I often wonder, if I travel back in time to revisit my high school self, what would I have told myself?
This day a ‘throwback’ heavy one. I had been rediscovering my old blogs (mostly in Chinese, on pixnet.net), digging up my old pictures, and unnaturally took a trip back to my high school.
It is as if I long to feel the effects of 5 years passing by in a single day.
I went to Catholic High School (CHS), Petaling Jaya from 2008 to 2012. My five years here were only valuable when they had gone by.
CHS was (still is, if not even more) a school renowned for holistic excellence: the papers are way tougher than those of other secondary schools, students join a large variety of external competitions, from quizzes and sports to art and design, and rack in winnings consistently (prize giving ceremony on Mondays are occasionally so long that the first following class is cut short), and an incredible variety of extracurricular activities (I am upset by the fact that my current university extracurricular experiences were actually way lesser than my high school ones). The good students can be reliably expected to get more than 9 A+s for the SPM, actively engaged with prize winning hobbies, and be active in multiple societies. Okay not all at once, but all can be experienced/achieved in the five years there.
I wasn’t one of them. My identity in high school is quite confusing: I had always been in the A classes and ended up in the ‘superior’ Science stream, but my grades are mediocre, enough to get me into the class I want and enough to be considered ‘doing okay’, but not low enough to give up on classes and focus on building my self in other aspects such as sports, comedy, and music. My best was being in the middle of the class rankings, otherwise I basically struggled to not get last place.
I was horrible at History and Mathematics (even worse when it became Additional Mathematics). I failed Chemistry a couple of times and was mediocre at other sciences. My languages are better but still average for the most part. My absolute worst was Visual Arts, where I had no hope and no intention to even perform at. It wasn’t that I had no talent for any subject. I was just never inspired or driven to work hard for them, or having the habit to study for them as a weekly routine.
My only redeeming quality as a outstanding student was probably just doing well in the Chinese subject. I understood and used the language better than even a couple of Chinese teachers, and felt confident enough to take up Chinese Literature as an elective. I actually won a couple of prizes in poetry writing and novel writing, with one occasion at the national level. They didn’t come naturally, my Form 1 Chinese Teacher, Puan Goh Lay Hong, once assigned me (on top of everyone else) to create infographics for ‘Water Margin’ on the bulletin board. It was that kind of validation that led me to nurture this love and dedication for Chinese.
Then, I had a short stint at the Chinese Language Society. No, it wasn’t short really. In fact I loyally stayed there for all five years of my high school life and it was central to my existence there. I joined them every possible Saturday. I helped out organizing all sorts of events (mostly menial labor that I recall), picked up Chinese painting (got a bamboo painting exhibited once, but really honestly never mastered it), and had a short stint as a committee member to manage the painting class group (they don’t come by easily here, it had some of the toughest screening processes). Some of my happiest moments were all made there. Some of my closest friends are all there. Everything I knew about event planning and management are all learned from there. When I left, I even felt like writing some advice to the new batch (but didn’t, maybe I felt unqualified).
My happiest moment then was retiring together with the committee members of my cohort at 2012. I was not really part of them as I already had no official position by then, but they still prepared a surprise gift for me as well. My bliss from feeling included was indescribable.
I was also invited to be part of a Chinese Literature group (that was supposedly a subset of the above Society, but operated independently). My experiences here were foggier. It was ran like a corporate with various departments and had Officers instead of Presidents. I was somehow known for writing, and was invited to be part of the editorial team. Somehow I don’t recall doing anything important. I only remember tons of MSN/Windows Live group meetings. i had a kind and caring HoD though. if anything, this was the first time I felt seniors treating me like an equal, that part was rather significant for me.
That was it, really.
Otherwise I hung out with a bunch of friends that are mostly into games. Dota 2, RuneScape, MapleStory, TwelveSky 2, Cabal Online, along with other titles from Aeria Games. In retrospect, I must have come across as socially awkward to the rest. But things were easier back then, when everyone are in the same class for the whole year, ample time for everyone to be considered friends and referred to as ‘us’ collectively (university social groups were less defined to my disadvantage). Had no more than two crushes for my whole five years and was never honest about it. If anything, by pretending to be the cool-silent type I had failed to grasp the importance of growth into adulthood then. Imagine being that and underachieving at the same time, honestly I had nothing to be ‘cool’ about.
I know I could have done much better.
What would I have told to a 2008-2012 me?
Work hard, play harder. Take advantage of being the average student and expand on things that make you valuable. Talk to people more, be more willing to hang out with ‘different’ people, play more games, join one of the music or sports club as well. Learn things and be patient with it, not just to brag to others while only mastering the surface. The Chinese Language Society isn’t everything and isn’t worth a lot when you graduate. Try as much things you enjoy as possible, you might even have other notable talents by the time you leave. Habits are powerful and reading things without internalizing them don’t make you good at them. So build habits, and be mindful of the things you read.
Also, actually talk to her, she may have been a better first girlfriend and would have taught you more things. Spend more time with your classmates and don’t ever take them for granted. On top of all, be more honest and assertive about yourself. You can be a brilliant person on your own right, you have no idea what you will become five years later.
Don’t forget to study as well to keep yourself in the middle of the rankings, not fucking last place and dishonor your
family own name. The grades only matter to save you one year worth of scholarship, nothing compared to the wealth of experiences and relations you could have accumulated back then. But still study hard, it was your only responsibility. Don’t burden your parents with additional tuition fees.
Stop dwelling in your own small successes. It is okay to celebrate them, but don’t be content, especially when you are a 13-17 year old brat.
Oh, and don’t look to forward to leaving school. If your attention span is as short as I remembered, at the very least remember this: University and stuff has its appeals, but life at CHS during your five years here will be crucial to determine who you will eventually become. Savor every second of it with every person imaginable, and be your honest self all the time. Be less self-conscious.
Your self, five years later, will try his best too.
ps: did you know that everyone from your social life five years later thinks CHS is a school for monstrous high achievers? Think about that, and at the very least try to look the part. Let the CHS pride burn in your core, not through the achievements of others.
Other notes: this wasn’t really a response to deep repressed regrets, but rather a therapeutic process to help me know myself better through recollection. I am moving on already, although some parts of me still wants to be known as ‘ah boy’ by the canteen workers again. I just knew that this piece have to be written some day. Every time I hesitate to ask an old friend out, I will always read this piece to remind myself.
I hope it reminds you too, whoever that is reading.
other notes #2: I just realized today is Teachers Day. What a serendipitous decision I just made 🙂