SMK Damansara Jaya Debate 2010

Siew Sanz, Keefe, Leannza, Alynna, Abhilaash

Elena, Sophia, Andrew, Daniel, [Tim Sim in absentia]

*all pictures stolen from Sophia

So the SMK Damansara Jaya debate team went to UKM Intervarsity and broke 8th, pipping other university teams to reach the quarterfinals πŸ™‚

Well kinda sorta. Because Keefe and I debated for SMKDJ. But I assure you that our combined age was the lowest out of all the breaking teams! (17 [Sophia] + 17 [Keefe] + 22 [Andrew] = 56 [!])

We didn’t expect to break at all! After all five preliminary rounds in two days, the tab team surprised us by announcing the break to the Quarterfinals the very night of Day 2 (usual tab teams choose to be smart/bitchy: announcing the break the next day to ensure that people actually come). And so the tab team went:


UT Mara 2


UT Mara 1

UT Mara 3



Swinburne A


MOSAD (Monash) A


So that was that. And we were cool with it, until later that night when I received a call from Darryl, the Chief Adjudicator, just before we showered. He said omg sorry you guys broke! I was like whaaaat. He explained haha you guys won the fifth debate right? Then I said yes. Then he said yeah sorry we forgot to take that into account! So you guys broke with 4 wins and 1 loss! Then I was like oh haha no la we are on 3-2! And he was like no wayyyy are you sure? Are you absolutely sure that you went in to the fifth debate with 2 wins and 2 losses? And I was like yeaaaaaah wait a minute I’m 95% sure. Self doubt crept in. Did I remember things wrongly? Could it be? Could one of the adjudicators have assigned the win to us, contrary to his oral feedback? Oooooo.

When I told this to the kids Abhilaash was like yeah you should’ve told him you won four debates.

But then in the end it was a mistake. Heheh. So we hung out with CBN and Swinburne and played badminton (of all things) with our Deputy Chief Adjudicator, Danial (IIUM) until like 3 am. So this is the thing about debate tournaments: losers get to socialize; winners have to sleep.

So we got up super late the next day, and just as I was about to shower (yes, again — UKM is damn hot), I receive another call from Danial. Apparently we broke, like, seriously, lol. So the UKM tab team didn’t feel comfy that night — and re-added all the individual scores together for the teams. They discovered that some of the “total scores” were different from cumulative “individual scores” Β — and this miscalculation had an impact on the 3-2 teams. And SMKDJ actually pipped UCTI B by 0.33 points to break into the quarterfinals, the only kinda non-university team to do so. πŸ™‚

So Darryl the CA was right after all lah! And SMKDJ has the meticulous UKM tab team to thank for uncovering the boohoohoo before it was too late.

Abhilaash, Siew Sanz, and Leannza adjudicated, and all three were made chairs because they did very well in their adjudication tests. High schoolers judging university students! Travesty!

Siew Sanz did particularly well, breaking into the semifinals as an adjudicator, whilst balancing debating with academics by studying every free moment she had.

Of course, Sophia had to bring a camera, and we had to pose for 60?+ photos. I lose: Abhilaash looks particularly ah pek here — I can’t even pull off la-la right! Shame.

Reaching the quarters and having all three (very dirty) adjudicators become chairs — all of this was beyond my expectations man. I’m still smiling as I type this.


So UKM was great, and probably the most important factor for its amazingness was Danial, DCA, who went out of the way to become super duper inclusive: lavishing attention on my kids and promoting them to become chairs! The gesture was very menyentuh hati, and will be remembered.


So that was UKM. Intervarsity competitions aside, I’m really proud of how my kids did this year! Semifinalists for HELP Debate (undone by poor judging, astaghfirullah) and semifinalists for KDU Debate. My kids think it’s a curse because this is like the third consecutive loss at the semifinals, but we shall see.

Silverware is silverware, but my Proudest Moment #1 was in Elena’s house when we were talking about power and authority and teachers and prefects and choosing what to do. This made me feel fuzzy wuzzy all the way inside because I think debating (like learning philosophy) is not only about winning arguments — it is about finding meaning in life, about doing the right thing. Honest soul searching. As I listened my heart was like yesssssssssssssss. Debating is about wisdom and retrospection and understanding. So that was my favourite session, even though we spent the whole time talking and doing absolutely nothing productive!

Proudest Moment #2 was during HELP Quarterfinals: SMKDJ 2 versus Sri Permata 1. In an hour, from knowing almost nothing about Iran and nukes and Mutually Assured Destruction, Elena, Daniel, and Abhilaash kicked ass with style. We were Government on THBT every country should have the right to possess nuclear weapons, and we pre-empted every rebuttal that came from Opposition during prep time (yeah they allowed coaches to prep). This was epic (and hilarious: “Just because I have a boyfriend doesn’t mean that I have to use him!”). For days after that I kept going back to what Latif (IIUM Debate Godfather) said: “that was a good debate… You had great everything — great manner, great matter, great method.” OMG LATIF SAID IT WAS A GOOD DEBATE OMG LATIF SAID WHAAAAAT.

