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). 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 sadly, 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.

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