Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Before and Beyond The Three Essays


When I announced to my friends that I would be doing my Master at the National University of Singapore ("NUS"), one of them asked about the admission process, "Did you go for an interview?" "No," I said, "I just had to write essays." Then she knew why I was accepted, saying that they – the selection committee – must have been looking for tissue papers when reading my essays.

So did I really enter NUS by playing my emotional trump card through my writing?

Below are the three essays I had written for the application to study Master of Laws at NUS. But just like how a body is simply a mass of matter without the mind, soul and spirit, these essays must be read in their contexts, which I would be providing, so that the essays could be known wholly. This post is pretty long, however. So you may want to read the 'before and beyond' and skip 'the three essays.' But well what did I say about the body.

October 2015 does not only mark the commencement of my pupillage. That time was also the period  during which I applied for postgraduate studies. As with so many phases of my life when what turned out were not what I had planned, NUS was not one of the universities that were initially on my mind.

Since my sister and brother-in-law were residing in Manchester, it was logical for me to apply to institutions there when I thought of studying abroad. Having them around would be particularly helpful given my needs. So I applied to University of Manchester ("UM") and Manchester Metropolitan University ("MMU").

Having written statements of purpose for those two applications, and also for the Commonwealth scholarship application, I found myself to have practised writing them when I needed to pen one down for the application to NUS. The resulting essay was thus refined; researched deeper, drafted clearer and crafted loftier:

Statement of Purpose
Describe your areas of academic interest and your career goals and indicate your reasons for wishing to pursue graduate studies and how graduate studies will contribute to your professional development. There is no fixed format or length required for the statement.
I am expected to be called to the Malaysian Bar by August 2016 and therefore, I am heeding the call of my duty to be the bastion of civil liberties. It is on this premise that I am keen to pursue my graduate studies, reinforcing my knowledge and skills in order to nurture my passion for fundamental liberties.

Malaysia has been the target of Anonymous – the notorious international hacking syndicate, and been the hideout for wanted terrorists, most dangerously those in Abu Sayyaf. Financially, the depreciating Ringgit as a result of international financial turmoil jeopardises the well-being, if not the livelihood, of many. And recently, talks of persecuting those responsible for the MH17 tragedy are rife, thrusting Malaysia into the court of public opinion.

As such, I am drawn to the the holistic discourse of LL.M International and Comparative Law or LL.M Corporate and Financial Services Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The various modules offered by these two specialisations would enable me to fend off the threats, understand the opportunities and uphold the rule of law, all the while hinging on the rights protected by the Federal Constitution.

Malaysia is on the brink of prosecuting an international crime in the shooting down of MH17. Internally, Malaysia’s counterterrorism legislation – the Security Offences (Security Measures) Act 2012 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 – has been under a barrage of criticism my proponents of human rights. In addition, the society is maturing in political debates, in which differing opinions have sometimes flared into divisive remarks.

As such, modules such as International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights in Asia and Freedom of Speech – Critical & Comparative Perspectives, would allow me to delve into the notions of criminal justice, human rights and national interest and attain a fair idea of what their pursuit truly means.

The recent formation of ASEAN Economic Community has triggered foreign investment interest in the region, opening doors to elevate poverty by facilitating trade in and out of Southeast Asia. However, the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the terms of which have been shrouded in secrecy, threatens the sovereignty of Malaysia. The Agreement may be used by foreign, private entities to meet the insatiable needs of profit at the expense of the basic rights sheltered by the Constitution.

Therefore, the critical analysis of modules such as International Investment Law, Law & Practice of Investment Treaty Arbitration, ASEAN Economic Community Law & Policy and Comparative Constitutional Law would put me at the forefront of an exciting and yet perilous financial era.

Most importantly, I will learn from globally recognised researchers and share ideas with postgraduates who come from different cultural backgrounds. The listening, questioning and debating of various thoughts will broaden my horizon in thinking, opening more perspectives through which I can see the world. It is also a pivotal time to build my network of erudite academics and respected professionals. Knowing those at the forefront of research and who are experts in the field will be beneficial when I need reasoned advice in times of change in the laws – or better still, when I need to pool in expertise to make a change.

A more critical understanding of international security, human rights and financial services would put me on good stead to fulfil my calling as an advocate, activist and/or academic. After my Master’s degree, I plan to advance Issues of security through public interest or strategic litigation or through partnering with the Attorney-General Chambers to review antiterrorism and financial laws. At the very least, I will nurture my interest in writing, informing the public of not only what the law is, but also what the law should be, which is why I am particularly drawn to the module of Legal Argument & Narrative.

It is my vision that I will spearhead the Malaysian Bar towards realising laws that protect the country’s multiracial and multireligious society, all the while upholding the rule of law and the supremacy of the Federal Constitution. If my passion to make a difference is given the opportunity to grow at the NUS, I am confident that I will bring Malaysia towards a better and safer future, strong and courageous enough to surmount any adversity.
I had visited and been personally guided around the law schools of UM and MMU in August 2015. Comparing the two, I was inclined towards MMU, being the less established among the two. The reasons were 1) I was tired of the competitive environment of a demanding law school; and 2) I expected pupillage to exert much strain on me that I wanted Master, which would be immediately after pupillage, to be a less stressful endeavour.