As we played badminton after Day 2 at UKM, I found out from Danial that IIUM has probably 20++ years of debating history. IIUM is great not just because of Latif — Godfather he may be — but also because of many, many coaches and trainers and alumni. The IIUM that we see today is the result of 20++ years of institutional support and the contribution of countless individuals (apparently including Jagjeet Singh).

So it struck me lah. The whole conversation underscored the importance of tradition. Of institutions. Of path dependency and Douglass North and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Why are Jamaicans over-represented in sprinting? Genetics aside, young Jamaican kids grow up watching Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, and — inspired — spend their time running. Parents encourage their kids to run faster. Teachers look out for fast kids when they’re young, and send them for training. The early training helps these kids get better, and they get faster — and all the years of training makes them much much much much better than just kids who run fast. So systems reinforce themselves. Why are Asians good at math?Β If you’re Asian and you grow up in a culture which tells you that Asians are good at math, you believe that you are good at math. You try harder to solve your math questions. Your parents tell you that you’re good at math, and probably send you to Kumon or something. Your “gifted” syllabus has calculus and trigonometry relatively early, and you don’t complain — because you’re Asian and you’re good at math. So when you reach college you’ve had that much more exposure to math, and you’re that much better than everyone else at math.

Why does IIUM and UiTM dominate the Malaysian university debating scene? Not just because they have good speakers. Because they meet weekly (or perhaps more frequently?) for debate practices. Because they have really experienced coaches. Because their administrations already spend shitloads of money for debate: hiring trainers, paying for competitions and transportation. Because they are the only public tertiary institutions that use English as their medium of instruction. Because the extended exposure to both general concepts and specific issues during normal practices means that their debaters have done many many motions, and they know the best ways to approach many many topics — which means they don’t have to spend prep time figuring out what the hell this particular motion is about. Because this training system that IIUM and UiTM has set in place also attracts good speakers to join them in the first place. Institutions are self-reinforcing.

Why does DJ have good debaters? Because we have the right system. For 10++ years now we’ve had the right ingredients. We have Puan Koh and Puan Mag and the right kind of coaching. We have a supportive administration which allows debaters to skip classes to prepare for competitions. We have a debating tradition that inspires young kids — students in Form 1 and Form 2 who know that they want to debate. We have debate competitions in Form 2 and 3 to identify our speakers. We have an English-speaking, upper middle class student population from which we can choose our debaters. We have parents who understand the opportunity costs of debating (skipping school, homework, tuition, sleep, etc.) and still whole-heartedly encourage their kids to debate. We have students who understand that debating means dedication and who are willing to work really really hard.

And this is why we have more than enough debaters to fill two teams that consistently break at tournaments.

So kids, thank John and everyone else for building your debating fundamentals! Thank your parents for chauffeuring you to this competition and that debate practice at this person’s house, and for speaking English at home. Thank Puan Koh and Puan Mag for crafting the right kind of selection and training system in school, and for spending so much time on you. Thank SMK Damansara Jaya for its debating tradition and for letting you skip classes. Thank everyone — because your success has many mothers. To a very large extent, we are all products of our circumstances; results of other people’s choices.


Filed under Blogroll, Debate, Events, Photos

13 responses to “SMK Damansara Jaya Debate 2010

  1. UKM reminded me that

    1. debating is getting increasingly competitive- and that we really need to buck up if we want a chance at any more silverware (a good thing)

    2. having fun and taking lots of photos -> very important

    3. andrew loh is very very lean

    Was a pleasure debating with you, and thanks for writing this article. πŸ™‚

    • 1. correct correct correct. the good thing about systems is that good systems can be easily replicated elsewhere. the challenge is to make them more efficient and effective.

      2. YES OMGGGGG so important. THANKYEW SOPHIA

      3. hahahaha

      the pleasure was mine. πŸ˜‰

  2. makes me wish I schooled at KL =) debate teams over here are overwhelmingly underwhelming, no semangat and stuff. hope that my batch will bring change! =) thanks, andrew.

  3. Tas

    Sounds like you had a ball at UKM! And isn’t Dan just the best? πŸ˜€ SUCH a nice guy πŸ™‚

  4. Adrian

    You guys are awesome – keep up the amazzzziiiiing work!

    Missing Malaysia now… =D

  5. Jian Wei

    I can totally testify on UiTM’s commitment to their debating culture. Proud to be a product of their dedicated system! ^^

  6. I love the part about path-dependency. πŸ˜€

    Truth x 1000000000.

  7. siew

    the DJ debating culture will stay on… even long after we are gone πŸ™‚ i’m going to see if it’s possible to start getting Form 2 and 3 interested ones into debating this hols… SMK Damansara Jaya Debate 2010 have lots more to come πŸ˜€

  8. DJ just isn’t willing to let go, is it? πŸ˜› Terrific job, guys – the point isn’t about losing at the semis every time. It’s the fact that everyone can bet their bottom dollar on seeing a DJ team advance to the semis (at the very least) in any major tournament. Thanks Andrew, for going back to school (yet again) to coach the kids πŸ™‚

  9. Irving Tan

    I re-read this again for the umpteenth time. Like. No; I mean LOVE.

    Aloha Andrew – lama tak jumpa.

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