A Competition to Remember
by Joseph Zhu
Developing Virtue Secondary Boys School, Grade 9
Words that come to mind when I think about the Chinese Competition are: exhilaratingly fun, extreme nervousness, and memorizing. Lots and lots of tedious, mind-numbing, redundant memorizing. This year’s competition has done more for me than I can believe. It has changed me beyond recognition in more ways then one.
I remember when I first found out about the competition. Jin Fan Shi, our teacher, mentioned it in class one day, and then gave us forms to sign. At that time, I had no idea what I was getting into, but decided to go along and see if I could have some fun. I was grateful for any opportunity at all to be of help. As it turned out, I got a lot more then I expected. I found out that this was not just something that I could take lightly and slack off on.
In class, I saw how much the older boys knew, and how much work I had cut out for me before I would be even half as good as them. Still, I wasn’t too worried, because I figured I wouldn’t have to do too much if I was on such a strong team. A few weeks later, sometime after Chinese New Year, Jin Fan Shi told us the team arrangements. I was dumbfounded. I was to be on a team composed entirely of new people. Not only that, each of us knew only a little Chinese. I also happened to be unfortunate enough to be the best in Chinese on our team, and the only one who actually cared about winning. The other team seemed to find it amusing, but I was horrified.
“But Jin Fan Shi!” I remember protesting, “Our team is dead, for sure!”
“Don’t worry, Joe,” he calmly replied. “You’ll be fine. You just need to work a little harder and have confidence.”
I did not believe him. It was then that it hit me. I would not be allowed to be lazy. I had no way of getting off easy. Later, Jin Fan Shi came up to me and said reassuringly, “Joe, don’t give up. You don’t need to have a strong team to win. If you try hard enough, winning is possible.”
He went on to explain to me how if Richard and I really put our efforts into it, we wouldn’t be too bad off. After that, I promised myself that I would study hard and not disappoint him.
But still, learning was slow for me, and I found that I was making little progress. Then, one day, Jin Fan Shi announced that we would have our first mock competition with Girls’ School soon. My first thought was, Uh-oh, that can’t be good. I was sure that my team, especially me, would make a fool out of itself. I thought of my teammates, who would often be found snoozing in class or sitting with blank expressions on their faces for the entire class. It occurred to me that I hadn’t been working hard enough.
For me, the first practice with Girls’ School was painfully embarrassing, to say the least. I can’t think of any times when I have been that embarrassed.
It was from that day onward that I truly put my entire heart into studying. I was now motivated to learn all the things that I should have. I spent hours studying, often times staying up well into the night, reading and trying to memorize a particular line of text. Never was there a free moment that passed where I was not preparing.
When it came time for our second practice with Girls’ School, I had improved my knowledge and skill twice over, and I surprised my teacher as well as my classmates and myself on how much I could answer. I continued to work hard, day by day improving, my confidence climbing as I learned more and more.
All my confidence drained away, however, as the actual competition approached. That week before the competition, I panicked. For my team, getting past even the first round would be “Mission: Highly Improbable”.
At the site of the competition, I was awed by all the contenders and alarmed at how many people would be in the audience. The wait for our turn in the adjacent room was excruciatingly painful. When I looked around, I saw that all the different teams were doing last minute studying except for us from DVS. We tried to calm ourselves by telling bad jokes, trying to chat with each other, even meditating, all to no avail. Even the boneheaded cannon fodders on my team were sort of nervous. I did not help that GS looked perfectly calm.
When it was finally our turn though, I felt the excitement and adrenaline coursing through my veins, and all my doubts disappeared. It only increased my confidence when I caught on to how easy the questions were, and how weak the teams competing against us were. We completed the first round with flying colors, though we came nowhere near the other DVBS team’s score, or even GS’s.
Hopes were low, however, for success in the second round. Both DVBS teams were put together in the same group, along with all the other strong teams. We were eliminated after a sudden death resulting from a three-way tie. I couldn’t stop blaming myself. I had answered one of the easiest question wrong at the last second, when we would have been able to inch by into the finals. My teammates were also furious, for a time, but then apologized, saying that if it hadn’t been for me, we wouldn’t be in the second round, anyways. I put aside my moping for later, though, and was happy for our other teams that made second and third place.
I guess I learned a lot from this experience. Besides Chinese, I learned to be humble. I cannot always be the best in what I do, and trying to led to my downfall. I learned that emotions must be kept in check, and calmness is important. I think this is where I should have applied all that boring stuff about “letting go of attachments” and “being at one with yourself”.
I also learned how important togetherness is. When we argued among ourselves, we were confused, and couldn’t get anything done. When we supported each other, everyone felt better. I was particularly surprised when one day, the usually criticizing Davy stuck his head into to the room where I was studying and told me not to worry and tried to reassure me. That really helped me. Bobby also astonished me when I was really depressed about getting my team eliminated from the finals. Being one of the most cynical people in our school, the fact that Bobby was actually speaking kind words to me shocked me out of my melancholy. Of course, all our brothers from DVBS were kind and tried to make me feel better. At least they refrained from joking about it in front of me for a few days.
Ultimately, I learned that it doesn’t matter that we didn’t win. I learned so much from this experience, and that was the real goal. Besides, Boys’ School will definitely be back next year to wipe the floor with the competition. I can’t wait.