Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Step Closer To Victory (The IMLAM Voyage)

Our voyage began where we left off last year. Overjoyed by our unexpected breakthrough, but saddened that we couldn't foray deeper than the Quarter-Finals...

This year, our voyage took us down South. Destination: Brisbane. Host: University of Queensland

Our spirits were cheerier. We had a renewed sense of self-belief. A spring in our step. The feeling we could go all the way and win our faculty's first major international championship.

And yet, fraying in the edges, doubts still lurk. What if last year was a fluke? What if the top teams now saw us as a serious threat and were more prepared to take us down? What if we lack the fundamentals to grapple with an even challenging moot problems steeped with legal complexities?

Hope was high, but the pressure was on.

Awesome foursome

* * *

The sole returning cast was Sher-Ryn. Last year's captain, now an expert on maritime liens (her project paper topic this semester). Still solid as a rock, smooth as a river. She's also the most susceptible to my Zen-like 'keep calm, live the moment and go with the flow' philosophy (but maybe too much - she still hasn't finished reading and returned the book on Zen that I lent her months ago).

Taking over the helm is Lily. A late bloomer who only had her first taste of competitive mooting a semester ago, she's a ball of positive energy. Always smiling, and never shying away from perils. Despite her occasional 'deviations' causing her to miss our sessions, her mind is sharp enough to switch her submissions into new directions at any moment's notice.

Her last moot before graduation, Ashley offers a steady hand on deck. Admittedly, early on, her happy-go-lucky party queen persona raised some question marks over her commitment. But the intense focus she showed in picking up a totally alien area of law (and in coaching one of the junior teams in another moot) cast away those initial doubts. Very much the foodie, she also demonstrated much discipline in eating clean days before the competition.

Rounding off our party of four is Kai Sheng, the maknae. Only a second-year student, he has just one minor local moot competition under his belt. Whilst his vocabulary range is rather limited relative to the rest, he more than makes up for it with his incisive clarity and confidence. And he was certainly not short of effort in our valiant attempts to shore up his articulation (though he kept picking up this weird accent that sounded like some alien from a galaxy far, far away - so we told him to drop it).

Our crew also included two supporting cast who worked tirelessly behind the scenes as researchers. If not of Yee Lin, we'll be stuck for ages digging up ancient cases and puzzling over the Article 4(5) Hague/Hague-Visby formula (SDR? Weight of gold? So much maths! HELP!!!). And thanks to Suan Cui for her strategic insights and making sense of 100-page cases (lex causa? lex fori? is lien a substantive or procedural right? WTF is Sam Hawk saying?!?). Such a pity that they both could not try out as oralist because of *sigh* 'reasons'...

I could not ask for a better team. Not just in terms of star quality, but also balance. Each member had their own strengths. They complemented each other well. Good chemistry, no drama.

Their sum is far greater than their individual parts.

* * *

We were handed a tough draw for the preliminary rounds: National University of Singapore (NUS), Macquarie University, Sri Lanka Law College, and University of Hong Kong (HKU).

In the first round, we lost to NUS by a narrow margin (in the words of the arbitrators, not mine). Although it dealt a huge blow to our morale, it was a welcome splash of cold water to our faces.

In our next two matches, we were victorious.

And in the final match, another tough battle loomed. It was HKU that stopped us in the Quarter-Finals last year. Their track record in IMLAM is stellar - they finished Runners-Up in 2015, and were Semi-Finalists in 2016 and 2017. And coincidentally, their team was also camped in the same residence as us, so both teams knew fully well of the other team practicing late into the night.

The round ended in a dead-heat. A tie. A draw. The arbitrators were so impressed by both sides that they couldn't award a winner.

And that wrapped up our Preliminary Rounds. Relieved but unsure of our fate, we walked out for our very first decent meal in 3 days. Then we headed back, and resumed our practice again, against the dying light...

The next day, the top 8 out of 28 teams were announced, with deliberate suspenseful slowness. One-by-one, in alphabetical order.

"University of Hong Kong... University of Malaya..."

