29 November 2005

More on the Melyvn Tan case

So today the ST Forum has another reader writing in on the Melyvn Tan case. An interesting letter:

Nov 29, 2005
Moral of story behind Mindef reply on NS case

I REFER to Mr Ben Nadarajan's commentary, '$5,000 fine for skipping NS? That's just not fine' (The Sunday Times, Nov 27), and the numerous articles and letters which have expressed indignation and unhappiness over the fact that pianist Melvyn Tan was slapped with only a fine of at most $5,000 for skipping national service.

It seems that the main point of contention is that given the market rate of time in the detention barracks (DB) for full-time national servicemen who go absent without official leave (AWOL), the imposition of only a fine on Mr Tan seems completely unfair. Or is it?

Mindef tried to explain the sense in this madness in the letter, 'Pianist dealt with, though he's no longer a citizen' (ST, Nov 24), but it seems that some people didn't get it, so I thought I would attempt to paraphrase its reply for their benefit.

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).

NSmen who go AWOL may get time in DB, but they also get to keep their citizenship and will enjoy government subsidies for secondary and tertiary education, HDB concession loans, IPPT monetary awards and New Singapore Shares. Mr Tan would probably have received only some educational and maybe health subsidies until he was 12, and none of the above.

This is the crux of the matter: $5,000 is neither the price of national service nor the price of citizenship. It really is the fee for renouncing Singaporean citizenship if you happen to be born to Singaporean parents in Singapore and delay renouncing your citizenship for four years - and, yes, you also have to throw in another 37 years of self-imposed exile to top it off.

This is the moral of the story: if you are a guy, get your parents to have you delivered in the US. Then, if you should later decide to renounce your Singapore citizenship just before the national-service call-up, you can save yourself $5,000 and a whole lot of hassle.

Ben Leong Wing Lup
Massachusetts, USA

Heheh. Funny and sharp, this Ben Leong person. However, he also missed an important point. Read this part of his letter carefully:

Consider the following scenario: Suppose Mr Tan were born in the United States and he held dual citizenship up until he was 18. If so, he would have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, gone on to become a famous pianist, and he would not have to pay the fine today. It so happens that he probably did not have dual citizenship 31 years ago and hence he did not have the option of doing what I described above (and finally renounced his citizenship only 27 years ago).
The scenario which Ben describes is actually impossible. The sneaky Singapore government is too sneaky for that. See my comments in the comments section of my previous post about the Singapore constitution. The pianist Melvyn Tan could not have renounced his Singapore citizenship 31 years ago, because the Singapore government does not allow male Singaporeans below 18 to renounce their citizenship. At best Melvyn Tan could have tried to renounce his Singapore citizenship at age 21 (which the government may or may not allow, in the case of male Singaporeans who have not done their NS). If you do some calculations, you'll find that Melvyn indeed renounced his Singapore citizenship approximately as soon as he legally could try to do so. He probably initiated the process 28 years ago, upon turning 21. And the paperwork was probably successfully completed one year later (27 years ago) when he turned 22.

Also Singapore does not allow you to hold dual citizenship. You can have PR status in another country, but you cannot have dual citizenship. Article 134 of the Singapore Constitution says so. So that's another reason why Ben Leong's scenario could not possibly have happened.

Aren't you people glad that you have Mr Wang's blog to read? You learn so many things here that you would never learn from reading the Straits Times.

Mr Wang's Unusual Views

Earlier I had commented on this case from the legal perspective. Now I will consider it from a more personal point of view.

And I say this - I am happy for Melvyn Tan.

My opinion - and I fully acknowledge that others will have different opinions - is this:

What is good for the system is often bad for the individual. And while NS may be good or necessary for the state of Singapore, it is generally a waste of time and a lot of suffering for the individual male citizen. If Melvyn successfully escaped the system, then I, as an individual, am happy for Melvyn, as an individual.

I know that many people will disagree with my philosophy. Most of us Singaporean men know from experience that the poor souls who got abused and bullied the most in the army will often become abusive and cruel themselves. When they finish their training and graduate from their course and rise in rank to become instructors, they start to abuse new recruits and trainees the same exact way they were once abused - the same exact way they once found so utterly unacceptable and wrong. A sadistic streak suddenly manifests in their hearts, when they get a little bit of power in their hands. They derive some perverted sense of vindication and revenge in seeing the newbies suffer.

