Posts about culture

The General

The military culture is all about saying yes and executing whatever request that was issued from superiors, even if it seem impossible to fulfill. Most do not accept “no” for an answer and are never bothered at the process so long things gets done. There have been numerous occasion where I’ve witnessed the behavior and how uptight people gets, be it good or bad news.

I have absolutely no grudges against the high flyers in the organisation but what I find it disturbing is the lack of human touch towards the people, not to mention how the commoners tries very hard to leave a good impression for fear of repercussion. I’m sure there are guidelines as to how one should behave and the do’s and don’ts in order to maintain a certain status but this should not hinder the trust one should establish with the commoners.

Let me share an account from a colleague of mine whom had to deal with an unbelievable behavior of a senior commander while performing duties during one of the flight.

I was giving a safety brief to the passengers as part of the pre-boarding procedure, of which, there were two senior commanders. Throughout the brief, one of the colonel kept interrupting and attempted to challenge my professionalism and ability to control the passengers in the event of an emergency. The flight was carried out and during de-planning, the colonel tried to walk out of the aircraft when he was not suppose to. I grabbed his arms and he was startled at my determination before grinning.

On the contrary, here was what I recently witnessed while supporting a foreign unit operation:

A one-star general decided to board the aircraft with troops that were preparing to be deployed. He wanted to show his support and appreciation by observing their training. Throughout the flight, he refused to wear a headset connected to the aircraft communication system and sat near the rear of the aircraft where water was leaking onto him from a heavy downpour earlier, observing the troops parachuting out of the aircraft.

When the aircraft eventually landed, the general walked over and grabbed 3 bags of harnesses before walking out of the aircraft, leaving the jump-master chasing behind him.

Granted that the sight of this could be random, but such a small gesture from a one-star general would have easily gained the trust and respect of his men, as opposed to one whom is expected to be treated like a king.

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Selfless or selfish?

Just weeks before, I’d this impression and thought to myself that something nasty is going to occur if no one takes the initiative to sort out the mess. Last weekend, as I returned to camp on a Sunday night, I went to sign the attendance book. True enough; the pages that were nicely drawn with lines to separate the different columns were used up. As expected, everyone started to ignore the fact that lines were not drawn and simply pen down the details. I was tempted to pick up a pencil and ruler to tidy things up but somehow, my heart and mind rejected the idea.

It didn’t take long enough for the duty officer to inspect the records and realized the mess. Before we all knew, the school sergeant major fired out an email to our wing sergeant major and instructed us to be confined over the weekend for not drawing lines. Now, it may seem that I was selfish and had I initiated to tidy the records, this would not have happened. On the other hand, I thought that why must it always be me taking the initiative to sort things out and get everyone out of trouble? Can’t someone else just have the same mentality? I’m not trying to project myself as a “hero” or whatever you term but when it is always the same old few who have to get the job done, you’ll realise you’ve had enough of it.

I thought that the punishment was a good opportunity for everyone to do some self-reflection. It has come to a stage where due to human nature; people will allow things to be taken for granted and have the mentality that someone else will get it done. Take a few moments to observe and you’ll be surprised to see the same scenario happening almost everywhere. If everyone were to behave in a selfless and selfish manner, trouble will come knocking at the door. As my course commander mentioned the other day, all it takes is for everyone to have a little initiative and share the burden. With this, things would have turned out much better and work gets done.

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Stumbling with chinese

It didn’t took me long enough to realise my Chinese language of command have degraded substantially since graduating from secondary school. I hardly have the opportunity to “keep in touch” with it, less reading or even writing it. The only time I’m able to use it is during interaction with friends or family.

Our government have been actively prompting the use of proper mandarin, placing emphasis on the post-65 generation where the majority comes from English speaking family. Everyday, I read from the newspaper on how China is rapidly expanding into the global market and why is it important to master the Chinese language and even the culture to stay competitive. I have to admit that I dislike Chinese for the numerous strokes in characters and difficulty in using the words correctly. I’ve always barely passed my Chinese tests and exams while in school and I regretted not putting in more effort. Unlike English where one can roughly try to spell the words correctly by placing the letters around, Chinese requires a little more patience and understanding of the culture in order to master it.

With my current job, there’s almost zero possibility of using Chinese at work. All the presentations, briefs and even conversations with superior are in English. This made it tough for me to practice and master my Chinese language. However, I’ve thought of alternatives to counter this problem and could help me to improve or at least maintain my Chinese language standards. One of the most efficient and effective way is to read Chinese newspaper. I know it’s going to be tough as most probably, I would have to refer to the dictionary for every few words I read. (Yes, this is how bad I think it’ll be). Another way is to read from past Chinese textbooks and even well written composition books. I guess all of these would help to maintain my Chinese and speaking of proper mandarin.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to kick-off this idea and this shall be one of my new year’s resolutions for 2007.

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Culture differences

Before reading my thoughts for this entry, I would like to make it clear that I’m not pin-pointing any organization or person. References, if any, are simply quoted as examples. All of these are my personal opinions and thoughts and in no way it shall represent the organisation and/or views of anyone. In fact, if you observe closely, what I’ll be expressing in this article can most certainly occur in almost everywhere in our daily lives. Please read my disclaimer for clarifications.

