Saturday, December 6, 2008

I went to the SU Young Writers' Camp 2008

Hello everyone,

Guess where I went in my most recent escapade? If you guessed the SU Young Writers' Camp, you're absolutely brilliant! I'm still recovering from the sudden loss of things to take pictures of, and really awesome things to write about. So I thought I'd start blogging again, you know, to keep them creative juiceses a flowin'.

It was really a terrific camp. The premise for this year was simple, really. We're divided into different groups, and each group simulates a media company, meaning that by the end of each day at camp we had to publish a FULL LENGTH (two-page) newspaper!

How's that for awesome?

The camp was held at a place I like to call 'In-the-middle-of-nowhere' simply because it was. You're driving inside some unknown oil palm plantation somewhere in Gopeng, Perak when all of a sudden - WHAM! It's a huge palatial bungalow thing!

Seriously, I kid you not when I say that it wouldn't look out of place in say, Tropicana, or any other upmarket housing estate. It's got a swimming pool and lots of garden around it. Sure, the garden is mostly oily palm trees, but hey! it's HUGE.

Our campsite, Harvest Haven Gopeng.

Besides the programme lines up for us, we also had awesome facilitators/teacher dudes. Besides being totally competent writers and editors, with field experience, credentials to boast about, etc etc, they are immensely engaging to talk to. Maybe it's just a sign that I'm getting old, thereby having a harder time relating to them young un's.

From left to right - Em (The Edge), May (MPH Publications), Deb (The Nut Graph), Uncle David (Black Adder & Watchmen aficionado).

My group's paper was aptly named 'The Eleventh Hour', simply because we were Malaysian. And how can you resist a tag line like 'First-hand last-minute news'?

The other groups were Papyrus, Newsforest (a pun on News for us), and the ubiquitous Toilet Paper. And oh my word. It really was ubiquitous (this big word means 'you see it everywhere'). It all began when we were introducing ourselves to the other campers and they asked for your name, and a random fact.

'Hi, I'm Jonathan, I live in PJ and . . . I didn't bring any toilet paper with me to camp'.

And oh no. The madness began. Toilet paper became a running gag throughout the entire camp. Jokes were told about it, newspapers were named after it, comics were drawn about it.

It was even interviewed!

The first day of editing and writing was a tough on everyone. Being relatively new to this craft, we went about not really knowing what to do. But in the course of working, it became easier. But it really is no joke at all, writing articles, the entire editing process, deciding what goes in and what does not. You even had to stick to a word limit! I haven't had one since 'Rumusan' in Form 5.

Looking back in retrospective, when I read the papers this morning, I was just stunned for awhile at the sheer awesomeness of a complete newspaper. They did it in one day! How often have we grumbled that a day is never enough to finish that essay or that lab report, and yet somehow our papers have been faithfully delivered to us day after day.

Fresh off the printing mill!

I stayed up till 2.30am one night, just to witness the completion and birth of the next-day edition. Incredible, I thought. Little are we aware of the dozens of layout artists who stay up through the night to set out your newspapers. I started appreciating 'The Star' a little more, regardless of some bits of political bias :)

As the days progressed, naturally, writing and compiling a paper came more easily to us than before. Soon we were churning out our stuff by the afternoon, leaving the writers idle and in that, idly content. You could say that we enjoyed large chunks of freedom, and leisure took the form of general recreation - swimming, going around photographing, and napping in the afternoon warmth.

Oh! what bliss.

This is a dog. Her name is Jelly.

This is a smiley face in the sky. Or dorky, however you see it. Or even as Uncle David put it, 'It looks sinister'.

We also went out gallivanting through the caves one day.

This was our cave-guide, whose name I have inconveniently forgotten.

It's a good thing we didn't find any guano (bat poopoopoo) because I'm sure he would have liked to grab a handful and fondle it. It's in my line of work, he proudly exclaims, or so he says anyway.

There was a point in the cave where we were asked to extinguish our torches for a moment and to keep silent. Everyone is excitedly chattering away, and then a great hush.

You blink a few times to adjust to the darkness. There simply is no light. It is a world devoid of any sensory input. No sound, no light. Your ears too, attune to the silence. Then your ears are flooded with a deafening silence. And you wait, not even daring to breathe for fear of shattering this unearthly silence.

'Alrighty then, time to go'.

We picked up our torches and trudged on.

And we stepped into that marvelous light.

Then, lunch by the roadside.

It was quite a sight, some 50 odd campers contently sitting by a road tucking into their packets of nasi. We were muddy and fatigued, but chatty all the same.

This is my group, The Awesomes (our official name, of course was The Eleventh Hour).

Unbelievebly wide smiles plastered on faces? Check.
Brightly coloured clothing conveying a sense of youth and merriment? Check.
Blue sky and lush palm frond waving in the air? Check.
Looks like it was taken out of a magazine (or education publication)? Check!

That's me on the ground, and I'm burning up on the unbelievably hot tarmac. Ouch.

Perhaps one of the things I found most enjoyable about the camp was the people. They were all writers, and that in itself speaks volumes. They read books (not only text books), uphold the same ideals and principles as I do, and are really really smart! We've all been through that age when identity was a struggle, and trying to fit in was always a battle. I smiled myself silly when I saw myself in some of their selves.

And with that, we went our seperate ways. There were no prolonged, tearful goodbyes. But to each writer (or maybe just me), he goes home carrying genuine contentment in his heart.


Lisa ^^, said...

Hah. You don't know what feeling old feels like. I'm one of the oldest participants at camp. I rrreeeeaaalllllyyy feel old. ;P You guys are the "young 'uns" for me..

Jonathan Mah said...

haha! don't worry though, we're all young at heart.

and in my group, I was one of the oldest as well, so yeah, I kinda do know what feeling old is like!

old people are cool :)

David BC Tan said...

Great piece! Asian Beacon is looking for a story on the recent YWC for its Feb 2009 issue. Max 300 words. Do you think you could brush this post up and send it off to the editors? I think they pay like RM200 (i know - chicken feed!), but hey, it's the byline that matters rite?