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LOVE AND THE ADOLESCENT
TSU SOO SIM, U6B4
(1st Prize, Senior Section)
Adolescence is popularly called the "silly age" by adults who think they are very wise. Adolescents are always muddled and confused, these adults tell you. You can never guess the trivial thoughts they entertain. They never know what is good for them, and what to do with themselves. If you tell them straight they resent your wisdom. If you disregard them, they make havoc for themselves. Of course, they are also very revolutionary, those ungrateful children! But worst of all, they are almost always tragically in love with love. Can you imagine it, those overgrown children wanting to be "in" love like us? - These are generally the attitudes of the adults towards the adolescents. And that is not enough, for today we have a brand new group of people who called themselves the psychiatrists, and who have voluntarily come forward to help solve the tedious adolescent "problems". Psychiatrists profess to know all about the minds of the adolescents. They have observed them, analysed them, classified them and typified them. When you visit a psychiatrist, you can be 100% sure that all he thinks of you is that "you are just another of those kids. There is nothing really interesting and different in you, you know. That's why I am so ready to deal with you". And there you are, he calls you a common Dick or Jane right in your face! And, he knows!!
But do you really agree that adolescence is a "silly age"? A time when they should be tolerated especially in matters that concern their love affairs? True, at this time we learn through trial and error, for we are aspiring for healthy adulthood. But are not the so-called "adults" doing the same, aspiring for an adulthood which is more profound, or is it that they have stopped, after attaining the lowest degree of adulthood, and have turned back to smile patronizingly at those still hard at work? If so, we have today many more complacent people than in the old days. Samuel Johnson once remarked, "It is a sad reflection but a true one, that I knew almost as much at eighteen as I do now". Many grown-ups truly are never wiser than when they were adolescents. Why then do they call the younger age group "silly"? We think more of a person still hard at learning than one who has stopped. When one goes on a journey, is not the trip always more interesting than the arrival itself?
Adolescence, the glorious age of adolescence, is so misunderstood, so pretentiously rationalised, and so piteously abused. The wise ones' identical advice has always been that adolescents should work at their future with all their might, even at the expense of a lively spirit. Adolescents must look far ahead. If you want to be comfortable for the rest of your life, then you must cramp your early life with knowledge, second-hand wisdom, and develop a trite detached personality. And who do we impress? - the ancient ones who had been similarly treated and thought the younger ones should follow. Because the ancient ones think so, the "goody-goody" young ones also think so, learning to judge their peers in the same light.
The predicaments of today's adolescents have rarely been mentioned, not to speak of solving them. I knew of a girl with an overwhelming number of family, financial and emotional problems. But during the many years we were together, she neither spoke of them nor gave a hint of their existence. She was not one of those people who kept things to themselves and sulked over them in solitude. She was lively, frank and deep. When I reproached her for not making attempts to solve her problems, she casually answered that her problems could not be solved by anyone, least of all adults. The things adults tell you are nothing you cannot find in books, and books do not solve problems for all men. The impact of her pithy remarks struck me as a dreadful shame for those adults who were responsible for this "no confidence" attitude of a young girl. What have our adults done to merit this distrust and rejection of the adolescents? There are many things that have been done and many they have not done that leaves us where we are today.
However, the most important point to recognise in every adolescent is that he or she is entering or living a splendid age, the age when God, through the laws of nature, awakes in the young person's heart and body a deep call towards a body other than his own, a heart other than his own. It is a period of love and appreciation of others, when adolescents begin to love themselves less and consider others more, in distinction from the self-centred infantilism. This age, because of the delicacy of the emotions involved, should be carefully nourished, painfully guarded, and jealously loved so that no adverse results or consequences can spoil it. It is in adolescence that a person learns either to love or remain incapable of loving thereafter. This is not an exaggerated view of adolescence. The truth of it applies in almost every person, as I shall very soon reveal.
Adolescents are seldom allowed by their parents "to fall in love". This is a discreet decision. Adolescents should not be allowed to indulge in such affairs for they are usually superficial, fruitless and damaging. But do not confuse this issue with that when "adolescents learn to love". To be able to love another is not a common virtue. It means that the adolescent is experiencing the wonderful powers of affection, sacrifice and mutual friendliness, and not many of us are up to it. The subtle difference between "falling in love" and "to have loved" is not difficult to see. The first is the type the regular Romeos and Juliets go for. They love to watch the moon when none is to be seen. They ask others' opinions of their loves, hoping others will be envious of them, and they take into consideration every aspect of their lovers, from looks to cash. The second sort of love is more difficult to define. It is a love with two ends, one to yourself and the other to your beloved. Each time you love your "partner" more, you love yourself a little less, and each time you love your partner less, you love yourself more.
Obviously, it is a very good thing to love for no one can be really happy without someone to care for. But it has been argued that adolescents should wait till they are older before they set out to look for their "life-partners". Adolescents cannot concentrate on their studies or careers when they are in love. They will not know the "true" meaning of love at this age. Well, let me tell you that it is precisely here that we are wrong. Adolescence is the time to love, and love will NOT distract healthy lovers. When a person is young, full of the new eagerness to learn and to fulfill, it is easier to adapt yourself to various types of people. When one meets another and if there is a mutual liking between them the full significance of love will only follow if they learn to accept one another as they are. True and lasting love is not a bed of roses. The essence of it is in making sacrifices and extending a deep friendship to the loved one. When a person understands this, love of another becomes a bliss, a source of inspiration for better things! This can be seen in many young lovers. They first learnt to appreciate; then, correctly, to love. Once the love they bear for each other becomes strong enough to be manifested, there follows an amazing period of intense "living", where plans are bravely made, ideals and aspirations become realities, the air of gloom all gone. In this respect, love of the adolescents is not much different from that of our parents if they are genuinely loving. Surely our mothers are not a source of distraction for our loving fathers, and vice versa. Indeed, it is exactly in that they lend each other strength that their love becomes a good thing for their family.
