of soil and seeds

In recollections, stories on July 22, 2006 by carinasuyin

I am a graduate of UPM.

Cheh, macam support group meeting introduction! Hee… šŸ˜›

Yes, I graduated from Universiti Putra Malaysia. The university and the course I graduated from were my first choices in my IPTA application. Call it going against type, but I was determined not to select UM simply because everybody else wanted to go there and felt that they would die if they did not succeed in their admission application. I remembered Pn. Zainita, my Year 6 class teacher and Mrs. Kua, my 6th Form class teacher saying no matter where you go or end up at, if you’re a good seed, you will grow, blossom and bear fruits of blessings for others. Logically I argued with them that it would also have to depend on the soil and environmental conditions. They both had the same reply, “If you have good soil and a bad seed, that would be such a waste, no?”. For days after, I would be thinking of coconuts floating in the ocean, finding land.

The first few weeks of university were harrowing. Firstly, I got traumatised when the VC earnestly said in his welcome speech, “Bila berada di menara gading, anda berada di ambang perkahwinan…” I swear I cringed and sunk deep into my seat. The students around me smiled sheepishly or laughed like it was the best thing they’ve heard in ages. Evidently, I failed to appreciate the humour because I felt that I didn’t go through 6th Form and STPM to end up in a bridal market.

The initial weeks also introduced me to polarization and the simple observation that boy, do our universities unravel any effort made at the primary level for racial integration. Chinese-educated peers shunned me and scoffed at my insistence in speaking English or Malay. It was never an attempt to be superior, I simply could not speak Mandarin or the other dialects, at least not without causing mass diarrhea. Chinese seniors came to my residential college and spoke of how we as Chinese must help each other in order to survive and promptly established a support network. This occurred for the other new students as well and even within the same course, seniors mostly helped juniors of the same race. Obstracized because I couldn’t speak the language and did not sympathize with the need to flock together, I spent the first month hanging out almost exclusively with Malay and Indian coursemates. A clash of mentalities perhap, but the irony of being an outcast because I was a product of the sekolah kebangsaan system in a public university was biting.

It was only natural that I gravitated towards AIESEC where everybody spoke Manglish and individuality was celebrated as much as diversity. AIESEC gave me opportunities to cross borders (literally!) and hone many skills that lectures can’t teach. A dedicated alumni and a nationwide network helped in many ways to make my campus life unpredictable, exhilarating and fulfilling. In many ways, the activities made us more into mature and responsible adults rather than just students in a club. My AIESEC stint also lead on to participation in many university activities that involved interactions with a hodgepodge of student leaders and representatives, be it local or regional. The whole collective experience was nothing short of wonderful.

It was in UPM too that I discovered and developed my love for theatre and writing. In that little Rumah Teater next to the Music Faculty, we spent cosy mornings, afternoons and evenings getting lost in Brecht, Beckett, Wedekind, Williams, performance theories, local culture, world history, humanity and of course, acting. Learning from each other was as important as learning from text or teachers. It completely changed my concept of what a classroom is and what learning can be like. Contrary to most perceptions, most of us who had the opportunity to take those precious modules were not arts students, we were science students seeking something more. I did not realise it then, but under the dedicated tutelage of Rohaizad Suaidi and Rey Buono, what we learnt in those classes would prepare us for so much more in being human and being alive.

While working part-time before entering university, a fellow colleague, an overseas graduate, told me that I am losing out a lot by attending a local university. He regaled me with tales of his many adventures while studying in Melbourne, Australia. He made a bet with me that after three years in UPM, if I could match his adventures and honestly say I do not envy those who went overseas, he did give me RM200 for the accomplishment. I still have his namecard somewhere with the bet written behind it but it is a bet I don’t ever need to claim. I had a splendid time as a student in Universiti Putra Malaysia.

I have been told by some of my peers that this is a rather rosy and sheltered view of local campus life. Perhaps so, but I do believe there is still accidental beauty to be found in yup, our local universities. Fortunately or unfortunately, these were the choices I made as a student and that was the campus life I wanted and had. As with most things in life, if you expect things to be handed over to you, you stand to lose out in so many ways. Reading the responses across the net to that video, I can’t help but feel that we don’t always have to make ourselves into victims or martyrs just to get our point across, do we? Yes, we cannot ignore the wrongdoings, but neither should we be myopic in our view of things. Sharing and venting anger or disgust when something goes wrong, more often than not, helps nothing for the cause or the person(s) involved.

