Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Creative Real Asians (Price Media Law 2019)

Strolling down the narrow cobblestone streets of Oxford wrapped in layers of wool and leather, we could easily be mistaken as tourists. Giggly kids dropping by town for gratuitous shots of selfies against the Harry Porter picturesque.

Our diminutive size and fresh-out-of-puberty looks weren't turning heads upon arriving at the Price Media Law Moot Court Competition (Price Media) either. Teams from all over the globe - America, Middle-East, Africa and Europe - gathered to battle for this year's crown. And if asked to guess where we're from, most people would resort to some head-scratching, squinting, and frowning.

"China? Korea? Singapore?"

I can understand the confusion. All three mooters from University of Malaya (UM) are Chinese (make that four, if you include me). Pasty skin, slit eyes, scrawny limbs - the whole dim-sum package. Besides, Price Media's Asia-Pacific Regional Round (where we qualified from) is hosted in China annually.

In my head, a long monologue built up, something like:

"We're Asian. True-blood Asian. Born on Asian soil, bred with Asian culture. And by culture, I mean stuff like grit, focus, and a mouth which only open when absolutely necessary. And mind you, we're not the crazy rich Asian trope you see in movies. We ain't rich, we don't go to private school, our idea of English literature ain't Shakespeare but Harry Porter. Pardon for not being pitch perfect in English, but we each juggle 3-4 languages/dialects back home."

I don't think anyone would be able to catch all that in one reading, much more one breath.

Hence, my default answer: "Malaysia."

Yes, I know, that single word isn't much of an improvement either...


Malaysia, Truly Asia

* * *

Malaysia is a heterogeneous country. The natives are the Malays, and a myriad of indigenous tribes on the Peninsular mainland and Borneo island (who tend to sound more like our neighbours, Indonesians and Filipinos). Then there are large pockets of second/third-generation Indian and Chinese immigrants scattered all over.

Yes, we're quite a diverse bunch. Just so happens that Team UM at Oxford this year is all-Chinese (our original fourth member - who mooted in Beijing but couldn't come along to Oxford for personal reasons - is Malay). And last year, our team had two Malays, and only one Chinese. Mind you, there's nothing against the Indians and other races - statistically, as a tinier minority group, they're fewer of them in law school and consequently, our mooting teams.

Why does this cultural background matter, anyway?

It doesn't, and shouldn't. At least, not to us. We see ourselves as Malaysian first, Asian second. We see ourselves as part of a larger cultural group that surpasses race and religion.

But the reality is, after having gone to Oxford and back again, we realise that we're still held back by our distinct cultural features, if not flaws. Some judges see us in a certain light. Some place different standards upon us. The cultural bias is palpable.

When a Caucasian counsel puts forth an argument without an authority, they get a free pass with a shrug and laugh. But when we cite a chain of case law, we are vigorously attacked to no end.

And it's not just us. We hear the same 'gripe' from other Asian teams. So it's not just us feeling sore and bitter. But as much as we feel hard done by, we know that cultural bias is hardwired in humans, and hard to shake off. It's all part of the game, an obstacle that can be overcome over time.

At Oxford, we performed to the best of our abilities. But in the end, we fell short at the Quarter-Finals after winning 4 matches in a row.

Still, I believe we did enough to show the world that Asia is not a mere monolithic mass. After the rounds, a few teams and judges came up to us, asking about who we are and where we are from. It's good to know that there are people keen to know the characters, not caricatures, behind our Asian faces...

* * *

I must admit, the first time I saw Esther during the Novice Moot Competition back in 2016, all kinds of caricatures were running through my head. Her team had 3 other Chinese chicks, which didn't help to send the right signals...

But once she spoke, my initial stereotypical impressions receded. She was full of fire and passion. Her grammar was left wanting, though. A raw diamond, I noted back then, with lots of prickly parts and jarring glare when looked at certain angles...

Her first real competition came more than a year later in 2018 at the Novice Arbitration Moot Competition (NAMCO), facing off against other novice mooters from Malaysia. Her team blazed through the Preliminary Rounds until the Finals, where they agonizingly lost. But her courageous stand won her the Best Oralist of the Finals.

She joined Price Media few months after NAMCO. And that's where her brilliance really shone. In Beijing, she came agonizingly close to clinch a trophy again, and finished as the 2nd Best Oralist of the Preliminary Rounds. As Afiq dropped out of the team, she filled his role, taking on as a double agent.