But MMU, and UM for that matter, would eventually become the road not taken.

When I had begun pupillage and submitted the applications to UM and MMU, my mother suggested to apply to NUS because we had relatives and friends across the causeway and so they would be able to assist. The fact that I took her suggestion to apply to a top law school when my reason for siding MMU was to be less stressful revealed that I was somehow lying to myself – or at least, I just did not know much about myself.

Looking back to the statements of purpose that I had submitted to UM and MMU, in which I foresaw the courses that I would take if I were in those institutions, I was selecting the best of what was offered, which were not necessarily the best, those which would immediately pique my interest the moment I read the course title.

Perhaps why I opted to apply to NUS in spite of my reason for favouring MMU was that a better option emerged. Perhaps I realised the range of courses available in NUS suited myself more and exposed the desire to escape from pushing myself rather than to learn. Or perhaps it was just ego.

Personal Statement
Describe briefly your personal, academic and professional history, including significant non-law activities. You may wish to elaborate on your education, community and professional experiences, publications, personal background and why you think you will be an asset to the NUS community. There is no fixed format or length required for the statement.
I graduated with Honours in Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from the University of Malaya (“UM”). Currently, I am undergoing my pupillage at Messrs Chooi & Company and I am expected to be called to the Malaysian Bar as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya by August 2016.

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I achieved a holistic development by excelling in studies and participating in extracurricular activities. Academically, I consistently performed at the top level, proven by the Messr Kadir, Tan & Ramli Book Prize and the Syed Kechik Foundation Gold Medal, awarded to the Best Student for Civil Procedure and Jurisprudence respectively.

One of the co-curicular activities that I joined was the Harun M. Hashim National Client Consultation Competition 2015. In this competition, I was trained to elicit relevant information from the client and to provide legal and non-legal solutions, having regard to the emotional, financial and social situations of the client.

As a member of the Orientation Week Committee 2013/2014, I left an immediate impression upon new students, developing engaging interpersonal skills in the process. As a member of UM’s Vis Moot 2013 team, I acquired analytical and logical thinking, and meticulous eyes for details, the skills of which are required to tackle complex legal issues in a simple and effective manner.

The most memorable, and perhaps the most influential, activity was the event I proposed and led a committee to organise in the Faculty of Law, UM. The purpose was to raise awareness for persons with disabilities in conjunction with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2014. The event, which was the first of its kind, was extensively covered by the media, most notably a feature during prime time news: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFvtTE9F1Ws (last accessed on 30 November 2015).

As a recognition of my pursuit of wholesome excellence, I was awarded with the Dato’ Rajasooria Award, given to the Best Overall Student of Bachelor of Laws in UM for the 2011/2012 intake. Considering my physical condition, the award means so much more than what it would mean to able-bodied persons.

I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Type 2), a motorneuron condition that progressively degenerates the muscle cells. Although I am a wheelchair user, my immobility has not impeded my enduring path to success. Along the journey, I have been told that I inspire people through my life and writings, some of which can be found at LoyarBurok – http://www.loyarburok.com/author/hongping/. I also blog at http://unseenfootsteps.blogspot.my/, sharing my personal life in hopes of making a change.

Having said that, I would not have made a difference, in my own life and the lives of others, had it not been for God, my family, friends and teachers, who have given joy, strength, time and wisdom to me. By God’s grace, He has sustained me when I was weak and made His power perfect in my weakness.

As such, the Best Overall Student award is testament of the equal opportunity, encouraging assistance and empowering belief that have fuelled me to do well in my life. Not only has the journey been fulfilling and meaningful to me, but it has also inspired many to never give up in the pursuit of life’s purpose.

As I undergo my pupillage at Messrs Chooi & Company, I am being moulded by the work culture of the firm, which is guided by integrity, independence and professionalism. The diverse practice areas of the firm ensure that I will be a seasoned postgraduate. Forged with my determination to rise above the difficulties present along the way, I am confident that I will be a valuable addition to the National University of Singapore.
Apart from the modules, another factor which made NUS a better option was scholarship. Neither UM nor MMU had full scholarship covering the entire tuition fees. Since I was only applying to those two institutions, I was not eligible for scholarships from foreign and local sources, both of which mostly provided aid for students applying to Ivy League universities or premier UK institutions. Commonwealth scholarship, which I applied, had both UM and MMU in its list; however, application had to be made to JPA and JPA would nominate deserving candidates, among whom I was not one for reasons we can only speculate.

NUS, I later found out, had a few types of scholarships. This availability was linked to my ultimate decision of where to go. By January 2016, UM and MMU had offered me a place. The outcome of the application to NUS would only be released in April. Those who knew I had been offered asked where I would go if NUS offered as well. I said I don't know. All three places had weighty pros and cons to the extent that I really did not know where I should go.