Negative vibes always beget more of the same.
I would like to remain positive šŸ™‚


8 Responses to “of soil and seeds”

  1. Didn’t know that you were a local graduate – much less a UPM graduate at that. Never heard many positive comments about UPM until your post. Glad that you enjoyed your time there. šŸ™‚

    On the video, I’m not sure if it’s a racial thing like so many people are trying to paint it. From what I’ve gathered, it’s more like some pro-establishment students trying to remove their rivals from the campus cafetaria. But I guess the way they did it shows them off to be hooligans rather than people who deserve to be in universities.

    I agree with you on the polarisation in local universities but I think it’s just an extension of the phenomenon in school. I guess I’m guilty of hanging out with Chinese students almost exclusively and I wasn’t ostracised even if my Chinese wasn’t too good. However, for me, the polarisation mentality begins in primary school and the scenes we get from local universities is just a manifestation of that.

    I think the main reasons for hanging out with my fellow Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Indian coursemates was quite simple – we shared a common understanding work ethics wise & we understood what it’s like to be discriminated against by the establishment.

    I never had a problem with the Malay coursemates in my first year at the hostel. They were all friendly people but I never hung out with them in the first year because our lifestyles were totally different – I didn’t play games whole night long (at least during school days) or smoke.

    And by the 2nd year, most of the students had moved off into houses outside of campus with their own races that contact from that point on was limited to saying hello in class. Kinda sad. Can we live in Malaysia in our own community-centred world and still claim to be truly Malaysian? Somehow, I doubt this will not work in the long run.

    Sorry if I went off tangent. It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

  2. Universiti Pertanian Malaysia.

    That was how I remembered it. And I honestly dreaded to go to that uni when I was much much younger. The stories I’ve heard about the pertanian students when I was a kid will just replay in my mind at the sight of the varsity.

    No offense okay šŸ™‚

    I can only say that birds of the same feather flock together. Even within our own race, there are those we’re most comfortable with and those that we do not really favour hanging out with.

    Just imagine a gang of drug pusher, smokers, illegal racers and a bunch of nerd-looking book worms playing together. Do they tolerate each other? Maybe some would be fine, but most of the time, they are like water and oil.

    Some things are so deep into the roots we can’t really dig them out and get rid of it all. But we can learn to live amicably, with everyone else around us.

  3. the soothsayer: Hehe now you know! šŸ˜› The funny thing is that my siblings and I never experienced polarization throughout primary and secondary school. Come to think of it, most of our friends didn’t either. Maybe we were just lucky.

    I guess it has to go beyond tolerance and just being respectful to each other. There’s so much to be learnt from one another that only some acceptance and love will allow, not fear, prejudice or distrust.

    mt: Yeah. So many kinds of feathers, yet some of us almost always choose the race coloured one. šŸ™‚

  4. I had the chance to experience both vernacular schools and national schools back in school/uni days. I do notice that those who mix around with different races tend to be those who are more “liberal”. Those who have play mates of different races during their childhood will find it easier to interact with each other when they start schooling.

  5. senbai: Yeah, it doesn’t begin with vernacular or national schools, it really has to start from pre-school and from what parents teach their young. Like mt said, from the roots šŸ™‚

  6. Can’t remember where I got your link from.. most probably an @ UPMer’s blog… but anyway, just wanted to share with you something.

    A few months back, I was in this national integrity forum organised by PLF, and during the discussion sessions, I was left very frustrated.

    From that discussion alone, I observed that older people (lects..etc etc) too, keep on blaming the education system for the lack in racial integration.

    The reason I write this, is to show my support for ‘starting with the roots’. I believe everything starts from how your family socializes you. I guess I’m pretty lucky my parents were the “liberal” type – they tell us to go out and play with everyone instead of shunning the ones with a different skin color.

    I too, find it very disturbing that people in this day and age, still tend to tick with theif own races and (some actually) try to avoid you cos u’r not the same race.

    just my frustrated feelings, but i would like to point out that not everyone is like that. šŸ˜›

    btw, you should see the prequel to the video. enlightening. šŸ˜

  7. Hi imran, thanks for sharing and dropping by!

    I remember being in and out of friends’ houses. We often lepak or do homework together and sometimes stayed for lunch or dinner. Street badminton ends before maghrib and if malay friends came over, we’d order pizza or buy kfc. So I never really understood the big fuss about kongsi raya or national open houses. Gee, I really miss those times!

    Yeah, I’ve seen the prequel. Always two sides to a story and no one can be entirely innocent šŸ™‚

  8. I saw the prequel and I don’t see what’s new?

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