May 24, 2013

What PASUM has to offer

Being home is nothing but true salvation. It is not exactly the home itself that matters, it’s the freedom - the sense that you have a lot of time to not think ahead of, with no rules to adhere to; the feeling of sheer festivity that you can simply storm into your room, wide open the windows so the curtain wavers freely when the breeze wafts in, sleep at dawn and wake up sometime at 2 pm with your arms stretched, and your grin etched, and your mind empty of ideas of what to do other than playing your favorite The Vaccines’s  or Lykke Li’s alternative mixes or even the concerto, with some food in your both hands, so your arrival home and your accomplishment in ending what you’ve started beforehand, regardless either if it’s in a virtuous or unethical way; is ceremonious just as much as you want it to be, even though it’s a self-celebration.

I must concur with my friends’ “prophecy” that the only thing we would do when we get home, is mostly wandering in the cyberspace bandwagons like twitter, 9gag, etc. But unfortunately for me, I took that little butterfly of a “dream” and put it in a jar on a shelf as the internet coverage near my residence is somehow stalled without any fathomable reason. But thanks to my parents and siblings’ lack of interest in dominating our living room, most of my time was occupied by -- other than sleeping like a log -- watching some TV shows which I had left during my foundation studies and one of my favorites is American Horror Story. To begin with, it’s basically about an institution built to place those who are criminally insane, which in a way, reminds me of Pasum, much likely of an asylum with countless of hours daily, comprising physically-draining series of running back and forth to classes and lectures, and mentally-torturing daily quizzes and exercises, which sometimes might make you question your faith, not to say the unnecessary pressures to stand some lecturers who tried their best to look hipster-ish and the unstoppable annoyances on Twitter created by people-who-need-to-get-a-lifes and attention-seeking douches. It was a madhouse, really. Except that maybe we were only half crazy or at least I was half crazy, and we could get in and out of the asylum when the classes end.

I still have a crystal-clear envision of my very first lecture. I can still recollect some of the lecturers remarking that Pasum (Pusat Asasi Sains Univ Malaya is what Pasum stands for) wasn’t going to be easy to those who skipped classes and did not do the exercises given for every subject weekly and also to those who didn’t score well for their quizzes and reports. Before the plot gets more intricate, I’ll make a little enlightenment. And this may help to those who are yearning to study in here so you know what to expect what happens in Pasum: There are three major things in Pasum. One, the lectures which are the times when some of University of Malaya’s finest will come in and bombard your brains with a myriad of Thermodynamics formula and the Hybridization of Atoms theories, not to say some lecturers who will come in just to show you some mundanely done PowerPoint presentations in which they will allocate some minutes per slide for you just to copy, or if they feel a bit motivated then they’ll be kind enough to read what is exactly in their own slides. You may want to expect some euphonious lullabies being sung and some minor grammatical errors, which probably will not make any difference as the essence of these lectures is actually to acquaint you with what you’re supposed to master. There are four main subjects which are divided into two so you may also want to expect tons of homework to be executed daily. Second, the tutorial classes, are the moments when you are expected to finish your homework and be at the same pace with the syllabus taught. Quizzes will be done, sometimes out of the blue, so you need to always be at your best game. The third is the laboratory sessions where all you have to do is to follow what’s written on your biology, physics and chemistry manuals. The problem isn’t always about the experiment; it’s the freaking lab report. The chemistry report, for instance is always no less than 20 full pages with diagrams, introductions, procedures, and the results of experiment. What irks me is not just writing, it’s copying what is already written in the manual! I bet, nothing’s going to change if we simply write “Refer to the lab manual”. But weird things happen in Pasum, and your marks may sometimes get deducted for only not writing the date or even misspelling your demonstrators’ names. To make things even worse, all these three components will be incorporated into your CGPA which means all you need to maintain is consistency, in other word, be a humanoid robot for at least a year.

Because you have nearly ten hours of classes+lectures+experiments daily, where some of them will be unprecedentedly rescheduled which may lead to additional hours, all you want to do when you get to your room is dozing off, ignoring the time, the weather, and the things you are supposed to do. And in the middle of 10 o clock at night, would I wake up, high and confused, with no idea what just had happened, and what planet I was on. Only when I hit the shower, the disillusionment began to fade, brick by boring brick. It was always at this hour would I try to decipher what was I actually supposed to do, which most of them were elucidated by helpful Samaritans in my class like Shazzy, a friend frequently perceived as a foreigner due to her ineloquence in Bahasa and her worldly exterior, fit to model as an international student.

When trying to grasp what things to do starts in the middle of the night, you can expect that I usually slept sometime at four or five in the morning, three to four hours before the next class started. That was the very reason why my biological clock was all messed up all-year long when I was at Pasum. It what happens when physical feebleness meets arduous mental and physical use.

But of course, people do excel in Pasum. If you ever think of getting 3.5 and above, then Pasum may not be your ideal choice. People here only talk about getting 4.00 and their very ideology is that, not getting 4.00 is equivalent to having your head decapitated and having your corpse fed to stray pit-bull dogs. When the competition is something that matters more than studying itself, then you’ll start to feel the tinge of pressure and mind you, chanting all iz well alone will not suffice.

