Mar 17, 2014

    Why I want a Safra gym membership

    THERE are times when I dearly wish I did national service.

    Mostly, the feeling comes when someone shouts: "Eh, ang moh, you talk a lot about Singapore, but never do NS."

    And that's just my wife.

    She has petitioned the Ministry of Defence to grant me a special exemption before my 40th birthday just to get me out of the apartment for the best part of two years.

    Then there are the free haircuts, free uniforms and personal trainers provided by Mindef. What's not to like? It's a free gym membership for two years.

    At this point, I suspect my photo is being used as a dartboard by young NS chaps.

    I nearly got shot once in a Singaporean military zone, so I'm not eager to tempt fate again.

    It's a long story, but it basically involved me researching a book, getting lost in a reservoir, straying onto private land, hearing faint pops, seeing little green men running towards me and realising I'd either wandered into an SAF training exercise or aliens had landed.

    But last week, I dearly wished I had a Safra gym membership.

    In case you've been busy reading real news, there was a huge controversy over an ad that tried to persuade more people to sign up with the Safra National Service Association's clubs.

    There were Facebook comments and tweets. Oh, yes, it was that serious.

    The ad depicts two young men working out at a Safra gym while ogling a woman behind her back. Some netizens condemned the ad as "distasteful".

    I was equally outraged. No one has ogled me.

    And the Safra gym looks nothing like mine. I belong to a local community club tucked away in the heartland. I'm pushing 40, but I might be the youngest member there.

    There is very little ogling in my gym - none of us have the eyesight. We don't stare at people when they work out in the mirror. We're happy we can see the mirror.

    But community-club gyms are the most invigorating places. Aunties and uncles gather under one roof to wear Lycra and stay fit.

    I grew up in England, where aunties and uncles gathered under freezing bus shelters and wore woolly mittens to stay alive.

    Older folks don't wear Lycra in Britain. The wintry climate doesn't permit such liberated attire. If someone so much as bends over for a yoga stretch, everyone else in the room would be presented with the last chicken hanging in the shop.

    But our pioneer generation here can't get enough of the Lycra at my community-club gym. They've got the Lycra, the leggings and are only one spin and jump away from shouting: "Fame! I'm gonna live forever. I'm gonna learn how to fly... high!"

    That's a 1980s pop culture reference, younger readers. I'm making fun of how the 80s kids used to wear tight clothes and work up a sexy sweat in a confined space. Today, you would call that a Safra club membership ad.

    The most galling part? The older folks are twice my age and twice as fit.

    When I joined the gym, I thought my slim, sinewy frame would own them, even if their Lycra range was impressive.

    If I'm being truthful, that's one of the reasons I signed up. I just can't take the designer Central Business District gyms seriously, with their floor-to-ceiling windows so the world can watch Mr Muscles mutter to himself: "I must... I must... I must improve my bust."

    Have you seen those guys' bulging pecs? They're only one bench press away from producing milk.

    Unfortunately, I'm cursed with muscles like knots in a shoe lace.

    The Safra ad went for perfect bodies. I look like Popeye's wife, Olive Oyl.

    So I steered clear of the swanky gyms until I came across the community club populated by my proud elders.

    I'd soon capture their attention, I thought. I'd make them sit up and take notice.

    And they did.

    An elderly chap asked if I was finished with a gym machine, sat down and then hoisted double the weight.

    I couldn't have been any more embarrassed if he'd shouted: "Hey, ang moh, how come you've got arms like bee hoon?"

    So I wouldn't mind a Safra gym membership. No one would ogle me, but at least I'd be humiliated by younger men - rather than men older than my father.

    In the meantime, I must accept my limitations and look for a lighter weight to lift - like a packet of noodles.