Saturday, December 17, 2005


27th October 1997.

I wasn't anxious. I wasn't excited. And I wasn't feeling expectant, even if this was something I've been looking forward to for three months or so.

Instead, I was confident. I was methodical. Heck, I was even feeling a little naughty.

I sauntered into the hall, to my designated table and sat down. Time to prepare the weapons. Pen unsheathed and waiting. Mechanical pencil with lead at the waiting. Liquid paper shaken but not stirred, filled to the brim (a new bottle) and also at the ready.

I took off my watch and laid it down neatly the table. Knowing this will be a multi-hour grind, I chose to put on my jacket immediately; Hall M's air-conditioning was something to be reckoned with. A friend of mine even referred to his jacket as his 戰袍. Instinctively, my heels and soles played with the shoes. These soon came off and dropped onto the floor with a "plop!". My pencil started twirling around my thumb, a habit that has followed me since 15.

"It is now 1:30p.m. You may start writing."

We dived in. An unsynchronised chorus of calculator punching immediately commenced. It sounded strangely arousing, like the smell of cordite to a fighter pilot. The adrenaline rush was already starting in me.

I wasn't used to writing so much in such a concentrated period of time. Before long, my right hand cramped up a little. It was normal. Instead of writing with my wrist, I improvised and wrote with the whole limb. It was also a common sight to see others give their writing hand that cursory shake or two before diving back in.

I looked up to take a deep breath and check the time. For a Matrix-like moment, I saw my lecturer looking back at me. Yes, he was right. Actuarial exams are like swimming; You surface only to breathe.

Then I noticed. It had been an hour already?! Quick, get back into the fray.

By now, that initial adrenaline rush was gone. It had been replaced by a heart pounding, perspiring determination. The grip on my pen had tightened appreciably. I thought and wrote even more furiously now. My feet started to feel cold, so I slipped my shoes back on.

As was something I would get used to in future sittings, by the time I reached question 5, question 3 and what I had wrote for it had long been forgotten.

Another long breath, another time check. Two hours gone! One more to go.

I quickly flipped ahead to check how I was progressing. Still around 1/3 of the total on offer left. So despite my best efforts, I was ONLY barely on schedule! Gosh, never have I been so pressed for time in an exam. I had always taken pride in my ability to think quick, write quick and complete exams ahead of time. Never have I been stretched to such an extreme before.

The typo errors started to creep in. The little red bottle of liquid paper was more frequently called upon now. White traces strewn all over my script. You have big handwriting; It should be ok, I told myself.

"You have 15 minutes left."

I was already onto the last question. Hang on tight, this is going to be ending soon. I could feel my whole body was on fire, yet my palms were ice cold and even a little wet. My soles would be too if I had not put my shoes back on earlier. I was extremely conscious that I was on the last throes of my endurance. Just needed to push myself over that finishing line. I headed back into that final question of the paper.

Then it hit me unexpectedly. At the last part of last question. With five minutes left on the watch.

I had hit the wall. My mind went blank instantaneously.

I stared at the question and it stared back at me. I knew that it was a do-able question. But at that point in time, I just couldn't think anymore. Something had snapped in me.

I was spent.

If anything, it was fortunate that this happened in the last five minutes with only five marks left to fight for. I gave a figurative shrug and started packing up. White marks of dried correction fluid were all over my hands. Whilst keeping my stationary, I noticed the significantly lowered ink levels of my pen. Gosh, had I really written that much?!

"Time's up. Finish your last sentence and..."

From that point onwards, everything went like a blur. I don't recall handing in my script. Nor how I dragged my dead beat body out of the hall. Whom I met. What we said or discussed, if at all. Nor how I got home.

I can only recall the residual mixed feelings of contentment, being dazed and oh so completely drained out. These were to last until the next day.

Fast forward to 11th June 2005.

I was a little anxious. I was more than excited. And I certainly was feeling expectant, for this was something we've been looking forward to for three months or so...

Akan Datang: Torch Light (part 3)

104 days to go.


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