Spread your wings and fly

After we came back from the MRSM IGCSE interview in Negri Sembilan the other day, we didn’t think much about our SBP application. Since they had already called up the first batch for interview (or so I heard), I thought Adam might not made it through. And then one morning my wife surprised me with the offer letter (actually offer e-mail) from the education ministry for a place at SM Sains Hulu Selangor, a premier boarding school north of the state. I wasted no time clicking the accept button. My wife however was contemplating waiting for the MRSM application first. As much as I like to consider that, it would be foolish of us to reject the SBP offer and then not get the MRSM application as well. It would be an unmitigated disaster.

So we did the sensible thing in the end and accepted the SBP offer. I for once am not going to gamble my child’s future by waiting for something that is far from certain. And thus begin our preparation. There’s a long list of documents to fill up and copy, supplies and clothes to buy. It is not farfetched to say that Adam’s parent are more excited and nervous about him going to boarding school than him himself. As always, we need to do a medical checkup at a clinic to certify that our son is fit to attend school there. I casually brought Adam to the Putrajaya Community Clinic one Thursday morning for the purpose only to find out all the appointment slots are fully booked for the day. The earliest vacant appointment slot is a week away next Tuesday which is right before we report to the school. I didn’t know we had to even book an appointment to do the checkup. Back in my days we would just walk down to the clinic and do the checkup the same day. I guess time has changed and there were a lot more folks bringing their kids for checkup now. After much deliberation we decided to do the checkup at a private clinic and get it over with. That left us 70 ringgit poorer but at least we got that one ticked off the list.

A few days before his departure, I gave Adam a crash course in asramalogy a.k.a how to survive in a boarding school hostel. I taught him how to wash clothes and do the laundry without a washing machine. How to put the laundry to dry on the washing line, how to iron his clothes flat on the floor without an ironing boards and a few other important survival tips. I didn’t have anybody to teach me that during my time. Dad was never around (obviously) and it didn’t occur to Mom to teach me anything beforehand. Although I survived my boarding school years fine (and in one piece) by watching others, secretly I wished somebody had taught me something. It was brutal living with a bunch of rural kids in the outskirts of Machang back in the day. Culture shock would be an understatement. That’s why had they offered us a rural school far away from home we would have rejected it outright. At least in civilized Selangor, I hopefully don’t have to worry so much about my son being whacked by his seniors. Let’s just say I had a not so pleasant experience with that regard during my boarding school days.

Come registration day, my mom came along for the journey. Needless to say she’s just as excited as us and thrilled to see her first grandchild in boarding school. We left home around 7:00 am that morning and braved the crazy KL morning traffic to Hulu Selangor. I suspect there are other less congested routes but I trust Waze more to take us there the quickest. Traffic improved slightly after Batu Caves as we took a shortcut through the villages. We arrived safely at SM Sains Hulu Selangor or Semashur as they affectionately call themselves (mine was Smach). Tucked in a secluded corner of Selangor near Ulu Yam and Kuala Kubu Bharu, Semashur is surrounded by lush greenery - rolling hills and a little limestone cliff in the backdrop. The evenings and mornings are cold and the air is fresh and clean, away from the city pollution. It’s just the right location to build a boarding school. Far enough from the city but not too far that reaching the place could have been a chore.

The registration process was smooth, jointly handled by both the teachers and the students themselves. My younger cousin Azli happens to be at the same school and he just scored straight As in his PT3 test recently. As we were finishing filling up the hostel forms, we couldn’t believe our luck when Azli was assigned as Adam’s mentor throughout the orientation week. Even better, Adam will be living in the same dorm as Azli for the next 2 months at least (since he had applied to enrol to an MRSM). So we can be rest-assured that he will be in good hands for the time being. Azli was kind enough to take us for a little tour of the school. He showed us where Adam's class will be, the dining hall, the surau along with a few tips and tricks.

We paid the school and hostel fees and bought Adam’s school supplies at the co-op shop. All in all we spent close to 900 ringgit on that day alone. I’m sure our parent did the same thing for us then and I’m certain they didn’t complain as well. I didn’t have much expectation for boarding school dormitories and that was justified when we brought Adam for the first time into his room where he will be staying for the next 5 years (hopefully). Let’s just say the conditions was only slightly better than my old dormitories back in the 90s. The beds, pillows and lockers were could have been better and some of the wall fans are not working. 20 years ago nobody would bat an eyelid but folks today have higher standards. Later during his speech, the headmaster intimated that the government has been cutting budgets left, right and centre hence why they couldn’t buy much new stuff for the students and the school in general. I’ve been hearing about these budget cuts for some time now and it couldn’t be more evident than today. What’s more dismaying is the fact that the country’s prime minister’s family is currently in a vacation, jetsetting across Australia using our hard-earned money.

But I digress. Despite the less than favourable living quarters, I totally understand where they’re coming from. Their budget is limited and their hands are tied. If money is no object I would pour donations into the school. Do I have Arab-donation money written on my forehead? I don’t think so. Education should be top priority for this country but the leaders are muddled with corruption starting from the head (you know who). Despite all that, we’ll make do. It’s not all that bad really. The rest of the facilities are quite decent, a few notches better than what I’m used to.

We had lunch at the school’s cafeteria while Adam decided to try out the lunch menu at the dining hall (which he said was not bad afterward). Shortly after that we said our goodbyes and naturally we left him with much mixed emotions. For one I am happy to know that this will be a great opportunity for Adam to learn about responsibility, socializing, leadership, survival and basically standing on his own two feet. It’s time he leaves the nest spread his wings and fly. On the other hand, being a parent we couldn’t help but worry for him. Will he fit in, make friends, find hostel living bearable or will he miss home? It’s perfectly natural to worry I guess. Adam is a tough boy and I’m sure he will be alright.

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