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Being Alive

JUN liked the peace of the sea, the clown fish darting in and out of the coral rocks. She looked around. The other snorkelers were just specks on the surface. There was only her buddy and herself. As both surfaced, they saw the other swimmers on the boat, waving vigorously to them to come back for lunch. The two women waved back and continued snorkeling. Soon they were joined by three other friends who swam them back to the boat for lunch.

Amidst much clapping, Jun and her friend climbed back into the boat, a bit crossed by the attention. She put on her spectacles and looked out to the sea. “Wow! All those sharks and I missed seeing them up close. I really must do something about power goggles!” Her friend had a different reaction… “I could have been lunch! Hey guys! Why didn’t you warn us?”

“It was so embarrassing to realise that the three chaps had to swim out to us … because we had not heeded the waving and calls. But it was good not to panic because if we had panicked, it could have been dangerous. I know that sharks off the coast of peninsular Malaysia are not man-eaters.”

“My initial perception of the clapping snorkelers was really wrong. They were so concerned not like another group of badminton friends. I went home and thought about it and decided to stick with the diving group rather than with that badminton group.”

The badminton gang had laughed at her shortsightedness. The gang made jeering comments about her glasses but her optician said that Jun should not wear contact lenses due to the structure of her eye’s cornea. To fit into the group, Jun paid for food after badminton.

Jun was sharing her life story with Joe and a group of friends. The shark incident taught her to live life by being ALIVE and alert for herself, that there are many views to one situation. She appreciated those who support her “like swimming out to get us” instead of those who jeered at her but wanted her to “belanja makan”.

Jun is now an engineer who works on overseas projects with her company. The same people who laughed at her sometimes talk enviously about her success.

Jun says that her success is due to perseverance. “I don’t let circumstances or friends decide for me. I decide for myself what I want. I could not swim … nearly drowned. I took swimming lessons after that. I could not play badminton well, but I tried, because it was the “in” thing at school that year.”

“When I didn’t enjoy the group, because they did not respect me, I took up snorkeling, making friends with a new group of caring people. I decided I wanted to study engineering and took up the German language to apply for a German scholarship. My other sixth form classmates thought I was crazy.”

JOE chipped in with his story “I liked to speed. You get that sense of power and excitement. My gang used to race on Saturday nights just for fun. Two years ago I stopped racing, after my classmate Jefri died in a car accident. It was his 18th birthday and we invited him to celebrate at a disco. It was Jefri’s first night out at a disco. We laughed at him when he said he had to ask his parents for permission. He was so proud of his powerful new car, a birthday present from his “abah” (Dad). He accepted our challenge to race.”

"My car was behind Jef's car… when he suddenly lost control and crashed into a LRT station pillar. We ran to get him out … he was pinned to the steering wheel. He was bleeding and… I guess he was already dead…”

Joe stopped mixing with the disco and racing crowd after that incident. He said Jefri's other challengers were so scared of Jefri's parents that they did not attend the funeral. "What's the point of pretending that you're a hero with wheels when you daren't face your dead friend's family? From that day, when people challenge me to drink, or anything, I would just smile. It doesn't matter what they think of me. I know that I'm right. I respect me."

"If Jefri had not responded to our challenge that night, he would be probably ALIVE and celebrating his 20th birthday next week."

What can we learn from the two scenarios?

Let us look at Jun. She was jeered by friends because she wore glasses. She felt 'small' and to make sure she continued to be accepted by her gang, she had to buy food for them after a game of badminton. Have you ever being jeered by friends and yet have to do something to please them?

Jun did not allow her self-esteem to be affected – she had a good regard of herself and decided to make new friends who were caring. She was determined to take up new things and she succeeded.

Does Joe's story sound familiar too? Stopped practicing a risky behaviour after a tragic loss? The story may sound a bit extreme, but it is real. Often, friends challenge us to try new things. Not to be 'left' behind and to show that we are have grown-up and have become 'adults', we take up the challenges without looking at the consequences. We may tend to agree in haste and that was what Jefri did, and died. It is important to remember that if we truly value good friendship, we should not pressure our friends to undertake negative behaviours. We, if pressured, should also ask ourselves whether we really want to carry out those negative actions and what are possible consequences. We decide even if it means losing friends. We can make new friends, friends who will not force us to do things we do not want to do.

Engie Ng, Penang FPA

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