"Human memory is temporary, but the Internet remembers forever" - such was her catchy opening line as Applicant, valiantly upholding the right to be forgotten.

Mooting stars may be temporary, but diamonds like Esther shine forever...


"Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?"

* * *

Her classmate, Kai Sheng, burst into the limelight even quicker. In 2017, he captured his first championship in the local Competition Law Moot Court Competition (quite a funny palindromic ring to it). And as Esther was fighting through the lower leagues of NAMCO, he was preparing for the International Maritime Law Arbitration Moot (IMLAM) in Brisbane, Australia.

And in the summer of 2018, Team UM reached the Semi-Finals of IMLAM, a step further than our previous historic best just a year earlier. And Kai Sheng earned an Honourable Mention by clinching the highest score for the Preliminary Rounds!

With barely any break, he plunged straight into Price Media. Being the most senior mooter in the team came with heavier responsibility, as well as pressure. And at times, he struggled, and came close to cracking. From competition law, to maritime law, to human rights law. Transitioning between vastly different areas of law - especially those not even taught in undergraduate - can be quite mentally taxing.

And on top of juggling moots with studies, he had to cope with some pressing family matters back home. Bad luck, bad timing. At one point, it seemed like we may even lose another member of the team...

But as we crept closer to the edge, he held strong. And in Oxford, he returned to form, delivering masterful submissions after submissions.

With one year of law school left, there's no telling what heights he will scale next.


"Thanks dude... sorry, er, pardon, what was it again, oh yes... Much obliged, sir"

* * *

Christina, the youngest, doesn't have as much of a glittery mooting resume like the rest. A 'friendly' moot between UM and NUS in 2018 was her first and only real taste of competitive mooting before Price Media.

No doubt, the announcement of her selection must have raised many eyebrows amongst the other students. Why her? Why not the other more senior mooters? What sorcery is this?

No sorcery, of course. But there's a bit of magic in Christina. Her composure. Her charisma. Her charm. Not too loud, not too soft, just the right amount of conviction.

In fact, her most notable achievement in a moot competition happened when she wasn't even competing! Last November, UM hosted the Tun Suffian Moot Court Competition. An esteemed panel of judges sat on the bench in the Finals - a mix of retired and existing appellate court judges. Gopal Sri Ram was the presiding judge. After the moot ended, Christina as MC came to the front to announce the results - for perhaps about 10 minutes total?

The ceremony closed. And as Gopal Sri Ram was being ushered to the tea reception, he requested to see Christina. I'm not sure how the exchange went exactly. But as it turned out, he was so impressed with her short speech that he offered her an internship position on the spot! An offer, funnily enough, he did not extend to the four mooters in the Finals itself, who all performed magnificently...

Now, that's some advocacy magic right there! A magic bound to stir up more miracles in future...

"We no Chinese, we is HUFFLEPUFF!"

* * *

Finally, a shout-out to our fifth Chinese member of the crew, our unofficial assistant coach - Suan Cui.

The name should ring a bell to anyone who's been following my moot reports. Quarter-Finalist of IMLAM 2017 (8th Best Oralist). Our anchor for Price Media in 2018 (6th Best Oralist). International and National Champion of LAWASIA 2018. Runners-Up of Asia Cup 2018.

She traveled with the team to Beijing, whilst I stayed back. And although she couldn't travel along to Oxford due to work commitments, she was there with us every step of the way, spiritually and through FaceTime. She stayed up late into the night to join in our discussions.

And more crucially, in the last few weeks leading up to Oxford, she covered for my absence as I focused on Jessup. If not of her tireless training sessions after work hours, the team wouldn't have even been in such good shape before I took over in Oxford.

Thank you, Suan Cui. We couldn't have made it without you.

"One day, kids, you'll sit on the Leather Throne too."

* * *

So what do we Asians in Team UM have in common?

Not much, aside from our strong passion in mooting (and selfies).

Our styles differ - Esther and Kai Sheng can be rather melodramatic, whilst Christina exudes cool sophistication. Our strengths also vary. Esther still struggles with language, whilst Christina and Kai Sheng have a wider vocabulary range. But it is Esther who has the most agility to switch sides seamlessly (maybe she's secretly a robot made in Japan).

Perhaps our greatest strength - as well as weakness - is that we are really a bunch of individuals who don't sound alike at all. We're creative by nature. We create our own style, our own destiny.

Some may not appreciate the creative side of us, some expect us to conform to a certain standard of submission. That's fine. We can't control what others think of us. But what we can do - which we will keep doing - is giving people something different to think about each time we moot.

