I never excelled in sports and was never talented in music. Hence, I decided not to undertake any CCAs that had to do with vigorous activities and those that incorporate musical studies in it. Thus, I ended up doing what I loved most. Drama. Ya, I joined ELDDS, short for English Language Drama Debating Society. I had initially joined only the drama section of ELDDS. We had a small strength of students, and it wasn’t hard for me to break into the cast. I got my first acting role, playing a teacher in a school assembly skit. My breakthrough role, however, was playing the role of CK, a rebellious boy who finally understood the love of his family. I played that role twice. The first being my first public performance in our school’s second cultural night held at Singapore Polytechnic’s auditorium, while the second was for the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging Competition, in which we clinched silver. But as all SYF competitions, Gold, Silver or Bronze was just an award given to schools. There was not to be any medal or trophy of any kind. What a disappointment.
Then, in secondary three, came a call from the debating section. Due to the number of seniors graduating from Fuhua, there was a sudden lack of talent in the debating department. If we cannot find any suitable replacements, we would not be able to participate in the upcoming Julia Gabriel Inter-school Debating Competition. This would have been such a shame as we have participated avidly in that annual event. Thus, Pravin and I were drafted into the debate team right away.
The pressure was immense, juggling both drama and debate at the same time, especially when you have Yvonne (our team leader) and Steph (our coach) at the helm, pushing us from level to level. Staying back until past dinnertime was a norm. Ask Atiqa for confirmation if you do not believe me! She broke down during one of our sessions! While my debate “career” took off, my drama “career” suffered. Our play was dropped out of contention for our school’s third cultural night due to the lack of budget and training sessions. To rub salt into the wound, we managed only a COP (Certificate of Participation) during the next SYF central judging competition. Fuck it.
On the brighter side, our efforts in Debate reaped results. Even with a hastily assembled team, we managed to reach the quarter finals for the first time in history. Our opponent that night was Bowen Secondary. We had competed against Nan Chiau, Deyi and Queenstown Secondary before advancing to the knockouts. The pressure was of course with us. Bowen was an experienced team. They were eloquent, fluent and spoke with such expression and persuasiveness that blew us away. I remember one of their speakers, a petite girl; she blew us away with her speech. Her confidence, hand gestures and glamour were marvelous, not to mention we had our very own Atiqa, who ended up as top speakers for two seasons running. The motion for that night was “This House Will Hand The Control Of The Internet To The United Nations.”, which was a reasonably tough motion, as we had never encountered motions that dealt with international related issues, such as the UN. We had expected to lose to Bowen, so we just did our best, and tried not to think of the impending defeat, which of course only came in the semis. I remember vividly the celebrations that came after we were announced the winner. We were shocked that we, the black horse, had actually overcome the more superior opponent. In the seconds prior to the announcement, I remember holding onto both Eve’s and Atiqa’s hands, nervous and sweating. Imagine the sudden relief we got! Not to mention I got my first hug from a girl! We were so overjoyed that Atiqa hugged me in those moments of celebrations. Not that that was how I imagined my first hug from a girl! Anyway, we did our usual post-debate celebrations at McDonalds. Ms Maha, or rather Mdm Maha (she just married recently), gave us a well deserved treat. It was a great start to a glittering debating “career”, or so I thought.
Semi-Finals came and a twist to the competition made me decide on a decision that I wished I had never decided-To declare myself unavailable for the semis and drop to the subs. Pressure may have taken over me, the semis required teams to prepare their speeches in an hour, in which the motion was released. This was a stark contrast to what we normally had, which was a preparation duration of one to two weeks! I decided to let the three most seasoned debaters take the field, Atiqa, Eve and Yvonne, who had not debated on the front line for quite sometime since. Yvonne was a great leader, but wasn’t really a great speaker, as compared to Eve and Atiqa. She was like the Gary Neville of our debate team, always dedicated, always in command, but not necessary scoring the goals. Furthermore, she was like a soccer player back from a serious injury layoff, not playing as well as she should have been. In football, the manager would take the blame for fielding the player. As for now, the culprit was me.
We lost to Bukit View. The defeat was just waiting to happen, given what we sowed. We didn’t leave empty handed though. We were invited to the Finals of the competition held at Serangoon Junior College in which the prize presentation was also held. We went on stage to get our trophies as semi-finalists. The very first piece of silverware I’d achieved! To add icing to the cake, both Atiqa and I won individual awards as well. Something did dampen our spirits though, Atiqa overheard someone saying that she was surprised a school that had never ever progressed past the preliminaries, would be able to secure a place in the Semis. Don’t think she meant that as a compliment, but we took it in our stride anyway.
However, life as a debater wasn’t as easy as you would have thought it would be. In fact, this shit can really take the hell out of you! Once the debating season comes around, academic grades are bound to fall. And in a topsy turvy season, debating is like working in the Wall Street Market. One moment you may come out tops, one moment you could find yourself stuck in a ditch, we were the best example, semi-finalists turned losers in the preliminaries. A typical zero to hero to zero story. There was a major reshuffle from the semi-finalist side though. Pravin had left us to concentrate on Drama, Yvonne and Eve, the two most senior members of the team had graduated, leaving only Atiqa and I as the only surviving members from that historic squad. Yanto, Sham and Jin Mei were drafted in as their replacements. They were all great speakers. Well-versed and knowledgeable, especially Sham, who was quick in thinking and charismatic, worthy to be in any debating team. Maybe that was the main problem we faced. All five of us were equally able to do the job. Each had a twenty percent chance of ensuring a starting role. It was hard to decide who to be picked and who to be dropped, especially when Yanto, Jin Mei and I were also heavily involved in SYF drama preparations. (The one which we ended up with a COP) We thus decided to adopt a rotation policy. It backfired. We never gelled, and never performed to our usual standards. Rafa, are you hearing this?
In spite of this topsy turvy turn of events, I was glad that I had made my mark as a debater, winning my first piece of silverware; to think I initially didn’t actually made it to the debate team!