Postscript: I wrote this a little under a year ago, thinking that if I couldn’t literally freeze a period in time, I could at least attempt to literarily do so. At the time of writing, I held the firm belief that my time in AC was an absolute miracle. This continues to hold true; but with the benefit of hindsight, the role played by the unique coalescence of the individuals named (rather rigorously) here is perhaps as inessential to this story as it is to all stories. The truth of the matter is that we are not the miracle, but AC is. This school that has come to define generations of unironic catalysts for change, and which has also minimally equipped us with second careers as washed-up comedians: that’s the miracle. Although, what each and every one of our cohorts have may not be unique, but that does not mean that it is not special.
So, this is for the Year 6 ticking off the remaining 20 or so days of school left off of the calendar – may you treasure what you have left, and may you live these last days well.
In my younger and more vulnerable days, I once sat a sullen and vanquished child in Mr Hodge’s office. Defeated by the age-old hamartia of tragedies past, I had committed the ultimate folly of self-contradiction. Gone was my ability to flit between forceful argument and plaintive plea. It was 2014, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I had been thoroughly – as the saying goes – caught with my pants down.
“Your argument is that you believe in the ACS family,” Mr Hodge said, “but if this were the case, then why ACS (I)? Why not ACS (Barker)?”
Even with the rose-tinted lens of hindsight, I believe I must have mustered a half-witted reply that stunned everyone in the room with its remarkable inelegance. A cagey sort of silence filled the space that my reply could not. Like a student who had not paid his fines to the Shaw Foundation Library, I knew that my time had come.
Why ACS (I)? Truth be told, I had no idea how to answer him. The mental image I had of ACS (I) was informed by stiff-necked newspaper articles, hyperbolic (often horny) exclamations from my ACS (P) friends on the netball team, and a hilarious guide on Scribd (https://www.scribd.com/doc/52664186/Guide-to-ACSi-IBDP) that seemed initially ironic, then unfortunately true. From all of these variegated sources, I had gleaned a treasure trove of information that largely fell into the following:
- The students did well enough at the IBDP, romping to healthy scores that threatened global averages and would later go on to spawn salty Reddit threads.
- IB had introduced the foreign species of girls into a hapless previously all-male ecology, rendering fellas I had once known (re: Calvin, Dom, and the like) paralysed by the intermittent whiffs of oestrogen carried on the sea breeze of the SAC air-conditioning.
- Somewhere along the line, a Ponzi scheme had been devised to allow lovelorn individuals to spell out bold confessions to the objects of their adulation. After a hefty fee was paid to a squadron of dedicated Student Councillors, said Councillors would promptly fulfil their promise to serve the school by rolling up their tapered pants, wading into the Koi Pond, and arranging the stones to form the cherished confessions of choice.
Aside from this catalogue of insider information, I somehow also managed to gain some insights on my way to the principal’s office. I felt like Christopher Columbus minus the murder and pillage. Navigating the subterranean tunnels outside the CyberAC rooms, I had been warned that I would encounter amorphous blobs of tie-donning, shirt-tucking, fast-sprinting bodies shuttling between the street soccer court and the toilet.
I was later informed that the toilets in question were not, in fact, toilets, but the Old Block classrooms; some sort of ill-conceived tiling exercise had threatened to turn all Snapchat stories from Year 1 to 4 into a series of adult films. I was also informed that the street court would be closing down literally a month before I stepped into the school; as a consequence, I’ve never actually stepped foot on street. In truth, the school’s architectural woes proved to be a stunningly recurrent theme throughout my tenure, with such feats of ineptitude like the Audi 2 Conundrum, the Junior Block Crisis, and the Debacle of the HSP Shrine.
Treading gingerly on this new information I had acquired, I was further told that the levels were identified by colours (the Yellow level? Was this some sort of ambiguous racial slur?), that the students regularly rolled in to a “Pool Café” on Mondays and Tuesdays (after which they promptly ran out of allowance), and that for some reason the student plaza was named the Spaceframe, despite it having neither space nor frame.