Yes, winning in moots is still our ultimate goal. And the best way to win in moots is to offer something truly special that all other teams can't.

A different perspective to the case. A stamp of individuality. A spark of magic.

We're creative. We're real. And we can't get any more Asian than that.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

From Sparks To Stars (Jessup 2019)

Are stars born or made? What keeps them burning brightly when all others fade into darkness? Why can't more of us blaze the skies like them?

One year ago, we were in crisis. For the second year running, University of Malaya (UM) lost in the National Rounds of Jessup. We needed a fix. To bounce back. To reclaim our former glory.

And so, our administration turned towards our current generation of mooters in hope. For volunteers. For answers. For even the slightest show of courage. Few dared raised their hands. No-one stepped up. The gathering ended with more cause for concern than comfort.

One year ago, I didn't know who to turn to. The stakes were high. The students were stressed. None were ready, none fancied the pressure. And who could blame them? Failure breeds fear, failure blunts faith.

But even without a solution in sight, I was at peace. One moot at a time, I told myself. There's no point staring at the night sky trying to spot a shooting star. Stars are formed, not found. All stars grow from a single spark.

One year ago, no-one could've seen them as future 'Jessupers'. And even after their breakthrough performance in the LAWASIA National Rounds last August, doubts still remain. Too raw, they got lucky, Jessup's a different level altogether, yada yada.


Spot the stars (clue: dude with yellow kicks is just photobombing)

* * *

But that was one year ago.

Today, they're Jessup stars.

Three of them were part of that dismal gathering, but barely spoke a word. Two hadn't even joined a moot competition before (outside of UM). None had any experience in Jessup nor public international law.

I still remember watching them 'moot' for the very first moot. There was a flicker of spark in them, but not much more than many others that I've watched as well.

I still remember watching them grow stronger and wiser, one moot at a time. Some bloomed late. Some sprinted ahead, but only to stumble halfway, got up, and learnt to pace themselves. But ultimately, they made it - farther than any of their peers and seniors have gone before.

One year ago, they would have never seen themselves as Jessup stars as well. Humble. Grounded. Greatly self-conscious of their own limitations. They don't think too highly of themselves. They don't nurse a fragile ego.

And perhaps, that's what makes them stand tall when everyone else is losing their head and step.

The best of us are often not the stars that shine the brightest, but the stars that glow the longest.

* * *

The first time I met Aliya at a mooting event (or maybe even first time ever) was an internal workshop I was conducting leading up to UM's Internal Mooting Competition (IMC) back in 2017.

Her team stayed back after the workshop to ask further questions. I don't quite remember what she asked, and what I answered (if at all). But what I do remember was that she seemed genuinely attentive to what I was painstakingly - some complex self-made half-baked theory hypothesis about how to make moot judges fall in love with you.

Her team lost in the Semi-Final of IMC - a round which I judged, and cast the the dissenting vote in their favour. But she wasn't the one speaking, so i didn't see much of her mooting skills.

The next time I saw her was an internal audition few months later. She impressed the panel enough to win a spot in a regional moot competition - Tun Suffian (TSMC) in 2017. This time, she spoke her way into the Final, where she survived Gopal Sri Ram unscathed.

To my surprise, she joined IMC again in 2018. Even more surprisingly, she formed a team with two first-year novices (whereas most others were teaming up with their BFFs and senior mooters). Is she crazy? Taking such a step down, risking her reputation in the process? And not surprisingly, her new team failed to even advance past the Preliminary Rounds.

But as it turned out, her move was brilliant. She was brave enough to take on a new challenge - anchoring a team, juggling dual roles. And she proved herself worthy to be selected for LAWASIA.

The rest of her LAWASIA journey is well-documented history - and nothing short of spectacular...


Spot Aliya (clue: shortest tallest trophy)

* * *

In contrast, Gabrielle made an early splash in mooting - perhaps one of the earliest in UM mooting history.

In 2016, during the very first semester of his first year, he joined Novice Mooting Competition (just like IMC, but for novices only). His team had strong speakers, and seen as the favourites. I judged him in a Preliminary Round. Surprisingly, his team crashed out at that stage (but bright sparks always find a way - today, his two other teammates have become international mooters).

Nevertheless, such defeat didn't dent his confidence and ambitions one bit. He tried out for the IMLAM 2017 audition - quite a bold move. First-year novices just don't jump straight into an international competition, you know? It's not, um, proper... and not, um, in accordance with the order of things...