The numerous broken marriages we see today are not the consequence of early love, but early unloving. Misconceptions of love are so prevalent among both adolescents and adults that men have become suspicious of it and fear the same unhappiness for their children. Their instinct to protect is always the chief force behind their objection to early love. In protecting the adolescents, they preach the doctrines of "inefficiency", "immaturity", and "you can't tell" effects if we do love young. Many "good" children never doubt what their parents tell them. Their filial devotion is closely united with their implicit faith in what the elders believed. As a result their only concern in adolescence is to struggle to the top, pushing off others and elbowing away the unfortunate in the process without much concern, and when they are firmly seated on their "thrones", then they will find time to look at others. Then they will begin the exciting game of "hunting" the best "catch". These people often set out with the idea that the "game" will not be difficult. After all, they have their laurels for their future loves to fall in love with, haven't they? And so they conjure up the ideal ones they will prefer, and then finally find that none is available. At this stage it would be awful to admit defeat, for success in love to these people is equivalent to scoring distinctions in schools. So they take the second best, and may be even third best. If they are lucky, they will have a reasonably tolerable life, but if they are not, we hear of the divorce tales that we know so well. Not surprising, really, for their union is born out of prestige, selfishness and convenience and their falling out the result of a simple clash of two egos.
This brings us back to the all important point of adolescent love, that is, people should be taught to love even when young, so that they are continually in contact with the warmth of human relationships. They will not alienate themselves to such an extent that they become void, incapable of loving. The frustrations adolescents feel today are the effects brought about by the confused and muddled states of the adults. Broken homes, arrogant parents, aggressive authorities and uncaring friends are so oppressive to the young that very often they cannot pin-point the sources of their frustrations, and they give vent to them in ways grown-ups readily brand as "problems of the young". They are ever ready to say the problems are the adolescents' and not theirs. It is time adolescents came forward to present their own case and solve their own difficulties. We should not allow a different age group to do all the reasoning and explaining.
Let every adolescent remember this, that theirs is a magnificent age, a springtime of life, a time of learning to love their fellow beings and a time when no parent should cling selfishly to them. May every one of them have someone to explain these facts to them, lest they also become the multitude of "drunk" adults, intoxicated by the cares of himself, the all important "I"!
ODE TO THE FOREST
TAN KIM ENG, U6A2
(2nd Prize, Senior Section)
You silent sentinels of the past.
What leafy stories can you
Sprout that even fair Egypt
Is ashamed to have boasted about?
What scars are those on your trunks?
Of battles fought
Of lovers' frolics.
How often have men sought your comfort?
Wasn't it Buddha not so long ago?
Ah, on your thin boughs,
How many birds have sought your shelter?
Even the tiny cicada is glued
Confidently on your trunk,
And the birds use your
Thoroughfares without fear.
But I stand there,
My mind fraught with worries,
Seeking for some order
And peace - your peace.
But alas, -
Though you are stricken to the ground
Never to move
I know that the sound which
Rustles in the wind is happy
That it's not man-made.
YEARS OF RESTRAINT, NIGHT OF TERROR
S. THARUMALINGAM, L6B1
(3rd Prize, Senior Section)
Mateen Kink Jr. discussed carefully with his mother the justification for the planned rioting in every major city in the country. His father, Mateen Kink, had advocated non-violence throughout his long fight for his people's rights - equality for the negroes. But, ironically, he was assassinated by a white man. This brutal act seemed an eye-opener and a warning to the negroes. They realised that their goals could not be achieved through non-violence and the slaying of their leader had kindled revenge in their hearts. Mateen Kink Jr. took over the leadership of his people immediately after his father's death. Since then, he and his men had been building up secret arms and ammunition dumps in every major city in the country. Now the time had come, he thought, for him to act. Through non-violence, he could only see long years of misery, frustration and death for his people. Thus, he took the painful decision of betraying his father by using force to achieve their goals. And now, on the eve of the third anniversary of his father's death, Mateen Kink Jr. asked his mother's consent to push forward with his plans. After several hours of serious thought she agreed and she herself offered to assist by gathering several other negro women to nurse their casualties.
Having finalised all his plans, he got in touch with every one of his district leaders by radio and told them: "The operation will begin as scheduled at 1900 hours tomorrow. Remember you are fighting not for me, not for my father nor my mother, but for yourselves and most of all, for your children. The nation's entire Armed Forces will fight against you but be united and brave. Your prime targets - in order of importance - will be military installations, administrative and communication centres and hospitals. Do not kill unarmed civilians. I trust every one of you to do your duty. Inform me regularly of your progress. May God be with us always. Over."
He did not sleep at all that night. He probably would not live to see the end of the widespread rioting, he thought. Of course, he was fully aware that there was not a chance in a million of the rioters overthrowing the administration - the world's largest military power - by force. He regretted that much blood would be shed but he knew that only through the widespread destruction of cities and lives could the administration be warned of the growing impatience of the negroes.
As dusk grew closer on D-Day, Mateen Kink Jr. was as tense as the rest of his men. He was to lead the riots in the capital city - Whashinpound. His mother would lead the team of nurses in the capital. Time ticked by very slowly.
Meanwhile tension in the cities had been high for the past week or so. The police had expected some trouble on the anniversary of the negro leader's death but had never anticipated that organised rioting on a large scale would flare up. All precautionary measures had already been taken. There were barbed wire barricades at strategic points in the capital city whose streets were patrolled by armed troops and armoured cars. President Megene had ordered the mobilisation of almost half the nation's military reserves to reinforce police and troops if such a demand should arise.
At seven o'clock sharp, the rioting flared up in almost every city in the country - a kind of insurrection had begun. A dusk to dawn curfew was immediately imposed in every city and the President ordered the Army and the Air Force to use all means at their disposal to crush, as swiftly as possible, the rioting that had so suddenly destroyed several cities and lives.
As Mateen Kink Jr. and his men advanced towards the centre of Whashinpound from four different directions they encountered stiff opposition. The defending troops and police used tear gas initially, but to no avail because most of the rioters were equipped with gas masks. The rioters, in turn, opened up with machine gun fire. The situation was deteriorating fast. Mateen Kink Jr. received intermittent reports of the progress made on all fronts in every city. They were generally favourable. His mission was the toughest because Whashinpound was the most strongly defended city.
