Without realizing it, 5 years have passed since I graduated from high school. Many things changed, and even I have changed a lot.
Always wanted to write something about it, so here it goes.
SMK Seri Bintang Utara (SBU), North Star in meaning, is a pretty standard Malaysian high school, located in Kuala Lumpur. SBU was called a cluster school of excellence, and had quite a number of successful alumni who are renowned in different areas. (sadly I'm just one of the mediocre)
The school was quite special, as it is surrounded by three other schools. There's a neighbor school called Seri Bintang Selatan (SBS), South Star in meaning. Both SBU and SBS had a high school and a primary school in the same area, so the traffic was very bad.
The school held a special place in my heart as I spent 5 years of my life there. It has witnessed an important turning point of my life, growth to maturity, some of my proudest achievements, and friendships that came along.
How did I end up in this school? Well, my sister was there, so naturally, I'd like to be there for convenience.
However, during the earlier stages of my life in primary school, I wasn't a studious kid, and to join SBU, my results then weren't enough. I was only good in Mathematics as a kid and did moderate to badly in other subjects (English, Malay, and Science).
So to raise the chance, my parents tried to move me into the primary school of SBU, but the application was rejected. It was one of the darkest parts of my life. I was rebellious and addicted to games (more precisely, Facebook games). The results were bad, my future seemed so dim.
By sheer fluke and some last-minute preparations in the final year, my UPSR (primary school assessment) went well, and voila, I got qualified for SMK SBU.
PS: I actually got into another normal high school called SMK Taman Connaught for a month before receiving an admission letter to SMK SBU.
The School Life
Here comes the typical school life. Waking up as early as 6:00 am, ate breakfast at home / in the car, school assembly, and class. I believe as compared to other countries, Malaysia's school time is shorter. It starts at 7:30 am and ends at 2:30 pm.
There'll be additional extra-curricular activities after school, so Tuesdays and Wednesdays end at 4:30 pm.
Turning Over a New Leaf
Two months in, I sat for the first exam. Surprisingly, I got 5th place in the class! I don't know if it was the feeling of achievement, kiasu (competitive/afraid to lose) or a sudden realization, but thereafter, I turned into a nerd.
I began to carry a book everywhere I go, not novels, but textbooks and reference books. I study when I eat, when I'm in a car, and even when I'm sitting in the toilet bowl. (sorry if it's too much info)
I must admit that I'm rather ordinary when it comes to studies. I studied by rote, forcing the contents into my brain, and memorizing them. Luckily, I'm somewhat better when it comes to logical subjects: Science and Mathematics, and managed to do decently in those subjects.
However, despite these efforts, my languages, English and Malay, remained weak, and have always been my pain points.
Sometime during my Form 2, the school's library decided to discard some old books, and by chance, I came across a book that sparked my interest in Science. I don't remember the title exactly, but it was a thick book, with a red hardcover, featuring some 60's or 70's Science Magazine contents. There were topics like Trigonometry, Molecular Chemistry, Dynamics, and a lot more.
As a teenager, I was totally attracted to the wonders of Science, and I began to aspire to become a scientist. So I started to read and study more Sciences, and naturally Mathematics. I subscribed to Science channels, Veritasium, VSauce, Physics Girl, SciShow, to name a few.
I even spent several months studying a few advanced topics in Physics and Chemistry (not Biology) at Khan Academy, but obviously, with my limited knowledge, I barely understood much. I think I only managed to grasp a few concepts or keywords, but nothing more.
Nonetheless, I can't say those experiences are completely useless. I actually scored quite well for most of my Science and Maths subjects, and these remained as my strengths even till A Levels.
Along the way, I also participated in some Science competitions, mostly lost. The picture above was one that I had the most vivid memory of. It was the National Science Challenge, where form 4 representatives from all around the country gather and compete in a series of science challenges like building a solar car, a popsicle bridge, and innovation from waste.
Along with me was one of the smartest people that I met, Chin Siew Mei. Thanks to her (she knows a lot), we passed the state-level physical quiz and got into this semifinal. Unfortunately, though, I kinda messed things up as a leader, and let's just say we aren't good in this kind of practical thing. So yeah, we didn't manage to get into the finals.
I must admit that this loss kinda brought me down a lot since I put so much hope and effort (bad ones) into it. Nonetheless, it's a fond memory thinking back about it.
Not so Spoiler Alert: I'm now a Software Engineer because Science and Maths became too hard
In Malaysia, the schools follow the British system, so there are prefects who help the teachers to oversee and monitor students' discipline, and we wear blue (part of the reason blue became my favorite color).
If Science is my passion, then Prefectorial Board was my second family during high school. It has shaped some big parts of my personality. Thinking back, I spent most of my time inside this prefect room during the high school time, beside classrooms.
Here's a funny moment, so to become a prefect, we had to undergo a probation period. One morning, when I was standing near the gate (we will record those who're late to school), my mentor, Cecelia Tan asked me to rush the students, I did (we kinda had to make it loud), and the students turned out to be from neighbor school, and the then Head of Gate said us funny mentor funny mentee.