And yet, he was selected for IMLAM.

I was part of the selection panel, and strongly supportive of his inclusion. First-year - so what? Age is just a number. Meritocracy over seniority.

But at first, he did struggle to keep up with the complexities of maritime law - after all, he has not even completed Contracts at that point! And doubts started to creep up. Had I made a mistake? Had I just threw a newly-born babe into the deep end of the ocean?

And just like Aliya, upon realising his shortcoming, he made a brilliant move - joining IMC 2017 (right in the middle of preparation for IMLAM). Naturally, this stirred apprehension among his teammates. They asked me what I thought. Essentially, I replied: "Let him join, as IMC will give him a boost of experience and confidence that he needs right now". He went on to win IMC single-handedly (like literally - his co-counsel dropped out last-minutely, so he actually spoke for two roles).

Leveled up, he stayed the course in our epic IMLAM voyage that year, then joined Aliya in TSMC...

 
Spot Gabrielle (clue: rose among the thorns)


* * *

The origins story of Caysseny is another unconventional one.

She just entered UM in 2017. She seemed enthusiastic and excellent in mooting, as reflected by her strong individual results for the mini-moot exercises in two novice mooting workshops.

But whilst most of her other peers rushed to the auditions of novice mooting competitions (NAMCO and UM-NUS), she strangely held back. Instead, for reasons I have not fully fathom until today, she settled with a non-speaking researcher role in one of our many teams in AIAC's Malaysian Vis Pre-Moot (which is more of a 'warm-up' competition for the real Vis in Vienna and Hong Kong). Strange because her other peers in NAMCO and UM-NUS would have stolen a march over her in building up precious experience.

Then again, who am I to question her? Maybe she was confident enough with her own speaking abilities, hence content with observing and learning from the sidelines. Maybe she wanted to check out the mooting scene slowly without diving in too deep. Maybe she's already a well-made star who knows how to choose her battle...

Indeed, as it turned out, her slow start didn't hinder her progress at all. After Vis Pre-Moot, she joined IMC 2018 - and hasn't looked back since. Her team finished runners-up, only losing to the dynamic duo of Lily and Suan Cui. She won the Best Novice Oralist award, and ranked higher than many notable senior mooters and ex-Jessupers.

At LAWASIA 2018, her team finished runners-up again, losing to the same dynamic duo plus Aliya (yes, in a UM vs UM final!). And she had the highest average score in the competition.

In Jessup 2019, she spoke and won the Best Oralist Award in the Final of the National Rounds. In the International Rounds at Washington DC, she finished as the 69th-ranked oralist.

Did I mention that she's only in her second year (and got a special band indicating that she's underage each time she entered a bar in DC)?


Spot Caysseny (clue: best cheese) 

* * *

Sharing a closely identical origins story and timeline is Amiratu. She only started mooting competitively in IMC 2018, in the same team as Caysseny. Both were reunited again in LAWASIA, followed by Jessup. 

Essentially, they've been teammates in all the three competitions they have ever participated. And this has less to do with coincidence, but rather intent and design. They both kept mooting back-to-back from IMC onward. They both shared the same goals. And above all, they both were top-tier mooters.

The only major difference is their age - Amiratu is in her final-year, and close to graduation. So how come they still can share the same mooting trajectory?

The answer is simple - Amiratu was a very late bloomer. She wasn't present in the mooting scene at all in her two and a half years of law school. She wasn't even that keen on continuing mooting after IMC - it took some cajoling from her BFF, Lily, to sign up for LAWASIA.

The reluctant hero. The unlikely savior. The mooting champion who nearly never was.

Of all five of them, she escaped my radar all these years. The first time I saw her in full action was when I was judging her Semi Final round in IMC. And to be frank, I had mixed feelings on her self-assured, devil-may-care YOLO style - which is definitely a good trait for an advocate to have in real practice, but perhaps not so much in mooting as she may come across as too brash and abrasive (especially for Malaysian conservative standards).

But over time, she has mellowed down whilst still maintaining her razor sharpness. And ultimately, in Jessup, she became our anchor and spoke in the most rounds.

Not bad for someone who only mooted for a year, eh?


Spot Amiratu (clue: "this mooting game very easy peasy, yes?")

* * *

And for the final of five, we have none other than the reigning Moot Queen, Lily.

No, it wasn't me or anyone from UM who came up with that title, okay? One of our supportive external moot trainers did. And he's not even Malaysian. He's as impartial of a judge as you can get.