As the rioters advanced towards the city centre, they used grenades to blow up buildings from which troops fired. Bloody street-to-street and building-to-building fighting raged on. When most of the buildings fell into rioter's hands, the troops retreated from their hideouts. Both sides suffered very heavy losses. The troops then called in tanks and flame-throwers to flush out the rioters. When the tanks opened up with cannons on the buildings, bricks tumbled down in a shower of debris burying several rioters. Buildings were blazing wildly. The rioters who fled from the burning buildings were mown down by bullets fired by the troops and police. The rioters were almost on the brink of being massacred when suddenly there were more bursts from grenades and sten guns. Tanks rolled in. To the relief of the trapped rioters, reinforcements had arrived in support of them. The party that had advanced in the opposite direction had overrun a large military installation and had arrived in tanks and armoured vehicles with more guns and explosives. Before the troops could realise that the men in the newly arrived tanks were rioters, the tanks had opened up with heavy fire on the troops and their tanks. The flame-throwers stopped abruptly and two of their tanks exploded in flames. The rioters in the tanks chased the retreating troops, thus providing cover for the rioters, trapped in the burning buildings, to escape. The atmosphere stank of roasted bodies. Suddenly the air screamed and vibrated tremendously as jet-planes dive-bombed the streets and buildings.
The explosions were still continuing when Mateen Kink Jr. received news that the party that had overrun a hospital a mile away needed urgent support to fight off fresh bids by paratroopers to retake the hospital. The casualty figures for the rioters were soaring and medical attention was most urgent. So he directed his men towards the hospital. Spearheaded by tanks and armoured cars, the rioters fought their way there. The going was very slow and bloody. Before they had gone half a mile, their tanks had already been destroyed by the troops. The streets were filled with dead bodies some of which had been flattened by the tanks. After about an hour, the party reached the foot of the hill on which the brightly lit hospital stood.
The rioters slowly began crawling silently up the slopes of the hill under the cover of night. There were no signs of life at the hospital. Suddenly the hillside was lit up by a thousand flares and screaming jet fighters pounded the hillside with bombs. The rioters flattened themselves against the earth and prayed that they might survive the rain of bombs. But their prayers were unanswered. When the bombs had exploded, only a few men continued the climb.
When they finally made it to the top, they were surprised because the hospital appeared to be quiet and unguarded. Dead bodies of negroes and paratroopers were lying all over the place. The air stank of burnt flesh, blood and gunpowder. As Mateen Kink Jr. viewed the bodies, tears flowed down his eyes.
"My father will never forgive me for this," he thought.
Suddenly he screamed "Mama" and ran into the hospital. He had seen his mother lying motionless and staring at the ceiling. Her face was covered with blood. His men followed him in. He was too shaken to realise that he had run into an ambush. Suddenly carbines opened up from all sides. A stream of bullets struck Mateen Kink Jr. He twisted, doubled up and collapsed on his mother's body. His blank eyes continued to stare at her.
Thus the storm that had been building up over the years had ended in a single night of violence. Thousands of lives had been lost in the fight for freedom and equality. The storm was over but the ugly scars that it left behind in a single night of violence were to remain in the minds of several generations to come.
THE BIRDS AND I
KHONG TECK KEONG, 5B1
(Best article, Middle Section)
Seven years ago, as I walked along the market, I caught sight of several big, open baskets of fluffy little goslings. Unconcerned about everything, the pure, innocent-looking creatures tossed and tumbled noisily all over in the baskets. I was much entranced by their unsteady and confused movements, and even when I recovered from my trance I was very much absorbed in the goslings. When I reached home, I urged my parents to buy some of them to keep as pets. They refused, on the grounds that they needed care and were dirty. Undaunted, I resolved to have them, and after much persuasion, they yielded to my insistence.
The goslings were given a FAB cardboard box as their abode. I tended them very carefully and kept them indoors lest any stray cat or dog in the neighbourhood should harm them. Their first meal consisted of grains of cooked rice and some chopped-up leafy vegetables, slightly soaked with water. They did not like it very much for they took the food into their dainty beaks and then flicked it all away. Hunger overtook them, and after the first few meals, they compromised and ate the food without much hesitation. I had to change their "bed sheets" (folds of newspaper covering the bottom of the box) when they became littered with their droppings. When night came, they had to be lifted off the floor to avoid the cold and dampness, and the flaps of the box had to be closed to prevent any rat from harassing them and mosquitoes from biting them!
My pains were rewarded. They soon grew up into healthy and cheerful youngsters. Their appetites grew and they would fill their small stomachs until they became big pouches like puffed-up balloons. When their appetite was satiated, they would no longer look up and squeal appealingly at me. They would then snuggle up together in a corner and would doze away to the accompaniment of their slumberous chorus of thankful "purrs", their neck jerking occasionally like a heavily-fatigued student who was sitting up late. When they were hungry, they would squeak, in varying volumes and pitches according to their hunger! When I appeared, they would greet me, straining their necks forward while squeaking pathetically. They would burst out in mirthful laughter if I had brought them food, but if they realised that it was only a visit, they would take to melancholy squeaks. On my usual visits, I would lift them up and talk to them, and they would seem to reply with acknowledging squeaks. They would nibble my fingers tenderly, like an infant who would muse in his nurse's arms.
Several weeks lapsed and they were out-growing the FAB box, which could no longer withstand their depredations. They were now in the beaking stage, a period analogous to the teething stage in humans. So the goslings took to shearing and tearing up the cardboard and "bed sheets". Moreover, their boundless energy sent them jumping out of the box occasionally. I had to transfer them into a fairly high-walled, middle-sized wooden crate. For a time, they were hushed up, but it was not long before they became acquainted with their new abode and began their mischief again.
