Category Archives: Thoughts

25 Signs of Maturity

It’s 2017. The 90s babies like me are turning into the ages of maturity. The fact that I just had my birthday made me feel even older.

This reminds me of an article in Chinese that I came across exactly a year ago, titled “25 Signs that you are mature”. Here it is:
1. Able to finish something yourself.
2. Do not simply show the vulnerable side of yourself.
3. Start appreciating the people around you.
4. Never simply rely on others (wait, isn’t this a ditto from point 1?)
5. Self-confidence.
6. Emphasize personalities over appearances.
7. Be practical.
8. Honour your promises.
9. Remain strong and tough despite losing someone in life.
10. Be considerate.
11. Stay strong (in facing challenges and adversities).
12. Enjoy and cherish life (that is, take a break from your routine and have some leisure time!)
13. Be intellectually curious and realize the importance of knowledge.
14. Be sincere.
15. Stop dwelling about the past.
16. Persevere.
17. Be yourself.
18. Have your dignity–avoid slavishly agreeing with others!
19. Work hard.
20. Stop complaining about difficulties (in life or tasks).
21. Take care of your health.
22. Don’t crave for excessive freedom.
23. Chase for your dream!
24. Relax and unwind yourself as necessary.
25. Be dauntless and adventurous!

I am in no position to judge myself on maturity, but the main attribute that shows my improvement can be seen as I scrolled through the Facebook posts I made several years ago (thanks to the “See Your Memories” features), and the email I written (for IMO purposes) during that period. Sometimes I couldn’t help but to ask “why on earth did I even post this?!” It has also came to a point where I stopped (though not completely yet) comparing my marks with my classmates (as I did in my high school), and grimaced if I lose to them (reminds me of an essay on “kiasu” that I submitted as a writing supplement for Princeton). I’m pretty sure that I pissed off many classmates because of this (sorry guys).

In retrospect, maturity didn’t really come until I got into Sunway College: back then my mum kept nagging to me “your cousin brothers and sisters won’t behave like this!” I have to acknowledge that my journey in IMO and Toastmasters played a big role in molding who I am right now.

Any comments? Feel free to write below.

The final countdown

It has been half a year since the budget re-calibration that slashed our Public Services Scholarship, and we gradually settled down in our destined institutions for the new chapters of lives. There are friends who opted for locals (Sunway, Monash, IMU, NuMed) and already started school back in March; others were more ambitious and head for overseas institutions from everywhere in the world using own funding, scholarships from universities and local companies (NUS, NTU, HKU, HKUST, Cambridge, Oxford, University College Dublin, Warwick).

I will the bandwagon to go abroad this fall.

Back in IMO training, the successful stories of those senior contestants have shaped my dream to study abroad one day, especially to those universities that enjoy being showered with fame on newspapers. Later, the predominating thoughts of getting into top 20 universities reinforced this dream: so badly I wanted to turn this into reality that I went crazy with my work. Late 2015 and early 2016 took me from the distraught of admission work to the quandaries of decision making process, before relieving myself with the decision on Waterloo. It was a happy choice to make, considering the appealing aspects of co-op programs, scholarships, and its wonderful math and computer science department.

But the eagerness and the excitement to attend Waterloo were gradually supplanted by reluctance as the orientation draws near–when the anticipation to start a new life there was mixed with a cruel truth that I have only 31 days left to enjoy all the well-beings of Malaysia: my family, teachers, coaches, classmates, friends, food. There’s no question of doubt that those individual really went deep into my life and my heart; that’s why the bonding is so strong. There’s no question of doubt that Penangites’ taste buds are pampered with a motley of delectable eateries; that’s why I will miss food here.

It’s therefore timely to relax myself from all the hustle and bustle of work (except those mandatory ones like teaching math, and Toastmasters), and enjoy the things I like to do. Beyond that, I shall cherish the final month with my loves ones, making sure that we have good times together (with good food too, of course).

