Name: Andrew Loh Zhu An
Date of Birth: 2nd June 1987
Nationality: Malaysian


SMK Damansara Jaya 2004

Swarthmore College 2010

From the Andrew's Heritage Dictionary:

Andrew (AND-roo)

1. noun. common name.

2. adjective. smart, dumb, intelligent, retarded, clever, stupid, bright, dull, witty, tounge-tied, shrewd, stuttering, slow, quick-witted, moronic, autistic, lively, outspoken, eloquent, dense, daft, idiotic, foolish, thick, spirited, sharp, vigourous, rude, arrogant, pompous, bloated, ostentatious, boastful, inflated, direct, brave, cowardly, gullible, free, free-spirited, burdened, depressed, optimistic, pessimistic, defensive, creative, innovative, irritating, annoying, impossible, infuriating, shy, loud, displeasing, norm-challenging, harassive, irksome, troublesome, vexatious, worrisome, provocative, impatient, pleasant, diplomatic, unreserved, trouble-making, short, defiant, fickle, shallow, timid, audacious, brainless, indoctrinated, indoctrinatory, proud, exploitative, zesty, humourous, anal-retentive, rebellious, lame, innocuous, dangerous, explosive, spontaneous, adaptable, stubborn, pig-headed, nervous, offensive, pestering, useless, ironic, paradoxical.

Usage: You're so Andrew! [Interchange with any of the above definitions]

And yes, I did look at the thesaurus.



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This is a personal blog and should be taken as such. So don't sue me if what I write pisses you off. Or if I write lies. Or if I give maladvice. Or if you fail to read through my sarcasm. Et cetera.

I like stalkers.

Is it in bad taste to quote one's self?

"The greatest of debaters are not only the most eloquent -- they are the most bruised, the most resilient, the strongest of heart." -- Andrew Loh

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Monday, April 07, 2008
Homage: The SMKDJ Wira 2003 Chronicles

The 2003 SMKDJ Wira Debate Team

Suraiya Abdul Munaff, Andrew Loh Zhu An, Ms Choong Chiew Har, Ms Magdalen Su Ai Tiing, Kang Kean Lee, Tee Shern Ren, Anton Atli Marc Jitab


This is for me, for Ms (Pn) Mag, for the 2003 Wira Debate team, for SMKDJ, for all coaches, and also especially for the current DJ Wira debate team (Zafirah, Jayshendra, Keefe, Rachel, Sophia, Calvin, and Daryl), who are now PJ Utara Zone champions and who will be bringing the trophy back this year for the third time in history. :)


I am a 八公.

There are few things more interesting, more exciting, more intriguing than reading well-told, flowing, moving stories. Especially personal ones. Ultimately, for me, what remain in my heart are the memories, the tales, the stories. I am very 八公 (bat-gong; similar to bat-poh 八婆 -- "gossipy, big-mouthed, prone to gossip" [English has no satisfactory equivalent]), but deep down inside, we know we all are 八. There is this unquenchable thirst to know, this unalienable, insatiable curiosity: who how when what why?!

So imagine my surprise when I came upon Irving Tan's (Royal Military College debater) blog where he wrote about RMC's against-all-odds victory at the IIUM Debating Championships 2003. Any form of writing about debating experiences in Malaysia is rare, private, or non-existent. But here, online, was a wealth of information, of experience, of debate(!) and how it has so shaped him.

Very nice. :)

I am a stalker.

And I am compelled! I must write, solely because if not, all the richness and tradition and history and beauty and pain and tears will be gone, destroyed, forgotten. There must be a record of what the DJ debate team has gone through; if only to document, if only to save from the gnawing jaws of time. If only for other stalkers and bat-gongs and bat-pohs to read; if only to incite inspiration or hope or pride or envy or indignance or nostalgia from current DJ debaters, DJ-ians, coaches, alumni, other Malaysian debaters, ex-debating adversaries (:P), friends, family, acquaintances, stalkers.

For that is precisely what writing is for and why it is so powerful: it saves our memories and stories and voices from the destruction of time. And we remember.

I am a historian.

