Mohamed, my 17-year-old nephew, came home for a few days from National Service camp during the Chinese New Year holidays. He had been at the camp (somewhere in Malaysia) for three weeks then and the boyish enthusiasm bubbling up inside him was apparent. He shared his experiences -- good and bad -- with relatives who were curious to see how he had got on at the camp with other "wira (heroes) and wirawati (heroines), as the participants are called.
Mohamed was positive about his time there expect for one thing: he could not understand why the camp commandant -- a Major in the Malaysian army -- is overweight and unfit.
Mohamed and his mates had expected to see a military man with the physique of an athlete ala "Will Smith". Instead, they saw a fatty who seemed a likely candidate for The Biggest Loser programme. And the two officers who came together with the commandant were similarly heavy and seriously in need of regular hard workouts. Mohamed and his friends exchanged glances when they were introduced to the commandant and his officers at the "meet and greet" session with camp personnel. They later discussed their disillusionment.
But their faith in the uniformed units was somewhat restored when an admiral came to the camp a few days later to talk to the participants about careers in the navy. "The admiral was in great shape and looked very sharp in his uniform; we were impressed," says Mohamed.
What were the camp organisers thinking? You can't fool the Net Generation, which has grown up with computer games and everything associated with communications and media technologies. My nephew is a serious gamer and he is really into war games.
He is in awe of warriors from the past and aspires to be like them. He thinks the flag bearer of an army was the most important person in ancient times because he would be the first to give his life up for his country during a war. His idea of a warrior is one who is healthy, strong, loyal and has high moral principles.To his great disappointment, the commandant at his national service camp did not live up to expectations. His sense of humour is his saving grace, says Mohamed.
It is difficult to watch my nephew's thwarted expectation. The only thing I could do was to offer him quiet support and to gently tell him that all teenagers experience disappointing situations every now and again. I remind myself that he has to go through adverse conditions such as failure, disappointment, loneliness and grief in order to discover unknown and interesting things about his character. He must acquire the ability to feel better quickly after something unpleasant. And I think he handled this particular tough moment very well.