Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wake Up Your Idea!

This was a phrase commonly used by the instructors in OCS during my time, especially by the Tactics Team instructors. It's our local refrain for "You'd better buck up!" or "Are you trying to be funny? Idle? Idiotic? Skivvy?" - all rolled into one.

When an instructor said "You better wake up your idea", it meant what's in your head was kinda wrong; it needed some kind of adjustment. In most cases, it was just a gentle admonishment. At other times, it necessitated some kind of punishment. 'Drop 20' usually. At worse, a burnt or forfeited weekend.

At times, we cadets were just trying to be efficient. But even that could be misconstrued as being smart-alecky trying to avoid work. Like the time we suggested using petrol more often to clean out our heavy weapons (such as the GPMG machine gun, M60 mortar and 84MM recoiless anti-tank gun especially after live firing. Using petrol was much faster than using the usual brass brushes and fenderlite (a cleaning cloth). It saved much muscle power and precious cleaning time!

"You better wake up you idea," was what our platoon sergeant Karu said, even before our suggestion got to the end of the sentence.

Although the petrol method was more efficient, I think the worry then was the possible build-up of inflammable vapors inside the guns. It might just catch fire the next time it was fired and blow us up to kingdom come. We cadets, however, thought otherwise. We had a long discussion in the bunk before bringing it up to Staff Sgt Karu. Surely a bunch of top-notch A-level students schooled in the best General Paper 'For-Against' argument tradition couldn't be wrong, right?

But our brilliance was dismissed with a single phrase: "You better wake up your idea."

After that, it became a kind of catch-phrase in our platoon. 'Eh, you better wake up your idea,' whenever someone tried to suggest something new, even if the idea was genuinely feasible and legitimate.

At times, it was done on purpose.

Q: Why don't OCS set up a laundry shop to wash our No.4? A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.
Q: Why don't the army give us proper running shoes? (This was before they gave us New Balance joggers) A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.
Q: Why don't the army ask the canteen lady to cook for them? A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.
Q: Why don't we train with the female Golf Company cadets? A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.
Q: Why can't we have a mini fridge in the bunk? A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.
Q: Why don't we have BBQs at the end of field camp? A: Eh, you better wake up your idea.

Well, you get the idea.

I think this phrase kind of went out of fashion for a while when WITS became the byword to help the SAF save much $$$ and be productive. Then, good suggestions were welcomed. If the suggestion box was empty, all suggestions were encouraged, including that one about the Golf Company cadets.

Nothing then was a 'Eh, you better wake up your idea.' It became 'Yeah, why don't you send it in. Maybe you'll win that $50 cash prize!'

WITS (work improvement teams) were everywhere. I guess the most affected people were probably the staff sergeants and warrant officers - the tradition bearers of the SAF. From 'Eh, you better wake up your idea' they had to hold their tongue and be encouraging instead. 'Really, that's something to think about.' I could just imagine Staff Sgt Karu rolling his eyes at the merest thought of that. He's the sort who liked to get things done quick, not hindered by fanciful ideas or elaborate schemes.

Speaking of waking up, that's the thing most people struggle with when they enter the army. If you had been a late sleeper and riser (like me), you'll be surprised at what a struggle that can be. You'll be even more surprised to learn that you can change!

The best thing is that early wake-up can become natural. Your internal alarm will somehow reset itself. You will likely discover this during field camp, that you don't even need to set a wristwatch alarm.

For us cadets, along with the China-made iron, some of us preferred to use those clunky China-made alarm clocks that could wake the dead. They are mechanical and can cause a ruckus every morning with their louder than usual ringing. Not the gradual beep-beep ones from electronic and plastic alarm clocks from Casio, Citizen, Rhythm, Q&Q, etc. These new alarm clocks unwisely encouraged sleepy heads to hit the Snooze button to get another 10 mins of "koon" time.

But I did upgrade to one such Casio when I became an instructor. I loved its robust boxy design (it could sustain multiple drops) and quirky color scheme. I am still using it today. For the longest time, I have been trying to remember where I bought that darn thing. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that I always enjoyed popping into watch shops to study horological designs. It was a case of one too many shops to pin the recall accurately.

The other night, I had a dream. I woke up looking at that alarm clock and remembering exactly where it was purchased. It was that watch shop below my old home in Marsiling. Lately, my mind has been playing tricks like that on me - being selective in what it wants to remember. Is it a coincidence that Total Recall (with Colin Farrell) is again playing in the cinemas? Really, I should probably tell my brain to 'wake up its idea' before it gets out of hand.

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