But as I reflect upon this, it is not pride or achievement or accomplishment that I feel. Rather it is a feeling of humility, of closure, and of wonder; of unspeakable, indescribable, inexpressible wonder. And this wonder I have no choice but to attribute, not to our abilities or talent (but rather our lack of them), but to my God, or your luck, Fortuna, fate, destiny, chance, what have you.

I tell you: SMK Damansara Jaya was never supposed to win so many debating championships.

But we did.

And I shall try to tell our story faithfully.

I do ask, however, that you forgive me for the lack of details for many of the following debates. It has been five years.


"A very good morning to the madame speaker, honourable adjudicators, precise timekeeper, worthy opponents, and members of parliament..."


"Look at the motion! Look at the motion!"

In 2003 the SMKDJ debate team for the Tan Sri Datuk Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad Debate Cup consisted of Suraiya Abdul Munaff (1st Speaker), Andrew Loh Zhu An (2nd Speaker), Tee Shern Ren (3rd Speaker), Kang Kean Lee and Anton Atli Marc Jitab. We were all Form Fours and had just gone through quite a rigourous selection process.

Our first debate was against SMK Assunta with the motion "The proverb 'reading makes a man' is a myth." I can't really remember too much about this debate, other than that we were up against three girls (duh) and that it was incredibly close. I have very surprisingly took to heart the research for this debate and can still quote Francis Bacon: "Reading maketh a full man, writing an exact man, conference a ready man."

We were elated to win, noobishness and all -- for Assunta was (and still is) one of the PJ schools to beat -- and also I think it was Selangor state champion in 2002. I also vividly remember the Assunta third speaker very effectively using the phrase "Look at the motion, look at the motion!" which has now been naturalised into my signature debate phrase, and I think now also officially a DJ phrase. We were happy.


Amongst us, Shern Ren was undeniably the best debater -- he was incredibly mature and sharp for his age, could see the macro-structure and weaknesses of any argument, and thus could formulate incisive, battering rebuttals, just like that. [I was sooooo jealous :)] He would go on to deservedly win Best Speaker at the National Finals. Suraiya had (and still has) this beautiful British accent, which I tried to imitate (and still do) but alas failed flat (and still do). She would go on to represent Malaysia in the ESUM Public Speaking Competition 2005 in London. Kean Lee (perennial first-in-form) and Marc (fellow Cicaker) were our reserves who would do our research and write portions of our speeches [when we were lazy :)] and cheer us up when morale was low, especially after "forensic" sessions with Miss Mag and Cik Choong.


"There is no clash!"

Our second debate was against SMK La Salle Petaling Jaya -- and we were up against the twins (Ashok and Arun)! Our motion was "A healthy body is the sole responsibility of the individual" -- and this was a very, very messy debate. La Salle defined sole responsibility as "the only responsibility of an individual," (as opposed to a healthy mind and other responsibilities) while we defined it as "the responsibility of one individual"  -- which led to one of the twins distinctly proclaiming, "There is no clash!" Clearly La Salle had squirrelled the motion, but at that time nobody had any idea what squirrelling was and how to counter one. I personally thought that they were better speakers than we were, but luckily the chief judge from SM Katholik (Catholic High School) knew that they screwed up the motion and awarded it to us, a 2-1 decision. :)

Also because of this lack of clash, Shern Ren walked up, very impressively threw his prepared rebuttals onto the floor, saying something towards the effect of "I came here expecting a real debate, but this is what I get?", and finally launching into an eight-minute tirade against La Salle. :) Very, very memorable. Later the head judge told us that Shern Ren would've gotten best speaker if had he not thrown his cards onto the floor; I would've gotten best speaker had I not said "blablabla" in my summary speech; and therefore Suraiya got best speaker. :)

And retrospectively I still remember the Latin proverb "mens sana in corpore sano", which frightens me just a tad bit that I can actually remember minutiae as such.


