two stories that defined my week

Let’s take it back today. I had a heavy week, starting on Wednesday , where I caught myself in a limbo of sorts. Every week thus far had been exciting, and every day had been filled with some level of fun and success. Yet, something was starting to feel absent. That’s probably why the dreams started : two dreams that I remembered not just vividly but emotionally. Here they are:

Dream 1 – The Loss of Vision

In this dream, I was seated at a table in a bar. It seemed like I was in one of the bars I had been in, in Wudaoku, Beijing . The lights were loud, and there was music that rang back to the 80s. There were people seated next to me and I was engaged in some form of casual communication.

Then all of a sudden, everything became blurry. What was once a clear sight was now pixelated and definitely evident of my myopia. What just happened, I asked myself. I was panicking – was I going blind?

Hold on, was I wearing contacts? I felt over my eyes and noticed the lack of spectacles. My contacts must have fallen out, I assumed. I conducted my regular vision check, covering one eye and confirming that I could see clearly. My left eye had lost its contact, I determined. I felt around the table I was at, to see if the contact had fallen.

I found it almost immediately, hardened as if it had dried up after being left out for a long period. Had my contact been missing for that long and I hadn’t noticed? What was going on, I asked myself, and immediately woke up.

Dream 2 – The Memory of Courage

Courage is a difficult word to claim. Even the declaration of someone being courageous has to be supported by consistent proof of his courage – a one time act does not validate a sustaining label. I cannot claim courage as a trait as often as I’d like to. I try my best and have had my fair share of courageous moments, but there are a sizeable number of times I wish I had stepped up to the plate and done what I could have.

This dream brought me back to the advanced training area in Tekong ’12 . I was in Basic Specialist training and it was our field-camp. We were being evaluated on a training package, and were at the last leg. We were exhausted, having been in the field for almost 4 hours on consistent battles and hammered with scenarios one after another.

‘The end is around the corner, gentlemen’ the section instructor told us.

We were keeping to pace, ensuring our movement was according to drill. All of a sudden out of nowhere, the sergeant shouted ‘ Arty, Arty’ indicating an Artillery Strike. We quickly dropped to prone position and echoed the words.

‘Goddamnit’ I remember thinking, ‘We were so close.’

‘Arty over’ he shouted, indicating the start of the sprint back to the safe zone. I was carrying section equipment, weighing a considerable weight. That on top of my load-bearing vest and rifle made the sprint one of the more difficult combat tasks of the day. On my sprint forward, I noticed one of my section mates on the floor not moving.

‘What happened?’ I asked him as multiple section mates ran past me and him.

‘I’ve been declared as injured’ he responded.

‘Fuck’ I remember thinking. I didn’t want to have to take on another load, I thought for half a second. But within the snap second, I remembered that if this was war, I couldn’t leave my brother in arms behind. I remembered he could very well be someone else’s sibling or son, and I could not wish the consequence of his ‘death’ on anyone.

‘Carry this!’ I shouted to another section mate who was running behind me, as I tossed him the bag with the section equipment. He got the cue and grabbed it from me.

‘Hold on’ I said, as I grabbed my section mate, and in one motion, threw him on my shoulders as part of the fireman lift and continued sprinting.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked me as I sprinted with him now loaded onto me.

I didn’t respond, focusing all my attention and energy on making the last 80m of the sprint. I was panting, breathing heavily and feeling my shoulders ache.

Almost there, I reminded myself.

I finally reached the safe zone, heaving myself into it. I put my section mate down and collapsed on the floor.

‘Good Job guys, you’re done with the package’ the Instructor commended us.

I continued to breathe heavily, as I reminded myself in that moment about the essential truth of struggle – the existence of peace and the continuation of a normal day requires more sacrifice than realized.


There was probably some psychological undertone to all of this. I had sent my laptop to repair and was absent of the usual distractions. I was at the gym a lot more and had more time to think to myself. I was somber pretty much most of the week, reluctant to engage in the regular frivolities. I committed to making every choice purposeful from Wednesday night, and saw some change in perspective.

I’m not sure where I’m at right now. I’m still confused at where I am, and where I’m meant to be heading. Having so much settled in your future, in a lot of ways unsettles you.

This is a new challenge I must face then.


where the sunset kisses the night

Recently, I’ve wondered about the difference between a soldier and an officer. It’s a subtle distinction, neither are completely exclusive of each other, but there’s a clear focus on a particular skill-set for each role. A soldier focuses on the operational execution of the task. His job is to do what must be done, and to do it right. He thrives in the heat of action, making judgement calls that are intuitive and based on experience. He is about the mission. The officer, on the other hand, thinks about the mission less in its particulars and focuses on everything else. He focuses on ensuring partners are informed and coordination is done. He ensures the front and back are covered, and that the big picture is in view. The officer leaves the fighting to his men; he can do it and he probably will be involved but he commits himself to the intellect of strategy.

There’s definitely an absolute advantage of one over the other – the officer gains more prestige because his attributes are more cerebral. He is the face, the point of contact. Yet, I wonder if the soldier ends up being the one who lives a more pleasant life. I’ve shyed away a lot in the past year from roles that are largely administrative (mostly student leadership positions) , because I’ve gained a lot more joy from being in an operational/strategic role. I can do things, get into the heart of the matter, solve things and create possibilities. I derive satisfaction from being the driving force; the pulse in the heat of things that is causing a shift in perspectives. Where the officer gets bogged down in the administrative catch-up game, the soldier pushes on doing what he knows is good.

Again, neither role is completely exclusive of each other. Every soldier needs to think like an officer, and the better soldiers in fact are officers in all attributes but name. Therein there lies a dilemma. A soldier’s hope is to do his job well, uninterrupted and to the best of his ability. Yet because he insists on leading based on influence and respect, he refuses positions where leadership is based primarily on the prestige and administrative prowess of the office. He must therefore ensure he that leads him has his best interest at heart.

It gives rise to a new paradigm in society. Politicians, leaders of all kinds, CEOs have to keep themselves in check because of their dependence on the people that follow them. If the people you lead don’t like you, you’re out. But what if the power is unbalanced? What if the person , aware of more of how the world works, decides the person in charge needs to be able to lead the way that he ‘feels’ is the most appropriate. He wouldn’t do it himself, because he’s a soldier. The burdens of the officer aren’t for him. But he’ll be the kingmaker and he’ll decide the king.

That’s my fascination. How can the world we live in, be controlled not by the kings, but by the kingmakers? These people with money, influence and sizable authority put in power kings, who are in all respects officers, that help them, the soldiers, gain more advantage. People like Murdoch and Daley who run their societies without prejudice have to be complimented for their cunning.

Is this a problem? I would argue so. How would you fight it? Current models fight for systemic change, changing the way systems work so that people in power can do their jobs without the burden of being beholden to the kingmaker. But that takes time, and the people in power are incentivized to fight these efforts. Instead, I prefer a more Batman-esque approach. You fight the darkness by using it against itself.

What if people who had the best interests of everyone at heart were kingmakers instead? They knew what the countries and organizations would benefit from, and ensured the right person got in power. It’s a tricky line to walk on. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in this position , if successful, power is again held unevenly. There has to be hope though, absolute strength of belief in what is right and good. What is necessary for the future. Discussed through discourse and hammered through experience, and most importantly not veiled for another agenda.

Kingmakers and kings, a tremendously fascinating phenomenon that continues to permeate through society in every way without us even knowing about it. Can we turn it on itself?