Most damning of all, however, I met Benjamin Shang-En Peter Freeborn on the way into school. Serendipity can completely change your life – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Without a shred of doubt, this was an example of the latter. Of all of the calamities that could have befallen me – getting eaten by a carnivorous squirrel, meeting my fate at the hands of a tsunami from the Farrer Road longkang, falling in love – I just had to meet the delinquent head prefect himself. What had I ever done to deserve this man’s presence? Was there an unpaid karmic debt that had carried over from my previous life? Would I one day be rid of that unnaturally dense leg hair and sashaying, hip-swinging gait? I knew not the answer, but I concluded instead that I would have my work cut out for me if I would ever survive in this mazy concrete jungle, replete with walking disasters like this crazy import from the Australian outback.
With this horrifying final thought in mind, I took the plunge. Accepting the offer to tentatively trod onto the narrow cobblestoned pathway leading into 121 Dover Road, I set about answering Mr Hodge’s question for myself. What was it about AC? And what was it about ACS (I)?
Chomp Chomp, Seremban, and 5-portion Ramen
My first days in AC were largely a blur. I remember trying very hard to read the handshake that the first guy from my new class was aiming for (as it turns out, a normal one), and being terrified that the Chindian Goliath glowering at me from the back of class would flush my head in the toilet bowl. As it turns out, he was a teddy bear, and we would grow closer than I had ever expected to. We soon formulated plans to take over Serangoon, then the world.
Various other characters cohered to form the tapestry of those first few days. I met this SJAB guy who insisted that I call him by his surname. A guitar maestro with his head in the clouds. A rugby player named after a fruit, who laughed as if a locomotive was mired in the locus of his diaphragm. A footballing wannabe who spent more time bragging about his various unlikely sexual exploits than, uh, footballing. A fast-talking snake oil merchant who now plies said trade in Canada. Sean Garnier-turned-gym rat, minus the dreadlocks or charisma. The list goes on.
Contrary to popular belief, this motley crew did not actually contain any gangsters, but did instead contain one dancing Korean. Although, the two years spent waging insurgency against the powers that be go some way to explaining the 2 expulsions we had.
Over time, AC began to feel familiar enough to me. The walkways started to make sense; I now knew that the PC rooms were near the Dance Studio, which were near the debate room, although that wasn’t really why guys went to the Dance Studio, but that’s not the point. I soon settled into a kind of routine, alternating between a need to catch up on half a year’s worth of missed academic material and a desire to explore the newfound puzzles of such problems as the Prata Stall queue. Speaking of which, the “queue” (if it can be so called) posited a moral conundrum that would have made Kant shudder. Would it be fair to elbow my way past the pint-sized grey level gremlins? What about the older kids who were all scraped knees and war stories? Was it less of an impediment to moral decency if I cut the queue from the side? Why did people order Maggie in batches? What the hell is Prata Goreng?
Over time, more important matters would abound that made my initial gastronomical fixation a brief afterthought. Time passed in secondary school with a kind of ephemeral quality. Mostly happy, occasionally melancholic, but not quite the kind of identity-forming experience one would expect. Like alcohol evaporating off the surface of the skin, it was pleasant but not altogether memorable. Not quite vanilla, but not quite searing.
Of course, there were incidents that stood out. There were the SC girls that my friends got involved with (spoiler alert: too many). There was the time we got caught taupoking one another, and made to stand in a row outside the Principal’s office as the senior admin paraded by (I was without shoes, but that’s a story for another time). There were the MRT rides we chartered, the Ice Bucket Challenges we did, and the classroom football tournaments we organised. I could go on, but the point is that my time was wholly, ridiculously entertaining and it was certainly everything I had expected it to be. Just the nature of what things were made it a time of unceasing tranquillity, and sometimes I wonder what I have ever done to receive all of these things I do not deserve.
No matter how long I spent in AC, however, I never did manage to gain a liking for West Wing.
