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Saturday, Feb. 05, 2005 - 12:43 p.m.

Count Down

"" The new work year starts, fourteen more days of leave, and the accountant picks up the calendar from the corner of her desk. She flips the pages to Febuary and looks at the gridded month for the consecutive red squares of Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. She writes the words "Tioman Diving" across the public holidays and flips to June, where she blocks out several days for a backpacking trip to Vietnam. Two more days of leave before Deepavali because September is always depressing, one before Christmas and four after it for an uninterrupted year-end break. Having squandered her fourteen days, she starts marking out her birthday, the one, three, six months anniversaries of their relationship - all the days of happy receivables. Satisfied, she puts the calendar back at the corner of her desk. What she does not know, is that there is another calendar - the inverse of this one. That calendar is similarly marked, but with the days of having to do overtime, with the day she gets robbed in Vietnam, with the day her car gets scratched, and all the days and nights of crying bitterly into telephones.

Every Army camp in Singapore has been vandalized by the phrase "ORD LOH!". It is always accompanied by the soldier's date of release from National Service, and a compulsory exuberance in the exclamation mark. The phrase is carved into tables, scratched onto metal lockers, scrawled discreetly on walls with a ballpoint pen, re-written daily on a whiteboard after its erasure. No one is sure who came up with the phrase, or when the practice of marking the phrase in permanance started. The earliest instance of "ORD LOH!" I have seen was dated 21/3/1976, written in black marker on a store-room wall. The writing was small, and was only discovered when a cupboard of old Army documents had to be moved. Dust shook as the cupboard was pried away from the wall, and discovering the "ORD LOH!" was like discovering a hieroglyph left by another person. It is a message to all who come after him, and it says - I was once here, but am here no longer.


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