Saying goodbye doesn’t have to be bitter if we are mentally prepared for that. Thinking from a broader spectrum, there’s only one root reason for all the toil in preparing myself for this, logistically and mentally: to chase for my dream. Therefore, it is a positive separation from those I care, for when we meet again, they will be together with a different me.



A post to those slugging through the exams, since A-Levels and high school exams are running now.

A2 was running last October, so I rushed towards the finishing line against the exam dates in completing my past years. I monitored my own progress, feeling the nerves when the score hovered around 70+/100, yet kept on dreaming that I should score 90+ in the end. I looked through the mark scheme, both the official ones and the alternatives suggested by my teacher, looking through every single key word that I didn’t write in my script. I made a table that recorded every past year paper that I wrote, and the corresponding (estimated) score obtained. Any blank cell just made me feel left behind when some others already claimed doing pas papers of 15 years.

Since when I really treated my academic work so seriously? After I moved into Sunway, perhaps. I was then surrounded by peers who discussed about their dreams and what tests were they going to take, and these could easily stoke fear of inadequacy in me. Gone were the days when I could immerse myself into math Olympiad and care nothing else. Gone were the spoilt cradles of SPM that allowed us to ace with an A+ with a mere 70 marks. Welcome to A-Levels, a real battle with the Cambridge International Examinations, our exam board. (And the presence of percentage uniform marks accompanying our grades signified that aiming for just an A isn’t enough).

Why did we devote our energy to marks? Simple: it is the easiest quantitative parameter of excellence. From Day One our teachers already made clear that our predicted grades will be given based on a motley of factors, so slacking all the way until the actual exam period just wouldn’t help. Furthermore, not only would these integers impact our profile when viewed by institutions we applied to, at the most fundamental level we took it as a sign of superiority whereby we just wanted to beat our peers to feel good.

In short, grades are important for people to judge how well will you go, academically.

But working hard only for grades doesn’t return as much as we think, since the excellence we hold in hand is qualified with the word “academic”. In other words, straight A* scorers are named “bright students”, not “accomplished individuals”. Here comes the blind spot that engulfed us from looking the big picture clearly: result is just one factor to determine academic success, and academic qualification is just one factor to determine life and career success.

To exemplify this, having good result is a sign that we know our material well, and that’s definitely encouraging. However, do remember that we have several ways to achieve that, whether through learning by heart and investing you passion for it, or just performing rote learning and memorizing the passage from A to Z (like how I did for Bio and History in SPM). How far could you go when you loathe the subject in front of you, yet force yourself to maintain the standards that you have already set? Apart from lack of interest, what else could explain students’ unwillingness to touch on these topics, only to cram these material last-minute? The only way to escape is by turning that into passion, which is easier said than done.

Turning academic strength into career success comes with the statement of “being knowledgeable helps, but we still need other abilities like interpersonal, social and workforce skills, coupled with the good attitude of willing to learn from others and to stay committed to your company”. Sounds cliched, but true. I came across an article stating why dropout students may be more successful than academically excellent student. Apart from having amassed more work experience and that higher proportion of them do startups, they have qualities peculiar to those who weren’t too well in their studies: willing to defy norms and think out of box, dare to accept failures, and willing to accept awful working deals (i.e. low pay for long working hours). These attributes help them to get a head start! As I concur with the statement, I started contemplating whether my results have pushed me far beyond being accepted into elite universities and securing awesome scholarships.

To sum these up, exam to a student is like GDP to a country: we have to take it seriously, but not to the extent of disregarding everything else.

Happy 1st AS anniversary, by the way.

Restructuring (thoughts, strategies,…)

The past month has been occupied with several projects and programs: IMO Training camp (as a trainer and facilitator 😛 ), interviews, scholarship applications and several travels to Klang Valley. In fact, I have used the Electric Train Service for two round trips (Penang–KL) within two weeks.

Having done my A-Levels and received my offers, should I even be doing these? Yes–unfortunate or not. And my A-Levels comrades feel the same way too: adding applications to admissions and scholarships endlessly.