Ms Magdalen Su Ai Tiing (now Puan) was the new English teacher from Sarawak. She was the trendy, fashionable, hot teacher that many of the guys talked about. But could she debate. Ms Mag is probably the predominant reason for SMKDJ's 2003 debate success -- she was unflinching as a coach. We would stay back for research and discussion every single day, so long as debating season was on, either in the refreshingly air-conditioned Bilik Tayangan adjacent to the school library or sweat it out in one of the hot, stinky classes in Blok D or E. We would spend hours talking and constructing stands and points and then start doubting ourselves and discard what we came up with. We would write speeches and she would tear them up (argumentatively) and we would rewrite speeches and she would retear them up and the cycle would repeat itself until she was satisfied with our stands, arguments and rebuttals. We would skip classes (OMG so fun!) and then waste all our time gossiping and singing Disney songs (Suraiya!) and Avril Lavigne (me!) and playing Freecell (Shern Ren!) and doodle in Paint and then face the wrath of Ms Mag. We would cancel tuition and music classes and come back to school to discuss on weekends. And very often in the end Ms Mag would be so dissatisfied with our speeches that she would rewrite them for us.

I got headaches. It was hell.

Sweat, blood and tears, baby.


"You're confused about your Confucius!"

Our next debate was against SMK Damansara Utama for the PJ Utara zone title. The motion was "Filial piety is a figment of our imagination." It wasn't a very memorable debate per se, but it was a pleasant if not easy experience. I think that this was because we were opposition and the motion was for us. But retrospectively we did meet some pretty amazing people: Jonathan Lim (LSE '09 and organiser of the initial Malaysian Student Leaders Summit) and Nick Khaw (Harvard '09). At that time we thought that saying "you're confused about your Confucius!" (or rather the Confucian ideal of filial piety) was pretty smart -- we did gain some snickers from the audience.

I remember that what struck me most was the fact that SMKDU uses trees to name its classes as well as SMKDJ. Thus we both had classes called Merbau, Belian, Jati, etc.


But the preparation sessions were not the most painful things about the entire debating experience. If you've debated, you probably know that the most heart-wrenching portion of any debate is the aftermath: when your coach tells you what you did wrongly and how you should improve. We all know that this is essential, but it is painful, so very painful.

Ms Mag laid the criticism onto us fairly. At that time, however, every fault she identified seemed to be as caustic, as unfair as personal attacks; I remember being really defensive and peevish. Every subsequent comment was blunt and to the point -- like battering rams, pounding unhindered, continually, into our fragile hearts. We called them "forensic" sessions, not because debate is a subsection of the US-styled Forensics, but because Ms Mag would clinically list out all the mistakes we made during the previous debate, and also because we felt like we were being operated upon -- our insides, in all their imperfect glory, conspicuous and magnified under the spot light -- but we were very much being dissected alive.

So every debate was a vicious cycle of emotions: preparation, complaints, excitement, nervousness; then being in our elements during the debate, triumph, jubilation, and ultimately being broken at our forensic sessions.


"As Aldous Huxley once wrote, 'Facts do not cease to exist, just because they are ignored.'"


"... it is only a tool..."

Again, our fourth debate was also pleasant if not easy. It was against SMK Seafield, which fielded a team of two girls and a very tall guy. The motion was very boring -- "Computer research has not led to plagiarism." I also remember saying "no no no no no" in the style of Ducky, the duck-billed dinosaur, from The Land Before Time.

Winning started to become a constant.


We learnt, though, to persevere and learn from Ms Mag's criticism. We grew stronger, better, wittier.

Drawing from my experiences as a debate coach, retrospectively, there was no other way towards becoming better speakers. Our forensic sessions were necessary; they are the coming of age, the adolescence, the puberty, the pimples, the awkwardness, the heartache of debate. As a speaker, there is no alternative to confronting your mistakes and correcting them.

And this is why the greatest of debaters are not only the most eloquent -- they are the most bruised, the most resilient, the strongest of heart.


"I protest! I protest!"

Our fifth debate was very memorable. Not only were we in the Petaling District finals against SMK Sri Aman, but something else happened. We were happily debating in Assunta -- Suraiya had just done a wonderful job as first speaker, and the next speaker from Sri Aman was two to three minutes into her speech when the microphone died. It really died. It was the first time anything like this had ever happened, and we were unsure of what to do. So we took our time writing down rebuttals and formulating arguments while the Sri Aman speaker cautiously tapped the mike, hoping for a quick resurrection. But to no avail. It was about three minutes later when they finally replaced the mike. We were about to carry on with our debate when suddenly, a sari-clad woman splendidly sashayed her way up to the stage, her index finger poised, prominent in the air, proclaiming, "I protest! I protest!"

