Tag Archives: military

Tekong Stories

Context

Ghost stories or Tekong Stories as they are commonly known in Singapore are very often passed down in families or during military service. In Singapore, where there is mandatory national military service for every eligible male individual aged 18, ghost stories in the army camps are thus incredibly common and circulate widely around the community in Singapore. The following ghost story comes from my father recounting a ghost story he was told when he was serving the military in Singapore.

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Performance

The following is a story told to me by the interviewee.

“One of the Tekong stories is about a young girl and her grandmother that walk around the bunks and count the number of sleeping recruits. The grandmother is teaching the girl how to count. And they will count one… two… three… four… And as they come closer and closer to your bunk you’ll hear the number louder and louder five… six… seven… eight… And you cannot open your eyes because if you do they will take you away with them.”

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Analysis

Ghost stories are very common, but what specifically is unique about this one is that it is a military ghost story. Singapore practices mandatory military service for every eligible man, and thus military stories are much more widespread in the everyday community than it might be in other countries. Almost everyone knows of some kind of army camp ghost story, male or female. This ghost story in particular is given to new recruits. I belive it is meant to instil fear and make sure that the new recruits go to sleep instead of waking up in the middle of the night and trying to talk to each other.

Summer Camp Taps Tradition

Main Piece:

BO, a junior at USC, shared this story from a Musician Summer Camp he attended. He says, “Like at 10PM everynight we would all have to be in bed in our cabins while they play a military trumpet song called Taps. Everyone was supposed to be extremely quiet and if you made any noise you’d get in trouble. The idea was it was supposed to give everyone in the whole camp a few minutes of silence to reflect on their day.”

Context:

BO is a junior at USC. He attended this music summer camp from ages 12 to 18 and was familiar with lots of its traditions. This piece was taken during a text chat with BO.

Thoughts:

This tradition seems to reflect the discipline that they would teach at the camp. BO explained how they would train a lot during this musician camp, and discipline is a big part of this training. Playing Taps, a military song which is typically played during solemn times, shows how this moment at the end of their day is a time for them to reflect. The formal nature of it also shows how they are training their musicians to be disciplined, and self reflection is important to that.

My Girlfriend’s A Vegetable; An Army Cadence

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

GK: “My girlfriend’s a vegetable, (and then everyone would answer you back, so like each time you say something they say it again). So it goes:

My girl’s a vegetable

She lives in the hospital

And I would do anything to keep her alive

She has a green TV

It’s called an EKG

I would do anything to keep her alive

She has no arms or legs

That’s why we call her Peg

I would do anything to keep her alive

Sometimes I play a joke, pull a plug and watch her choke

But I would do anything to keep her alive

“So yeah there’s a lot of just nonsense ones like that, that are very strange” 

CB: [laughs] “Thats great, so what does it mean to you?”

GK: “Well that one in particular doesn’t really mean anything to me”

CB: “So what context would they sing them in?”

GK: “Oh, you just sing them to pass the time. And too, they’re also like morale raisers. Like when morale is really low you’d just sing a cadence. Because like they actually sound pretty musical when everyone sings them together, and like you don’t need any instruments and everyone knows them.”

. . .

“A lot of them are about dying, to like make dying seem not so bad. A lot of them are about really horrible things too. There’s like napalm 66, and there’s one about shooting up a playground. There’s just all sorts of shit”

CB: “And so why do you think they’re so horrible?”

GK: “Well like war is a horrible thing, and so a lot of cadences are started by infantrymen, and it prepares people for the horrible things that they’re going to see for one. And two, singing them, it makes things seem not so bad. Like they sing about the worst things that can happen to you. And just thinking about it is so awful it can make you freeze up, and when you sing about it and make it not so bad, so then when you think about it, it makes it more of like a joke so you’re not going to freeze up.”

Background:

My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. He described cadences as very similar to a sort of summer camp song that bonds and amuses those engaging in it. The main difference is the content. Despite this example being relatively mild, my informant assured me that many cadences engage in very dark humor and describe horrific events.

Context:
I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.