She has many other names, of course. Dragon-slayer - she has slayed the National University of Singapore and University of Sydney. Baby-faced assassin - she's ruthless and relentless in methodically tearing down her opponent's arguments between her smiles.

And yet, she is no prodigy. Her timeline is a messy cross between that of Aliya and Amiratu. She joined IMC in 2017 and 2018. Her first mooting competition was TSMC, together with Aliya and Gabrielle, in her third year. She followed up with IMLAM. She reached her pinnacle in the final year, with back-to-back triumphs in LAWASIA and Jessup.

Ironically enough, she's probably the most insecure out of everyone. Despite her strong results, she's easily rattled and haunted by missteps, rare as they come. But that's both her strength as much as weakness. Her insecurities pushes her to improve and improvise. She does not rest on her laurels. Unlike most typical stars, her flames don't burn out quickly after a single burst. She stays strong until the end-game.

And above all, she's graceful enough to acknowledge others overtaking and surpassing her (like Amiratu being the anchor). Her ego, if any, is way beneath the team's interest. She's unafraid to step up to take on new roles, and also to take the backseat if new blood in better form shows up (like Caysseny).

It's rather ironic that she doesn't behave like a queen for a Moot Queen. No drama, no sense of superiority. And perhaps, that's what makes her even more deserving of that title.


Spot Lily (clue "so boring zzz... BRING ME SYDNEY!")

* * *

Every star starts from a spark.

No star is ever born. Or rather, no star can stay shining brightly like a star without being made and re-made over time.

I saw five small sparks grow into shining stars.

And even if one day their light dims and flickers, I know that they have enough spark left in their spirits to shine again, brighter than before.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Journey To The West (Price Media Law 2019)

Two international moot competition back-to-back for University of Malaya (UM).

From Jessup to Price Media.

From Washington DC (31 March - 6 April) to Oxford (8 - 12 April).

From public international law to international human rights law.

Such transatlantic trip would have been physically torturous, whilst the paradigm shift from two equally complex moot problems mentally taxing. A difficult dilemma indeed: What if my energy was completely drained after Jessup? What if my body clock couldn't cope with the jetlag and time zones? What if I overstretched myself and let both teams down?

Despite most of my muscles and brain cells screaming "No!", I booked a flight from Washington DC to London. I had abandoned the team once in Beijing where they finished as Runners-Up in the Asia-Pacific Regional Round. It was only right that I came along to give them one final push in the International Round. So the team would fly earlier from Malaysia, and I would meet them halfway on the eve of the competition day. Perfect timing! Perfect plan!

But fate, cruel as always, had other ideas...


Team Disney

* * *

In Washington DC, Team UM got knocked out in the Round of 16.

Despite our historic breakthrough, such early elimination was still quite a bitter pill to swallow. The shock was slow to sink in. Morale dipped. I'm quite a sore loser, so it takes quite a while for me to overcome any failure.

But by the time I buckled into my seat waiting for lift off, my mood had perked up. A chance of redemption. Another shot at victory.

And then, the cockpit announcements kept coming: "Sorry for the delay, we are doing some checks..."

One hour passed. Two hours passed.

Finally, all passengers were told to disembark. The plane was grounded for some hydraulics malfunction. Flight cancelled! The next flight was in 24 hours!

Two more hours elapsed before I checked in a nearby airport hotel - past midnight. What bad luck! In all my 12 years of travelling around the world across the Atlantic and Pacific, never had I encountered such a terrible flight delay before.

The plan was falling apart. Across the Atlantic, our team got the match schedule for the Preliminary Rounds. In the very first round of the first day, we were up against the host, University of Oxford. Our second match, few hours later, was against the North East Europe Regional Champion, Taras Shevchenko National of University of Kyiv (Ukraine). Third match, a day later, was against the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands).

Due to the 24-hour delay, I would definitely miss our team's first match against Oxford. And I couldn't be there physically to help them prepare for their first two matches on Day 1.

And so, we had to improvise. I woke up early next morning, and got on a video call with the team at the hotel (with co-coach, Suan Cui, dialing in from Malaysia) while waiting for my flight...

* * *

Finally, I touched down in Heathrow Airport, London in late morning of 9 April, Day 1 of the competition.

The disembarkation and queue at Immigration was excruciatingly slow. The bus to Oxford was late. And at Oxford, some emergency road closures prevented the bus from stopping at the stop closest to our accommodation.