On the last Thursday, the decision of the much awaited Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship suspension issue was out: yes, we were “not affected” according to our dearest Prime Minister because automatic sponsorship continues BUT—for local universities only. In other words, no stressing over getting into universities glistening on the Times Higher Education ranking board, because there’s no use. Now we were in a dilemma: should we throw our offer letters away since it’s now useless, or laminate it as a collection of one pivotal achievement in life?

Obviously we Bursarians (including me) were crestfallen upon this announcement (despite sounding positive: not affected isn’t it?) : most of us wouldn’t have chosen A-levels should the PSD informed us earlier! This A-level, being unnecessarily hard, had exerted seemingly insurmountable stress before being conquered by us. Now, frustration aside, holding an A-Level qualification sends paranoia to us since we are put to lower priority when applying to public universities. What’s more when we have IELTS and TOEFL but not MUET!

The whole feeling was like the song “Bittersweet” by Olivia Ong if you interpret “love” metaphorically as “scholarship”, and “lover” as those “more powerful than us” (so the opening of the song will be “I woke up one morning to find my scholarship gone”: that’s punny!)

But in the end of the day we should appreciate the opportunity to study A-Levels. Appreciate the somewhat liberal teaching in Sunway College (e.g. no disciplinary control, no school uniform, more room to debate on classroom material), widening our opportunity beyond the traditional single-way interaction we had until high school. Appreciate the awesome friends we made with outings and celebrations abound, even with teachers (well only after getting there did I realize that birthday celebration is a norm, or a tradition that must not be missed). Appreciate the times when we spent time together, especially in ALSTAR( A-Level Student Ambassador) when we organized Food Carnival and chaperoned orphans to water park. Appreciate the time when four close friends and I embarked on a trip to Penang and Ipoh, unleashing our craze altogether.

Most importantly, appreciate how the 500-odd days transformed us to better selves-better academic abilities, time management and better personalities, to name a few. With top 20 universities as a requirement, I was trained to juggle A-Levels and SAT/application essays in my studies (simply because I wanted to widen my choices before deciding where to go). The stress culminated in October 2015 when I prepared my early application to US and Cambridge interview and written test amid the arduous A2 exam, but evidences showed that I survived.

If not of the higher requirement from top 50 to top 20, what else pushes us to achieve 65% 3A’s and above in the November 2015 exam?

One lecturer enthusiastically said “Take each offer as an achievement regardless whether you can go in the end, because you are entitled to study there”. This means we are successful and are capable of moving on to the next stage and finding other scholarships, so let’s proceed. That having said, no one should stop us from whining (cautiously) on social media while doing our things simultaneously, as we are granted the freedom of speech!

Ps: I like the unique way “Bittersweet” is being designed: light and active tone despite portraying pains. This should be the way of life, isn’t it?

Hoping for some silver linings

Many Bursarians thought alike: work hard for A-Levels, perfect all your university applications, gain admission into Top 20 universities (or whatever universities in the list of Malaysian JPA, Public Service Department), and here you go: a scholarship for your studies and cozy allowances. My 18 months was therefore striving together with my comrades in the July 2014 intake for this aspiration. We slogged for our A-Levels, rushing for our deadlines, cramming vocabs for SAT, yadda yadda (not forgetting the difficult UKCAT, BMAT, LNAT faced by other friends, and many more).

I thought that’s my battle has come to an end when I obtained several offers, three of which is in the list (well one of them is still conditional, but anyways). On the lovely 13th January, I collected my long-yearned 4A* in my A2 exam last November through online checking system. The subsequent invigilating session in the IMO camp became online chatting with my friends, lecturers, who can’t wait to share their success as well! “Off you go to your dream schools in September,” I told myself. And I can’t wait for Justin to arrive the camp next night to share my thoughts.

Then I got a wake-up call from the Facebook group opened for Bursary recipients: the scholarship was put on hold and the online e-profiling portal ‘vanished’ into the clouds. “No. Things couldn’t go too badly,” I thought. I was too naive. Subsequent revelation of it suggested us not to be too optimistic.