Mr Wang does not subscribe to this kind of philosophy. Just because you have suffered and been abused does not make it a good thing for other people to suffer and be abused as well. Extending this line of thinking a little further - Mr Wang does not think that just because the average male Singaporean has had the terrible misfortune of wasting two years of his life in NS, he has any real justification to get angry and jealous that another male Singaporean, namely Melvyn Tan, managed to "beat the system" and avoid that terrible misfortune. If every single person, without exception, suffers a terrible misfortune, no single person benefits anyway. The collective amount of misfortune simply grows bigger.

There are a few other things about Mr Wang, an INTJ, that you might not know. Mr Wang loves to see people beat the system. Mr Wang loves to see people chase their dreams. Mr Wang loves people who dare to shine. Mr Wang does not love the SAF. Mr Wang does not love conformists. Mr Wang does not believe in herd instinct. Mr Wang does not believe in wasting talent. In other words, Mr Wang is a classic INTJ. His personality profile is such that he cannot help but love the Melvyn Tan story. Well done, Melvyn, and congrats!

Go forth, Melvyn Tan, shine for the rest of your musical career, and do Singapore proud. You do Singapore a lot more good as a world-famous musician, than you could ever have done as just another faceless SAF cook / clerk / driver / rifleman / storeman / PTI / medic / GD man / lobo / tankee / RP /fatal-statistic-in-yet-another-ROC-training-accident.

Statistically, INTJs form less than 1.5% of the human race and Mr Wang is well aware that the more-common personality types in the male Singapore population will probably disagree with his views as expressed above.


Beach-yi said...

For example of someon ewho would disagree with you: http://convexset.blogspot.com/2005/11/question-of-justice-draft-dodging.html

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Jeremy Chen? Oh, that scholarship bondbreaker fellow. It's okay - I also support scholarship bondbreakers, as long as they do it to pursue their dreams.

takchek said...

Ben is a friend of Tracey Ho too. Small world.


Biased Observer said...

For starters, Melvyn Tan is not a draft dodger. Singaporeans should be so lucky that it's only a draft and not mandatory NS.

Melvyn Tan is probably one of Singapore's most well-known 'fugitives.' Perhaps much better known in the music circle than the general public. Articles have been written about him in ST before, usually in the Life section when reviewing his CDs or performances.

He's not the only one who skipped NS though - a couple of his well-known musician peers have as well. But they were lucky enough not to have to assume fugitive status.

Biased Observer said...

Oh, and I totally agree with Mr. Wang too. I'd have thought that more would be HAPPY that Melvyn exposed this little 'loophole'...

But clearly the prevailing mentality is as Mr. Wang describes - I suffered so you all must too. Reminds me of the griping that goes on everytime NS is tinkered with to make it 'easier' or less burdensome.

Heavenly Sword said...

Melvyn should do 2-1/2 years of NS as an SAF Pianist as a form of 'punishment', OR give all interested Singaporeans a free copy of his CD :)

singaporean said...

If NS is abolished tomorrow, would you be upset? I wouldnt. I have a son, and it causes me great anguish because I know I am incapable of financing "The Great Escape" from NS for him, even if it is still 18 years away.

I personally feel very damaged by NS in many ways. I find I am much lesser a human after two and a half years of abuse (never even had the chance to abuse newbies), and I wouldnt want any other human being to waste their life serving an unprofessionally run army.

What riles me is to see how the government can give special dispensations to certain elite individuals.

Do you genuinely believe that Melvyn Tan had no idea what punishment he would receive before he stepped into Singapore?

Do you think it was a coincidence that he will be helping to fill seats in the multi-million ego project aka Esplanade?

Do you think the same generosity will be shown to a nobody?

I seriously doubt so. That is why I dont see this as a loophole.

No kid today can realistically believe that in 30 years time, the flavour of the day in Singapore will involve filling seats in a white elephant.

at82 said...

My sense is that what riles most ppl is that most ppl percieve that Melvyn gt off lightly only because he is part of the elites. Most believe that if Melvyn is just a common singaporean he wouldn't be able to get off so lightly.

