Friday, April 20, 2007

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 4): Convent Peel Road

I'm in Singapore now, and didn't plan to write any entries till I got back. But my handphone is quite good at reminding me of things I need to do, but which I'd rather not do. And today is the third anniversary of one of our most enjoyable debate rounds.

Enjoyable because after dealing with Seri Bintang Utara and Menjalara, the Semi-Final against Convent Peel Road (CPR) was a breeze. And also because, for the first time, debate preparation was more like a holiday than work.

You see, this time we decided to spend two days in preparation, being as it were a very important round (getting to the Finals was obviously a big thing to us). And this time, Danial invited us to his house in the Kepong/Menjalara area. It would turn out to be anything but a serious two days, and between the four of us, we:

-played video games in the morning while another two were having breakfast at a nearby mamak
-spent more time playing pool than pooling ideas
-got acquainted with Danial's pet iguana, Rex
-perused Danial's uncle's collection of Che Guevara paraphernalia
-played darts instead of hitting the Bull's Eye in our case preparation
-were introduced to some diarrhoea-inducing pill Danial was taking
-were driven (at breakneck speeds by Danial's father) to school on Monday morning to pick something up (possibly a diskette from Miss Shanti; I can't quite remember)

It was also on this trip that I picked up Danial Wallace's book Big Fish from KL Sentral before heading off to Danial's. Great book, breathtaking movie.

Of course, in the end we came to our senses. We took turns, really. So while some of us were playing pool, the others were doing research on the net. It was actually Dinesh who was the most frenzied, because he most needed a prepared speech. So he kept checking definitions, arguments and the case construction with us. As First Speaker, he had to introduce our case and so he needed to know it like the back of his hand. That, in turn, kept the wheels in our brains turning.

By the afternoon of the second day (Monday), Dinesh's speech was still only half-complete. And Danial and I finally decided to get down to rebuttal practice. We decided that he was a very promising Third Speaker, but he admitted that he needed to know the case thoroughly prior to the debate, in order to form a rebuttal structure. And so we developed a rebuttal technique that was half rebuttal, and half reinforcement of the case. And Danial would become very good at tearing down our opponents and strengthening our case at the same time.

The motion was 'National Service Will Effectively Foster National Integration', although I am not entirely sure about the word 'foster'. We were the Government; it was the second time we debated in favour of National Service, after the second round in 2003 (our first ever debate).

It was a breeze because the Opposition somehow decided to use a line of argument that went like this:

Government: Where are your sources?
Opposition: If you read the papers, you will know.
Government: Can you cite just one source, for example?
Opposition: Obviously you haven't been reading the papers.

Now I know it is terrible debating to focus on evidence and not ideas, and just to be clear, that's not how we debate. That ever-memorable round against SBU was won, in part, because they attacked our evidence and missed the forest for the trees. But it was just so comical that this team (CPR) would give such replies, so we decided to capitalise on it, more to derail them than anything else.

(Because it was a knockout system, sometimes stronger teams are encountered in earlier rounds, depending on the pairings. So more realistically, we would actually rank Menjalara above SBU, and SBU above CPR.)

They also claimed we had no stand, although we obviously stated our stand at the beginning (and end) of each speech. All in all, it was a very comfortable debate held at SMK Datuk Lokman. Our performances were all good, and this time I was named Best Speaker. Perhaps the only different thing was that we used microphones for this round as we were in the School Hall. And so we had to get used to speaking behind a microphone ahead of the Finals, which would no doubt be in some large hall somewhere.

(I hate microphones; I think they get between me and the audience. Then again, I've gotten used to the form-versus-function trade-off, and I'd say I'm somewhat more comfortable behind mikes now.)

Perhaps the greatest shock came in the result of the other Semi-Final round. Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) lost to the Royal Military College (RMC). We had always known that CBN fielded a strong team, and we witnessed their debate against SBU in the 2003 Semi-Finals at the VI. They lost then (sending SBU into the Finals and eventual victory of the State Championship), but we expected them to improve dramatically. The RMC, on the other hand, were practically unknowns as far as the 2003 line-up went.

Apparently the RMC, who were the Opposition, used a line of argument that went something like this: "How effective is effective in evaluating effective national integration?" That round is one I hope to watch someday... if anyone recorded it.

So, as one of the RMC boys said, it would be an all-boys Final. And we were already getting jitters from this unlikely fellow-finalist that defeated the legendary CBN team.

A final note about the motion: I learnt in retrospect, after having been through National Service, that most of the arguments from both sides were rubbish. Even today, there is an incredible amount of prejudice and preconceptions among the general public about the programme.

Put it this way: the yea-sayers support it for certain reasons, and the nay-sayers likewise oppose it for certain reasons. But nearly all the yea-reasons I've heard miss the mark; NS was a great experience, but not for the utopian reasons of its proponents. And nearly all the nay-reasons equally miss the mark; there were concerns at the camp, but nothing that could be imagined by a third-person opponent of the programme.

They say integration is impossible if the 6:3:1 ratio remains in the camp (i.e. there are more Malays than Indians, hence they are imbalanced). I say that's our country's actual composition; camp is a microcosm, not a lie.

They say NS is unsafe and the trainees' health is not sufficiently taken care of. I say a good number of camps actually to a commendable job; but more so than that, there are things worse than falling ill (which is likely even in a so-called safe city environment). And if I may make a rather risky observation, there are truly things worse than dying in an NS camp.

Last night while having dinner at Al-Ameen's in Bukit Timah, Alissa was wondering if she should take up scuba diving, but worried about the safety. Jon said it wasn't any more dangerous than crossing the road everyday.

True enough about NS.

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