I am awed that there have been people who did write in to my last posting on The Collective Consciousness. A very few asked to remain on the readers' list, and I have complied accordingly. I saved as many posts as I could, in the middle of the Biggest Loser Air Force programme in RMAF Ipoh, and I am pained to see that saving a post doesn't save the precious pics I gleaned from various air force archives.
Here I am again.
I was on the RMAF's Biggest Loser programme.
I made arrangements with Maj Mok (Firdaus, but his tactical callsign as a fighter controller was Gemok, hence Mok) to drive up to Ipoh with him. We rendesvoused at KL base, officers' mess at 0600H on 26 Jan and I took the wheel to Ipoh from there. We had a fine time pooh-poohing the way the fat guys were being discriminated against whilst we saw the air force as having so many other more important issues to handle than to further humiliate us with a weight-loss porgramme that would be on display on the air force portal.
Upon arrival at Ipoh, we were greeted by Maj Chan and a host of other junior officers and Physical Training Instructors. We were shown to our rooms, nice, comfy and air conditioned. My roommate hadn't arrived yet, and I read the slip on my room door to check out who it would be. Maj Azman Jantan. Hmmm. I worked with Mantan when I was evaluating Search And Rescue beacons for the air force. Not enough to discover the decibular value of his snore. Incidentally, he would turn up late that night which learned me into his signal strength, but then again, I was probably producing the tenor harmony for his bass, so this could turn out to be symbiotic.
The course, Special Survival 01/10 Body Mass Index was officiated on 27 Feb by the Deputy Chief of the air force, Dato' Sharon whose ferocity as a flying instructor and thereon got him dubbed as Tigeron. Kipling would have been amused. Then the rigours began.
1500 kilocalories a day. I was not confident we could keep it up. I spied the thimble sized bowl they used for apportioning our rice, and shook my head. Whom are they kidding? Breakfast was to be a slice of wholemeal bread or one cardboard-consistencied chappati or equally miserable bite to begin the day. Dinner was more of the boiled vegetable and matchbox-sized chunk of meat.
That afternoon, Maj Zin, Mok, Roshaidi and I popped out to town for essentials such as tongs and hangers. Not before stopping by Salim's restaurant. There were 16 chappatis and 4 bowls of beef and chicken on the table, with orders of biriyani rice to chase down the previous listing. I sat there with them, sipping a cup of tea, and staying true to my cause of weight loss as they surely and steadily put away the lot overcrowding the table top. The aroma of ghee wafting off the top chappati was breaking down my resolve to be faithful. My mates caught my gaze reluctantly zooming to the streetside in evasive manouvre, and they reminded me that tomorrow we would not see food this way again. And so went the last chappati down my gullet.
I shall quote a columnist as he mused over the rites of passage in becoming a cyclist. "The hill is not in the way. The hill is the way."
Part of the physical training regime, occupying a good nine hours a day, every day for 3 weeks was jungle trekking. Now I must say, I loathe jungle trekking. Though I am no infantryman my infantry training as an officer cadet in the Royal Military College inspires no irresistible draw to being under foliage at any time. I would rather a nice air conditioned room with satellite television in a heartbeat. But here we were, doing just what I loathe. Even though I had reneged the Saturday night before and sinfully put away a claypot chicken rice dinner replete with chunks of salted fish, I did not see the need for so punishing a penance as 80 degree slopes, up and down. I was cursing at the top brass and the school management with each invitation to a chiropractor that the step up was, and spat profanity at the numerous ten-yard slides I was taking downhill. Then of course there were leeches whose heparin was so potent my coursemates and I bear the bite marks to this time of writing.
Then at lunch I eavesdropped on the recounts of my mates. I gleaned that Mantan was spewing the same profanities as I, at all the same torturous slopes and checkpoints. So I was not demented nor was I the only one who saw this route as being maliciously planned and selected. There was a common bond, when a course was being executed on guys exceeding a hundred kilogrammes each, some sporting a BMI of 42 to 45. No conditioning. just a direct plunge into load-bearing physicals like obstacle courses and compass marches. By the tenth day, many had torn ligaments and knees that were giving way whilst jogging. Capt Siti had twisted her knee so badly she had to be returned to her home unit. My only injury was tendonitis. I had become over enthusiastic at the benchpress. Mind you, we were all old soldiers with service records of up to 31 years. None were unable to scale the hill. Which meant that huge as we were, we were fit. It was just that our joints, cartilege and tendons could no longer take the strain that we could as 20 year olds.
