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I initially wanted my son to 'geng': Jack Neo's wife

Her anxiety was not helped by news earlier this week from Parliament. -TNP
Maureen Koh

Tue, Nov 20, 2012
The New Paper

* 'Geng' - Hokkien for malinger

He produced the record-breaking local film Ah Boys To Men, but when it comes to his eldest son's national service, Jack Neo is seriously 'kancheong' (Hokkien for anxious).

NS not funny, he says, when your son has been posted to the unit known for its gruelling training: the Commandos.

Neo, 52, says: "We totally didn't expect it, so we were caught off-guard. Of course, any parent will really be super kancheong.

"But I couldn't react too strongly because Irene (his wife) was already going on an overdrive of emotion."

Madam Irene Kng, 47, who is also one of the film's three executive producers, admits that her anxiety level shot through the roof upon hearing the news.

Her eldest son, 18, received the letter of enlistment last month, and will report for national service on Feb 12 next year, the third day of Chinese New Year.

He will be going to Pasir Ris Camp for Basic Military Training (BMT).

Her anxiety was not helped by news earlier this week from Parliament, where Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that the Singapore Armed Forces SAF will strengthen training safety after lapses that led to the deaths of two full-time national servicemen this year.

Dr Ng said that in both cases, the respective Committees of Inquiry uncovered breaches of training safety regulations in the events leading to their deaths.

Private Dominique Sarron Lee, 21, died on April 17 after experiencing breathing difficulties during an exercise at the Murai Urban Training Facility in Lim Chu Kang. On May 11, Third Sergeant Tan Mou Sheng, 20, died after the jeep he was in overturned in the Marsiling training area.

Dr Ng said on Wednesday: "These two deaths could have been avoided if safety instructions had been followed."

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Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Jack Neo, Zao Bao, TNP, JTeam Productions, Golden Village Pictures)
Memories of National Service
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, BH)

Neo and Madam Kng have three other children, a daughter, 21, and two younger sons, 13 and eight. Madam Kng admits that it took her some time to finally come to terms with her son having to become a soldier.

Then came the "bombshell": "My son told me, 'Mummy, I've been posted to the Commandos'.

"I was finally prepared for the enlistment, comforted myself with the thought that, well, it's good training for my boy to become a man.

"But the Commando unit is a totally different story."

So the anxious mother started calling her friends, asking for advice and opinions.

Talking to them only stoked her fears as there are horror stories aplenty.

Like, for example, that the BMT in the Commandos would be tougher.

"I was also told that my son would have to train in the jungle and sleep alone," she says. "What if he is attacked by wild animals?"

She also fretted over the parachuting training programme.

"I asked my son, can you turn that down and tell them that you don't want to jump?" says Madam Kng.

"I had scary thoughts: What if the parachute does not open in time or if it does not work properly?"

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When Neo was filming Ah Boys To Men on Pulau Tekong, he asked Madam Kng if she would like tag along so she could see for herself what the conditions in camp are like.

She says: "But I told Jack that I wanted to go through the first-time experience with our son together."

Her priority then was to plan how to get her son out of the tough training, confesses Madam Kng.

"I pestered Jack, told him how worried I was, and that my friends told me, don't worry, can find way to 'geng' (malinger).

"I was like, you can produce such a wonderful storyline for the film and with all your experience, surely you can find a way for our son."

Neo signed on with the army after his O levels at 17 and spent more than eight years in green. He then went to Officer Cadet School. He was a lieutenant in logistics and infantry units before being posted to the Music and Drama Company.

Madam Kng sighs, then adds: "Jack keeps telling me, don't worry lah, everything will be fine."

The 'geng-ing' plan was thus left in her hands, she says.

"I started to think of all possible ways... I even went to the extent of contacting the paediatrician to try and recall my son's medical history.

"He had asthma and was even hospitalised before... He had also gone for an operation in his right ear. I was hoping one of these reasons would get him exempted."

Madam Kng went to the extent of booking a medical appointment for her son, but he found excuses to avoid it and didn't turn up.

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She finally accepted the "hard reality": That her son will not co-operate with her in trying to evading the posting.

His words to mummy: "I am physically fit. I am ready. And I want to do it."

Neo is proud of his son, but admits that he is also worried, especially since he has no inkling of what Commando training entails.

"I know it's an elite unit, but I totally don't know anything about it. I didn't even work on it in my film."

While he tells his wife not to worry too much, he says: "Eh as the father, and for someone who doesn't know anything, I had to go and find out more about it.

"So I talked to people who are formerly from the unit to get a better idea. I was told that it's true lah, the training can be very tough, but I believe my son will make it."

He also intends to help his son prepare mentally for Commando training by going through whatever information he has to share.

Neo says: "I think the physical 'torture' is expected, but it's the level of mental preparation that will help make it easier for my boy."

Madam Kng has now gone from advising her son to "act lembek lembek" (soft in Malay) to putting together a toughen-it-up regimen for him

For starters, she has engaged a swimming coach for him. Lessons will begin right after he completes his A-level exams at the end of this month.

She says: "He has the silver certificate in swimming, but I know he may not be too confident in the water.

"I've therefore found him a coach who would help him achieve the gold certificate."

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She is also sending him to see a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.

"I told my son that I'm going to put him on tonics to boost his health," Madam Kng explains.

Neo laughs as we relate his wife's plans for their son in a separate interview.

"She didn't tell me some of the plans, but I can understand her concerns. I must say our boy is very lucky," he says.

Adds a resigned Madam Kng: "All I can do now is to tell my son to do what he has to, what is required.

"I told him, just do your two years and come back quickly and continue with your studies."

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