It was an awesome sight to behold.

Mrs Vasantha Menon was the debate coach for SMK Sri Aman. SMKDJ has had a long history with her: after the SMKDJ 2001 Wira team (Rina Priya Ayob, Samantha Tan Yuh Huey, Jean Lee Si Zhen, Hansel Goh Chien Syrn, Suraiya Abdul Munaff [yes, Suraiya has won Wira twice! Probably the only person in history]) won Petaling District, Mrs Menon coached them to win the national championships that year.

Mrs Menon argued that since we had time to write down our arguments, it would be unfair to Sri Aman if the debate were to continue. The judges ultimately agreed. All these were discussed in a separate room; the debaters were to sit on stage and stare at each other while they deliberated. I would later argue that we could've paused for a few minutes in my second speaker speech so that Sri Aman would get their few minutes to write down their arguments. But of course this is Malaysia and students are not to be included in discussions.

And so the Petaling District Finals was postponed for another day with a new motion -- "The increase in media has led to rising violence." Ms Mag told us to tell our friends that "the unthinkable had happened," and we did so with glee.

A few days later SMKDJ won the debate and we were crowned Petaling District champions for the second time in three years.


Many a time we overlook the people most responsible for our success. I did back then, unfortunately, myopically. But looking back, I have no doubt that Ms Mag was the most important factor in our victories.

The debate coach is an interesting character. As a general rule, for Malaysian teams, I attribute their performances in competitions to the quality of their coaches. This is not a hard and fast rule -- of course I believe that there exist students clever and dedicated enough to win national debate competitions own their very own. But this is the exception rather than the norm: from talking to many, many debaters from many, many schools with distinctive debating traditions (St Xavier's, MCKK, CBN, St Michael's), I think it is safe to associate the achievements of a typical Malaysian debate team with its coach.

It is not easy being a debate coach: on one hand you have to balance your workload as a teacher (augmented with useless bureaucratic mess, no less), and on the other you know that the more time you spend training your kids the better they will become. On another spectrum, the blunter you are and the more honestly you expose your debaters' weaknesses the faster they can improve, but at the same time you have to take care not to demotivate them so much that they'd give up and quit debating. It is your job to build them up and bring them down. So, as it is with all things in life, coaching is a game of moderation, of the middle path, of the Golden Mean.

Ms Mag knew, instinctively, just how much she could push us -- workload-wise, mentally, emotionally -- and she did just that.

And we grew. All of us.


"Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!"


"Let me now expose the weapons of mass confusion of the opposition..."

The Selangor debates were all held on the same day in SMK Teluk Panglima Garang, Banting, Kuala Langat. This meant that we (and the eight other district representatives) had to debate three rounds back to back -- it was going to be laborious, onerous, burdensome. But it was also to be a study in perseverance. Ms Mag and Ms Choong drove the entire team to Kuala Langat a few days before -- courtesy of the SMKDJ PIBG (Parents-Teachers Association), we had rented rooms at a hotel so that we wouldn't have to travel the day of.

Our first debate that day was against SMK Convent Kajang (my mother's former school!) representing Hulu Langat with the motion "The United Nations is dysfunctional." This was the same motion of the Wira national finals or semifinals in 2001, so we had help from Hansel and the rest of the 2001 team. I think this was one of my favourite debates -- Political Science is my element. In Wira you prepare for both sides -- so on the government we were going to argue that the UN sucked because it failed to maintain world peace, save ailing economies, and deal with human rights violations; on the opposition we said that although constrained by its own constitution, the UN very effectively acted as a mediator in world peace and solved problems of social (e.g. health), cultural and humanitarian characters.

It was a good, solid debate; a debate of facts, statistics, and clash. Iraq had just been invaded and Shern Ren came up (I thought very wittily) with "weapons of mass confusion," to our delight. We won, and till this day I remember that "war begins in the minds of men, and it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must first be constructed" from the UNESCO Constitution.