In a mad rush, with no time to even checking-in first, I took a cab directly to the competition venue and dragged my luggage up a few flight of stairs...

I reached just in the nick of time for our second match.

When I burst into the room, our opponent's first oralist was 2-3 minutes into her submission. I managed to catch the rest of the moot, particularly our Respondent's submission.

Whew! Close shave!

The delay and rush had left me fatigued. We had the whole evening and night to prepare for our third and final Preliminary Round match on Day 2, but there was a lot of catching up to do and barely time to rest.

Yes, it was quite an adrenaline-pumping adventure to even cross the Atlantic and arrive in Oxford.


Oxford - 2.00 pm; Washington DC - 10.00 am; Malaysia - 10.00 pm    

* * *

Still, despite my (mis)adventure, the team kept focused and stayed the course. (Or maybe it's a sign that they really didn't need me around anyway!)

We won all three Preliminary Round matches against Oxford, Taras Shevchenko and Amsterdam.

In the Octo-Final, we clashed against the Law Society of Ireland (Ireland). It was a tough, grueling match between four ladies. Everyone was on fire, everyone stood strong under fire from the judges' questioning.

Once the match was over, anxiety set in. For the first time, we genuinely felt the fear of defeat. A journey that started from the East last December was coming to a sudden end in the West...

But we prevailed!

There was no time to celebrate. The Quarter-Final was up next in less than hour. Once again, our opponent was from the West - Osgoode Hall Law School at York University (Canada).

We had a good feeling going into the match. Although we had to quickly switch from Applicant to Respondent, we had toiled on improving the Respondent's case last night as well (while preparing as Applicant for the Octo-Final). We were prepared to fight till the very end. We poured our heart and soul into every bit of our submission...

But we lost...

* * *

Two competitions, two heartbreaks.

Even till today, I don't know which loss was more heart-breaking.

Whilst our loss in Oxford may not have been as outwardly dramatic, it was just as shocking.

We lost in a 2-1 split decision.

We presented a wider and deeper array of case law.

We were commended by the two judges who decided against us for being 'creative' (which, on hindsight, somehow counted against us).

It's hard to come in terms with the loss, considering that:

The dissenting judge was a counsel from Google, and arguably knew the area of law best (right to be forgotten on search engines, fake news and hate speech on social media). After the round, the judge approached us to pass on further compliments on our performance.

The presiding judge kept challenging us on our case law, to which we responded with greater exposition. "I'm sure the other side can come up with authorities that have decided otherwise" was his feeble comeback. But they didn't. And neither could he.

Our 'creative' arguments were actually based on well-researched points of law, as documented in our memorials. And guess what? We won the Best Memorial Award! Also, the moot author was one of the memorial judges...


'Creativity' may win awards, but not all judges 

* * *

We encountered hardships after hardships throughout our journey to the West.

From a team of four in Beijing, only three could make it to Oxford (Esther, Christina, Kai Sheng). Hence, Esther had to play as 'double agent' and switch roles between rounds (such as Octo-Final and Quarter-Final). Also, some had to juggle with some serious family emergencies...

Our team is very young. Around 2-3 years younger than our Western compatriots, perhaps. They had advantage in appearance, too. We were dwarfed by their towering heights. We looked like kids queuing up to Disneyland, whilst they could be easily mistaken as the cast of 'Suits'.

Amidst their training, our team had to work hard to acquire sponsorship to fund their travels. It's an added distraction that teams from the Western world do not have to deal with.

English is not our native language. Lest I be accused of beating the same drum again and again, the inescapable truth is that we start at a disadvantage in mooting competitions against Anglo-Saxon teams.

And of course, my flight got delayed - and ate away precious face-time training between the team and I.

But bear in mind, this is only my side of the story. I'm sure that the team faced many more hardships behind the scenes...

* * *

And yet, despite the unsatisfactory way we crashed out, there is much to cheer about.

It's only our second year participating in Price Media. Last year, we bowed out in the Quarter-Final at the International Rounds, too. Maintaining such consistency bodes well for the future.

We won the Best Memorial Award (thanks to our 'creativity', perhaps?)

We punched above our age and numbers. All the other top advancing teams had 4+ members in their entourage, and longer experience and richer history in the competition.

At the end of the day, I'm immensely proud of the team's achievements and efforts. It takes a lot of heart to overcome the hardships strewn their way.

Well done, Esther Hong, Christina Erin Ong and Neoh Kai Sheng! Thanks for flying the flag of Malaysia high.

And may this journey be the start of many more epic journeys to come...