Today, I was reminded of an old note I’ve carefully kept for the past three years.

It’s from my ex-debate president in JC who is sitting in prison right now.

He’s been there for three long years because of his refusal to attend National Service (the story I heard is, he is a pacifist), and this December he’s finally being released. You’ve got to admire his guts: 3 years of prison over 2 years of National Service. I’m really interested to know about his prison experience, I heard he’s having hell.

I was terribly afraid of my debate friends throughout JC, especially my seniors and our undergrad coach. They were some of the most confident, cocky, witty, and intelligent people, and they had the knack of saying things that could never come out of my own mouth. I felt stupid, slow, and most of the time, I was just quiet when I was with them because I felt I couldn’t relate, and I only talked when we were prepping for a case, or doing the dreaded 8-minute machine gun speeches. Sometimes I wonder why I even joined debate.

Debate practice was four hours every Tuesday and Thursday (see, that’s why Singaporean students get so good at what they do, and debate doesn’t even train half as hard as sports. I quit basketball after a week—OK don’t laugh I know I’m deluding myself that I can even play.). My first year was torturous—you don’t compete anymore in your second year, mostly you just train the juniors, sit back and critique them. Every time I had a good excuse to justify being absent, I was relieved and elated. =P Otherwise, my nerves drove me crazy at least twice a week.

I can write fluently, but speaking, and speaking FAST, is a whole different matter. I stuttered and fumbled so much initially, but it was especially terrifying because I trained as the third speaker who is supposed to do rebuttals, which means you have to pick up points on the spot and there is no time whatsoever to write a script, especially for impromptu debates where you get the motion only 20 minutes before the thing. I became good at talking intelligent rubbish. (Now I can’t debate for nuts already. My debate-speak has gone down the drain, all of it, just like my Mandarin. I literally shake when I speak now, no style left whatsoever.)

Anyway, although I suspect my president was just being nice and boosting my morale before a competition, here is what he wrote to me. It meant so, so much:


I’ve seldom met a debater who’s got such strong views about issues. In fact, you’re the first. I dunno if it’s good for debate, but it is for life. Though I’ve never said it, people on double duties are usually anchors for the team. To date, only you and two others have done it. Your style has improved a great deal, now all I ask is for you to do what you always do.


This is the note I read whenever I feel like a loser with a capital L.  So don’t worry when you feel like a loser, I bet 70% of the time you’re really not.