Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ten years ago

Sepuluh tahun lalu, gue adalah bocah ini:

I wish I could say that being ten years older than I was has made me wiser and more mature. It hasn't―or at least if it had, it's not apparent to me.

What I can say with certainty is that some things changed very little. If I used to receive mails from the young readers of An Nisa (no, really), now I receive mails from the young kids in Batui 5.

If I used to be graced with people in my surroundings who have more faith in me than myself―I'm thankful that I can still say the same for my present self. Because what buoyed me ten years ago was really a result of so many people willing to take the extra mile, peppered with advantageous circumstances.

For starters, there was the fact that 2004 was only the second year for Indonesia to send delegates to the IAO. This led to not too many schools being privy to the existence of this competition. In district-level selection, there was only four students from two schools competing in high school level. One of them was me.

And I was only there because the more talented students didn't make the cut―the age criteria where the students shall be younger than 17 y.o. on August 2004 was against my school's top physics students. Oh, I'm pretty good at high school level physics, mind you. But I was (a) more interested in chemistry, (b) boggled by the perceived difficulty of physics olympiad problems, and (c) awestruck by the genius of IPhO delegates as reported by Kompas year after year. No way I could make it to their ranks.

I'm always good at talking myself down. Why not? It is much less risky to predict doom and gloom than to predict that things will work out fine.

But in this case it's actually rational. Of thousands of students vying to be delegates, they only take 6 students each year. The odds are definitely slim.

And rational thoughts are the most effective cushion against the inevitable crushing disappointment. At the very least, if I were to be disappointed, I won't get crushed, inevitable as they are.

Just like the time when the awards for a district-wide high school level speech contest in local university are to be announced. I entered the contest hopeful, but as they were announcing the awards from the 10th place up, the flutters of the butterfly wings in my stomach grew stronger.

"10th place wouldn't be bad―but there's no way it's me―oh I hope it's me―but it's the bottom―I hope I got better result―oh it's not me,"
"8th place is still on the lower half of the awardees―but there's no way it's me―oh I hope it's me―or could I get a better resul―oh it's not me,"
"5th place is respectable―but there's no way it's me―could it be m―oh it's not me,"
"Oh man how awesome would it be if I grab the runner up title―there's no way it cou―see? It's not me,"
"Oh―I got nothing."

This was the recurring theme of any award announcement (or any post-debate oral adjudication) that I found myself in. Including, the announcement of the national olympiad result.

I had discounted the fact that I was ranked in the top three during the provincial selection and so it was with many butterfly wings aflutter that I was swinging between hope and dejection during the announcement of the bronze and silver medalists. Only the gold medals remain unannounced, and there was only three of them.

I thought to myself, "There's no w―wait, what?"

I registered my name being called. Now that's unexpected.


It was only the beginning, because I was then invited to the training camp where out of seven gold and silver medalists, one will be picked to complete the team to be send to represent Indonesia. Jaya had secured a ticket for himself, topping the result for both theoretical and observational rounds at the national olympiad.

You know, I think it was him that prompted this note. He's getting married next weekend to Stefani (whose photo was featured in a book titled "Prestasi Gemilang Anak Bangsa"). I was chuffed when I heard the news―I wish nothing but happy matrimony bliss for them.


In retrospective, I actually had fun during the training―learned lots of new stuff, breathed lots of fresh cold air of Lembang, enjoyed the camaraderie, and generally despaired very little. The competition between the seven of us hardly felt like a competition. I was grateful for having the privilege to experience that.

When the team was formed with me among the delegates, we spent our last week in Jakarta, making ourselves familiar with the northern sky constellations at the planetarium. And because we can't monopolize the planetarium, the sessions ended late at night--and we would walk along the Cikini road to get to our lodging.

I guess I was feeling nostalgic, because last month I took a detour from my usual route home to amble along the same route. And it speaks so much to me how funny life is.

Ten years ago, every step that I took strengthened my resolve to never choose to live in this very city.

Ten years after, look where I wound up at.

Related post:  Seven years ago.

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