Shern Ren also remembers that he allowed Convent Kajang about a minute and a half of POIs (out of an eight-minute third speaker speech). He still maintains that this was because he'd "ran out of things to say," and also that the gender of the opposing speakers was "entirely inconsequential". It must be said, however, that Convent's first speaker was actually quite pretty.:)

The Convent Kajang coach told me that she remembered my mom. :)


On the drive to Banting we got to know Ms Mag a lot more than her role as our debate coach. We found out that she was the top STPM scorer in Sarawak for her year, and spurning more lucrative jobs, got into teaching because she "enjoys it." She was a member of Toastmasters and brought some Toastmasters videos for us to watch during debate prep sessions. She wore sunglasses and a thin jacket just over her two arms while driving to cover them from the sun. She drove a brown Proton Saga (unless I remember wrongly) and stayed in school until four or five every day, even outside of debating season. She even showed us a picture of her former self :). She looked absolutely stunning in a sari with her hair all made up for Teachers' Day. Her favourite musical is "My Fair Lady" and we played it on the radio to Banting and back. In Form 4 her class (4 Batai -- with Suraiya, Kean Lee and Marc) played an April Fool's Day joke on her -- but she would get them back the next year (2004) with a performance that initially shocked (most of) the class into subservience, silence and fear, but she would, in the very end, earn a standing ovation from the class (now 5 Batai) for her amazing, uncanny acting skills (ASK HER! :P ). And thus we discovered that our coach was human, but extraordinary; and also ultimately a friend.

And now whenever my iTunes shuffles to The Rain in Spain or whenever someone asks "why can't the English teach their children how to speak?", I think of Ms Mag, my team, and our trip to Banting.

But I still ask -- what are the odds that the top STPM scorer from Sarawak (and future National Runner-up for Teachers' Debate) would come to SMKDJ, of all Klang Valley schools, to teach English and eventually coach a team of PTS-failures to win a national debating tournament while at the same time indoctrinate them with tunes from My Fair Lady?


"Wouldn't it be luverly... Luverly... Luverly!"

Our next debate was against SMK Methodist Banting (Kuala Langat) with the motion "Malaysian students are well prepared for life after school." For a while this was my favourite motion because I just could not believe that the Selangor Department of Education could even think of coming up with such a seditious, ISA-ish topic. :D

We were tired. It was a long, dreary, non-air conditioned day, and we were in full prefectorial regalia -- blazers and all.


Just the day before, Cik Choong had admonished us boys for forgetting to hang up our blazers (which were still in our suitcases), which was something you "did not have to tell girls to do."


"With a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck!"

The state finals were between us and SMK Hillcrest (Gombak). The motion was "Material progress undermines moral values," and we met some really fantastic speakers, the third of which went on to win Best Speaker. A thunderstorm started in the middle of our debate, the PA system was horrible, we were in a huge, empty, musty hall, and all we had was a pathetic mobile microphone which was to be clipped onto a collar. I don't know whether the judges heard any of us over the thunderclaps, but we did try our best. I even held the mouthpiece to my mouth because I wasn't satisfied with it being so far away from where my voice was, and so used the hand with my cue cards to gesture. Not very comfortable, but a debater's gotta do what a debater's gotta do.

We were still tired, but we were tired Selangor champions in full prefectorial regalia.


It was only later that Ms Mag told us that she was never prouder of us on that day. Even if we had lost.

For it was three debates in a day -- three Wira debates, mind you -- so preparing for six sides for one day and delivering the goods is not very easy. And so we suffered, and we grew, and we bonded.

It was also Marc's birthday, and we celebrated both auspicious events by getting him a chocolate cake with the words "hunny wunny bunny" on it.

We went back to the hotel and slept divinely. And Marc's birthday cake was so large and so rich that even after the seven of us, almost a quarter of it had to be left in the hotel, uneaten.

The next day we drove back to PJ. Suraiya, Shern Ren and I were in Ms Mag's car, which was following Ms Choong and our reserves. We took a wrong turn at a highway exit somewhere in the already vague boundaries between Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya -- but in the end I (rather fortunately but blur-ly and unconvincingly) directed us back to SMKDJ by recognising Motorola, Western Digital, the little traffic lights at the crossroads to Kelana Jaya and the swimming pool, and St Ignatius' Church. My mom would've been proud of me. :)


"And as Alexander Pope once wrote, 'the proper study of mankind is man.'"