I went on to become prefect after probation and let's say the duty wasn't that light. We had to carry out duties during assembly to arrange and keep the students quiet, during recess to make sure students go back to class on time, and the same during second recess for extracurricular activities. Whenever there are events, we had to duty like assembly, and sometimes, we even had to prepare for performances.
I also remember coming back to schools to decorate prefect boards, staying back for performance practice, manually updating discipline records, and even painting our new prefect room. Having spent so much time with these people, no wonder it became my second family.
One of the main events for us prefects was Farewell, and the Form 2's must prepare for it. I even remember dancing the pen pineapple dance when we were in charge of the event. There were lots of fond memories during the entire period.
Seeing how the Top 5's standing at the front, conducting briefings daily, naturally, I'd want to be one of them. It wasn't until form 4 that we had the opportunity to be one. While I did try to aim for the Head, I ended up as the Treasurer.
I still remember the feeling of disappointment when I was announced as Treasurer, as I hoped to be the top, and Treasurer was the last of Top 5. I guess I was chosen was because I had two years of experience as the form's treasurer twice previously.
Nevertheless, I went on my journey as Treasurer in the board for a whole year, and while there were difficulties sometimes in collecting funds, my part was pretty simple and had been mostly smooth.
Every year, as a prefect, we had to join a camp for three years. It was two outdoor, and one indoor. It was also the only camps that I joined throughout high school. I remembered the most about the outdoor ones as those were three days while indoor was merely several hours.
The first camp I joined was, let's say too harsh. Couldn't remember the name, but they degraded people, and they even threatened to kick our leader out of the campsite due to mistakes. So yeah, as a student's prefect camp, I certainly don't think this was appropriate.
The last one was the most memorable since it's technically the most recent. There were some fun night games, night hiking, team building games, ah, those good o' time. It was also the best out of the three I joined. Not sure about learning part, but it was definitely a good bonding moment.
As a city boy, the outdoor camping environment wasn't something I'd like. I still remember lying down on the soil, eating raw potato (didn't manage to light up the fire), and swimming in mud. However, this unique experience was something that I'd probably be willing to go back in time and have it again...
And I had only one interest during high school, and it was Wushu. It's nothing like Kung Fu from movies, but it's a form of Chinese performance art. Wouldn't say I'm good in it since all of my tournament medals came from me joining a one-person (or two, three) category (it's less popular in Malaysia). However, I did end up as the president of the club during my last year. (I used to be the most active one there)
However, I wasn't sporty at all before joining Wushu (I even joined Chess for sports in high school), and Wushu completely changed that aspect of me. I could imagine myself being thin or fat and weak without it.
While my body also kinda changed, like eating a lot more and having a super thick thigh from squats, but those are positive signs. There were also some injuries, like cutting my upper chin, straining my ankle and neck.
I really thank my coach, David Yap for triggering my interest in Wushu. Even after graduation, I became a part-time coach for about a year. So yeah, Wushu can probably be considered my third family in high school. For 5 years in high school, I attended almost all sessions except last few months in preparation for SPM, even amidst PT3, another important exam in Form 3.
I had a lot of fun moments in Wushu, made a lot of friends (mostly lost, sadly), and even met my first ex, Serena there. Some of the most valuable moments were three days trip to Penang for a competition annually, and staying in a homestay. I still remember there was an exam the last year during it, and I had to study on the bus. Very memorable to me as I had never have a trip with friends previously.
Throughout high school, I came across and parted with many. E Xuan was my first friend as we both had difficulties speaking English when we first joined the school. There were also Hendrey and Ken Jun, somehow we never got too close due to a lack of common topics. There was also Chin, Pei Chen and Pey Yiing from the girls side. These were all fun people.
During the first few years, my closest friends came from prefectorial board, but later on, I started to part away from them. They were fun to interact with, I thought, but I wanted to focus more on studies instead of socializing.
It was around this time that I became close with these few guys, Jarell, Tasigen, Ivan, and Rui Jun. I don't know how, but we seemed to get along well, but perhaps we had a more common topic when it comes to studies. I still remember the fun times when we all sat in the front during form 4, and got moved to the back in form 5 for being too noisy.
Moving forward, I have not talked with most of them since graduation. The remaining ones were Rui Jun, Tasigen, Ivan, Pei Chen and occasionally Chin. We have indeed come a long way and headed towards different paths now. While I have acquired new friends along the way, the friendship during high school was unforgettable.
I was (and am still) a simple guy back then. Young, dumb and dreamless. It wasn't until Form 2 that I started to seek goals and dreams.
One was the Science dream that I mentioned earlier, it lasted until A levels when I changed my mind. I wanted to become a Scientist who can change the world, perhaps breaking through Fusion Energy and winning Nobel prize.
It was also partly influenced by a Chinese novel that made me into having this dream. I always thought that I'll become a Science person. When I discovered that scientist probably wasn't my thing (I'm bad with labs), I thought I'd pursue an engineering path like Chemical Engineering, who knows it turns out to be coding.
