Monday, April 09, 2007

Boy meets Man

All I can say about my STPM results is that, as Soo Tian remarked, they represent my interests; with the exception of PA, I scored in the subjects I love most:

Pengajian Am: A
Biology: A
Literature in English: A
Chemistry: B+
Mathematics: B+

But that is not the point of this entry.

* * * * *

It's not always that an entry grips me emotionally, but, going through the thoughts I'm about to share here, tears are beginning to well up in my eyes.

There's a lot of the past, a bit of losing and finding oneself... and a whole lot of knowing this journey isn't over.

Here goes.

* * * * *

It was fitting to lunch with Li-Shia and Denise on the day we received our STPM results. This morning, while in the shower, I realised that the two of them represent, more than anyone else, my Form Six experience and some of the quantum leaps I made then.

It was in getting to know Li-Shia that I realised just how different I am from others. And it was in getting to know Denise than I learnt, not just to accept, but in fact to appreciate, that difference.

In the last week of March, I asked Denise to help me edit a story I was working on. In her e-mail reply, she said, among other things;

"But then again, if this is ur style, by all means go ahead, u've come up with a (weird) new genre of combining ur philosophy, thoughts and a story all in one."

I will always owe the Dino-debt to her. Who knew weird could be a style? Who knew U2's inability to play their instruments would be their greatest asset? I'm glad to have found a friend in her, both of us bananas (although, until today, she insists I'm no banana), and perhaps in some subtle way she rekindled the story-teller in me.

Sometime last year, on her blog, she wrote something to the effect of, "It was in the VI that boys became men." I can't remember exactly what it was, but the gist of it was that.

Just now, while searching her blog, the closest I could get to that was the entry on Sports Day last year. And I stumbled upon two interesting thoughts:

It was no use being in school at 9 that morning when things were starting at 2p.m..
It was no use staying back till 6.30p.m. the day before.
It was no use walking to all the way to MYDIN to get supplies.
It was no use messing up the VEB room.

The irony is that, this year, I would say this of my experience:

It was worth being in school at 8-something that morning although things only started at 2 p.m.
It was worth staying back till 8 p.m. the day before.
It was worth walking all the way to MYDIN (and Petaling Street!) to get supplies.
It was worth messing up the classroom that was once L6A2.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's not much difference in the teachers and students in the VI that make people say it's a good school; it's the true VI spirit that makes the whole experience worth while.

And when I read that, my eyes watered. A little.

The last two years were significantly different from the rest of my time at the VI. Perhaps Denise is right, that it is here that boy meets man, and in those last two years, we began to realise that we wouldn't be boys all the time.

Perhaps also it was because Form Six isn't homogeneous. There are girls, most obviously, but the main thing is that the majority of the population are new to the school. VI boys return to Form Six; the others don't.

I went in with a reputation; many teachers and students of the VI knew me, at least by name. And this reputation called me to help handle the registration of Form Six students, resulted in MUET lessons that sounded like 'Praise Ben' sessions (ever since the day I gave a speech on Pn Jaya's request and shocked most of my classmates), accompanied me during the VEB interview (after which William told me, "You set the bar really high."), and nearly turned me into the President of the proposed Reading Club.

In retrospect, that reputation (presently at some legendary proportions) only grew during my days as a teacher at the VI. Yet I am glad to have lost myself in Form Six, am grateful for the VEB controversies and thankful that I didn't decide to pursue the Reading Club.

All in all, I realise that my greatest successes came when I was most myself; when I didn't give a damn (pardon the profanity) what people thought of me. That is not to say those were times when I ignored criticism; rather, those were times when I decided that certain suggestions by others were good, but not meant for me. There were times when many other roads opened up before me, and I am glad I walked none but the path I was always meant to walk.

Ultimately, my time in Form Six was different because for the first time, I began to understand what it meant to be a Victorian. At this very moment, today, even as I type this, I realise that in the VI, boys don't become men. After they leave the school, they become Old Boys. And they remain Old Boys.

The VI is not bound by time; it is immortal.

But it should also be noted that I'm more boy than man, and still finding myself. Perhaps it can also be blamed on the U2 influence. Their first album was called Boy, and listening to the copy I borrowed from the British Council, I realise it was a debut album full of thoughts about growing up.

U2 never really grew up. They made a career out of a high-school friendship, and their latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb recounts all the things that constitute their signature sound some 27 years ago. On Boy, there's a remarkable song called 'Into the Heart';

Into the heart of a child
I stay awhile
But I can go there.

Into the heart of a child
I can smile
I can't go there.

Into the heart, into the heart of a child
I can't go back
I can't stay awhile.
Into the heart.

Into the heart.

And now, even as I am growing up, I want to be able to say, as U2 did in their song 'City of Blinding Lights' (from the Atomic Bomb album), that "Time won't take the boy out of this man."

It was also fitting that on that day, we watched Pan's Labyrinth, which is probably the best movie in cinemas now.

One thing about the movie that stood out, was that it was about having just enough strength to face the fears and realities of life. And now, moving into this next phase, all I can ask for is 'just enough' strength to survive each day and make the most of this leg of the adventure.

When I told Miss Shanti my results, she replied, "Whatever the calling b."

She probably meant, "Whatever the calling, Ben." But it could also have been, "Whatever the calling be." Both mean something, so maybe I'll just think of it as a hybrid of two distinct meanings.

And as it appears, my calling is to be a scientist; not dressed in a white coat in a land called Laboratory, but an intrepid explorer in a world called Creation.

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