Blue Marble Stars, Hot Chocolate, and Redemption
In the canonical clauses of the GCP, it is a well-documented phenomenon that upon entry into a nascent environment, the average student undergoes a radical transformation that sees a number of observable features morph into newly unrecognisable instantiations of their former selves. This is not to say that said transformations were marked by some sort of silken mendacity, but rather that the nature of changing seasons simply brings out elements to us that are perhaps instrumental in the lessons we must learn. The most important one, Year 5s, is that AC does not stand for Atlas Coffeehouse, despite what the likes of Sarf and Zhikai will tell you.
Life over the past 2 years was pretty much a season of firsts and lasts and rollercoasters and lessons. There is much to say about this season past but I think much of it peters out towards the unfortunate asymptote of melodrama. Suffice to say that simply by nature of our youth and consequent stupidity, most of us have grown up in some way or another. There’ve been good and bad times, and that’s exactly how it should be. As with stained glass windows, the light shines through us more brightly when we’ve taken a bit of damage, and that is something to always give thanks for.
But growth and experience notwithstanding, moments of brevity were welcome breaths of fresh air. Whatever possessed the PE department to force an entire cohort to sing the school anthem while in push-up position, we will never know. Vignettes like this bookended the journey with moments of great irreverence and great irrelevance (not necessarily in that order).
There are so many things I will miss about this place. I will miss the assembly songs. I will miss morning devotions and English tips of the day and ta’at setia setia and stupid pun-filled T-shirt sales. I will miss hearing stories of Talent Quest and Keith Tan and Matthew Quek. I will miss sleepy afternoons at the foyer and sprinting for the last bus after leaving school at midnight and most of all I will miss people.
Much of the past 2 years has been spent within these gates, in the throes of some event or other – or sometimes for no reason at all. Hours spent by the Koi Pond with ACNOW bible study and Friday SL2 worship, the cool morning air settling on the palms of our outstretched hands. The Friday night I walked in on a Leader’s Room full of people singing Taylor Swift and promptly lost it, collapsing into the bean bags and knowing (even back in January) that someday all of this would be effervescing memories on the tip of my tongue.
A childish part of me wants to stay here forever, in this space between staying and leaving, so that I can spend more nights lying on the Astro, nestled in the interweaving tapestry of voices and the sound of singing. And something about the last days gives everything a rose-tinted hue; people come together with a fervence that speaks of uncomfortable goodbyes and question marks that come with staying in touch. But we cannot occupy this liminal space for long – this sleepwalking and floating in the lullaby of the last days. Time is unforgiving, and it does not wait for us to catch up; so breathe, young one, and let go of all that you know.
For the most part, however, this has really been a time that’s been about God. And the truth is that AC is really about God. The community, the school, the entire notion of AC is dedicated to glorifying the Creator, the one who breathed life into the heavens and the Earth. It was in the Youth Hub, in days by the Koi Pond with Peter on the guitar, in afternoons at the Prayer Loft, that convenient faith was catalysed to something deeper. And when I faltered, the love, kindness, and rebuke that I received from spiritual brothers and sisters was unparalleled by any sort of secular culture that I could or would receive. The glory of God is revealed in people, and what a sight it was to behold.
AC taught me to chase after His heart, and gave me the wonderful people I have to journey with, in this pursuit of the only thing that really matters. It’s easy to get down on our knees to worship and extol His name in an air-conditioned room, but I pray that this will serve as a springboard for a lifetime of serving Him even as the stakes increase. Praise God.
Some time ago now, back in 2015, I remarked to a friend that it must be unimaginable being in Year 6.
“It’s like,” I said with startling ineloquence, “the end of an era. Unlike anything we’ve ever faced. A little bigger, a little more.”
I was on the cusp of articulating something to even greater dramatic effect when a football emerged from a corner of the classroom, attracting my attention and dooming all other pursuits to the void, and no less. Newfound aversion to coherence in hand, I must have said something about someone’s mother, and all was forgotten in the scuffle that ensued.