I had quite a lot of fun with the goslings. One day, I fancied them swimming, and so I put them into a bathtub full of water. Instinctively, they paddled, frantically at first, quite confused, but gradually they enjoyed the fun and even refused to leave the 'swimming pool' for home! Sometimes I brought them out of the box on to the polished floor. They flapped their tiny wing rudiments and squeaked in excitement, but just could not walk. Every time they tried, they just slipped, fell and spun around wildly on their backs. I often wondered whether they were enjoying it all, but I certainly was.
On one occasion, while everyone was out, my dog toppled the box and gave them the idea of playing with it. One of them managed to go up a bed and was jostling among the folds of a blanket, while another played with my brother's toy soldiers and one landed itself in the W.C. bowl and was soaked and chilled. A fourth was exploring the garage and had soiled itself with sump-oil from the floor, while another was ensconced majestically upon the carpet. What pandemonium met our eyes when we returned!
Terminal holidays were approaching. We were fully prepared for an outstation trip, but who was going to look after the goslings? We had no alternative but to pack them up in a box and take them along with us. During the journey, I lifted my favourite one up into my arms and the hot enervating weather soon put us both to sleep. When we stopped for refreshments, the goslings, too, were refreshed with a drink and titbits. We arrived at our destination and the goslings were not at all affected by the journey, but perhaps slightly tired.
The goslings matured rapidly. They began their first moulting with bristles appearing at the tail. Soon all their fluffy down feather gave way to a coat of firm bristles. Their wings enlarged, their bodies grew heavier and their necks became longer. I had to move them out to an isolated corner of the compound where I built a small shed for them.
In the outside world, the geese were faced with hardships. It was no longer the comfortable and cool luxury of the house. They had to sleep on the cold ground at night and endure the merciless heat in the day, and be drenched wet according to the whimsical weather. Birds are birds, and soon they adapted themselves to the new environment. Their food was quite the same, except that unhusked rice was occasionally given. Vegetables were given to maintain their health, while cooked rice and leftover bread formed a substantial portion of their hearty meals. The luxuriant grass was for pastime nibbling, but was eaten in quite large amounts too. They met the frog, the bat, the cow, the aeroplane and the hawk and eagle. They were usually quite motionless while gazing at aeroplanes and hawks, their eyes firmly fixed upon them, but when the hawks circled lower, they would run and hide in the shed. The hazards of the world reduced their number. One drank polluted drain water, fell sick and sadly departed. When it was the monsoon season, they came out to play in the rains, but the swift waters in the drains swept two away.
After their brief adolescent period, they were transformed almost overnight into sturdy adults. The males who were essentially bulkier had longer necks and more prominent crowns (fleshy, round blobs at the top of the beak) and high pitched "train whistle" voices. The females were shorter, with stumpy legs, smaller crowns, sleeker and more slender bodies, shorter necks and, lastly, had unusually flat, hoarse and monotonous cackles.
The geese’s appearance had changed greatly since their infancy. In adulthood, each of them became conscious of its own behaviour. The males were extremely cautious in their movements; every action was deliberate. They were extremely gentlemanly and quixotic; they would accompany the females patiently wherever they went, letting them walk ahead while they closely followed behind. When food was served, they would allow the females to eat first. They would protect the females at all costs. If any man or animal provoked them or so much as approached them, they would trumpet loudly with their necks straightened as if to warn, and if the animal or person was foolhardy enough to encroach on their dignity, they would dip their necks, charge at the intruder and peck it so viciously that the blue-black mark would be permanent.
The females were distinctly feminine and so charming that they attracted the "defenceless" males. They were demure and gentle, but were extremely loquacious and noisy. They laid about twenty eggs between each oestrous cycle, when some psychological changes occurred. The females then were quieter, and consistently retired to their beds, in a mood of hatching eggs. If in their walks they saw any rubbish such as dried twigs or leaves, they would pick them and collect them under their feet as if they were tending their nests.
The geese are extremely loyal and obedient birds. Whenever I went out to weed the garden or mow the lawn, they would follow me, acting as bodyguards. Just as the dog’s natural enemy is the cat, the goose’s enemy is the snake, and it would stage a life and death struggle if it came across one. Every evening I would open the gates of the compound and they would race off, flapping their wings wildly. Their evening stroll was quite safe since traffic was scarce; my house was in the suburbs. They would arrive punctually at night for their dinner and would sleep lightly after that. Geese are just as efficient as dogs in guarding a house, since the shadow of an intruder or even the slightest rustle of something alien would set the whole flock cackling and trumpeting.
Even though the flock of geese proliferated, accidents took a toll of their numbers. Their numbers were also considerably reduced by their being given away to friends and relatives for feasts or they were sacrificed for offerings. Every one of the geese that left me gave me a heavy heart, and those that died through accidents were all accorded proper burials.
Today, only two grandees are left. The reverent, old couple are still retained for their good services as sentinels. Geese are loyal and obedient creatures, and strongly resemble the dog in some aspects. They are regal and yet humble.
RAJA AHMAD, 4B2
(Highly commended, Middle Section)
An island was born some four miles west of Geirfuglaster, Iceland's southernmost island, on November 14, 1953 due to a submarine volcanic eruption. It was named Surtsey in honour of a legendary Norse giant.
One of the first scientists to arrive on the scene was Sigurder Thorarinsson, an Icelandic geologist. He had to wait a few months, however, before he could set foot on the island because the vent was still active. When the volcano seemed to be in the arms of Morpheus, he explored the island. He found a bizarre-smelling substance, and so he bought some back to Iceland for his fellow scientists to work on. They named it Surtsium.
After ten years of intermittent work, one of the scientists, Dr. Svensson, discovered that this substance, which was found only in Surtsey, was part of a formula for an internecine ray. His counterpart, Professor Nielson, discovered that it could be used for the amelioration of mankind when combined with a certain element.
The League of Scientists to which all the world's best scientists were affiliated was worried about this discovery. So the League had a meeting at its headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 30, 1964, to decide the future of this substance.
