My First Debate Experience

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I joined the 9th National English Debate Competition Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr Hajjah Saleha Debate Cup 2011 held at HELP University College on the 23rd and 24th of April. Despite the friendly debate with SMK Jitra prior to the competition, it was my first “real” debate experience because, well, the friendly debate was too “friendly” to even be considered a legit debate, as those who were present as well would understand. Our debate team consisted of Aifa, Alia and I, chaperoned by Teacher Bedah and her 20-year-old daughter (please please please forgive me for not remembering her name).

On the 21st, my parents drove me to KL because they also wanted to visit Xiao Ku in the hospital anyway. I haven’t really explained anywhere on my blog what had happened to my aunt. Okay, well she got a serious stroke during work one day and was rushed to Damansara Specialist Hospital immediately, where she collapsed as soon as she reached the place. It was horrible and the largest damage was impacted on her brain. Just the last Thursday (21st April) we visited her after she was discharged into a normal ward from the ICU. She was, well, different, but doing really, really good for a stroke patient and I am so thankful towards God for that. I don’t think I would be considered a religious person but in cases like these we really do see these miracles performed by God and how true His grace is.

The next day, Dad sent me to Hotel Peninsula at Jalan Semantan where most of the debaters from foreign states stay at during the competition. It was around 8pm when I reached there, and we started research and discussion for our first motion immediately. Thus that proved to be the first neverending, hysterical and mind-torturing night of our debate trip. What else do you expect from three superhyper teenagers with extremely short attention spans? I outline the two nights we spent more than four hours in the hotel lobby (where there was Wifi) like this:

  • Stage One: “Okay, let us start. What’s our caseline for this motion?”
  • Stage Two: “I’m just going to go on Facebook for a while…”
  • Stage Three: “I’m hungry.” *fishes packets of cookies from backpack*
  • Interlude: “Guys, come on, we really need to start on the motion.”
  • Stage Four: “We need to think of a nickname for him…” “Anne Sullivan?”
  • Stage Five: *abuses Talking Tom the cat on my iPhone*
  • Stage Six: “I’m so tired oh my god I’m so tired of debate I’m so tired of doing this I just want to sleep.”
  • Stage Seven: “Okay, guys! Close. The. Facebook. Tab. Now!”
  • Stage Eight: “…what is our caseline for this motion?”
  • Stage Nine: “We need help!” *giggles* “We need help! Help University…GET IT?”

Especially during the first night, we had no idea what was in store for us and we were pretty much freaking out over everything.

And because I am such a responsible tweeter, let me just show you some proof (one of the lessons learned from the mechanism of debating) of these restless nights:

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61417846550433792

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61440339122204672

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61455285478367232

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61462826815987712

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61842211083534337

http://twitter.com/#!/mayobacon/status/61840482619232256

23rd April

I woke up feeling so cold and nerves were just attacking every part of my body. We cleaned up, got dressed, and boarded the prepared shuttle bus to HELP University which wasn’t too far from our hotel. When we reached the university, we went through the registration procedure etc etc and then as we found somewhere to sit and wait for the start of our first debate, which was scheduled to begin at 8.30am, I just couldn’t stop shaking and it was only natural that I started to feel nauseated and had a horrible stomachache at the same time.

The debate crowd at HELP UC

First round (Government)

Vs SMK Seksyen 19

Motion: THBT Malaysia should subsidize education of all children irrespective of what form of school (public or private) they go to.

It was the first debate and what do you expect other than a lot of flailing about and complaints of nerve wrecks? However, we soon found out the debaters from SMK Seksyen 19 were friendly and awesome and we made our first friends from this competition: Claudine, Katherine & Aisyah.

It was held in a conference hall, and we actually had to use microphones. Well, doesn’t this just add on to my train of nerve wrecks? I took the advice Teacher KKL particularly gave me during the friendly with SMK Jitra, which is to not read off my script, and I thought I did okay for a first round. However, the win was given to the opposition because us both teams were debating on two very different caselines and they seemed much more convincing so the adjudicator gave the win to them.

I wasn’t expecting any win at all for all 4 motions during this competition, so I wasn’t bothered that much. What’s a lost match compared to three new friends?

Alia, me, Katherine, Aifa, Claudine & Aisyah

After that, we had a 3-hour period to prepare for our second round. The total of six hours for both days was the most horrible period of time during this competition. Two hours of preparing for both sides for the motion, and the last hour to finalise your preparation after the lots are drawn. We got government for the second round, which was such a huge relief, and we also found out we would be debating against SMK TTDI.

Second round (Government)

SMK TTDI Jaya

Motion: THBT developing countries should introduce minimum wage legislation.


I wasn’t as prepared for this round than the first, but nevertheless I felt quite confident.