"The cigarette itself doesn't cause cancer, rather, it is the act of smoking that does."

And so we represented the state of Selangor to the Zone B (Selangor, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka) debates in SMK Jalan Tiga, Bangi, Selangor. And it was here where I met Tasnim Abdul Hadi (ESUM Semifinalist 2006, 2008). Our first debate was against SMK (P) Bukit Bintang (Kuala Lumpur) with the motion "Literature shapes human values." SMKDJ had chartered a bus for DJians to come support us because of the (relative) proximity. :)

We were never supposed to win this debate.

We were opposition, and our stand was that literature did not shape human values because it is the application of literature which shapes human values.

Such blasphemy.

But at that time all of us were convinced that it was an invincible, yet perfectly rational and legitimate stand. For all our debating "achievements," we still had no idea what squirelling and truisms and tautologies were and how unfair they are. And we convinced the judges that just like cigarettes, smoking, and cancer, literature "itself" does not shape human values, because only the "application" of literature can do that.

And we won, and at that time we were very happy.


I look back at this debate with mixed feelings: joy and a certain sense of relief that we actually had won, embarrassment for having won undeservedly, sympathy for BBGS, a tinge of bemusement for having tricked (?) the adjudicators, and also more than a tad bit regretful that Malaysia had such judges at such a high level (interstate!) of judging.

Whether it is fair to extrapolate upon the standard of Wira debates and the quality of Wira judges based on this incident I do not know, nor will I speculate about the prevalence of such issues in the history of the Wira Cup. But I do know that we should have lost this debate.

I tell you this: I am sorry that we won, unfairly, at BBGS's expense.

But there is hope. I remember Ms Mag mentioning to me within the last three years that all Wira judges had to undergo a workshop where they taught them how to spot squirrels, truisms and tautologies, why they're bad, and why teams who use them should be severely penalised. So it seems that the Ministry of Education (which runs the Wira Cup) has finally woken up to this issue. Also hopeful are the alternative debating tournaments: HELP College's Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hajjah Saleha Debate Cup, Taylor's College's Annual Inter-School Debate for Secondary Schools, and IIUM's Interschool Debating Championships. Every year, these competitions train not only hundreds of debaters, but also dozens of adjudicators in the art of (fair) debate. And the enlightened will hopefully expose others towards true debate.

Thus I am ultimately hopeful for Malaysia's high school debating scene.


"POI, please!"

The next day we were up against SMK St Paul of Negeri Sembilan in the Zone finals. The motion was particularly witty -- "The press is depressing." But witty motions do not necessarily make for witty debates. This was another one of those boring, pleasant debates; I do not remember too much about it, except that we won and the third speaker from St Paul was named Best Speaker.

And we were going to the Nationals.


Only debaters know that debating is ultimately a team sport. You are nothing without your team members. And after going through hell and emerging victorious ten times in a row, we knew that we were necessarily bonded: with common forensic heartaches, scathing inside jokes (Shern Ren, his hair, and all the metaphors!), mutual successes (greeting everyone in ten seconds or less), and gradually, a sense of family from seeing each other every day. Some call it esprit d'corps, some call it team spirit, some call it camaraderie, some call it friendship.

Only debaters know.


"Before I take my seat, allow me to reaffirm our stand; that this house believes that..."


"Do not be misled by the opposition because the truth is not out there; it is over here."
The Nationals for the Tan Sri Datuk Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad Debate Cup 2003 was held in Johor Bahru, Johor. It was here where the victors of the four zones (Kedah, Selangor, Pahang, Labuan(!)) would meet for their final reckoning, and it was here where I met Soo Tian (Kedah). Ms Mag made us skip the little tour that the organisers had prepared, and so we missed out on the Nasi Briyani Gam. But we rested and we prepared. :)

Our semifinals was against SMK Labuan (Labuan) in English College (Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar), Johor. The motion was "Economic development complements environmental preservation," and it was the first time we had a nice motion with five long, fat words. It was also a motion that I liked -- a solid, fact-based motion. Again, our squirelling instinct kicked in and we defined environment as both the human and natural environments. Shern Ren also
distinctly remembers "rambling on about worms" in his speech, to everyone's distinct amusement. :) This was a pretty lopsided debate (in our favour) until their third speaker really kicked it up a notch and gave Labuan a fighting chance. He would go on to win Best Speaker (notice a cycle here?) and we would advance to the Grand Finals.


