “Is this book for sale?”, when they actually mean to be asking, “How come it’s not free?”


And the crowd goes wild

Still, it’s not every day one gets to autograph books for kids:


And then meet the author of one of the country’s most popular books – one that was made a movie:

with Angelina and Adrian Tan

Outside, my best friend was getting photographed as often as some of the exhibits:

No, the signboard I mentioned earlier wasn’t pointing to him.

Inside, I was explaining to the Chief of Army that “no, I’m not the clown in page 36-37 of the comic book“:


But seriously though, “In My Time” is a comic book written by me with a lot, a lot of help from various people from the publishing company, Marshall Cavendish, Mindef (who gave me all the photographs I said I wanted, although for some reason, the old Ali Baba bag couldn’t be found), and the indomitably cheerful illustrator Chua Jon Dep, who, despite being Malaysian and based in KL, managed to draw the cartoons I described to him over the phone and email over a period of two months.

And if you buy the book, you’ll see at the bottom left corner of every two pages, there’s a little marching soldier who, well, marches as you flip the pages. Yes, I know it’s called a flip book animation. That was the idea of the layout graphic artist, Lock Hong Liang, another long suffering fella who thought it was a great idea to put in the marching soldier in all the pages, then did so, then woke up one morning in a panic because he realised the pages weren’t finalised yet, and if we had swapped or omitted pages, his marching soldier animation would have gone to shits. So it was a good thing we didn’t.

with Hong Liang and Jon Dep

The one thing that really wasn’t fun at all was the fact that Naomi was at home, her back having flared up in the last few days, and she wasn’t able to accompany me to my first ever book launch, and to see Army gear. Hmmm…

On sale in bookstores from 21 September. Only $9.95!

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Missile tests?

Reader ‘Benny’ left a comment on the previous post, saying,

“Hi, have you heard anything about a missile defense test today? This morning (~9:45) I heard a roar and watched four jet clouds (contrails) fly over NTU headed southeast. Three were in parallel and a smaller one was in between two of them. Eventually the fourth one caught up and smoke from all four disappeared. There’s also been a lot of fighter aircraft activity up here and they usually do that on overcast days instead of clear days like today. A missile defense test is a big deal isn’t it? ie when the N. Koreans do it everyone freaks out etc.

Just curious if you know where I can ask around to see if anyone else knows anything. I sent email to channel news asia but I really didn’t expect a response”

StompedSo I looked at the CNA website and the only SAF related news I saw was headlined, SAF returns from providing dental care in Afghanistan“, so I don’t think that was it, unless they were celebrating their return in a big way. Mindef’s website didn’t say anything about a possible missile test either, and because I’m low in rank in NS, I am not privy to such information anyway. Stomp, “Singapore’s only citizen journalism portalism”, turned up news of people who ought to be missile tested on, and also not much else.
So, ‘Benny’, maybe wait a day or two, and if they were really missile tests, and if they were successful missile tests, you might hear about them from these same sources.

But… if anyone’s seen and heard anything and would like to enlighten ‘Benny’ earlier, please feel free to do so here.

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Pick it up lah!

Reservists don't look like that
What reservists don’t look like

It rained all of yesterday, pissing down on all of us while we were at the combat shoot range near Pasir Laba Camp (or Pasir Labia Camp, as we called it, which is built around Bukit Vagina, as we giggled some more like secondary school boys, but you know, it’s a bit tiring to talk about how vulgar our conversations are when we’re in reservist.)

Strangely, we weren’t as miserable as we ought to have been – being in wet clothes for what, twenty hours or so and being stung by mosquitoes hardy enough to withstand our saturation spraying of much Off as well as our liberal application of many citronella patches all over ourselves.

As a platoon mate, who shall not be named because these days, if you get named on this blog, everyone in your office gets to know about your exploits in camp, and I really don’t want that to happen to you. Unless you want it to. If so, leave a comment and I’ll insert your names…

As I was saying, this platoon mate says to a bunch of grumbling fellow troopers who’ve started a conversation with, “Wah lao, this kind of rain won’t stop one leh!”, that we should “think about it. How often do you get to walk in the rain?”

I think he meant for us to try to enjoy our day out, and the conversation veered to how some people pay good money to enjoy getting stung by mosquitoes and other sundry insects while getting drenched on eco-tours.

You’d understand by now that despite being in uniform and bearing the latest in automatic rifles and Army gear, we weren’t thinking about how proficient we were going to be as soldiers – something which, in this 9th year of reservist (I have to keep calling it that though I know the official name is National Service) training, is getting increasingly laughable given our creeping ages.

The upshot is that for most of us, safety was always going to be the foremost consideration, as an exchange at the combat range between the control point officer and a safety specialist, over loundhailers, in the dark, would testify:

SS: “Hold it! Wait! Wait! Wait!”

CP: “Yes, what?”

SS: “Live round (bullet)! Live round!”

CP: “Where is it? Is it stuck in the chamber (of the rifle)? Is it double chambering?”

SS: “No!”

CP: “Then where?”

SS: “On the ground!”

CP: “Wah lau! Then pick it up lah! Idiot!”

Much laughter ensued. And so, yes, W, you missed out on a good one.

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Approved Mindef Photograph

I wouldn’t recommend doing this: Arriving back from a holiday at 4am and having to book-in to reservist training at 7.30am. Which is exactly what I did.

I also got my hair cut by a not-so-skilled barber in camp. I’d say a lot, lot more if not for the fact that I’m very, very tired and need to get some sleep before tomorrow’s training.

Also, because these days you can’t take pictures of what you do in-camp and then post them online, I don’t have any funny pictures of this year’s training to show you.

Nonetheless, there are funny things to talk about, which I will later, in much the same way I’ll talk about what I did for my holidays. All I can say now is that I’m not really suffering in-camp. You can’t, really, when you hear heartening things like this from one of the instructors:

“Gentlemen, just note that the target is not really shooting back at you, so don’t be worry”

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With low-flying, washed-out colours

Passed!And so, with the dramatic, almost theatrical, gasping dash that lasted half a minute over the last one hundred metres, I passed the 2.4km run segment of the IPPT tonight, at 13:29, a full minute slower than my previous attempt more than two years ago.

But who cares? An ugly pass is still a pass, and I only have a couple more to go before I’m officially retired from all this physical stuff for National Service. Man, I’m old.

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