We were informed on the first night that we would not be sleeping in our rooms, but in the "villa", the survival village down by the lakes. These huts were used for the isolation modules of the aircrew survival refresher course. The requirement was not printed in the admin instructions, but were there ordered by the top brass nonetheless.
We debated the move. The orders were preposterous. But we were thinking officers. We would obey. We would go down to the huts and stay till past midnight, then cycle back to our rooms. That would keep us adherent to the 'stay till the next morning' clause.
At 2300H we gathered under the pale light of the lamp post at the back of the officers' mess. We cycled wordlessly down and settled in the individual huts. The instructors were around, and I could sense they were nervous, like a pack of mongrels set to watch over wolves. Would a bunch of officers with near 16 years seniority over them be compliant?
We sat cracking the worst jokes ever heard, the guys cackling like warlocks till midnight. Our course leader, lucky bloke who could sleep once reclined even if it were in a cesspool, was long past his introductory snoring notes. I was sharing a hut with Capt Sara and Maj Kesh. It was stifling, as cushy as a bed of nails and I was swatting whatever was biting me wherever skin was exposed. "Sara," I said. "At the stroke of half past midnight, I start cycling up."
"With you!" he snapped back affirmatively. And so starting with Kesh, Sara and I, began the midnight exodus back to the mess. Our course leader awoke at one in the morning and seeing himself alone, followed suit.
He was nearly charged with failure to contain a mutiny. The next morning, we were informed by the young captain in charge of us that we were to return to parent bases as a result of said mutiny.
We were ready to pack our bags when our course leader issued a letter to the Deputy Chief that we were committeed to losing weight but found the sleeping arrangements as the only niggardly point we could not harbour with. The decision was reversed and the course continued but we were still to sleep in the villa.
The Generals should have taken our behaviour as a compliment. We had obeyed instructions but used our discretion as to how to obey them. All officers had agreed as to what to do. Everyone cooperated. And nobody ratted on anyone or turned in anyone as a scapegoat.
And so we named ourselves The Bounty.
And everyone proved that we could still lose weight, but it was our accomplishment and not that of the leadership.
Three weeks passed with much wailing and ganshing of teeth. I was succumbing to burnout. My 1.5 mile run slipped from 14 minutes to 16. I never did the monkey rack or the flying fox. Yes, I have a fear of heights. I snatched claypot chicken rice, unavailable in Labuan, anytime I could, and when I was truant with Maj Keshwinder, it was loading up on chappatis and thick gravies. I lost 4.8 kilogrammes and 2 inches off my waist.
Much water has passed under the bridge. This was a course unlike any other I had been part of. Everybody was everybody's friend and buddy no matter what our differences. We still worked guided by our inner compasses, and saw our organisation as it was, warts and all, but still stayed committed to serve. But the sense of disappointment was not diluted. This course was a PR stunt so the air force could thumb its nose at the army and navy. We knew all this well before the course began and we were scheduled to save the air force from its delayed execution of its annual courses in RMAF Ipoh. Yet we reported to Ipoh to obey. Yet we were labelled as mutineers.
In the middle of all this, smack before Chinese New Year, I was called by the Director of Air Force Intelligence to shut down my blog. I got Kesh to take me to the nearest cybercafe to delete my posts on The Collective Consciousness. Mantan was listening in to my phone conversation with the Director. When I was done, he told me how he was told the same thing, two weeks after he started a blog about flying the Sukhoi-30s. We looked at each other knowingly, feeling each other's dismay and pain. There would never be a cure for such small minds as those in the seats of authority. But as I did say to him, as with anything sacred, when this blog was found and read by air force senior officers, its sanctity was violated and was due for shutdown anyway.
I will miss Ipoh. I liked cycling the perimeter and watching teams of otter cavort and cruise the lakes. I miss my friends. We were without creed or colour.
I guess no tie binds as securely as the sharing of food.