Following Aloysius Pang’s Death, Singaporean Men Reckon With Their Mortality
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When you’re serving in the army, the topic of death is constantly lingering in the air.

On day 1 of BMT, we joke about wanting our buddies to die so we can attain PES F and leave the army.

Before training sessions, we get briefed on the dangers of heat injury, and how it could potentially be fatal. We mindlessly take part in water parades, paying no heed to said warnings.

Throughout the 2 years of service, we read reports on unfortunate NSFs who “succumb to injuries” or have “fatal allergic reactions”. We sympathise, but think that it could never happen to us.

When we go back to camp for reservist, we enjoy the brief reprieve it gives us from our hectic work lives. It provides us an escape route back to a time when our biggest worry was getting in your Encik’s good graces so that we could book out on time. Death is the last thing on our minds.

Yet, it still happens.

Today the nation mourns the loss of Corporal First-Class Aloysius Pang. The actor passed away last night from injuries he suffered during a military exercise in New Zealand, where he was due to spend 3 weeks at.

Everyone from celebrities to fans, and even meme and shitposting pages on Facebook that usually poke fun at popular culture have posted heartwarming tributes to the memory of Aloysius.

However, unlike Corporal First-Class Dave Lee, Corporal First-Class Liu Kai, and Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, all of whom died while in service within the last year, Aloysius was not an NSF, and was merely on reservist.

Currently, the public sentiment is that of sadness, anger, and injustice. The fact that he died while on reservist rankles the nation. After all, this is a man who had served his 2 year obligation as an NSF.

More importantly, his death, like many others before him, occurred during a training exercise.

It was a mighty coincidence, but after reading the tragic news of Aloysius’ passing yesterday, I came home to the sealed rectangular envelope that ORD army personnel have come to recognise and dread. It was a notice for my next ICT (In-Camp Training) call-up.

However, instead of the usual annoyance I would normally feel upon laying my eyes on the SAF100 notification letter, I felt genuine fear that my life would be in danger.

It was the most human I’ve felt for a long time when I thought, “What if that happens to me one day?”

I couldn’t help thinking about how we try our best to control every single element in our lives that sometimes we forget about the simple things; to stop and smell the roses, and to embrace the present.

More importantly, I wondered if any other NSMan felt the same way. If men about to enter the army were also thinking it could be them one day, or if men who have already ROD-ed are thinking, it could have been them.

As someone who isn’t well-attuned to the world of Mediacorp dramas, I have to admit that I didn’t even know who Aloysius was a mere four days ago. Yet, his passing has resonated with me more than I ever thought it would, simply because it could have very easily been me in his shoes.

Having ORD-ed less than 5 years ago myself, coupled with the fact that the both of us are not too far apart in terms of age, the similarity of our situations adds another layer of relatability.

Or perhaps, it was the suddenness in the way this incident unfolded, leaving the entire nation on the edge of our seats as the entire saga played out out over a short period of four days.

Stories of loss become even more tragic when it involves a young person. From time to time, my grandmother still tells me that one of the saddest things in life is the concept of “Bai Fa Ren Song Hei Fa Ren”, which translates loosely from Mandarin to ‘an older person having to mourn the death of a younger person, against the natural order of human life’.

When this happens, we cry foul at the fact that the deceased was not able to live a full life, and celebrate the memory of his life and accomplishments. We then post clichés on how life is short and how we should not take things for granted, although not much else happens from there.

This is neither a witch hunt nor a call for accountability from the relevant authorities. Strategically crafted press releases do little to alleviate the feeling of haplessness broiling within us, nor will it rid us of the inescapable feeling that the NS deaths are nothing more than collateral damage.

However, If there is anything positive that we can take away from this tragic occurrence, it is the reminder of the fragility and unpredictability of life, as well as our inevitable mortality as human beings.

Simply put, we have to accept that sometimes, shit happens, and things are out of our control. The reality is that people do die young. I’ve always known this, but I think it was only yesterday that I truly understood it.

It is only when we are at our most vulnerable that we gain some perspective on the reason why we embark on our endeavours and rediscover the purpose behind our existence.

I just hope that it doesn’t always have to take the death of a promising young man each time for all of us to gain that perspective.

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