Thoughts: 

The cadences portray horrible situations as humorous. The song describes a loved one on life support humorously, while also portraying a commitment to her. It encourages the singers and the listeners to interact with a horrific reality, that they might not have been prepared for otherwise. My informant talked about how the cadences are spread by infantrymen who are likely engaging in some of the worst situations that war has to offer. The cadences are then taught to the incoming trainees as a way to desensitize them and prepare them for the horrors ahead. It’s interesting that they also act as such a strong morale booster. I think that by singing them with others it acts as a reminder that you’re not alone. Yes, you may be forced into some horrific situations, but you will never be alone.

For another version of this song see entry titled “My Girls A Vegetable” in the online Army Study Guide. https://www.armystudyguide.com/content/cadence/marching_cadence/my-girls-a-vegetable.shtml

Army Movie Star Game

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

CB: “Okay so, do you play any games”

GK: “There are a lot of different games that people in the armed services play to keep themselves entertained during long extended hours of boredom. So one is like you name a movie star, and then you would go back and forth naming someone they were in a movie with. So like if I said Angelina Joli, you could say Brad Pitt, and I would have to say Angelina Joli and someone else. And you just go back and forth until someone loses the game, for hours.”

CB: “Where did you hear about this game?”

GK: “We played it at basic.”

CB: “What do you think is the point of this game?”

GK: “To stay awake”

CB: “What does the game mean to you?”

GK: “That life can be very dull and that you should never take for granted the entertainments provided to you by modern technology.” 

Background:

My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. A lot of basic training is about preparing the soldiers for any possible situation. This calls for staying awake for hours on end while engaging in mind-numbing tasks. It was in these situations that games such as the one described would be played.

Context:

I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.

Thoughts:

My first thought when I heard this game was that it sounded incredibly boring. But I guess that is also a part of the appeal. The game is meant to be just enough to keep the players awake and engaged, without being mentally or physically tiring. In the military, your fellow soldiers can come from all over the country with different life experiences and cultures. The game provides a way for the players to engage with one another without calling for too specific of cultural knowledge. Celebrities and pop culture is accepted to be known by nearly everyone, and so it acts as a way to bridge the cultural gaps between two people.

Fort Ord Suicide Ghost Story

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (HH).

CB: “Can you tell me about Fort Ord?”

HH: “Okay so i heard this story about the old Fort Ord barracks and how they got abandoned because there was this soldier who… um… was apparently was like ignored and really unhappy for a long time and he would like talk about seeing ghosts and a couple people thought that he was like maybe schizophrenic. But he…uh… he ended up hanging himself in the barracks in front of a bunch of his fellow soldiers. And then, after he died, a bunch of people would say that they could like still hear his warnings and like his stories of seeing things. And hear his footsteps. Its really simple and kinda stupid, but that’s what I heard about the old Fort Ord barraks. And thats why they had to shut everything down because it was like affecting their life and the government was getting backlash for it”

CB: “So, where did you hear this story?”

HH: “Um, it was from someone I knew in high school.”

CB: “What do you think is the meaning behind the story?”

HH: “Um, I think it was that um… the government doesn’t really care about our soldiers and their mental health”

CB: “Why do you think people tell the story”

HH: “I think that it’s still very much a problem. Like for soldiers who come back from active duty and they suffer from PTSD, they just don’t really have a lot of resources or outreach. Like they do now a little more that mental health is on the front line of peoples worries, but even now i still think soldiers are kinda shamed for having it.”

Background:

My informat grew up in Salinas, California, which is just minutes from Fort Ord. The fort was abandoned in the 90’s, and there have been all sorts of mysterious stories about the abandonment. The community had a very close relationship with the The old barracks of the fort are a known hangout spot for teens, and with that comes all sorts of ghost stories.

Context:

I had actually called my informant’s mother to interview her about folklore, but my informant overheard the conversation and told me this story. My informant and her mom were in the car, and they told me this story while driving around Salinas. The conversation was fun and casual.

Thoughts: 

I think that ghost stories naturally present themselves whenever there is an abandoned structure. I think that ghost stories are particularly common when dealing with american teen culture.  However, I think that it’s really interesting what the stories reveal about what that culture values at that time. Most of the ghost stories that I’ve heard place little emphasis on who the ghost used to be, just on the death and the haunting. But this story explains a history of untreated mental illness as the reason for the death, and possibly even the haunting. It places a clear blame on the US government for neglecting their soldiers. A lot of the more recent movements for mental health awareness and help have been led by young people, and so it makes sense that the folklore that young people tell would begin to incorporate their values.