SINGAPORE - I am not trying to "chao keng" (Hokkien for malinger). That's what Mr Sky Lim, 19, who found himself embroiled in an online controversy last week, is now saying.
On Sept 1, he had posted a Facebook status about getting the lowest physical employment status (PES) for his national service, which he is due to start next month.
In his post, he spoke of how he would continue to run his own social marketing company Crownsify, which he set up last November.
"Good news, I have gotten PES E9 for army, the lowest possible in army. I would be able to book out every day and have tons of time to commit to Crownsify," he said.
"Crownsify is my first business and I am going to do whatever it takes to succeed. Fight!"
As he said the post was meant only for the eyes of his Facebook friends, he did not expect it to go viral on forums - such as HardwareZone and Sammyboy - and citizen journalism website Stomp.
Netizens have labelled him a "disgrace to Singapore" and that he had "no integrity and honesty" for cheating the system.
But Mr Lim told The New Paper that he has been misunderstood.
He said he had a spine problem since he was in secondary school, and showed us a copy of the MRI report by Alexandra Hospital that certified he was suffering from degenerative disc desiccation - the loss of cushioning between the vertebrae.
Mr Lim added that he was not boasting about his PES E rating - which limits a serviceman's physical activity and deployability.
"I've been having neck pains, which would also cause my left arm to become numb since I was in secondary school. But I've always thought it would go away.
"So when Central Manpower Base assigned that PES to me, I was shocked. I wasn't in any way trying to show off," he said.
Explaining the celebratory tone of his post, he said he had just attended the Adam Khoo Wealth Expo - a conference on financial education - and had also secured the services of two older business partners.
As such, he was "motivated" to post a update about his company.
The business studies graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic said he had invested most of his life savings in his company, and hence was compelled to see it do well.
"My grandparents are growing old and have health problems. I hope to make money to support them.
"At the same time, I hope to show my parents that I can run my own company and make them proud of me," he said.
As for his offending Facebook post, he has since taken it down.
Said Mr Gary Lim, 20, his close friend and business partner: "When I saw the post I understood the context because I've known Sky and his medical condition since we were in secondary school. "I didn't see anything wrong with the post. In fact, I was glad for his health that he got PES E.
"We didn't think too much of it, and I told him the best thing to do was to lie low."
But Mr Lim said he regretted posting the comment and will "be clearer of what I post in the future".
"I also would like to apologise if my status caused any misunderstanding. I appreciate and respect all who have gone through national service and what they have done for the country."
He added that he was also looking forward to his enlistment. Due to his PES E rating, he is required to serve a four-week basic military training to prepare him for combat service support vocations.
Said Dr Lim Wee Kiak, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs: "A lower PES rating doesn't mean you would not be fully occupied and you could still be required to stay in.
"We encourage him to do his best for national service as there are many invaluable lessons and experiences to gain there that cannot be found in a classroom. Plus you get to make good friends and learn to work as a team."
Spinal wear and tear
It is a condition that normally comes with age.
So for Mr Sky Lim, at 19, to be diagnosed with degenerative disc desiccation - a spine problem - is unusual, said Dr Madeleine Chew, the managing director at MW Medical Centre.
"This is usually a long-term condition that happens as we grow older and the hard bone - the vertebrae - wears out the alternating soft bone of our spine," she said.
The condition, certified by Alexandria Hospital in an MRI report, resulted in Mr Lim's PES E rating.
"Given that Mr Sky Lim is young but already experiencing this, I agree that he should not be carrying heavy stuff that might aggravate this condition."
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