So close yet so far.


"Ladies and Gentlemen..."

The Grand Finals were held in the Grand Ballroom of the Eden Garden Hotel, Johor. The motion was "The information highway needs more traffic lights," and the fourth-form team of SMK Damansara Jaya (Selangor) was up against, very impressively, a team of third-formers from SMK Sultan Abu Bakar (Pahang). There were, fascinatingly, no fifth-formers in the English Grand Finals of the Wira Cup in 2003. :)

In both the finals and the semi-finals, the participants were to be given sheets of paper that were to be filled up: What were our future occupations? Who were our idols? For the semi-finals, we were quarantined before we received our papers; Ms Mag filled them up for us instead. So according to Ms Mag, I was supposed to become a "politician" in the future, and my idol was "Dr. Mahathir Mohamad." Somebody else's was Gandhi. And so the madame/mister speaker announced these trivia when introducing us as speakers.

My own answers were no better. I now cringe:
in the finals, I wrote that I was going to be a "big, important person" and that my idol was "Josh Groban." But at least I wasn't the only one to make a fool out of myself that day -- the madame speaker said that Suraiya and Chew Hwee Yin, Pahang's third speaker, shared the "same future occupation" when one wrote "neurosurgeon" and the other "neurologist."

We drew lots and we were the opposition. And I dare say that we did a splendid job of debating. Only after the debate would Ms Mag tell us that she had nothing to critique other than that it would've been "perfect" had we used the phrase "traffic police."

Hwee Yin would take so many pois from us that the audience went, "Wah! Wah! Wah!" Just a tad uncouth for my liking. :) The SMK Sultan Abu Bakar team would come full circle to win the Wira Cup as fifth-formers in 2005.

And so we won. It was pretty much unanimous. And Shern Ren won Best Speaker.

And we carried our hampers and prizes (only RM1000) and cheap green plastic trophies and mock cheque and luggage all the way to the Keretapi Tanah Melayu station while we sang "We are the Champions" as obnoxiously as possible, so as to annoy everyone around us. We also brought back the
Tan Sri Datuk Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad Debate Cup Challenge Trophy, which was heavy, made out of pewter (?), and which had a globe with a super-enlarged map of Malaysia on it with an extremely noticeable, significant bump/dimple/depression where Labuan would have been.

And we were happy. So very happy.


The greatest teachers and coaches know that the most important thing they can ever do is not to merely teach or coach well, but rather to inspire, to motivate, to incite ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

I tell you: it was for Ms Mag that I went back to SMKDJ to coach. (Marc did too!)

And I tell you: that my triumphs as co-coach (along with Marc and Pn Koh) for two different teams in Taylor's Debate 2006 and HELP Debate 2006 are but my homage to Ms Mag, all debate coaches, and the debating tradition of SMKDJ.

And I tell you: all this from a boy who used to have trouble expressing himself. So take heart!
The greatest of debaters are not only the most eloquent -- they are the most bruised, the most resilient, the strongest of heart.

And I coached also in the hopes of seeing a virtuous cycle of debaters going back to SMKDJ to coach, to nurture the young, to keep the flame burning. And today we see the tradition being continued in the likes of Kevin Chan and John Lee.

And it has been worth it.


This is my story, this is my song.

This is our story, this is our song.

And I exhort you: tell me your story, tell me your song; tell us your story, tell us your song.


Posted at 06:59 am by andrewlza

Ashley W
April 7, 2008   05:06 PM PDT
Such nostalgia. Reminds me of the time when I was back in Form 5 preparing for my first ever public speaking competition. The sweat. the tears. The hard work. The English teacher who trained me. The practicing inside the staffroom right in front of so many teachers every day.
April 7, 2008   11:07 PM PDT
Andrew this is absolutely awesome :) history needs to be recorded
April 8, 2008   01:13 PM PDT
haha yea it's called blessed assurance
April 8, 2008   05:55 PM PDT
tis one of my favourite songs.

your turn now, yah! :)



it is time to remember, it is time to commemorate, it is time to share.
zhi wei
April 8, 2008   11:16 PM PDT
I think I've told you bits and pieces about my experience debating during secondary school. On paper it was fruitful, but now that I look back on it, the experience itself was never very rich, definitely not as much as you have expressed yours to be. I am envious. :P

I did learn and experience things during my Wira days, but I think what really changed me (for the better) the most was the whole WSDC experience. Maybe I'll write about something like this for my next entry.