We were through to the Quarter-Finals once again! Woo hoo!

Only grass - we haven't mastered the art of walking on water just yet

* * *

We were up against Universidad Carlos III de Madrid - a formidable face in the competition who also advanced into the quarters last year.

The match was due to start barely an hour after the announcement, which left us little time to prepare. The arguments in their memorials were rather unconventional and nothing we ever faced before, so we were scrambling to devise counter-arguments last-minutely.

Fortunately, even though the proceedings 'deviated' into jurisdictional issues far longer than we anticipated, our team managed to steer back the proceedings to the substantive merits well enough.

(Side-note: The jurisdictional objection raised was indeed creative, and would have caught a lesser-prepared teams by surprise. Thankfully, we had it covered in our peripheral research and 'what if' discussions. This goes to show how important it is to track down every thread of legal argument, no matter how obscure or dubious)

In the end, we prevailed and survived to fight another day!

As fate would have it, our Semi-Final opponents were none other than HKU. That night, both teams worked through the night in our respective 'war rooms'. This time, there would be no dead-heat. This time, there would be only one winner...

The next morning, we clashed head-on yet again.

And we lost.

* * *

Yet again, just like last year, our voyage fell short.

Still, we did go one step further this year. The championship is looming larger and larger in the horizon...

The biggest surprise awaited us in the awards ceremony. Honourable mentions were extended to Kai Sheng and Sher-Ryn for finishing the 1st and 2nd Best Speaker in the Preliminary Rounds respectively (they were ineligible for the actual Best Oralist awards as they did not moot for both sides as required by the rules). And our team ranked #2 in the Preliminary Rounds.

Rank #2! Over the likes of NUS, HKU, Sydney and Queensland!

Now, of course that's not the same as finishing Runners-Up, but that's still a bloody amazing feat. Those universities have dominated the competition for years, and it's only our third year competing (second year, if you only count the years I started coaching IMLAM - yes, that's a not-so-humble-brag right there!).

And mid-announcement, Kate Lewins (Moot Director) gave a shoutout to our team, complementing how far we have gone in such short space of time. She invited the team to stand up, to receive a thunderous ovation from the rest of participants and audience.

A fitting end for such a courageous crew. They thoroughly deserved it. I could clap and cheer all night long...

The party cruise

* * *

Despite missing out on the championship, the team still had quite an epic and historic run.

It was amazing to behold such a raw team metamorphose in a matter of months. From knowing next to nothing about maritime law (except Sher-Ryn - want to arrest a ship in 24 hours? contact her now!), to now being well-versed enough to recite three different versions of the Hague/Hague-Visby rules. From being absolutely terrified that the Australian arbitrators can't understand a single mangled word that's coming out of our Malaysian mouths, to charming the panels with the smile and swagger of a senior counsel. 

From top 8 to top 4.

And we're not done yet. Our voyage hasn't ended. We will keep on sailing until we win the championship - over and over again.

* * *

What the team had achieved in Brisbane is truly momentous.

Not just for themselves. Not just for University of Malaya. Not just for Malaysia.

Their voyage is a parable for all of us. Dream big. Never settle. Keep fighting.

And the legacy that they have left is this: that anyone from anywhere can achieve anything.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sleep Is For The Weak

Unlike most people, sleep is not my hobby.

I can't remember the last time I had an 8-hour sleep. No matter how exhausted I feel or wasted I got the night before, I'll automatically wake up between 7 or 9 every morning without fail.

I don't even turn on the alarm anymore (except if I need to get up before 7). My body clock is programmed to near mechanical precision.

How do I pull this off?


Habit Is Your Wake-Up Clock

It's all down to habit.

In my early years of work, setting an alarm is inevitable. I couldn't take the risk of oversleeping and missing critical appointments. Waking up early in the morning was by sheer brute force in the face of agony.

But after awhile, I noticed I was waking up even before the alarm rang. Setting alarm became a backup safety net, and no longer a necessity.

There's also a neat trick that I apply. It has to do with our circadian rhythm. Why do we feel sleepy at night? It's a combination of lighting and temperature. It's easy to slip into slumber in a cold and dark room. Similarly, our body tends to jolt up once the lights turn on and room heats up.