I’m lost. Although I’m in the middle of some other university scholarship applications, there was no guarantee at this point. I’m not alone, either. Those heading to Australia in February are now looking at their hard-earned offer but couldn’t hit any reply button, even as the deadline is approaching soon. And they understand too well that even as these universities extend their offer reply deadline (as some have already done), it will not help too much.

Most acquaintances stand by us, but let me share a post that says otherwise:

While some facts are plausible, they have to be ditched in the current context. First, are you offending those universities by saying that they accept “average” students? Just look at the conditions following each UK offer-A*AA/A*A*A, Grades 1 or S in STEP, Band 7++ in IELTS… On the other hand, those universities in US look for students in “highly demanding and challenging courses” in their admissions. In addition, what have we gone through the application process? I can ascertain that the writer isn’t aware of the number of essays we have written, proofread, and had nightmare over. And the writer penned his/her words as if it is very easy to break the contract and scholars will not care about it. Only a minority can take the risk to mar the credibility of the whole group of scholars. (The claim that bond-breakers paid some of the money back was erroneous, too.)

More importantly, why are the grumbles here and there? (Something that the article didn’t factor in). As I’ve said above, we planned our pre-U according to what we believe and dream. The prospect of studying overseas without paying any fee allured us. That’s why we took the challenge and opted for a course that enjoys the accolade as “above the rest!” in Sunway College. Otherwise why did we give up courses like Malaysian Matriculation? Clearly we aren’t prepared of this sudden shock.

Now I shall retire from the ranting team that comprises a handsome number of members. Just face it.

Some repartees

My classmate, Maxis, posted his view on A-Levels:

“Since the AS exams are approaching (a couple more days for me), I figured it’d be nice to list the thoughts I’ve had about the program I’m in. So here goes:

1. The A-Level program should be renamed the Past Papers program, to give students a better idea of what it’s all about.

2. Preparing for the exams is like learning how to tie your shoelace, but with a few more rules. There is only one way to do it, and if you do it your way, be prepared to lose marks.

3. If you’ve discovered how painful it is to tie your shoelace three hundred times in succession, congratulations, because doing past papers feels just like that. I think everyone knows this. But we’re all adults now, so most of us just do it anyway without whining (much).

4. We have a name for those who can’t follow the rules of shoelace tying and adapt fast enough. We call them ‘weak’ students. Unfortunately, a large part of these students believe that there’s a problem with their mental capacity instead of correctly identifying that the program itself is flawed.

5. Apparently, not everyone is qualified to spend 1.5 years doing past papers. It costs 30 thousand ringgit to do past papers at my college. If you can’t afford this huge sum of money, you can try applying for scholarships. Sometimes I wonder if the price mechanism is malfunctioning. This Past Papers program is seriously overpriced.

6. At the end of the program, you’ll be awarded a certificate of achievement, if you successfully tie your shoelace perfectly under timed conditions. If you’re lucky, you’ll be featured in our local newspapers, along with your testimonial of how doing past years have benefited you.

7. Failure is discouraged in this program. All the work we put in (which includes bouts of anxiety and stress) is supposed to guarantee that we’ll succeed in the first try. In other words, we’re rehearsing shoelace tying day and night, because during shoelace tying evaluation, we have only one chance to do it right. This is out of touch with reality. In the real world there is no way of achieving greatness without learning how to cope with failure. What is the program trying to teach us?

That being said, I enjoyed the part where you get to meet new people and make new friends. I guess that’ll be the only thing worth remembering when I’m done with the Past Papers program.”

Here’s my reply.
“Let me present something parallel (or not so?), IMO.
In IMO (and other math Olympiad contests), we do practice past papers, and even spend hours (or sometimes, days) in contemplating these past papers. We learn insights, ideas, and new theorems. So, practicing past years need not to be boring–in this case it’s more of untying shoelace of different patterns instead of merely tying shoelace.

And yes, like A-Levels, in IMO we have only one time to do it right. If you screw the test, wait for next year.