At the meeting, the Chairman of the League, Professor Fuhrer, addressed the gathering, "Ladies and gentlemen, you are here today to decide the fate of this world. This substance, which we call Surtsium, will be indispensable to mankind if this is in the right hands but it will be dispensable if it falls into the wrong hands. After my address, I will demonstrate its adverse effects after which there will be an interval of thirty minutes for all of you to think over the issue. You all will then come back here and further instructions will be given."
A cage, in which was a cockatoo, was then brought into the conference room and placed on a table. When Professor Fuhrer shone the ray at the bird it disappeared - one second it was there fluttering its wings; the next, it had disappeared. Some of the scientists even went up to look for a false bottom.
During the interval, Professor Fuhrer retired to his room while the others went to the canteen: some pondered over the question of whether the substance should be disposed of while some controverted over the issue, stirring the embers as they were doing so.
The half hour passed so fast that the delegates were soon back in the conference room. Professor Fuhrer then entered, bringing with him an iron box and a thick wad of papers. He then addressed the assembly again, "Before I pass out the ballot papers, I would like to remind you that the fate of the world lies in your hands. All that you should write on the ballot paper is 'Dispose of' or 'Keep.' Then the iron box will be passed round for all of you to put in your slips of ballot paper."
After the delegates had passed up their voting slips, the counting began. All eyes were fixed on the scoreboard. The number of 'Keep' slips shot into the lead but then it was the turn of the 'Dispose of' slips to accumulate. When the number of 'Dispose of' slips had caught up with the number of 'Keep' slips there was virtually no difference between the scores until only fifty voting slips were left. The score read: 216 'Dispose of' slips; 234 'Keep' slips. So, both sides were still in contention. Tension mounted as the last fifty votes were counted. There was pin-drop silence before the last vote was taken out as the score read: 250 'Dispose of' slips, 249 'Keeps' slips. At last the score read: 250-250. The impossible had happened. There was a sigh of relief from those who wanted to keep the element.
As usual, the Chairman had a casting vote. So he was called upon to give his decision; the fate of the world lay in his hands, not in the delegates. As he stood up to give his decision, a phone by his side rang, making his blood run cold as only calls of exigency were allowed into the room.
At last he put down the telephone receiver and as he did so he addressed the assembly, with equanimity, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have been relieved of the perplexing decision I have to make..........."
An uproar interrupted his sentence.
Raising his hands for silence, he continued, "I need not decide because Surtsey has sunk, the result of a submarine earthquake."
THE DAY THE WORLD SAID 'GO'
CHANG PENG FONG, 3E
(Best article, Junior Section)
I reckon that day was the most crucial and decisive twenty-four hours of that year. The end of the year grading examination was over and that very day, as I remember vividly, our results were to be divulged. The atmosphere of the class that morning was tense and permeated by the excitement of the class boys. The low murmuring of the boys exaggerated the tension. Nevertheless, the boys looked composed and just seemed to be flippant about the impending 'showdown'. However it was manifest that every one of them was undergoing a grim and nerve-breaking vigil. These results were to determine the boys' work for the whole year, and how terrible it would be to get poor results. This only showed the years of wasted school life. However, there were sure to be victors and failures and no one could determine his own position. In spite of this tension I tried not to heed it. I achieved this by reviewing my past school life.
Gone were the sweet and happy days of primary school life when life seemed so pleasant and carefree. It seemed wonderful to be young again without the difficult problems and dilemmas which confront us each day as in the present. I can still visualise myself as a prominent pupil of the primary class, a bright and perhaps naughty boy, who always won affection from the teachers. Our lessons were considerably simpler too and it was rather a pleasure to study. And then I reached thirteen years old and climbed a step up in my school career. A tall, dome-shaped clock tower barred my path and life was completely changed. I found myself in a class of 'prodigies' and the lessons seemed abstruse to me and studying changed from a pleasure to an incessant struggle with many obstacles.
For a while I smiled and nearly forgot where I was. Then I was recalled to the present and regretted later that I had done so. I had studied very intensively indeed (I always do) for this test and craved to pass with flying colours. Strangely enough, intuition gave me an inkling that a surprise was lying insidiously round the corner. The time dragged past slowly and life seemed void.
"Good morning sir," went the usual greeting, but on this particular morning we sounded most serious and solemn. Our form teacher was holding a scroll of paper and a sly look appeared on his face. Yes, this was the moment we all were waiting for, or rather, some of us were trying to elude. It was a moment of truth and indeed a grim moment for most of us. The teacher proceeded with his announcement without wasting a minute. The room was extremely quiet and even a pin falling to the ground could be heard. Boy after boy was called and his position disclosed. Soon my name was called out and that which followed was shocking.
Beads of perspiration rolled down my cheeks and my mind was clouded for a moment. I really could not believe my result. It was the worst of all my past results. For a while I closed my eyes and tried to analyse it. Suddenly I felt like crying and wanted to pour out all my grievances. But my pride retaliated and fiercely denounced me. Sorrow and grief filled my mind and rendered me in excruciating agony, maybe even more painful than a caning. Then I closed my eyes again and isolated myself from this cruel world to contemplate over it. My feeling was void but I could feel the hatred of myself and everybody in my vicinity, rising slowly in me. Spasmodically, I hated everyone and, most of all, myself. This left baneful effects on my conscience. It was, indeed, a disgrace to myself, my reputation, and probably my parents. However, I knew that it was futile to weep over spilt milk. Let bygones be bygones, I kept on telling myself. Yet something in my heart let go an impetus which increased my hatred. In the midst of all these, a verse emerged in my mind as though reminding me of my failure.
When life is dull,
and when friend is foe,
The world says "go"
and the grave says "come".
But could I take that step which seemed to me only self-deception?
Soon I got up, defying my weakness, and enquired about my friends' results to determine where I stood. However I had another motive. I wanted to find a friend, anyone of my classmates, to whom I could pour out all my sorrows and hatreds. I wanted to tell him that I was not as bad as my result had proved me to be; I wanted to be consoled; and, most of all, I wanted to be sympathised with! But it was of no avail, even my best friend shunned me though he did comfort me with his beautiful diction and flawless elocution but his mien belied his words. It was worthless and I felt like a 'misfit' in my class. Now only did I learn that a person judges himself by what he thinks he can do while others judge him by what he has done or achieved.