The horrifying moment in Pasum is always when the result is out. After every exam during your high school years, the teachers would always give a hint about your performance. Only a little grin or a mild smirk is enough to give an indication about what to expect with our results, unfortunately, it never happens that way in Pasum, or most probably in any other higher institution. You do the exam and you’ll know the result 3 weeks subsequently. No hint, no checking back the answers and not even a scintilla clue of what to expect given, mean that you need to keep your fingers crossed all the time even if it means losing your appetite, having no interest to speak, and feeling unreasonably sad that may result in your overconsumption of Valium and Lexapro. It is a chained reaction, a mind-gobbling and drug-consuming period for the high time- The time to know whether all your strategies and your blueprints beforehand work out or otherwise, the time for you to feel what you do all this while augur fruitful consequences or is it just good for nothing, and the time to witness whether your prayers have been granted or perhaps just the heat of the moment for you to relinquish your defeat.

As in my case, I didn’t think about the result much, simply because I had no interest of knowing it from my advisor. Life was much simpler that way. Only during the final exam, would I brave my steps to walk into my advisor’s room and take the result from him as it would be the accumulated one. However, I would still need to face the music of listening to his indistinct murmuring which he usually deemed as his two cents. That would actually leave me feeling queasy for hours.

As lame as “Every cloud has a silver lining” may sound, but I reckon the adage may actually make sense. Out of all this frenzy I’d been facing in Pasum, good things sometimes happened. Good people did exist. I may not be a big fan of people – I despise people who try so hard to be perceived as awesome, I hate those who are two-faced and redundant when speaking, I detest those who enjoy sugarcoating crappy things and the people who post nonsense on twitter. But frankly, being in Pasum (unfortunately) realizes me that there is more than meets the eye and people do differ greatly in the way they think, what they are capable of and how they react to certain situations. Adibah Nor, a dear friend of mine from N3 for instance, is a great singer. She often sang in class, during lectures, and sometimes even in the dining hall! Not only she always dressed immaculately as a nyonya kebaya, her impeccable Mandarin always made me felt multi-cultural without doing anything. Fauzan for instance, was my English partner and he was seemingly shy and quiet but such a nice guy to work with. And Fauzan, I’m so sorry that I forgot to pay your RM 14 for the breakfast we once had someplace near the auditorium and the notes I took from you before the final exam. (text me your acc number J)

I suppose, MRSM students do have lots of things in common. They enjoy sitting at the back of every lecture; they couldn’t care less to speak so effing loud they may become the cynosure in the crowd, they enjoy last minute studies; they like food, they enjoy K-Pop music, etc. And yes, all these were true when I was in Pasum. In fact, I started to reconnect with the clan when I started to sit at the back row, which ironically, was fully occupied with people faster than the front row. Back row was haven, really. It was full with people chitchatting and eating and sleeping and laughing and discussing on which lectures to stay and which ones to skip. To list all the names whom I made friends with might be unrealistic as the list goes on and won’t stop. But really, these people were my only escape hatch from Pasum and its insanity. Often, we went out and had a little treat and met with old friends from various institutions so you may expect that our networking was crazy diverse. There were many feel-good times that sometimes made me feel downright sappy and corny for I barely had any friend from my old schools in Pasum to dwell with. But God works in mysterious ways they say, and things eventually got better in Pasum.

That’s the bummer.

During the very last paper on our final exam, I could recall that everyone was cheering jubilantly for ending what they had started and one dear friend of mine frantically approached me, on her way back from the examination hall and gave me a thumbs-up with an epic grin, congratulating me for surviving Pasum. When I had a second thought, that actually made sense. My real achievement was actually surviving Pasum and making avail of what was in there and for one moment, I felt relieved even though the feeling was still vague and uncertain.

Pasum days were indeed, hard. Some deemed it to be ten times harder than SPM, which was actually logical, considering its syllabus which accounted more than that in SPM and its duration of study which was merely ten months. Notwithstanding, I can’t help but to think that I did gain something from it. I did meet a whole bunch of amazing people from all walks of life; I did defy my personal longings by doing more important things, like opting to completing homework rather than reading my favorite books which would be endless, and most of all, I did have a hell of time in Pasum– frolicking with old friends at Sunway Lagoon for a couple of times and savoring our taste buds even at the eve of the exam weeks. When exam was in a matter of days, we would fuel ourselves with a plethora of caffeine and sit somewhere in the cafeteria to study, even though most of the time was actually wasted by talking about unnecessary things like who was the real villain in Star Wars, what age to get married, who was the mother of Ted Mosby’s children and who might win the XFactor. Perhaps, life wasn’t that bad to pull an all-nighter, with some cups of white coffee and Muse’s Survival playing in the background. Life wasn’t that bad knowing you could always turn to those who understand you and those who could give a bit of motivation when days were somewhat gloomy. Life wasn’t that bad, having an understanding that every hardship would end and bright days would emerge.

Frankly, I don’t miss Pasum. I miss its people and the good ol’ days. I suppose, those are mainly the things Pasum has to offer.