20 July 2018

The Thesis Saga (Part 2)

....Part 1 here....

My 60 days was up on 16th June 2015. I thought if it was meant to be, then something would’ve happened on that day. I was half expecting a call from the School of Graduate Studies urging me to send in the corrections. But nothing happened on that day and the days, weeks, and even months following. Nobody ever said anything again about the corrections, not at least from the school.
My friends though, thought I’ve completed everything. So when I told one of them that I haven’t sent in the corrected thesis, he angrily exclaimed “Bangang!”.

The thought of having a Master’s degree now is an uncertainty. I could never tell if I would finish it, because let’s face it, worse than failure is the unwillingness to carry through. Failure is external, motivation is internal. You could always change the outcome, when you wanted to. At that point of life, I wasn't sure if I wanted to anymore. I thought maybe I should just get on with my life, forget altogether the dream of having the scroll in my hands before the Great Halls with confetti flying in the background, standing proud cladded in my convocation robe, having both cheeks kissed by either of my parents. 

I forced myself to touch the thesis scribbled with the examiners’ comments whenever I mustered enough courage to do so. The one from the external examiners especially were folded here and there, earmarked, with notations all over the place right from the front cover. Just imagining the viva day again, my body shivers in shame. I was embarrassed, deeply gutted. Even looking back at it now, I could not say I was wrong. My feelings were valid. The fear was the truth of myself, a result of the circumstances. None of them seemed ridiculous, even right now. 

I felt so stupid and inadequate. The helplessness from not having a clear guide out of this mess crippled me. I closed again the thesis when the emotions overwhelmed me. No, I could not do this – I thought to myself.

 I remember every day tiring myself out with work to forget that I had a thesis waiting to be corrected, only for the anxiety to come flushing in at nights just before I closed my eyes. During weekends, whenever I am alone in my room, I sometimes cried myself out feeling so stirred up inside. 

My roommate got married and graduated that year, and during his convocation, I was trapped in a traffic jam at the MINES junction. I called him to congratulate him while my car was right under the flyover, rains pouring in from the sky. There was a solemnness in our voices, recognizing that there was now a gap between us, that he was moving on at a steady tempo while I somehow, fell through the cracks. We should be graduating together this year and we should be congratulating each other while thinking, we were so silly worrying about this because now that we both have graduated, it all falls into place finally - we've got this all along. It was true on his part on that day, but not mine. None of us breached the subject on his convocation day. 

The strong feelings motivated me hard enough to write a novel during this year. It was the only medium I know of to pour my heart out, especially during the lone year I was enduring when I had a falling out with most of my friends. The transition from my student days to working life has dramatically changed everything, and I couldn’t keep up. Dialog Orang Muda was written during this phase of my life, and I finished writing it on 29th February 2016. It was a continuation to the 4 short stories that I wrote while doing my Master’s, and I decided to tie the plots to my own life, until it reaches its conclusion on the day I parted ways with my roommate. 

Time passed by, and 7 months after my viva, I decided to do something major in my life. I met Fareez at my new workplace. Fareez was a member to an outdoor enthusiasts society, sometimes taking leaves so he could hike mountains. He was busy almost on every weekend with outdoor activities. I was bugging him to let me join him, but he was skeptical at first. I never looked the outdoor-sy part. But I was adamant. The reason being I took Environmental Science for my first degree was because I didn’t want to be confined to this urban lifestyle. I always wanted to break free from the shackles of the mundane routine of the city and be within the embrace of nature. 

Fareez first warms up to the idea of me joining him in March 2016. He invites me to join his camping trip to Blue Lagoon, Port Dickson for one night and on the dawn of the next day, we would hike up the Bukit Batu Putih which overlooks the Malacca Strait. This is where I was first introduced to GEMA Selangor Backpackerz (and I thought the z was so pretentious).

...to be continued

18 July 2018

The Thesis Saga (Part 1)

I hadn’t much energy to care, lately. I had once written a few goals I wanted to achieve before 25, and I ended up not achieving anything off the list and dammit, this year is the last year I am 20 something of age. I am 4 years behind schedule, apparently. 

And trying to be as brutally honest as I could be, I would like to clarify that I haven’t graduated with my Master’s degree yet – one of my supposed goals before turning 25. Last year, a few days before my hiking trip to Ledang, I received a ground-breaking news in the form of my student status on the School of Graduate Studies’ portal – from previously ‘thesis submitted’ to ‘terminated (gagal berhenti)’. 