From that very day I made a vow to myself. I wanted to improve. I take life more seriously but I am confident that I have learnt something about life. I seem more matured and have realised the hardship of survival in this competitive world. Is it, then, that I have adapted myself to life?
A CHINESE FUNERAL
KER KIN MENG, 2S
(Highly commended, Junior Section)
A large crowd had assembled outside the "death house" in readiness for the funeral procession. The corpse was already dressed in his Sunday suit, ready for the long and pompous journey to his Maker. His face was covered with a piece of red cloth, obviously to prevent him from hearing and seeing the goings-on around him. If he had been able to hear and see, it would have made him turn in his coffin! In fact, he might have been forced to abandon coffin and join his Maker by other devious means, because of the pandemonium that reigned around him. The loud wailing of his heirs intermingled with the loud but somewhat out-of-tune brass music supplied by a band of musicians in baggy white suits and white hats.
Occasionally, one of the mourners would give vent to a loud shriek, to show that she lamented her relative's untimely death, but in her heart, she might have been calculating the amount of money she would receive as a result of his death. Actually, all this noise was considered a matter of etiquette and a person who did not cry loudly enough was considered a disrespectful person.
For the procession to start, a hearse was necessary. When this arrived, it charged up to the door of the "death house", oblivious of the large crowd surrounding the building. The wailing stopped as the mourners conserved their energy for the funeral procession through the streets. Without much ado, the coffin was carried to the hearse by some old men who looked as if they were fit to be in the coffin with the corpse. The coffin was put into the hearse with no deference to the departed soul, The corpse must have bounced quite a few times in the coffin.
The procession was soon ready to start. The musicians walked in front, looking very bored as they played their music at the head of the procession. The hearse followed. The chief mourners held on to the back of the hearse and burst out with renewed energy. A long line of fan-flapping mourners followed. These were friends of the deceased. Many of them took the opportunity to gossip and it was not unusual to see one of them bursting out in laughter at some choice tidbit of information.
Many small children amused themselves by aping the wailing mourners. It was very entertaining to see them throw themselves about, crying out as if the deceased had been their bosom friend. They also tore their hair, and beat their breasts in imitation of some mourners who were showing their grief by actions.
Soon, the bedlam was made worse by a long fine of honking, tooting cars, which had been blocked by the large crowds. Their impatient drivers were making as much noise as possible. When the procession left the heart of town, even the corpse must have heaved a sigh of relief.
When the mourners were sure that they were well and truly away from the town centre and the watching eyes, they bundled themselves into waiting cars that took them to the cemetery. The road had already been strewn with pieces of paper to show the spirit its way back to "home, sweet home" (i.e. the spirit tablet which would be set up in the house).
When the cemetery was reached, everybody came out of the cars for a light snack and a drink before proceeding with the business of the day. It was observed that the chief mourners seemed to be in remarkably good spirits. Apparently, they were saving up their tears for the burial.
After the snack, the whole procession moved towards the burial ground. There, a rectangular pit had already been dug for the coffin. The coffin was carried out of the hearse and lowered into the pit, again with no reverence to the deceased.
Then, an unpriestly-looking man in flashy clothes donned long robes and began a long and intricate service for the dead man. It was fortunate that his audience could not understand what he said, for, he seemed to be repeating the same words over and over again, but in different tones and at different speeds. The ceremony was ended by the throwing of a chicken across the pit (for what reason nobody knew).
Then the coffin was covered by small pieces of earth thrown down by the mourners. At this point, one of the close relatives gave one long, drawn out cry and promptly fainted! She was revived and then all the mourners boarded the cars again, leaving the grave to be filled in properly by labourers.
Everybody was taken back to the "death house" where all the mourners dispersed, except for the family of the deceased and the priest. Another ceremony was conducted to install the spirit in a spirit tablet. Then the family returned home after paying the priest a very handsome fee for his services.
Thus was held a Chinese funeral. It had been a day of excitement for many and also a day of sadness for others. This type of ceremony has gone on for many years and it will go on for many more years to come.
FOR THE LONELY
CHEW GUAT LENG, U6A2
At the beach house, the heavens as my roof;
I watch the stars pay homage to the bride of the night.
Anger, hate, despondency, despair
Were surging in me, choking, unable to escape;
But in my moment of utter loneliness
I saw the twinkling lights winking at me,
Smiling, - welcoming a lonely wanderer to their bosom.
Below me, - the breaking of the waves,
Murmuring, whispering, lapping along the sands.
Sounds of joy, contentment, hope,
Soothing ambassadors of peace.
Their twirling fingers beckon me,
Teasing, inviting me to join them
On their eternal carefree journey.
I am lonely no more.
Who can be
With true, forever faithful, unchanging friends?
At peace with the world
I relaxed, enjoying their company.
FROM TASHKENT TO CARNABY STREET
CHOO MEILEEN, L6A2
Names like Tashkent and Samarkand have a mystique, which borders on the unique. Some millennia ago, over the passes separating towering mountain ranges, somewhere around here, life flourished. Here was a civilisation which blended the East and West. Ancient trade routes and the paths of mighty conquerors, such as Tamerlane, crisscrossed the heart of Central Asia. It is no surprise then, that the famed Silk Route crossed the Gold Road in Tashkent.
When I learnt that our flight to London via the S.A.S. Trans-Asian Express, was going to take my family and me to Tashkent, I was naturally terribly excited. For not only did it have an antiquated air about it, Tashkent was also located in Russia, behind the Iron Curtain and where the late Indian Premier, Shastri, had passed away. The very idea of going to Russia, even if it was for forty-five minutes, sent shivers down my spine.
