Jerome's Personal Statement
Sprawled across the concrete with sweat enveloping my calves, I am finally part of something bigger than myself.
It was time to move to Malaysia. My entire life had been composed of moving, but never to an entirely different continent. I guess it helped that I built my foundation on my family, rather than any physical space, which could collapse at any moment. My stomach was churning with anxiety during the grueling eight-hour plane ride. Midway through the flight, the attendant came with the food menu. I had no appetite, but my mother insisted on me ordering something. Closing my eyes, I poked at the menu and landed on Nasi Goreng. I took a spoonful. Immediately, my worries dissipated. I quickly downed the heaping bowl, while gaining a new optimism. I felt like maybe I could have a chance at life here.
Unlike most Westerners, my father had me attend a local school. On the first day of school, I learned that we don’t speak the same language. It’s ‘Singlish’. With the extra ‘lah’s and ‘ah’s, it sounds almost singsong. The classes have no AC, and teachers are the ones switching classrooms. The students barely acknowledged my presence. Afterschool, the principal herself introduced me to the basketball team. In Australia, the sport was my way of letting out steam, building new friendships, and maintaining my drive. When I first stepped onto that Malaysian court, I no longer felt like a burden to my peers. The basketball drills seemed to transcend the barriers of spoken language. When I swished, they all exclaimed “Wah, chop”, meaning “Wow, swish”. The familiar rhythm of dribbling, squeak of footwork, swoosh of net: I felt at home.
At the school canteen, the comforting scent of traditional Malay cuisine drifted from the local aunties’ wok. Our team reflected. It turns out, we all joined the sport as a way to cope. While I played to find comfort in the camaraderie of the team, others played to fill a crevasse in their emotional health. Zul, a local Malay with black wavy hair, was a promising player on our team. I admired him. On and off the court, his confidence rubbed onto the entire team. However, during practice one day, I felt something was wrong. Zul wasn’t going as hard at the drills, or encouraging us like he always did. Concerned, I asked what was wrong. He broke. Zul’s Dad was working three jobs, yet they were slowly creeping towards debt. That day, I learned that everyone has their own story to tell.
We trained for eight months, met each other’s families, and were now closer than ever. We could feel each other’s presence on the court. In the beginning, we were helpless. Hand signals were a necessity, and shouting across the court only allowed our opponents to dismantle our carefully prepared strategies. Now, we pass the ball towards empty space, sensing a teammate will get there in time. Our coach’s yelling had become a rarity; he had developed trust in us.
The weight of the Malaysian basketball tournament, held in West Jurong, loomed over us for weeks. Yet when it came, we were prepared. The semi-final was close. With 19 seconds left, I assisted Zul on a pressure three pointer, giving us the first lead in the game. When the whistle rang in our ears, we had persevered. The final was intense. We were up against the undefeated Telok Kurau. We threw our arsenal of tactics at them, but our momentum could only take us so far. We had lost.
Yet we held our heads high. Our journey was over, but we left the stadium with a newfound respect for the sport, values our coach had instilled within us, and an unbreakable brotherhood. Although I am not with them, back on American courts, whenever I see a swish, I yell at the top of my lungs: “Wah, chop”.