It was a mistake though, because the horror happened as I delivered my speech as the first speaker. Towards the end of my speech, I realised the bell hadn’t been rung yet, and I was starting to worry. It couldn’t be, the length of my script was exactly the same as the mine in the first round, and I talked way past the seventh minute in the first round. However, there was nothing I could do but end my speech, take my seat, and solemnly hope the timekeeper had forgotten to ring the bell or that I was quite close to the seventh minute.

To my absolute horror, the timekeeper announced that I had only spoken for five minutes.

My bubble of thoughts right then was “HOW COULD I HAVE SPOKEN FOR ONLY FIVE MINUTES YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME YOUR STOPWATCH IS FAULTY WAIT WHAT HOW COULD I HAVE SPOKEN FOR ONLY FIVE MINUTES”

Later on, as I compared my first and second script, it was indeed way shorter than the first script.

I was starting to get worried. Because of me, our team might just lose this round. But then the first speaker of the opposition spoke for approximately five minutes as well so that calmed my nausea a little.

In the end, we won the round! And Aifa was awarded Best Speaker for this round. We won mainly because the opposition’s points were pretty nonsensical and vague, so we were actually really lucky this time.

The debates ended for the day and we went back to the hotel feeling pretty accomplished to have won at the very least a round. And, as you might have already predicted, the night mirrored that of the first night and carried on until 2am, an hour later than the first night.

24th April

I woke up feeling pretty emotionless. Maybe it’s because too much irrational thinking the night before has led to the exhaustion of emotions…I don’t know. I didn’t feel optimistic or pessimistic for the third round, in which we were opposition against SMJK Sin Min. Silly me actually thought it was the Sin Min school from Alor Setar but it was actually the one from SP, the one Ming Qiu went to.

Third round (Opposition)

Vs SMJK Sin Min

Motion: THW ban use of unmanned vehicles in conflicts/wars.

My lack of emotion turned into mild confidence as I entered the debate room, for reasons I still cannot be sure of. My confidence rose a few notches as I heard the first speaker speak.

I thought I did my best in this round compared to the other rounds. My confidence was at its peak and despite the stutters, I felt like this was the “engaged debating mode” people speak about.

We also won this round and I was even awarded Best Speaker for the round! Such a shocker, I know. (My parents still snort whenever I tell them this. They think I’m bluffing.)

As with all the other rounds, after this round, we shook hands and congratulated the opposing side for a good debate well done. Such great debating spirit, woot!

The next three hours, as predicted, were chaos with last minute cramming, phone calls to Teacher KKL and Aunty Amelia and furious scribbling of our scripts. After we drew lots, I got the worst shock when I found who we were going up against as opposition.

“Em. See. Kay. Kay?”

MCKK. Malay College of Kuala Kangsar.

My hope for another round of “engaged debating mode” was then long gone even before I made it to the debate room.

Fourth round (Opposition)

Vs MCKK

Motion: THW ban setting up any new nuclear energy plant.

And now before you ask how the debate went, let’s just say our team was bluffing throughout the whole round and we, as Alia had actually predicted on the first day, “lost with shame and indignity”. I was just rushing through my script, reading my script without knowing what I was really talking about. I was terrified and nervous and intimidated and now so embarrassed and guilty and everything lame. It was a shame we had to go home with such embarrassment. We had hopes of going all out for the last motion so we can go home with a sense of pride but preparing our points three hours before a debate isn’t going to help us achieve that, obviously.

But still, considering I hadn’t expected even a single win in this competition, two out of four wins sounds too good to be true for me. At least we can now tell people that we won half of the number of rounds in the competition!

With the debaters from MCKK
Exactly 52 playcards used by three of us.

This competition has honestly helped me tremendously, to realise my weaknesses and faults, what debating is really and actually like, and infuse the “debate spirit” within myself so that I actually found the courage and confidence to speak out and really, you know, debate. Besides making new friends (like Claudine, Katherine and Aisyah), I also met old friends (like Jeremy from NSCFL Camp two years ago). Despite the mental exhaustion it has inflicted upon us (two debate rounds in a day! Sleeping for four hours at night!), it was truly an amazing and thrilling experience, and I can honestly say I have love for debating.

I would like to thank Aifa and Alia for being such great debaters for our team, Cikgu Bedah for putting up with us and waiting for us and arranging everything for us, Teacher KKL and Aunty Amelia for offering tips in desperate moments, and to everyone else who helped and offered support etc. I will now accept my virtual Debater: Beginner’s Level plague and walk away now.

EDIT (27/4): LOOK THE RESULTS ARE OUT !!!

WE RANK NUMBER FORTY FOUR! AIFA EXPECTED 60+ AND I EXPECTED 90+ BUT WE GOT FORTY FOUR! CEEEEEEELEBRAAAAAATE GOOD TIMES COME ON!

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Author: Michelle Teoh

23-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

2 thoughts on “My First Debate Experience”

  1. OMG I was reluctant to read the debate on MCKK. We just didn’t get enough preparation and panicked, if not we could at least be a competition.

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