So I waited for God. I did not want to be swayed by suggestions, not even those by my own family. My sister would of course want me to be in Manchester. So were my parents who would understandably prefer the family to be together. But I wanted a divine direction. As the days went by and April was drawing near, I began to sense in my spirit that if I was awarded scholarship covering the tuition fees, I would go to NUS.

But how did I know that what I sensed was from God? A few weeks prior to the release of the outcome, a church member approached me and asked if I had any prayer request. I told him about the application to NUS. After he had prayed for me, he said, "You will go to NUS. And you will get the scholarship." Honestly, he was more confident than I was, so confident that his use of 'will' showed that he was definite.

The outcome is now needless to say.

Statement for Scholarships
Please provide a one-page write-up on why you should be awarded a scholarship. Your statement must be sufficiently detailed to enable the Selection Committee to consider you for an award.
Having a scholarship is a way for me to honour my parents. At the age of 25, I desire what men generally wish for – to provide for and protect my loved ones. However, this wish is made complicated due to my physical condition. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Type 2), a motorneuron condition that progressively degenerates the muscle cells. As such, I am highly immobile, requiring constant care from both my parents and a carer. Throughout my life, my parents have always needed to incur additional expenses for the carer. Therefore, a scholarship covering tuition fees – the Kwa Geok Choo Graduate Scholarship or the Faculty Graduate Scholarship – would help to elevate the lifelong financial burden.

The extra expenses required if I study in the National University of Singapore (NUS) include provisions for living expenses and accommodation for either parent and the carer. In addition, the carer also needs to be paid wages. This means that the total amount for living expenses and accommodation in my case is higher than what international students would normally incur when studying in the NUS.

A case in point is the accommodation for the carer. I intend to apply for University Housing should I be admitted into the NUS. If the rules of the University Housing state that only one person can stay in the room, then I will have to apply for another room for the carer, resulting in increased fees for accommodation. As aforesaid, I need a carer 24/7 to assist me. At night, the carer turns my body to prevent body sores. As such, it is necessary for the carer to stay at least in the next room.

Having said that, granting the scholarship to me is not only because I need additional finances. It also means awarding the scholarship to a person who will make full use of the opportunity to improve himself by learning, networking and researching as much as possible. In fact, my physical immobility helps me to focus on any task at hand, particularly when my deteriorating health only allows me one-third of a day to work. This blessing in disguise, coupled with my determination to do well, have taught me to be efficient in what I do.

The rest of the time is spent on resting and once in a while, doing favourite pastime activities. As such, I have trained myself to be disciplined, utilising every moment in order to achieve the most during the little time and strength I have. It follows that I am not only prudent in spending my time but also wise in keeping check with my entertainment activities, lest they affect my health and in turn my performance, which in turn shows that I will not misuse the scholarship and indulge in a carefree lifestyle.

I believe that I should and can provide for my parents who have empowered me with education. It is through this scholarship that I can ease the hard life of my father, my family’s sole breadwinner. It is with the future prospects that studying in the NUS presents that I will be able to appreciate and perhaps one day reward their sacrifices. And it is by furthering my studies in the NUS with the tuition fees covered that I, together with the NUS, can make a point in the society that students with disabilities too stand a chance to achieve distinction and subsequently contribute to the prestige of the NUS, the development of nation and the well-being of the region.
The outcome is needless to say because it was not the climax. Note that I zoomed in on two types of scholarships in my statement. NUS gave neither. Instead, NUS awarded what I had thought I was ineligible – the NUS Graduate Scholarship for ASEAN Nationals. This scholarship not only covered the full tuition fees but also included monthly stipend and other reimbursements. It was more than what I had asked for. And being blessed more than I imagined was another way I knew I was going into divine destiny.

Having said that, getting into NUS was one matter. Being there was another. I was aware that not having a car and travelling by shuttle bus or public transport would expose me to rain. But I had an inexplicably thought, and with it peace, that it would rain before, after or even during the journey, but never when I needed to board or alight the bus. It rained before, after and during the journey, but it always softened into light drizzle or sometimes stopped completely when I boarded or alighted.

Then there were the angels around my mum. Upon settling down in Singapore, two primary schoolmates, Yi Keng and Li Qian, the latter of whom had not met my mum since primary school, came to our residence and offered their helping hands. Yi Keng taught my mum on the MRT system and informed her whenever there was interesting activities in the city, always encouraging us to explore the country. Whereas Li Qian drove my mum around the neighbourhood, showing her the nearest market and always wanted, but never yet had the chance, to drive me to iconic gardens and parks. Angels also came under the guise of strangers, who by divine appointment appeared when my mum was standing alone at the public bus stop figuring out how to get to her destination.

My mum, Yati and I and even my dad at home had been unfailingly guarded by an angelic convoy throughout Semester 1. Semester 2 will begin on 4 January 2017 and so the reach of what is 'beyond' remains unknown and unexplored.