I was devastated, but I had nobody else to blame but myself. At that night, I bawled my eyes to sleep. I had my viva voce 3 years ago, on 16th April 2015, just fifteen days living with GST. On that fateful day, my thesis was thoroughly criticized, excruciatingly condemned, and academically crumpled.

“This thesis is only deserving of a bachelor degree…”
“If it’s up to me, I would give you resubmit (meaning I had to redo my labwork, reanalyse the results and rewrite the whole thesis)…”
“If really, as you say, you’ve referred to 200 journals, then you won’t write this thesis this way.”
“Your English is so bad, you really could have used a proofreader.”

Having all your convictions destroyed in one day in a matter of hours was a fierce blow to my self-confidence. The viva started at 9:00 am and ended after 2 hours. The moment I walked out of the door for the examination committee to deliberate, I knew that everything has changed. I knew my thesis was not perfect, but to be summed up as one level lower than it should be is heartbreaking. If it’s not even deserving of a Master’s degree, then what have I been doing the past 3 years of my life?

To be told that my English was bad, man, I helped proofread my friends. I even helped a friend to edit his thesis abstract. And both of them graduated with my help, but none of their English was criticized in the viva room. 

I was recalled into the room to be handed the verdict. I passed my viva voce with major modifications – to say that I was glad was an understatement. I could not imagine having to go back to lab for another year, resubmit my thesis and re-sit for another viva. I was given 60 days to do the corrections according to the examination committee’s comments. My external examiner, a Professor from a neighbouring university who was especially ruthless to me and won’t listen to my explanation remarked “Should you encounter any problem, you could meet me later.”

I was confused after the viva. I was too shocked over the cruel viva session that I was certain I was having PTSD episodes afterwards. It took the graduate school one month to mail me the official transcript containing comments from the examiners, at which point half of my 60 allocated days and half of my motivation have passed. 

I tried to do the corrections during working hours, but my demanding job scope at that time means I couldn’t even pass 1 sentence without being brought back to the cutting edge ground of my work. This frustration leads me into sending a resignation letter, but before I could do so, my boss gave me 2 weeks off from work to settle the thesis. The first day I was away, something came up in the office regarding my work and I had to come to the office to rectify some errors. This set the tone for the following days – I was anxious if my office needs me and the distress cost me so much of my focus and determination. 

My week flew so swimmingly during which I was jittery, deprived of sleep and depressed trying to decipher the examiners comments and do the corrections based on them, all at the same time scared of being summoned to work should anything arises. One simple sentence of the comment could mean a world, as in ‘this chapter should be thoroughly revised’ and the aforementioned chapter is 57 pages long. When the time was over, I could only confidently do a few minor corrections, and the major ones left untouched. 

Under the pressure of not completing the corrections and having to go back to work, I then made a mistake. I gave in to their commentary during the viva. “Maybe it’s true, I can’t be good enough. That no matter how hard I try, and no matter how much time pass, it won’t change anything – I was bad. Maybe my thesis is only deserving of a Bachelor degree. There is no point in trying.”

“If this thesis ended up being referred to in the future, all they could see is a mess and wondered how did this thesis end up being accepted and archived?”

“Even if I could rewrite this whole thing, it would take years with my current working commitment. I mean, ‘tremendous efforts should be given to rewrite this chapter’ could even mean I had to refer back to all my 200 references and rephrase and paraphrase everything and I don’t have that time and I don’t even remember where did I save all those journals!”

So with that mindset, I decided to quit. Because I felt like I was a fraud, who tried to cheat my way through the system and grant myself an easy success. That I was never good enough, I was only a fa├žade. That me doing my Master degree was a failure right from the start because I was too proud to admit that I was stupid.

...to be continued

04 June 2018

God Bless Indonesia, And All The Beautiful People In It

Melewati jalan-jalan berlubang di dalam van, melepasi desa-desa yang dipagari sawah padi, rumah-rumah kayu dan bangunan bermotifkan Minang, dan petang dengan hujan renyai dan udara yang berkabus membuatkan segalanya mengabur kepada sebuah warna nostalgia. 

Petang kita di Malaysia bukan selalu begini, selalu jingga. Di sini, petangnya bagai suatu fenomena baru. Aku kaget kerana belum berjumpa kata yang sesuai untuk menggambarkannya, tapi dalam spektrum warna, ia berona cyan aksen kelabu. Dalam spektrum perasaan, letaknya di julat rindu kepada suatu tempat yang belum pernah kita lewati. Yang ini, perkataannya kusudah temu – hiraeth. 