Having served the military for a year now, I’ve had many opportunities to have an insight and learnt about the organisation, its management and people. I’ve come to realize that it is not easy to management a group of people, especially so if you are working in a big organisation. I’m sure many would agree that there are bound to be office politics in any organisation but in a military organisation, there’s simply more than office politics as there is a standard chain of command as well as the rank hierarchy to respect.

There are a few incidents which I’ve observed and would like to share and express my views on. As a trainee, one has to listen to the instructors and take orders without displeasure. Most of the time, these are errands out of your job scope but because you have no say and to avoid getting into trouble, you’ve got no choice but to do it. For example, recently, there was a donation drive. Instead of donating any amount (which should be the case) as wished, one is expected to donate a minimum amount. I believe that donation is one’s will of willingness and should not be forceful. In this case, because of pressure and orders, we have to adhere to it in order not to get into further argument or even worst, be invited to have a “sharing session” with senior commanders.

Next, I’ve seen what is known as “abuse of the system”. For example, there will be duty personnel scheduled to perform various duties in the office daily. The job ranges from picking up newspapers, cleaning the pantry to making coffee and many others. One may argue that this is a good form of training but personally, I may not have seen the bigger picture of how this will teach, cultivate and benefit the trainees in particular. Basically, one will rely on the “extra hand” and eventually it will be abused for personal gains and pleasure. I think all of these are not right and it instils the wrong teachings to the younger generation.

Compared to what I’ve seen during my internship at a renowned US company, it is a total culture difference. I see that US companies value their employees, are more transparent and this in turn give an impression of an open and relax working environment. If you would to ask me can Singapore achieve this kind of environment and cut the red tape? I think for now, the answer would be a no. Our bad habits have been around for too long that it’ll need a powerful sweep before we can see things change for the better. I presume this would be one of the factors why many decided to migrate to other places where one can taste the true meaning of life, work, family and fun without a stressful and yet political working environment we experience in our daily lives!

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Life as an officer cadet

I had a total culture shock when I enlisted into the Officer Cadet School (OCS) in SAFTI Military Institute. It was very different from BMTC where majority of the newly enlisted soldiers are trained. For one, cadets are expected to maintain a very high level of discipline and one will have to answer for his/her own action. Disciplinary action includes confinement, extras (where one will perform duties over weekends or public holidays) or even being charged (restriction of privileges, stoppage of leave etc.) for serious offenses.

It was definitely very stressful and difficult to cope for the first 3 weeks and I am still trying to adapt to the new environment and the fast pace training. Typically, I would wake up at 0515 hours and will not sleep until 2245 hours. In between training programs, the only breaks I get are meal times, which usually last for 30 minutes. Gone is the administrative (personal) time where I used to be able to slack around in my bunk for an hour or so before the next training program commence. Standby-bed is a common sight and we are expected to keep the bunk in tip top condition (that is to say, all the shoes/sandals have to be arranged properly under the bed and even the way uniforms are hung in the wardrobe needs to be standardized throughout the platoon) at all times. I usually could not sleep in peace for the first few weeks because of turnouts, which is common because the instructors claimed that we must be operationally ready. Apart from physical training, we are also mentally trained in one form or another. There are plenty of tests, which require us to study during our “free time”, and we are expected to do well in all of them.

I have actually felt very pressurized because I am not physically fit as compared to most of my platoon mates and I am uncertain if I can take the training. If not for the support from my family members and friends, I would have gave up and get out of course. I agree that it is prestigious being an officer but sometimes, I asked myself is it worth going through all these since I am not interested in a military career. I was supposed to be in the Air Force training to be a pilot but because of delays in my medical review, the application is being freezed.

I certainly hope that I’ll be able to adapt soon and make it an enjoyable and memorable training.

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Proper use of language

I’ve been working on polishing my pronunciation, spelling and grammar and vocabulary standards in the English language by choosing to read from a wide variety of books besides fiction — my all time favorite. By doing so, I believe it will greatly help to improve my communication skills, which is important as I move towards higher education and eventually the need to communicate with colleagues and customers in the workforce.

Recently, I read from newspaper articles, which mentioned that the government has been trying to promote proper use of the English language. Personally, I think it is critical that Singaporeans speak and write proper English and put away with Singlish although many would argue that Singlish is a unique icon of true Singaporeans. Certainly, we can still use Singlish in our daily lives but I would say that we use it “for fun & entertainment” and not elsewhere.

Not to leave out Chinese, my mother tongue language. I have always avoided reading and writing Chinese characters because my mindset tells me it is tough to grasp as compared to English. Let me share a little cultural experience during my internship in North Carolina that changed my thinking on the Chinese language — There was this group of Chinese nationals from china living near my apartment. Just like us, there were there for a short stint with a well-known company. On one occasion, when my roommate and I went to the supermarket to replenish our weekly groceries supplies, we met some of them from the group. They offered to give us a ride back to the apartment since we live within short distance from each other. During the journey, I realized that we had a hard time trying to communicate with them even though we were Chinese and speak the same language. I thought that was a very embarrassing scene because we could not even speak proper Mandarin due to the lack of use.

This little incident has inspired me not to give up on Chinese but to use it or lose it. After all, it is not asking for more than simply spending 15 minutes a day reading articles and being familiar with the words.

PS: Despite attempts to write in proper English (correct grammar usage etc.); I have no idea how many mistakes were made in this entry. Practice makes perfect :)

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