So my trick is to sleep with my head facing the window with half-drawn curtain. Once dawn breaks, sunlight bathes over me. And that's a good enough alarm clock.

Why am I so adverse to sleeping longer?

Sleep Less, Do More

We only have 24 hours per day. Sleeping for 8 hours per day means spending 1/3 of your lifetime unconscious in bed. That's sad and wasteful.

With more waking hours, I have more time to do the things I enjoy. Same can you. It's that simple.

Stop rolling around on the bed. Live life to the fullest.

So remember, kids. Sleep is for the weak!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How I Failed To Become A Footballer And World Cup Star

As a kid, I grew up watching the World Cup in wide-eyed awe.

And as I close my eyes after yet another breath-taking game, I saw myself on the field... making mazy dribbles... shooting pass the 'keeper... celebrating in front of the exultant crowd... lifting the golden trophy high over my head...

Can't blame a kid for dreaming, can you?

Me in 2020

My First Dreams

But it was not all wistful thinking. I really loved playing as much as watching the beautiful game. Almost every evening, I would rush to the nearby field and kicked about with the other neighbourhood kids.

The 'big' games were usually on weekend evenings. Free from school, tuition and the weekday grind, that's when the neighbourhood's best all come together. My family went to church on Saturday evenings, so my brother and I would always get yelled at for coming back late for dinner.

I was quite talented, too. I would torment and run rings around defenders. I had a tricky feet, and a good eye for goal. Amongst my close friends at school, I was indisputably the best. In my neighbourhood, I was holding my own against the older and fitter kids. I was full of hope.

My first dream - before shooting for the stars as an astronaut - was to be a footballer. 

My First Chance

My primary school organised a football competition. 7 versus 7. Anyone can form a team. Knockout system.

Our team was called the 'Magnificent Seven'. I don't remember what the other options were, but this was proposed by our captain-keeper, and he was quite the domineering type and really liked the name. I haven't watch the movie before, all I know it's about cowboys in the Wild Wild West or something. Anyways, who cares? All I cared about was winning the whole damn thing and being the next Maradona (Messi wasn't a thing back then).

I was the anchor of the team. They were depending on me to score and make big plays. Lots of pressure, but no problem. I was quite confident of my abilities.

We roughly knew the other teams and players. By the luck of the draw, the two strongest teams met early. So only one remained. We were on the other side of the bracket, and would only meet either of them in the finals. And the teams on our side were rather weak. We were feeling good about our chances.

We went into our first game feeling even more confident. One of their players didn't turn up, so it was 7 of us against 6 of them.

But they defended like madmen, and parked the bus. We couldn't find a way through. Attacks after attacks came to nothing. We dominated possession. Yet, we couldn't break through. Panic slowly crept in.

The game remained goal-less pass full-time... pass extra-time... PENALTIES!

We were shaking. We were staring at defeat. We were paying for our complacency. Now they have a chance. Now it's 50-50. Now could be the end.

I took the first kick... GOAL!

One of us missed, one of theirs missed. At the sixth kick, our captain saved! And then he walk out to take the penalty kick... and scored... VICTORY!

We proceeded to the semi-finals. This time, we were more focused and respected our opponents. We built up more patiently, and kept our composure.

It was a rout. We smashed them 4-0. No contest. I got a goal, and assisted maybe another. It was an all-round superb performance. What a boost, what a great momentum...


No pressure

My First Breakthrough

They were faster, stronger, and meaner. They breathed and slept football.

It was like Switzerland versus Brazil. We were the smart boys who aced exams, they were the naughty kids who could miss class whole week except the day with Physical Education (so they could play football). We were the urban elites, they were the rural warriors. In footballing terms, we were clearly the underdogs.

We were fully prepared to be on the back-foot from kick-off. Our game-plan was to defend deep, and hit them on the break.

As soon as the whistle blew, we were hit by a human tsunami. They kept advancing. All we could do was desperately throw our bodies to block their shots and passes. We could barely string passes together and get out of our half.

