Last weekend, I represented my college, KYUEM, at the Malaysian National Debating Championship at KDU Glenmarie. It was my first debating competition of any kind, and I dove into the competition feeling simultaneously terrified and excited.


I can’t really describe the feeling I had throughout the whole weekend, but it was just so, so amazing. Debating with my teammates felt amazing: the intense pressure of building a solid case in 30 minutes, seeing my teammates nod vigorously in agreement and say ‘hear, hear!’ while I delivered my speeches, the apprehension leading up to the announcement of results. Bracing ourselves for the disappointment of losing while having hope for the joy of winning.

It was just an incredible experience, and I’m looking forward to more of it later in the year. I might feel terrified all over again, but with this group of people, I’d be down for anything.



ephemeral / transient / fleeting / transitory / fugacious 

It’s 45 minutes away from the end of January, and I’m here in my college dorm room, thinking about this past month. My fluorescent lamp is broken and my room is dark, but for the most part, it’s been a good month.

Of course, there was some turbulence along the way. I spent the first three weeks of January preparing for the SAT, and with it came a plethora of vulnerabilities: dealing with College Board customer service, the lingering moodiness after a bad practice test, and the nascent worry that would float sporadically to the front of my mind – am I ready for this?

Part of this strange uneasiness is the recognition of the fact that in half a year, I’ll be sending off postmarked applications to universities across the world, detailing my thoughts and dreams, my achievements and some of my failures. It seems very much like an exercise in efficient marketing: explain and describe your being in 4000 characters and a few pages of paper. Thus I think the most important aspect of this process is to understand who I truly am and what I want to become. It’s rather nerve-wracking. A year ago in January, I enthusiastically set off to live alone in Kuala Lumpur on a three-month internship as a software programmer, an experience that convinced me that computer science was not for me and left me again without direction. Fast forward a year and I find myself with a clearer head and compass. I think I now understand better who I am.

On the 24th I traveled down to Subang Jaya to take the SAT. I had arranged meetings with some of my friends studying in KL, and frankly I couldn’t wait for the test to end so that I could talk to them again. I met up with Chun Horng, Michelle, Anzo and Yi Kye, and it felt amazing to see them and talk about the past and portend about the future. Now that I’m in college in an isolated jungle, these are the people I find myself thinking about when it’s past 12am and I can’t sleep. I send messages to them and hope they reply. Occasionally I boot up my laptop and look through the photos from the past – pictures from the IMO, family trips, birthday celebrations. Some nights I miss them so much my body seems to ache!

As January draws to a close, I want to remind myself to put things in perspective. Living in a small boarding school has this tunneling effect, and I often find myself worrying and moping about tiny little issues that seem so gargantuan under the microscope of this college. As of this moment, many things are OK with the world and my life. In a few minutes I will flip my desk calendar to ‘February’ knowing that it will perhaps bring even more (unwarranted) tumult and worry than this month has brought. But I know that at the end of it all I’ll be here again, reflecting about what’s happened and what’s not happened, and realize that things are indeed…fine.

Have a happy February!


KYUEM delegation at TAYMUN 2014!

I used to have horrible stage fright: I would be so deathly terrified of walking up to a stage and opening my mouth that I would go to great lengths to avoid it. I turned down all my teachers’ suggestions that I participate in story-telling competitions and poem recitals in primary school, and singing and dancing on stage was just out of the question.

It wasn’t until late in secondary school that I realized sometimes, I would get this sudden urge to say things – that I actually had things that I wanted to express. The written word was my weapon, so I delved into this world of literature and writing, and I discovered the pen can sometimes be mightier than the mouth. I used to think by writing my thoughts down (or more frequently, clickety-clack on the keyboard), I was being forced to consider and reconsider them properly and thus engage in a more coherent and correct form of expression.

Sure, I could have all the clarity and accuracy I wanted in black and white on a piece of paper, but these 4 months at KYUEM has shown me how much I enjoy the chaotic world of speech. There’s a certain beauty in the spontaneity of speaking, the wit and humor in retorts and responses, the occasional slip of the tongue, and most importantly, the fast-paced two-dimensional exchange of ideas. In writing, we spend days writing 800-word essays and publish them, and by the time a reply gets back to us, the urgency of debate is lost. Speaking puts you on the spot and forces you to listen, interpret, analyze and articulate your response all in the frame of a few seconds, which is what I experienced and strangely…got into it.

Last month, I joined the first (of many more) debating workshops. where some of my debating friends had invited a seasoned debater to come and coach us after classes on Thursday and Friday. On my first day I apologetically told him that I was completely new to debating and that I had no prior experience, and for the rest of the night I tried to listen and understand what he was saying. I didn’t get much, really, and I felt quite out of place in the entire setting. I returned reluctantly for the second session on Friday. “OK, we’re gonna do what I call ‘speech therapy': you come out, give a speech, and I’ll tell you what you should work on.” Well, shit.

I worked on my topic for ten minutes and came up with a short speech about voting rights. I started to speak, and because it was so short, I ran out of words a minute later. “…and that’s all I have,” I said apologetically. Then he told me that it was actually pretty good. Encouraged, I returned for the subsequent workshops and found myself actually debating about strange topics like self-immolation. It was a whole new experience, and despite the discomfort, I grew to like it more and more.

This weekend I traveled up to Kuala Lumpur for the annual Taylor’s Model United Nations Conference (TAYMUN 2014). I represented China in the Disarmament and International Security Council (DISEC), where the topic of discussion was about foreign military intervention and the leakage of classified information. I’m pretty sure that this is the first time China has ever been so quiet about such topics, but I was again, nervous about speaking out even though I had done quite a bit of research into the debate. I gave a short speech and raised a few points of information, but I wish I had spoke out more and ignored this silly apprehension of mine.