However, IMO is different in the sense that there’s NO guarantee that you’ll be alright by doing past years, however much effort you made. Every problem in the contest will be new and unused in any other contest. For the easiest first problem for each paper, yes, we may succeed. But the third problem can be daunting even to strongest candidates.

And of course no one in the battlefield will be considered “weak”. Rather, it’s strong, very strong, or insuperable. There’s also no rules in IMO for problem solving: create your own reasoning process! (Note: doing your own way might be either easier or harder, depends. But as long as you solved it and have time to finish other problems that’s ok. Sometimes A-Levels work that way).

Back to A-Levels, yes we need practice to make “perfect”, but for some questions (like Data response in Econs, and for some structured questions in Sciences) the answers may not pop out to your mind just by doing past papers. That’s when flair comes in, just like in IMO.

There is, of course, some rules in A-Levels, like which steps do you need to write, or key words, but things don’t get as bad as you think IF we can reason out why comes the rules (like why xxx must appear as definition). The only obstacle is that, we prefer memorizing it. Maybe the flaw of the system is that, it deludes us into various kinds of memorizing blindly instead of reasoning out (which is mentally demanding, but rewarding).

As of failure? Once we fail, interrogations may come, but consolations come too. Depends. *Here again comes its limitation: sometimes it’s just half a year left when we deem ourselves unsuitable. (See note)

Conclusion: Shoelace tying isn’t as bad as you think–think of how you learn walking! I concede, though, that doing past papers can be boring. However, we can spark our interest by constantly learning our mistakes, not just memorizing answers (after all, in doing IMO past papers we faced failure and frustrations, but we never feel bored because when we read the solutions, we exclaim “hey I should have think like this!”)

And every system has its flaw. Even IMO has it (because it doesn’t reward contestants who are usually strong but perform sub-optimally on that day, and it covers only 6 topics in 6 problems). Perhaps, we just have to be optimistic.”

If doing past papers isn’t boring I wouldn’t have written such posts, but will keep doing my papers instead). Then I thought of something parallel: quantum physics. The effectiveness of a model depends on observations. In education, it’s the same: it depends whether the system nurtures wholesome students. The problem is that our view is often parochial: in the end do we care about the aim of education? Are we over-obsessed with grades and ignore other development?

* Note: I didn’t clarify what I meant contextually; it means that, we have only two weeks of trial periods on deciding our four subjects. The choice we made is perfunctory. In worst cases it took us two semesters before we thought of dropping a subject (especially for Further Mathematics), and we can’t take another subject by then because how on earth we can study the whole syllabus in one semester when we were fraught with three other subjects? Most importantly, it takes us time to discover whether we like the subjects we take. Eg for me, I still don’t know whether it is correct to take up econs in the expense of chemistry.

But to add on: meeting a bunch of awesome people (like Maxis said) is rewarding: one of perks of joining econs class. In my class some guys, girls and I together form a gang for outing and discussing until no time. And our lecturer testifies that we were more outspoken then science classes’ students. There may be different cliques in my class, but thankfully…the clique to which I belong comprises both gender.

The blog post

After completing my SAT, my speech in Toastmasters and table topics contest, vague emptiness filled my heart and my mind: I am somewhat free but have nothing to write about, here. Nevertheless, this blip sparkled my “kick”:

I particularly like this post, as it somehow ingrains blogging feature for me to refer. The raison d’etre are also manifest: nobody can clamp down bloggers’ posts, and we are not circumscribed by ideologies of any journalistic or publishing companies. The most clarion point representing my heart: freedom for idiosyncrasy, is one of the most essential part for blogging. After all, how can I make my style when I have to tribulate my odds? (I have never been a normal person, b.t.w. :P)

Random thought 1

Tired of saying or hearing “Have I said something wrong” during a quarrel? The fact is, what you say is perfectly correct, but not the way you say it. (Disclaimer: This is not an undertone to criticize anyone. The example, is taken from movie instead.)

That’s why communication is one of the arts of life!