The anger is not directed at the skipping of NS itself, but rather the special treatment that many people percieved to be accorded to him just because he is part of the elites.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Personally I enjoyed my NS. The latter half, at least. Despite not being a white horse and having no special inside knowledge or connections, I successfully manoeuvred myself into exactly the position where I wanted to be - writing, editing and reporting for Pioneer (the SAF magazine). Oooh, and I even learned a lot about the government policy-making process. Met the Minister several times, and so on.

I knew several NSFs who similarly manoeuvred themselves with success into different roles, of interest to them. Not white horses either. If there is one thing we had in common, I'd say that we really had a strong passion/interest for the thing we wanted to do, and we would not give up trying to seize the opportunity to do it - even though we were apparently stuck in the same system as everyone else.

For example, I knew an NSF who had done a lot of social work with troubled teens prior to starting NS. He eventually manoeuvred his way to the SAF Counselling Centre, where his work was to counsel troubled/depressed/suicidal NSFs. Guess what - he's a psychiatrist today.

I knew a national junior chessplayer who spent his NS analysing strategic simulations of wargame scenarios for MINDEF. He was so happy that he didn't even book out at 5 pm although he could. He'd stay over in MINDEF or the Wargames Centre playing strategic wargames.

I knew a bunch of dancers, singers and musicians who made their way into the SAF Music & Drama Company.

I knew this person Ken Seet, who spent his NS taking photos for MINDEF. Photography was his true love and his NSF experience gave him abundant opportunities to practise his art.

I even knew one person who was medically non-combat fit because of severe myopia. He beat the system too, but in a different way. He successfully appealed his way into a combat vocation (his parents had to sign a declaration form saying that they would not hold the SAF responsible if he suffered retinal detachment or other eye problems due to military training). Subsequently he went on to OCS and was a Sword-of-Honour winner. That was his kind of interest (in school days, he had been a scout, a sporty guy etc).

What's my point here? Hmmm, I'm not too sure myself. Maybe it's this - when you see someone successfully bend the rules and manoeuvre in the system, don't get angry and jealous and assume that he had special connections or unfair advantages or a privileged background. It may be that he is just very persistent in pursuing his passion. That motivates him to poke hard and probe at the system, again and again, trying to find ways to make it give him what he wants.

Life's a chess game. Melvyn played well. You don't necessarily have to have to be elite to play well.

Beach-yi said...

Hmm hehe, hopefully I fit ur criteria, I got myself posted to overseas twice. First time was 13 months, and second time was to East Timor. Never regreted my time in NS then, since I managed to get what I wanted.

singaporean said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Don't misunderstand my comment. I am not saying that everyone or most people would succeed if they tried to manoeuvre within the NS system. I am only saying that in respect of those who do succeed, it is not necessarily because they were "elites" or "white horses" or had special connections etc. It may simply be because they tried.

Anyway, life is always a chess game plus a dice game. And you win some and you lose some, but if you try hard and you think hard, you win more and lose less than you would otherwise win and lose. That extends beyond NS - to all other areas of your life.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Oh my, I do think I know who you were talking about. His name starts with J, doesn't it. No, he didn't write for Pioneer - his writing sucked and we didn't want him - but he worked in a sister department that filmed military videos etc.

My personal philosophy in life is that it's pretty much useless to spend too much time comparing your lot in life with that of others; and complaining that others have an unfair advantage over you; or conversely, gloating that you have an advantage over others. That's because life is a very complex and messy game. Sometimes, in certain things, you get the advantages, and sometimes, in other things, you get the disadvantages. Sometimes the things you thought were advantages turn out to be disadvantages and vice versa. Sometimes the people you envy may actually have very miserable things in their personal life that you don't know about.

Really, all you have is your own life, and all you can do is make the best of it. I actually have a personal blog that examines all those kinds of themes and talks about how I try to make the best of my own life, every day (aha! this is my personal blog, not telling you the address). But of course Mr Wang's wisdom exceeds his own practical ability to apply it.

singaporean said...

Mr Wang, I think his christian name starts with S. Cant remember the rest of his name. He was around only for a few weeks and left of trail of destruction when he did decide to do some work that took months to rectify.

