Michael* is enjoying the moment, his face flushed from drinking, breathing heavily, eyes half-closed and lips slightly parted. A Vietnamese girl in her early 20s, clad in a micro miniskirt and tight tank top, is giving him a lap dance, slowly peeling off pieces of her clothing.
He isn’t at all embarrassed by her sexy heaving. If he is reminded by the ring on his third finger that he has a wife of five years and a three-year-old son at home, it doesn’t show when he hands a $50 tip to the girl and gets intimate with her.
The 29-year-old sales executive is oblivious to his gawking reservist camp mates who goad him on with laughter and whistles. Each of them has a lounge hostess hanging on his arm. When the night is almost over, Michael takes the girl to a hotel nearby.
The men are no strangers to such seedy KTV lounges in Joo Chiat and Geylang. It’s where they hang out when they are done with reservist training in the day, indulging in drink and less-than-innocent activities – something Michael claims he does only when he is on reservist.
His wife doesn’t suspect a thing. Like most women, she never thinks to question what he does on reservist so he never has to make up excuses if he doesn’t answer her calls. Of the 20 women we polled, 18 said they do not ask their partners about what they get up to on reservist.
“It’s an open secret among the men that a few of us indulge in some hanky-panky after training hours. What happens during reservist, even after hours, stays in reservist,” says Justin*, who is among those who patronise such establishments when he gets to book out of camp.
His most recent visit to a nightclub in Geylang was a few months ago when he and five buddies “were swarmed with Chinese girls”. They had booked out around 5pm and decided to “let loose together”. They had to report back to camp by midnight, but some camps allow the men to report back the next morning.
Justin says that typically, the men would not only drink – they also “reserve” any of the hostesses they fancied for the evening, for tips of between $20 and $30. “The tip also allows you to get intimate with the girl. Kissing, hugging, pecks on the cheeks and lips, and touching her breasts and butt are fine. Anything more and you pay a higher price, but I don’t know how much exactly because I’ve never done anything more,” he claims.
His girlfriend of three years does not know about his boys’ nights out, but he maintains that “such activities are not considered cheating and are just for fun” and that they do it “only once a year and not any other time”. He adds: “There’s a thrill in seeing your friends get intimate with the girls, too.”
Gary*, who also frequents KTV lounges with his camp mates during reservist, claims he doesn’t go beyond innocent hugs and pecks on the cheek with the girls who are usually Vietnamese, Chinese or Cambodian. “They aren’t pretty enough for me,” he says.
He also has no qualms lying about what he does after training hours. He was 27 and had just got attached when he fibbed to his girlfriend about being able to book out only on Saturday evening, instead of Friday. He says: “There’s really no reason to feel guilty because it’s only once a year. We forget about the place and the girls once we leave. I don’t give them my number and there’s no contact after the night.”
But for others, things can get a lot sleazier. Darren* watched his camp mate, Kelvin*, have sex with a stripper in a hotel room. Kelvin had no qualms, despite getting married just two months earlier.
Says Darren: “It was a weekend and also Kelvin’s birthday so we decided to give him a surprise and do something fun. The night started off innocently with alcohol, chatting and some drinking games.
“We were already tipsy by the time the stripper came. Things got heated along the way, and Kelvin ended up having sex in front of the six of us. Two other men also received oral sex from her, while the rest continued drinking. Of course, we didn’t plan any of this. It just happened.”
To the men, reservist is a rare chance to catch up with buddies from their National Service days and hang out together. Free time during training is not a given nor is it scheduled. It is up to each unit’s discretion when to release their men.
“We train hard, but reservist is also time off from work and our partners. I party like this only when I have time off after training. That’s why I look forward to reservist because it’s like a paid holiday,” says Justin.
Gary agrees: “It’s a holiday without the wife. Put it this way: Wouldn’t you get bored if you had to eat wonton mee every day? Wouldn’t you want prata or something else once in a while? Same goes for women.”
Gerald* visits prostitutes on his own only while he’s on reservist. He explains: “There’s nothing wrong with my relationship. I do it out of boredom and for a change. Since I don’t need to answer to my girlfriend during this period and she wouldn’t be able to find out, why not?”
He adds that he does not feel for the prostitutes. It is purely for sexual pleasure. “It’s not the sex that excites me, it’s the cheating.”
Gary was introduced to KTV pubs and lounges during his first reservist cycle. He was 25. His unit then was a mix of men aged between 24 and 38. Singaporean men have to serve 10 cycles of reservist in total, spread out over the years till they hit 40. Typically, there are three short cycles, which could span a few days to a week, and seven long ones lasting two weeks or more. The training length is decided by the army.
He says: “It’s usually the older ones with wives and kids who suggest going to such places. It was something new for me then, and after that, it became sort of a yearly tradition – that we would go drinking and have these women entertain us.”
Six years on, it’s Gary’s turn to “drag” some of the younger men – or what he calls “the nerdy ones” – with him to “expose them to the real world”. Some men who are “desperate to see what it’s like” will even go to the clubs sloppily dressed in their shorts and slippers, he adds.
“It’s just for a bit of fun. You see these buddies only once a year or less, so it’s normal to want to hang out and do something together. But I don’t force them to get girls at the clubs. They can if they want. I’m not paying for them,” he insists.
Before a night out, Gary and his buddies will plan the evening and decide how much they will spend. “If there’s six or seven of us, it’s usually about $150, which covers the cost of drinks and tips for the girls. We also don’t want to spend too much,” he says.
None of the five men interviewed was worried about their partners finding out about their trysts or lies about their days off. “How will they find out? There’s no way of checking our schedules. Even we don’t know when our rest days will be,” says Michael.
Darren’s friend reminded him that no one should know about what happened at the party, especially his wife. “There’s no reason for any of us to tell her. What he does with other women is his business. Telling on each other is not something men do,” says Darren.
In fact, to write this story, it took me a week to find men willing to talk to me. Of the 15 approached, only five agreed to interviews, and that was after I promised them anonymity. And when one of my colleagues asked an acquaintance to have a chat on this topic, he declined, saying that he didn’t want to “betray the brotherhood”.
The frightening thing is that all the men I spoke to said there was nothing wrong with their actions, and they don’t intend to stop.
Says Michael: “I don’t think I’m cheating. I’m still faithful to and responsible for my wife and child. It’s all just for fun.” Gerald sums it up for most of the men. “I don’t feel bad at all. Just don’t get caught.”
*Names have been changed
This story was originally published in the October 2011 issue of Her World.