Sawah padi yang hijau di tebing jalan, berlatarbelakangkan bukit bukau, dan gerimis yang mengiris angkasa kelabu mengingatkanku kepada zaman dahulu, suatu daerah dan masa yang kutidak pernah lewati. Desa di Indonesia sungguh tidak sama dengan desa di Malaysia, sungguhpun bangsa dan agama kita sama.

Tanah, udara dan air di sini enggan menjadi satu dengan tanah, udara dan air di Malaysia. Malaysia dan Indonesia, bagai saudara yang pada suatu titik masa di garis sejarah telah berpisah, dan kini dewasa bebas daripada diri masing-masing. 

“Sumatera itu lebih dekat dengan Semenanjung Malaysia berbanding Pulau Jawa” aku pernah terbaca kata-kata ini ketika menelaah sejarah Pulau Sumatera. Atas sebab itu, Soekarno khuatir Sumatera lebih berminat menyertai Malaysia daripada Indonesia, lantas kekhuatiran itu diterjemah kepada peristiwa pembunuhan beramai-ramai sultan-sultan Melayu di Sumatera untuk memadamkan sentimen itu daripada rakyat Sumatera. 

“Aku selalu mengkritik rakyat Malaysia kerana mereka tidak seteratur rakyat Singapura, tidak sesantai seperti orang Thailand, dan tidak seartistik dan bersemangat seperti orang Indonesia...” tulis Amir Hafizi di laman mikroblog twitter. Aku memuja kata-kata itu. 

Orang Indonesia selalu sayang akan budaya dan seni mereka. Di bawah sebuah jejantas di Bandung, tertera sebuah ayat keramat “Dan Bandung bagiku bukan cuma masalah geografis, lebih jauh dari itu melibatkan perasaan, yang bersamaku ketika sunyi…” -Pidi Baiq

Barisan ayat itu bagiku sungguh puitis dan mengintrik. Aku merasa kagum dengan penghayatan sastera rakyat Indonesia, di Malaysia jalan-jalan yang dicat dan dicacat grafiti dan bilboard mega berisi kata-kata Inggeris. Isi dalaman kita buang, hanya tinggal kulit. Tetapi warga Indonesia enggan begitu, meski kulit berbeza hati mereka teguh dengan budaya. Di celah jalan mana di Kuala Lumpur kita palitkan walau sebaris ayat sasterawan negara? Aku kecewa kerana aku tidak mampu bertemu jawapannya. 

Bagiku, setiap tempat perlu diiring memori sebuah lagu, dan lagu yang menemaniku dari lapangan terbang klia2 ke bandara Padang sehingga detikku di dalam van ialah ‘God Bless America, and All the Beautiful Women In It.”
Sewaktu kali kedua ziarahku di sini, di tanah tinggi kota Bandung lagu ‘Always Be My Baby’ mejadi nada latar pengalamanku sepanjang di sana. Rawak benar, tapi aku terlalu angkuh untuk menurut arus. Bagiku, ke mana saja aku pergi, aku perlu jujur dengan naluriku, termasuk juga dalam pemilihan laguku. Barangkali mengapa sewaktu di Gunung Yong Belar aku menjalinkan pengalamanku dengan lagu I Can Fly. Untuk kembali kepada pengalaman itu, aku hanya perlu memutar lagu yang sama, dan memori itu akan hadir semula ke ingatanku. 

Vokal Lana del Rey membuaiku di dalam van tatkala melihat titisan hujan berlumba di kaca tingkap. “God bless Indonesia, and all the beautiful people in it.” Nyanyiku dengan gubahan lirikku sendiri.
Hari-hari berikutnya yang dihabiskan di tanah tinggi Kerinci, aku cemas dengan ketidaktentuan berada di bumi asing. Bukan sebagai pelancong, tetapi sebagai pendaki gunung membuatkan segalanya akan membesar ke skala yang lebih tinggi. Ketakutan, keterujaan, kekaguman. 

Petang kami di lereng Kerinci di shelter 2 adalah sebuah pengalaman baru bagiku, melihat bintang di angkasa yang tidak berbatas dan panahan petir di kejauhan pada masa yang sama bagiku itu sebuah sketsa bernilai. 

Apabila kami kembali semula, mendengar kembali lagu “God Bless America” membuatkan aku merasa rohku melayang kembali ke dalam van pada petang itu melihat larian air hujan di pinggir kaca, petang bening dan desa-desa yang permai di pergunungan. 

Kerinci kini menjadi sebuah daerah di mindaku yang akan kukunjungi apabila aku memainkan melodi. Walau aku tidak mengenali Pidi Baiq, tapi aku merasa berjaya memecah masalah geografis dan kesunyian untuk kembali ke tanah Kerinci.

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