This was the other dream, when I was carrying out duties during awards day. I still remember well, it was a prefect senior, Woon Li Qi, getting awarded as Model Student, and I was like WOW! That was the moment I started to have this dream to be on the same stage, and get the same award.
It did boost my motivation throughout the remaining years in school, striving to do my best in different areas. It was also part of the reasons why I worked hard for exams, wanted to be head prefect, became active in Wushu, and joined various competitions.
Long story short, I didn't get it. Jarell, yet another smartest person, won it. Honestly, I can't say much. He has represented the country in Chess as well as Ballroom Dancing and even won. He also got 9A+ in SPM, so he's achieved both academics and extracurricular activities. I still remember being salty about it for a while, well, it's a dream after all.
While both dreams didn't turn real, they both helped me significantly. I worked hard on my studies, and my results were decent. I joined extracurricular activities and did enjoy and even won some of them. So yeah, nothing much to regret, it's part of life.
For almost 4 years, I was trying to get the number 1 in exams. Looking at my previous stories, you can probably guess it. I never got it. While my exam results were pretty decent, it's been quite disappointing that I never manage to get first place.
It's fortunate and unfortunate at the same time to be with geniuses like Jarell and Chin (of course, they also worked hard). In a way, there's always a target to chase after, in another way, I can never reach the target, regardless of the improvements.
Chin had been first in all but last exams, and naturally, she was our year's model student for academics. She just seemed perfect when it comes to studies, and was even called Lord by the rest of us. Her essays were heavenly, her mathematical logics were flawless, and even had a nice personality. And yes, beating her was the biggest motivation to study.
In Form 4, I felt that it was impossible to win her through marks (she usually scored at least 1 or 2 marks higher on average percentage as I tend to do badly in languages), so I took an extra subject. In Malaysia, the ranking depends on this inverse GPA, where A+ is 0, A is 1, A- is 2, and the sum will be averaged. So if I took an extra subject, I might have a chance of winning her.
Well, I did in the end, but not in a satisfying way. Jarell came up, and took over the first place, and guess what, I'm still second. Jarell is very smart when it comes to studying, despite being slightly behind during Form 4 with all his competitions, he managed to catch up in the last exam. He even got accepted to Harvard in the end (you can probably search him up easily, Jarell Cheong).
Nevertheless, I'm truly appreciative of their existence. When it comes to studies, they helped me a lot, and most importantly, gave me the motivation to work hard in retaining and even improving. That's how I got consistent improvement over time.
Yeah I know, my main motivation didn't come from like scholarship, family's burden / pride, prestige university or awards, but just merely a number on paper. A bit childish, but I was young and dumb, remember? Didn't think much as a teenager back then.
We've won a competition (one of the proudest) by placing a speaker in a teddy bear to simulate white noise (heart beat) for children to fall asleep fast.
Thanks to my long hair, I got caught and received a haircut service before.
There was this incident where someone threw a plasticine out, and tried to climb out of window (3rd floor) into getting it. The whole class got punished and had to sit in front of teacher's office.
I used to spend several months carrying the history textbook around, reading sentence by sentence, page by page, to memorize it.
I was very interested in Mathematics, even joined an Olympiad in the last year, and lost of course.
I also used to be quite active in playing chess, but losing mostly.
In the last exam, one of Chin's subjects got deducted from A+ to A, partly because Jarell persuaded the teacher, and that's how he (and kinda I) won.
Epilogue: The Ending
Preparing for the End
SPM is the final exam of high school, similar to the British O Level. It will determine (actually not), our fate after graduation.
So during the last few months, I eat, sleep, and drink with studies in mind. It was the most stressful period of my entire life. I stopped all club activities, and retired from prefectorial boards, my life was filled with books after books, exercises after exercises.
During this period, I didn't want to lose to Jarell or Chin which had been my main motivation. Well, few months in, I took SPM, and that marked the end of my high school life.
Fast forward a few months later, on the day right before SPM results announcement day. Jarell and Chin messaged me. Jarell said the school told him that he got 9A+. Likewise, Chin. However, when Chin noticed that I haven't gotten the result, she actually said it might be a scam. This kindness has always stayed in my memory.
Nonetheless, I did receive a message that I got 10A+ in the end (that probably puts me around top 0.1%?), and at that moment, I was on cloud nine. HOORAY, 5 years of effort paid off.
And that, was the end of my reminiscence.
Looking back at my 5 years of high school, was there anything I regret?
Probably. I used to be an arrogant kid, loved to show off, and was overconfident at some points, but I guess those are part of growth, where I hit a wall, and finally learned the mistakes.
Thinking back of my social circle, I probably do not regret on it. While I did lose friends, and to an extent, high school life on studying, I think it paid off. I don't think I would have done otherwise, as this is a one-in-a-lifetime exam, and had been my proudest achievement in life.
5 years of stories, in less than 4k words. While this probably isn't the exact story experienced by every Malaysian student, I believe my story can represent a typical Malaysian student's experience.
Honestly, I wouldn't have guessed where I'm at now, from when I was in high school. I changed a lot. Nevertheless, I still love looking back and thinking back on the people and things during high school. These are all fond memories of the past.