Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Glimpse Of What I Was Like As A 16-Year Old

I made an entry about my oldest memorabilia here.  Just a few days ago I had another encounter with a trip down memory lane...... this time after discovering a journal I had completely forgotten about, until recently when my brother stumbled upon it presumably as he was rummaging through the stuff around his apartment when he shifted to a new place to call home.  The journal comprises my daily thoughts and observations as a 16-year old in 1987 during a training stint for a month at the Outward Bound School (OBS) Lumut (Sekolah Latihan Semangat Outward Bound, Lumut).  I was initially astounded, as well as intrigued by this discovery.  What was I like back then before being exposed to the experience of living in the US, UK and France?  What was I like when my conversation was mostly in Malay?  What was I like as a teenager?  I certainly discover certain things about my own self that I never knew existed as a teenager.

 We normally have certain “images” in our mind of what we were like before, but are they really accurate?  Do we block certain elements especially the painful ones and amplify those we are fond of?  We obviously can’t remember everything, and therefore I think through “selective” inclusion and omission we somehow generalise or even distort some of these images.  Therefore, reading through this journal was a bit of self-discovery for me.......with all the uhhhs and ahhhhs along the way and smiles throughout looking at how I survived a month long thrill at the OBS.  There are just too much to mention that I don’t think a short blog entry like this will do justice to describe all the experiences. I did repelling and rock climbing and the journal illustrated my agility as well as fear when I scaled down or climbed up a rocky vertical while putting my faith in the safety line and in the belaying buddy holding the rope.  I also met strangers-turned-friends who were mostly older than me but ended up leading them as we struggled our way up the three hills in Pangkor (my experience in compass marching as a student of Royal Military College was the obvious reason for this).  Spending the night in the forest with no water and only dry Maggie mee for dinner, having to create a stretcher from branches and a military “poncho” to carry an injured teammate, and the countless caked blood stains on my calf from leeches bites were the highlights of this particular expedition.  Similarly, a 30+km mini-marathon was a test of teamwork and perseverance as none of us had previously run or walked that far in a single go.  And finally, doing a solo camping for 2 nights equipped with a box of matches and three candles out in the haunted forest near Teluk Rubiah was unbelievable......trying to make fire to cook rice, counting the 100+ mosquitoes I killed throughout the sleepless night and guessing the time as we were not allowed to wear watches were some of challenges I encountered. 

How did a 16-year old like me, fit and energetic, cope within a team (my team was called “Irau”) made of much older guys and gals mostly bankers and teachers?  It is an amazing rediscovery to read about it almost 25 years later.  But none more gratifying than reading my own thoughts back then.  I was competitive no a young boy from RMC who played sports like rugby, football and participated in athletics I was adrenaline-charged and bound to be competitive.  But it was also pleasant to read that I was very helpful as well, never failed to carry out my duty as a sentry at 2 or 3 am when some of my partners might just “curi tulang” and got along with almost everybody in the team.  I was naive as well, and did not see some of my own values, strengths and weaknesses. I am sure when I wrote those entries in the journal I never thought it would eventually reflect some of my traits as a youngster but when I re-read it now I am actually quite glad to see who I was back then.  Flawed, yes but also I can see how those elements, good and bad, have formed part of the jigsaw that made me who I am today. 

My masters programme is finally over, hence this as an entry to announce my return from a long hiatus. Everything that we do constitutes a part of the puzzle that makes us.  We always have a choice to make.  I like the analogy made by an author, Felix Siauw, about the choices we make in life.  We always have to make them.  When we choose one, we can’t choose other options (at that particular time).  The condition of being able to choose only one option and in doing so deciding not to opt for others will obviously accumulate (exponentially I believe) and who we are today is a result of the many choices we made throughout our lives.  Looking back, one single different decision along the way could actually lead us to a different path altogether.  Hence, reading through the journal I am glad for the choices I made during the one month at OBS.  I also understood better that some of the traits I see in myself were already there in 1987 without consciously knowing them.  As I realign my thoughts away from my “India’s non-alignment foreign policy” thesis, the OBS journal has been a God-given reminder and blessing to help me plan for my next challenge.  Alhamdulillah.

And by the way, I am reading Felix Y. Siauw’s “Beyond the Inspiration” and Peter Mayle’s “Encore Provence” with the latter about the author’s take on the uniqueness of the Provence, the place that I called home for 2 years from 2002-2004.  It has brought back some memories about my living in Southern France, such a light and stress-free reading compared to the scholarly books and journals about India.  Alhamdulillah,  life is good!!!!!