Sorry to delete the comment. I think it is safer to do so in case anyone mentioned decides to sue me for defamation. Besides, I must have come across as a moaning loser.

INTPs tend to self sabotage their potentials.

I certainly have no illusion of having suffered the most. A rifleman in my unit chose to chop off his finger to feign an accident so that he could get out of his vocation.

In any case, I know that NS is just a preview of life. If I want my son to dodge NS, I gotta be forward looking, think out of the box and be better informed of possibilities than I am now, rather than sitting on my ass hoping things will get better by itself. Obviously it was Melvyn Tan's parents' who arranged for him to leave Singapore.

But that doesnt stop me from hating Melvyn Tan, out of envy if nothing else. :P

GK said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GK said...

Nasty army experiences? Click here.

Missing My Friends said...

Good lord! finally someone who does not believe in I suffered so they must suffer too!


Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Noooooo .... my guess is that you would get 30 - 40% of NTs in your group (INTJs, INTPs, ENTJs, ENTPs). And the INTJs would still be rarer than the INTPs, ENTJs and ENTPs, since INTJs are the rarest in the NT family. Which itself is the smallest family in the MBTI system.

at82 said...

Izzit? where did you get your info from? what about INTPs? However I tend to agree wif Singaporean that INTPs tend to self sabotage their potentials. Cos I am a INTP myself :P

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Surf around and you will see. If memory serves me right, the figures go something like this:

Es are about 4 times more common than Is;

S's are about three times more common than N's;

F's are about three as common as T's

P's are about twice as common as Js.

That's why INTJs are rare - they belong to the less-common group for every letter. Probability of randomly picking an INTJ is:

0.25 x 0.33 x 0.33 x 0.5 = 0.014

ie about slightly more than 1%.

INTPs are also quite rare, but a bit more common than INTJs. Great nitpickers, INTPs. :P

benleong said...

Hello Mr Wang, nice post.

Actually hor, I got friend who play piano olso. He say hor, play piano, fingers very important. Mabbe this pianist guy scared NS hurt his fingers and he cannot play piano properly so he dun dare to come back.

I got injured during NS also. Lucky never break anything important. Otherwise, cham already.

Anthony said...

Interesting. Certainly has a bearing on my next moves.

Thanks Mr Wang.

Anonymous said...

n Monday, 16 January 2006, Singapore's Defence Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean, proposed to Parliament to amend the relevant laws that will increase the punishment to those who default their National Services duties. This is both fair and sensible. Fair because we cannot allow defaulters to go away feeling that they have cheated the system by paying a relatively light penalty (S$5,000 and/or bond), which can easily be recovered in less than a year of hard work while also at the same time accumulating relevant working experience.

One of the most moving points he made was whether there will be a Singapore to return to if its able-bodied boys are given exceptions to 'opt-out' of serving in the National Defence force. This point bears repeating here:

Several Members have expressed sympathy for Melvyn Tan. Sir, I ask them to consider: who will shed a tear for Singapore if there is no Singapore for such people to return to, because the institution of National Service has been undermined, young men do not serve, no one defends Singapore and Singapore is no longer there for them to return to? Who will shed a tear? Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence in his speech in Parliament. See below.

Surely, this is the most important point of it all. Defence is a shared responsibility. I protect your house and family and you protect mine. Who will protect the families of those who have willfully evaded their obligations and left the country, perhaps leaving their aged parents to fend for themselves? Worst, does the evader expect others to do that which he is unwilling to do? We need to be ready at any moment to defend our land, our homes and our families, come what may, because we have no other home to go to.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

What does talent count for if there is no conducive environment to nurture it, and display it? How much talent was lost in the World Wars last century we can only speculate, but you will agree with me that it is not insubstantial. The first order of things, surely, is the protection of our livelihood. Talent, and the opportunities that will grow and nurture it, will then naturally follow, will it not?

Anonymous said...

Sg garmen and NS can suck balls for all they want as long as i renounce my "citizenship" with 5000SGD? Fantastic! Bad for garmen? Fuck that ,im not part of the garmen , im a selfish individualist bastard who wants to get on with life and not be a slave for 2.5 years.

HOOAH for Melvin,

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