If I could say one thing about my first semester, I’d say I’m grateful to have opportunities like these to push me out of my comfort zone, and good friends to share the experience with. Here’s to more debates and more diplomacy at model UN!


Biology class picture!

December leaves me standing at the end of my first semester in college. Back in May I wrote a post trying to articulate my ambivalence about choosing a subject to further my studies in, and I think it’s time to ask myself – have I come far since then? Over the past few months and many unpublished drafts, I’ve tried to string this web of tangled thoughts into coherent pieces of language to no avail. But one thing I can be sure of is this: I like Biology.

Over the past few months in college, I’ve found myself gradually falling in love with the subject. I’m lucky enough to have an incredible, incredible Biology teacher who makes me look forward to class every day. He makes us venture beyond the confines of the syllabus to explain facts and figures presented in the coursebook, making sure we understand the motivation and reasons they must be true. He uses stories and scenarios coupled with wit and humor to drive points across, and I often find myself so immersed in these tales that they stay with me long after class ends.

I still can’t fully explain it, but I find Biology so, so amazing. It excites me to learn about the DNA replication mechanism – how it unwinds (catalyzed by topoisomerase), unzips (catalyzed by DNA helicase), how nucleotides are activated, how the base pairs bond to each other (hydrogen bonding), how the sugar-phosphate backbones are bonded (DNA polymerase III). My teacher even went beyond that – we learned about the leading and lagging strands, Okazaki fragments, the 10-base RNA primer. I truly felt that I was learning Biology and discovering more about the natural world, and I experience this over and over again, through the chapters about mitosis, molecular biology, even basic cell structure.

Among my conversations with my father this year, a large amount of them were about medicine and whether I should become a doctor. I also remember there was once I told him how I was, at once, fascinated and horrified by cancer, and how I thought I would be happy doing research in it. Sometime in September, we started on our first day of molecular biology. The introductory page on the coursebook mentioned the ‘relatively large number of Nobel prizes awarded in this field’, and I read, with interest, about the Nobel awarded for the discovery of DNA, as my teacher ran a background narration of the Meselson-Stahl experiment on the DNA replication mechanism in 1958.

I couldn’t help, then, but wonder if I could one day be able to contribute to the human race just as these scientists have. For all my thoughts about ‘doing something extraordinary’, perhaps the most extraordinary thing I can do, the one with the most seismic impact, would be to help save lives – not only during my lifetime but for centuries after. I can’t remember what my father said in response to my comment, but I do remember him saying how much he liked this line in my scholarship application essay: “I want to make an impact that is measurable and lasting, and I will be able to do that by becoming a…”

It’s been two months since we battled our battles and adventured our adventures in the beautiful, beautiful land of Cape Town, where we attended the 55th International Mathematical Olympiad.


Team Malaysia at the University of Cape Town.

It was one of the best times of my life, and I have so many memories that I want to relive. The camaraderie of pre-departure camp (and even more during the trip to South Africa). The intense two days of competition. Shivering together in the cold winter night. Watching penguins waddle up the beach as we looked out at the sea. Visiting the southernmost tip of South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. Climbing up to the lighthouse at Cape Point where the six of us watched silently as the waves crashed into the cape. Bonding tightly with the team over food, long conversations and math.

Luckily, I can relive all that through the pictures we took at Cape Town! For the next few weeks, I’m planning to write our story, the IMO 2014 story, bit by bit, until the entire journey has been written down.

To start things off, I’ve written a math post for this year’s IMO, walking through the competition from a mathematical perspective – follow the link below to the pdf. Happy reading!

IMO 2014 – Justin’s math


IMO 2014 the star


The full article on The Star:


IMO 2014 result


Full results on imo-official:


We did it. 


– broke the Malaysian points record for the 5th straight year, 129 points

– broke the Malaysian rank record for the 5th straight year, rank 23

– won the second and third gold medals in Malaysian history

– won the youngest bronze medal in Malaysian history, Zi Song12 years


Jetlagged, emotional, overwhelmed, surreal. I will write a complete series of posts chronicling the 2014 Malaysian IMO team in the coming weeks.

#5 Colombian sunset the day before we left

#5 Colombian sunset the day before we left

One of my favorite memories: lying on a beach as the waves gently lap upon the pale white sand, leaving their cascading footprints and swirling back and forth; swallowing sand, then swallowed back into the sea. This is the night: stars shine brightly down on our bodies as we rest in silence, bodies exhausted after a weeks’ worth of adventure in Colombia, minds fatigued, thinking about the plane tomorrow that will rotate the world and bring us three thousand miles away from this secret paradise we managed to find. The stars are beautiful tonight.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a magnificent display of stars: shimmering against a backdrop of black (which was in turn masking who knows how many galaxies and planets, but even the ones we can see are beautiful enough) and a curiously round moon. Where I come from, the sky is a dark canvas that does not twinkle, and there really isn’t much reason to lift up your head to look up, save for the times when we decide to light it up with fireworks and explosions, but those are still not stars.

One by one our eyes closed, hearts synchronized to the rhythmic crashing of the waves, and at that moment it felt as if all of the frustrations and worry that rage within our minds had just been magically waved away, and all the damage that we once thought was irreparable was now undone. There are people who say that stars are illusions, that they have been dead for millions of years by the time their light enters our eyes. But perhaps we can take solace that in the beautiful chaos of the universe, what we have is now, and what we see now can sometimes be so beautiful that this moment…is all that matters.


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