I really liked this post because debating is something I can really relate to, something I understand. Something I'm proud of, you could say, even though I've never been the best debater there was. Nevertheless, inspiring entry, thanks for posting this.
zhi wei
April 9, 2008   12:27 AM PDT
I am so inspired (or jobless, but i pick the former) that I keep coming back here today to read this post. Hahaha.
April 9, 2008   12:34 PM PDT
thanks, john! :)

@zhi wei hahahaha me too me too i'm obsessive about my writing and i reread stuff at least ten times before i'm satisfied.

you better write! :)
Ashley W
April 9, 2008   05:29 PM PDT
Wah, Matt you're so famous in the debate-sphere. So much so that people proposed using violence to force you to document your debating experience! lol
April 9, 2008   07:34 PM PDT
Irving Tan. :)

I replied on your blog
April 9, 2008   07:35 PM PDT
@wunmin of course -- matt's now the mascot for iium. :)
Andrew Wong
April 9, 2008   08:58 PM PDT
Hmmn...Your debate experiences seem so much more interesting. All I can remember of mine were: .. "POI!"...."Huh?!?!"..."That's rubbish!"..."Shaddup"..."You binatang!"...."You tak suka, you keluar dari negara ini!".... :-p
April 10, 2008   01:57 AM PDT
LOL. the thought of an RMC-trained guy tearing me apart doesn't sound particularly appealing. okie will get something done over the summer haha
Ashley W
April 10, 2008   06:42 PM PDT
Whoa... we're all pat-gong pat-poh and it seems to me that there're more bat-gongs here than bat-poh. lol...
April 17, 2008   03:13 AM PDT
excellent , your memory for detail is amazing! haha , did you keep a diary or something cause its impossible to remember every motion offhand. just wanna say that the "teacher in charge" ( or in your case , "coach" - note the varying degrees of commitment) really makes a difference.
when its up to a bunch of fourth formers with many different priorities and commitments, its hard to keep the group together , harder to have practices , and nearly impossible to expect commitment.and it hurts especially so when you're the only one passionate.
bah , haha , i'm over exxagerating , it was fun , but i do recommend the iium comp , to get the interest up!
ps , do you still debate in swarthmore?
April 17, 2008   03:13 AM PDT
excellent , your memory for detail is amazing! haha , did you keep a diary or something cause its impossible to remember every motion offhand. just wanna say that the "teacher in charge" ( or in your case , "coach" - note the varying degrees of commitment) really makes a difference.
when its up to a bunch of fourth formers with many different priorities and commitments, its hard to keep the group together , harder to have practices , and nearly impossible to expect commitment.and it hurts especially so when you're the only one passionate.
bah , haha , i'm over exxagerating , it was fun , but i do recommend the iium comp , to get the interest up!
ps , do you still debate in swarthmore?
April 18, 2008   05:26 PM PDT
no i dont like american parliamentary (apda) :( --- super ridiculous one.
October 18, 2008   07:24 PM PDT
Oh my god. I have got to be like, the most lembap person ever to come across this piece 6 months after it was originally written.

All I can say is...amazing! I think u captured the essence of the experience. U made me recall my own debating days and how I wish I could do it all over again. Nothing like parliamentary debates...when the adrenaline just compels you to be fearless and give the speech of your life! LOL!

I've just gotten myself into this mooting competition. A tad bit rusty but hopefully I'll pull through.

Keep in touch, Andrew ;)
November 4, 2008   03:02 AM PST
And so SMKDJ did win the Wira Cup for the third time -- keeping the Challenge Trophy and setting a national precedent.

April 14, 2009   01:31 AM PDT
hey! i stalked you and found your blog! hahahaha great success~!

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