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.

No comments :

Post a Comment