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...

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