We left from Singapore. Our next stop en route was Bangkok. From there we flew on to Tashkent, a hop which took us six hours and twenty-five minutes. I remember that it was a beautiful day. We could see very clearly the land below us and the sky above! As each mile brought us nearer to our destination, I could see that the terrain outside was slowly changing from gently undulating plains to rugged peaks. Far behind us we had left the flat plains of the Irrawaddy Delta, which appeared very murky from the air, the southern tip of the Arakan Yoma, and the Ganges Delta. These names evoked many memories of the past years, when in classrooms, careful study was made of these places. Now I was actually seeing them with my own eyes. Somehow they were not as unreachable as they had seemed on a map.
Unfortunately we could not see the Himalayas. They were shrouded in thick masses of clouds. We flew over the Pamir Mountains into Tadzhikstan. Outside everything was grey and bleak. It was very mountainous and seemed quite barren. There were no signs of any settlements and I remember having thought to myself how lonely it was down there.
Upon arrival at Tashkent, our plane circled round the city once, before landing. Tashkent appeared to be many times larger than Kuala Lumpur. While approaching the city, I saw many small communities, which I presumed to be communes, linked only by dirt tracks. These were utilised mainly by trucks. There were very few cars to be seen.
The land around Tashkent was completely flat, falling to gentle foothills of some snow-capped mountains. I thought the distant mountains looked very beautiful, indeed, compared to Tashkent, which seemed dull and bleak from the air.
Our plane landed and when it had taxied to a stop, the doors were opened and a Russian officer came up into the plane to collect our passports. We then stepped on to Russian soil. I felt a tingle of excitement run through my body. I know it sounds stupid but it thrilled me to be in Russia!
Tashkent was not as cold as we had expected. The air was most refreshing after our long journey from Bangkok. The weather was overcast and my first impression of the place was that it was quite miserable. The airport building looked formidable. It was painted beige and had huge columns in front of it. There was an enclosure outside the building, next to the tarmac, where many Russians crowded to see the passengers. It somehow reminded me of Kuala Lumpur airport, where people like to go to see planes land and take off. Outside, huge billboards hung on the walls of the building. They read 'Peace'. What irony!
It made me very nervous and self-conscious to know that hundreds of pairs of eyes were watching me. I stared back and smiled. Some of the Russians smiled warmly in return. It seemed to me that there were two main types of Russians in Tashkent - the Caucasian and the Mongoloid.
I felt as though I was on the set of the film "Doctor Zhivago" for there were so very many "Zhivago-types" (as I called them) around. They wore maxi-coats and capes and fur hats that covered their ears from the bitter cold. There were many officials in grey maxi-coats milling among the people. I frankly could not see how anyone could defect from here!
Inside the waiting room, located upstairs, we heard a recording over the loudspeakers telling us of the greatness of the 'Motherland', the economy and industries of Tashkent. Everything there seemed to reek of propaganda. There were boards with pictures depicting the Russian Revolution and the progress of the Soviet Union. Pictures included those of Stalin, Lenin - you name him, he is there!
We brought post cards and stamps to send to relatives and friends. This brought us into our first and only contact with a Russian. It was a most exasperating experience. The girl we approached spoke little English as did the rest. We enquired about postage and she just shrugged her shoulders. After a lot of sign language, we finally established communications and bought our stamps. The thing that I found most amusing, however, was that they refused to accept any form of money including travellers' cheques from the passengers but willingly accepted the American dollar. Many of the passengers bought vodka and local craft works.
After forty-five minutes, our departure was announced. We were very glad to leave Tashkent in one piece! Aboard the plane, we were told that passengers carrying cameras were to refrain from using them, as it was forbidden by the Russian authorities, as long as we were over Russian territory.
The long day was ending. Far beyond the horizon, the giant sun was setting behind great mountains of billowing clouds. The quiet tranquillity of the scene, the soft drone of the plane's engines, the boundless sky above and the snow-covered land below made me feel very melancholic. I felt at peace with the world. It was a marvellous feeling.
There was still light enough to see some of Russia. As it was winter-time, Russia looked just like a vast snowy wasteland. The landscape was extremely monotonous - miles and miles of snow-covered flat land, dissected now and then by a river. It was very similar to the scenes I had seen in the film, "Doctor Zhivago".
Mile after mile, we pushed on into the far night, to our next destination, Copenhagen. Night was fast setting in and the land below was soon hidden from our view by thick layers of clouds. We passed over Moscow but because of a blizzard down there we were unable to see it.
Copenhagen appeared very beautiful from the air. Millions of lights scintillated in the dark. I can only remember seeing one other place as beautiful as this city viewed from the air at night and that was Beirut. It was very cold in Copenhagen, much, much colder than Tashkent had been. I was still in my summer clothing and the biting cold penetrated my overcoat and made me shiver and my teeth chatter. We were taken to the waiting lounge, as we had to catch another plane to London. After changing to warmer clothing, I took the opportunity to explore the airport. It was lovely and built on modern lines. The things for sale were exquisite. The famed Scandinavian glassware and woodwork were beautiful.
We arrived in London completely exhausted, and sleepy. All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip, one that I would not easily forget. London had not changed much since the last time we were there except that it had become 'hippier'.
I could not resist a visit to the famous Carnaby Street, especially after I had read so much about it. It had shops on both sides of the road and they were 'out of this world'! They were fabulous. The shops were very quaint and small, splashed all over the place with psychedelic colours. Groovy! Incense burnt in some shops sans cesse. Music was played full blast. It was certainly quite different from dear, old Tashkent!
Here was life, supposedly 'swinging' from dawn to dusk (though frankly, I did not think London was as 'swinging' as it was made out to be). This was the first time I had experienced this sort of thing - this hippy atmosphere. It was fun to observe though I got the feeling that because of my attire, I did not fit in. Not that I wanted to, mind you, but the looks the people there gave me made me feel as though I was queer, and not they.
Some of the shops sold the weirdest things. I was amazed to find old clothes, horrid in appearance, very popular. Mini-skirts and maxi-skirts adorned the clothes-racks. "Bonnie and Clyde" fashions were already very popular. The girls in this area in the shops looked as though they had just walked out from a silent movie. Many of them wore maxi-skirts and wrapped themselves up in what was called 'boa furs', which were of various colours. Each shop was decorated in a different way. In some of the shops, one could hardly move about. Many of them had special lighting effects to give the required atmosphere. The people in the shops were very helpful and friendly and I came away from Carnaby Street armed with many things.