Year 6 has been, contrary to prior expectation, not particularly hellish. I remarked recently that the past few weeks have been like the moment on the bus when you’ve slung your bag on too early but the bus takes forever to reach its stop so you’re left sitting awkwardly, bag on your back, ready to go but not quite. The truth is that we’ve been ready to leave for some time; all we need to do now is go.
These last days have been attenuated with the atmosphere of a graceful curtain-call; wholesome talks with Emma, Syai and Ezra, generally unwholesome activities with Nathan, Kai, Thomas – and generally everyone who plays football daily with this recalcitrant, ridiculous, amazing batch that stays behind after Farewell Chapel to sing “Build my Life” – and a refusal to accept the fact that the clock is ticking down to the day when we are unceremoniously booted out and beyond these blue gates.
Even back then, however, I was half-right. It is the end of an era – one that began with a question from Mr Hodge, and now I have the answer.
To all who are graduating with me this year: this is it. Wear your uniform one last time. Pull on that scruffy tie that was once blue and is now a blob of golden. Pin on that badge with its stupid flimsy catch. Wear your school socks and your tapered pants and your altered skirt. Ask yourself what it all means, what this all means. When you walk down the hallway for the last time (and make no mistake, you never will again, not like this), see how the sun likes to float along the aisles in luminous rays. Notice how the squirrels run soundlessly along the metal railings. Take in the sights and sounds and the people; consider for a moment that these specific individuals came together at this specific time in the universe to cohere before you. If you didn’t believe in miracles, maybe you will now.
Look down at the bridge below you, a stage on which your immediate past plays out, and where there once was a very nice tree. Once, you were younger and more vulnerable. Now, you are less young and less vulnerable, but still full of shit. Look up at the sky, a stage on which your dreams must now play out. There is an uncertainty beyond this stage that will scare you, but you are not alone. Most of all, look around you, at the ones whose footsteps padded the path beside you. This is AC. This is home.
So smile. Cry. Laugh. Hug each other. Promise to stay in touch. Take pictures. Laze around the foyer. Empty your lockers. Take your batch jackets home. Play football.
Pray together. Journey together.
AC has reached into your heart, and painted you red, blue and gold, whether you wanted it to or not. When you were on the 74 bus rides home. When you were ponning class during Charity café. When you were rushing your EE at the benches. When you were playing T to T on the Astro. When you were at Halong Bay. When you were eating Butter Chicken again at Wah Chee, or overpriced Western at Broadway. When you were at the Buona rooftop. When you were at the Prayer Loft. When you were out and about at 3am during a camp. When you were sleeping during a free period. When you were laughing. When you were crying. And all the liminal moments in between.
We stand here, having experienced something precious that not many get to. We are the sum of our experiences, and AC is an irreplaceable part of us.
Street is gone, and Audi Two is up again. Even the Astro is new. School has changed, and so have we. Each one of us will step out of these gates a different person. A little bigger, a little more.
But some things change, and some things stay the same. AC is a family, and that means we take care of each other. This community that has blessed you and kept you, that has loved you and watched over you, that has protected and moulded you, will not disappear simply because this bubble has now burst. AC was not meant to be the epilogue, but is instead the opening chapter.
We, callow and naïve, know nothing about this world. We, young and dumb, are the latest wave of fools trying to find our way in the dark, boats borne back ceaselessly into the past. But happy is a family of fools, and over time we will (hopefully) become less foolish. And, God willing, we try. My prayer is that AC has helped us try a little harder, a little better.
The sanctuary that resides deep within your heart and in the people around you is the greatest gift that you could have been given. It reminds us of a simple truth: you can leave AC, but AC will never leave you.
To God Be The Glory, The Best Is Yet To Be.
Chris, allegedly a strong emitter of a particular class of energy, likes to live life on the edge by writing captions dangerously close to the Instagram word limit. He has a soft spot for South Asian (particularly Indian) family stories, and confesses to crying his eyes out with the boys after watching Us and Them (watch it, it will change you). The biggest regret of his life would probably be perpetually flexing whilst bearing the knowledge that he is massively outclassed by his mom. O dear. How the turn tables have.