magazine of the Biological Sciences Society
National University of Singapore
|The Mudskipper, Jan 95|
you on Thursday........ "
with illustrations by Kevinski Humchnek
My zoology honours class spent five days in June 1990 on Pulau Tioman, studying the marine and terrestrial ecosystems. We were staying at Tekek Bay, and during the last evening there, the early return of the land group saw us tossing a ball around on the beach. In the distance we saw the marine group returning from the jetty. We yelled out to them to join us, and soon a full-blown game was afoot.
Our class girls made up a third of the number, and their aggressive play surprised many an unsuspecting guy. The safety of the sand resulted in off-the-ball shoves from players protecting their team-mates, and in many gender-specific rucks and mauls in true rugby fashion.
The game was a quick one; hesitation rapidly leading to a pile-up of bodies as people enthusiastically hurled themselves into the fray, grabbing at each other all over (hence the gender-specificity), giving rise to the 'creature' - basically a mobile mass-wrestling unit in which one fought friend and foe alike. The patient onlookers wait for the ball to emerge, and explode away while the 'creature' disentangles itself. A large stretch of beach got churned up that last day of the 1990 Zoology honours field trip led by A/Ps Khoo and Chou, who battled alongside us.
"See you on Thursday"
Eager to maintain this euphoric expression of our wild spirits, a weekly Zoo Hons Captain's Ball session began back on campus - on the same grass patch at the foot of the stairs leading to the running track. Originally held on Fridays, we changed the sessions to Thursdays, so as to accommodate Nigel, one of the original faithful. Although his enthusiasm has since petered out due to matrimonial and postgraduate demands, we still say 'See you on Thursday' to this day.
I was enthusiastic about the game for injury had forced me to the sidelines of the rugby pitch. Once again I got to enjoy the camaraderie that exists amongst members of the same team. Soon we hungered for opposition, since my classmates wanted the experience of playing on the same team, instead of against each other.
So we tried inviting our botany classmates for a game. Persistent attempts failed for they were too busy giving or receiving tea sessions.
Our department's postgraduates proved no better, even when we issued aggressive challenges an the tea room's white board as a last resort. Finally, we represented BSS in the Science Open. But when we turned up ready for a competitive match, we were given a walkover because the Chemistry team was down with Chicken Pox!
It was not to be our last competitive match, for as organisers of Zoolympics '90, we introduced round-robin preliminaries before the actual day, thus increasing the number of games we played together as a team.
The postgrad years
Five regular players (Eunice, Jennifer, Nigel, Daphne and myself decided to pursue our higher degrees, and thus the Thursday sessions continued in 1991. Ensuring that a sufficient number of people turned up for a game was a chore which required considerable effort when recruiting postgraduates and honours students; for the game was then a departmental affair. We did have guest stars - at one point it featured a Dutch postgraduate from Chemistry (Mark), and a German exchange student (Peter). Both these lads were extremely enthusiastic, and the 'creature' reappeared frequently during their time, amidst much grunting and groaning.
Invasion of the undergrads
In 1992, for the first time, some third year undergrads (Alvin and his classmates) and a sole second year (Chia was invited when she was passing by one day) became regular participants, and the problem of numbers receded somewhat. They would change up after their 5-6 lecture, and our game would receive a boost in numbers at about 6.15pm, amidst yelps and whoops of excitement, as the much awaited undergrad invasion began.
The botanists vegetate
The effort to involve Botany finally saw a reprieve in 1992, when Dan & Rahmat became regulars. Then one Friday evening, Daniel got some botany postgrads together and invited Daphne and myself down for a game. Feeling privileged at attending the first Botany game ever, we soon discovered that we had to first teach them the rules! What followed was hilarious, and although I didn't know some of them then, it was easy to feel comfortable. A myth was propagated during that period that the zoology games were dangerous. Actually, while we played robustly, the Friday games were producing more injuries. I still remember being rendered speechless (a rare occasion) by the visage of Dan's pale face coloured with hues of purple after some lady elbowed him in the face (during one of their 'violent' Friday sessions, I might add).