Yes, indeed! Tashkent is so very different from Carnaby Street but it holds very special places in my memories of our trip. It has given me great pleasure to relive those moments on these pages. They will always be a part of me and I hope, one day, I will be able to go back again to those wonderful places. It would be nice to walk down Carnaby Street again or to feel the thrill of stepping on Russian soil.
2 0 0 1
CHONG SIEW MENG, U6B2
Date: 5th June, 2001.
To: Commandant, Moon Base One.
From: Commander, Earth Expeditionary Force.
Subject: Scraps of paper found by Earth Expeditionary Force
The scraps of paper found last week have been subjected to infrared analysis and their nature discovered. Apparently, they consist of the remnants of the diary of one Doctor Samuel P..... (the surname is illegible but definitely begins with 'P'). As they reveal something about life after World War III, I thought it best to send you the entire transcript of the diary. What follows is the total contents of the diary:
"29th December, 1999: The moon is very bright tonight but if I look carefully I can see the lights of the Moon Bases. I wonder what it is like to have only one-sixth of one's normal weight. Must be something like floating on air. The fireworks have arrived and all is now set to herald in the new century.
30th December, 1999: Trouble. Large group of East Berliners staged a mass escape to West Berlin. The forces of the Eastern Alliance then made an armed entry into West Berlin. Western forces then made a swift dash to try and relieve the city but were met by Eastern forces. Papers report that tactical nuclear weapons have been issued to troops in the field.
31st December, 1999: 8 a.m. Situation is still very tense. I stayed up the whole of last night to listen to the radio. Fierce clashes were reported but nuclear arms have not yet been used. I hope the situation improves so that I can set off my fireworks tonight.
Later: I think this is it. A news flash has just warned all people to head for the nearest bomb shelters. There will be fireworks tonight but not the sort I had in mind.
In the bomb shelter: Have been here for six hours now. Nothing appears to have happened but the radio is ominously silent. I hope that no news is good news. It is almost midnight. What a way to usher in the new century! This place is crammed beyond belief. Two men are playing chess in one corner; in another, a woman sings her baby to sleep. Here, a boy sleeps, his chest rising and falling evenly; there, a man groans and mutters in his sleep.
1st January, 2000: I must have fallen asleep. I was awakened by what appeared to have been an earthquake. The whole place bounced and cracks ran up two of the walls. There can be no doubt now. That must have been a bomb. My watch says it is 3.26 a.m. Everybody is awake now. The baby is crying but the mother appears to be too shocked to soothe it. The chess game has been upset. Somebody is crying somewhere. At first, silence; now everybody begins to talk. One sound gradually overpowers the noise. I do not know who started it but it is the only sound now heard in the shelter… ‘though I walked through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil…..’
January, 2000: I must have forgotten to wind my watch. I do not know how many days have passed. The radio has been silent and no one has yet dared to go out of the shelter. The time has been spent…. Wait! A small whisper is emerging from the radio.
Later: Today is January the 4th, according to the radio. We are now out in the open. Radiation levels are still high but not fatal. The radio says, however, that not more than four hours a day should be spent in the open during the next twelve days. The sun shines through a thick screen of dust casting eerie golden glow over the whole landscape. All trees in the area have been flattened by the blast. The area around us looks like a battleground.
Later still: A workable car has been found. Some of us are planning to go out and make contact with other groups who have also survived the blast.
11th January, 2000: I see that it is a whole week since my last entry. I have been very busy looking after those suffering from radiation exposure. Most of the people we have found are suffering from burns. The majority are blind and suffering from shock. I asked one man how he had survived. It seems he jumped into a river. He described the fire storm as a fiery hell in which people were blown about by hurricanes. He saw a boy who had been blinded by the blast running from side to side calling for his mother. Then the wind picked him up and carried him into the burning houses. My drugs are running low. The radio has issued a warning that the large scale of the attack has made agriculture impossible. Almost all water reserves which were in the open have been contaminated. It appears that we shall have to depend on the reserves of food and water stored before the attack. No news has been received from overseas. Those who have survived are probably just as busy as we are."
The next few entries are either missing or are burnt so badly as to be illegible. After this, the diary consists of a number of fragmentary entries. It begins again about eight weeks later.
"15th February, 2000: Food now extremely scarce. Water supplies almost nil. Communal feeding was introduced yesterday. Coupons have also been issued so that one may only obtain tinned food at the depots because of the outbreak of riots and looting. This morning, four men were shot for killing a policeman and being in unlawful possession of firearms.
26th February 2000: Drugs now only being used for the most serious cases. People are dropping like flies everywhere. Threat of epidemics looming. Already cases of typhoid, dysentery and cholera have been reported. The food train which arrived last night has been totally looted. Three policemen were killed.
31st March, 2000: I have been ill for a month with dysentery and exhaustion. In that time anarchy has broken out. All vital services have been broken down except for the radio service. Even that has become very irregular. There are no more food supplies left. Rain has been falling; but it is black rain and useless. I think cannibalism has broken out. Last night, I found a heap of human bones beside the remnants of a fire. I am now hiding in a ruined house and going out only at night to forage for food. I do not know why they are hunting me; perhaps it is because I helped the police and the government in the days after the blast. The radio is once again silent. I do not know what day or date it is or even how long I have been hiding. For some days now, I have not seen or heard anybody during my night ventures. I do not believe everyone is dead except me. Perhaps they have all gone away.
Later: It has been raining black rain for two days now. I have been unable to go out to hunt for food. There is no more to hunt for anyway. Three nights ago, I went out to look at the moon. I can still see the lights of the Moon Bases out there. I know that they must be preparing to return but I do not think I can last that long.
Later still: I am getting weaker and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more. For God's sake, when you come back, remember our folly, when you return, Moon men!"
Here the diary ends. I wonder when he died, poor fellow. Message ends.
Last update on 19 March 2000.
PageKeeper: Ooi Boon Kheng