Late in the first half, the ball broke to my feet slightly outside our penalty box. And for the first time, I spied an opening and burst forward. The maneuver caught them totally by surprise. Their players desperately tried to track back.

The counter-attack was on! Everything happened in a blur. I ran, and ran, weaving pass one shell-shocked defender after another. One kept chasing me from behind. And then in front of me, there was just their keeper left. I took a shot...


I wheeled away in mad delirium. My teammates caught up and jumped all over me. Tears welled in my eyes. At the corner of my eye, I caught sight of my Dad standing and clapping. He didn't say he would be coming. He wasn't really supportive of my footballing obsession, preferring me to stick to books (and church, too). But there he was, perched at the stands near our opponent's half, where he had full view of my Maradona-esque run and bullet shot into the roof of the net (an odd spectator position to take considering we were camped in our own half, which perhaps goes to show the level of faith he had in us to break out and score - which we duly repaid). I smiled, and punched the air.

We were up 1-0 at half-time with our only attack and shot on goal of the game. 

The second half was much of the same story. They kept storming at us, and we desperately held the fort and prayed.

Alas, they struck back with two goals. The match ended 2-1. We lost - and deservedly so. They were by far the better team. We had a single moment of magic, and that was all.

Nevertheless, I was proud of my performance in the finals and the tournament. And I scored a wonder goal. What more could a kid ask for?

Me and my miracle run

My First Heartbreak

The purpose of the tournament was to scout for players. The main guy in charge - who refereed all the games in the tournament - would be picking our school team for a district tournament in a few weeks' time.

We were devastated, of course. We were so close to victory, only to crumble right at the end. Still, we felt good that we made our mark. Surely, our dream run would've counted for something. Surely, our talent would've been noticed. This was just the beginning.

And with such a strong individual performance, I was feeling pretty optimistic of my chances of making it to the next level.

Few days after the tournament, the selection results was announced.

My name wasn't in the list.

And to add insult to injury, three of my other teammates were selected. The rest were players from the champion team and the other second-best team that were beaten early on.

How was I not in the team? Honestly, I don't know. I can only speculate. My other three friends were prefects, popular, and quite the teacher's pet. They were also quite active in athletics and sports in general. From a decision-maker perspective, they were safe choices that were hard to question on paper. Also, since this is Malaysia after all, I suspected a whiff of *ahem* racism...

Me? I was nobody. A weirdo. Even if I made a fuss, so what? None of the teachers gave two hoots about me. No one would take my side. And my parents weren't the sort that donated generously to the school and could get on the line with the headmaster...

And on that day, I knew I would never make it as a footballer and play in the World Cup.

My First Enlightenment

As years passed, I felt less sorry for myself and instead more angry with the state of society.

I'm sure there are many other kids like me, or even better. And just like me, they never made the cut, no matter how promising and talented they were.

And the reason being? Simply because the system is corrupted and incompetent as f**k at all levels of administration, from schools to the FA. And of course - *cough cough* - there's the not-so-small issue of racism...

My school team went on to the district tournament. They came back being trashed by 4 to 5 goals each match. Served them right. Karma's a bitch. Now, I'm not saying that me being in the team would've made much of a difference. With so much quality in our ranks, it goes to show how inept our PE teacher/coach was. Assehole

As at today, Malaysia is ranked 174th out of 204 countries in the FIFA rankings. We're a country where football is the most popularly played and watched sport. We're not ravaged by war, and we have plenty of fields and indoor futsal courts. We have no excuse doing worse than the likes of Yemen, Maldives, Nepal, Palestine, Tahiti...

We suck because of idiots running the show, politics ruining the system.

But if you're nor first...

Why Malaysia Will Never Get Into The World Cup

I will never forget the day I ran halfway across the field to score a wonder goal in a final.

I will also never forget the day I didn't make it into my school football team despite running halfway across the field to score a wonder goal in a final.

Those two moments made me realised the cold hard truth.

That I'll never ever make it to the World Cup.

And neither will any Malaysian.