Just as I thought the 'Golden Era' had begun (games on Thursdays and Fridays) the botany sessions fizzled out when Dan gave up the struggle of recruitment. The Thursday games survived, but by then, we were beginning to depend on the undergrads to make up numbers, and the onset of exams practically terminated Captain's Ball.
Recruitment in Penang
During the BSS Penang trip in February 1993, I urged Yvonne to buy a ball in Georgetown the night before they went on a 'relak-jack' trip to a scenic stretch of beach at Teluk Duyung. The game that ensued proved to be a resounding success - sleepy looking undergrads (e.g., Linda) sprang to life, surprising me with their energy and skill. Thereafter back in Singapore, Thursdays became a largely BSS affair. During the peak of the BSS response, some of us actually had to take turns sitting out a match one day, because there were too many people! The fever had started. It progressed to the point BSS initiated a Captain's Ball tournament during the monsoon that year and played on gamely in the rain. It will remain an annual affair, now that they have a shield.
Koo-Bah! kicks off
An interesting development occurred during the 1993 season. Singapore's Dream Team were progressing to the finals of the Malaysia Cup, and football was on everyone's lips (as were the catchy tunes sung by the team). It took the enthusiasm of Chia and Michelle who were kicking the ball around one evening to launch off this added dimension to our Thursdays.
Slippers marked the goal-posts, and some basic rules were announced: only girls could score, no goalkeepers, or hard kicking, guys were to play barefoot and had to be gentlemanly, i.e., they couldn't retaliate when the girls kicked their shins.
Walking to yet another session one day, Edzra and myself coined a name for the game, 'Koo-bah!' (first syllable to be uttered with a deep, low tone), derived from the phrase 'Koo-niang football', which referred to the fact that only girls could score. From then on, after the Captain's Ball game was over, we would play Koo-bah! well after the sun had set. The combination of Captain's Ball and Koo-bah! provided a complete workout for our limbs. For a short period in rnid-'93, the euphoria extended to post-Captain's Ball dinner sessions.
In this new combination, this game session that moved from Tioman to Singapore to Penang, now travelled to another island, this time in East Malaysia. During the last morning of this year's Zoology hons field trip in Bako National Park, Sarawak, a few members of the land group took a boat to a quiet beach where I battled with macaques in 1990 (see 'Monkey Business' in Mudskipper, Sept. 1991). We exhausted ourselves playing Captain's Ball and Koo-Bah! on the sand which sapped our strength, and ended the session burying one of the honours students.
Back in Singapore, waiting for enough players to turn up is inevitable. But the early birds relax from the day's stress by clowning around or catching up with each other. Sometimes discussions begin or news is exchanged about students and staff while we fiddle with the grass. When latecomers appear at the top of the stairs leading to the field, we holler at them to get chairs from the Sheares' Hall canteen - a job no one enjoys although we haven't been stopped yet. Perhaps it is because we dutifully return the chairs, and wash them if necessary.
The sessions promoted some degree of interaction between the postgrads and undergrads as they play alongside each other.
During my time, we referred to the postgrads as demos, for we never interacted with them otherwise. They were remote and seemed to sink back into the walls of the musty old building once practical sessions were over! Certainly the isolation of postgrads from the undergrad community is an unhealthy one.
After our Thursday sessions, postgrads get to exchange views with the undergrads and both profit from the interaction. Initially, I thought the number of misconceptions BSSers had about the university, scientific issues and research quite incredible, until I remembered how clueless I was! It seems silly to think that many things I learnt during postgrad years could have been picked up during the sort of casual conversations that take place these Thursday evenings. A pity we didn't have Captain's Ball then!
P.S. Despite the current apathy, the legacy lives on - Department of Zoology's Blue House's Zoolympics practice sessions are going on every Thursday now, due to elements from the original cast!
ED'S NOTE: The inter-year BSS Captain's Ball Challenge will be held in early February. Representatives from each year are needed to form teams. Those who want to be a part of this fast-paced game are cordially invited to sign up with your year co-ords. Details will be up on the BSS notice board soon.
© N Sivasothi, 2001