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Right. Before I start this post, I'd just like to remind all you readers that these are just my honest thoughts. If you don't find it very likeable, I suggest you skip any of my blog entries (I'll add the tag #hikarinaito to each of my entries from now on). These are all experiences from my point of view; other people have different feelings and thoughts on the exact same events. I place importance on sharing exactly how I feel about things, and being honest and open about it. If brashness bothers you, then skip this.

And to those who wish to read on, thank you for your support. =) I appreciate that deeply.

Hey, Naito here. =) Or Mai, if you prefer to use my real name.
A heck of a lot of things have been going on in life lately (just graduated from National Service, Kem Sinaran Suria, Sungkai, Perak on the 17th of March), and I've only (almost) reached the point of rest this week. Hopefully.

A lot of my friends, both from my old school and from STF are already taking courses in university, while my parents and I sit at the long dining table downstairs, feverishly filling out scholarship applications and writing lengthy essays that might just save my life, the way sponsorships saved Katniss' life in The Hunger Games {it's a movie now, not for the faint-hearted mind you}. Seeeriously, we stayed up until 3.00 am on one occasion...

How's life? Basically I'm enjoying it, filling my time with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dance Central 2 on my birthday-present Xbox 360. Helps keep me fit after training. =D

As for the National Service training itself, it was fuuun! I designed the flag for the coolest Company around (go Alpha Wolves! =D), and painted it with an awesome team of guys, and together we won the Kontrak Kita Janji as overall best company...

Then there was the Flying Fox, and the water activities (canoeing and rafting!), and the Kembara Halangan (roughly translated as Obstacle Adventure), and the performances, and the Indian Dance that I did on the finale night (yeees, I danced to an Indian song. On stage, okay?) and all those amazing people who made me laugh all the time. And the wonderful trainers, they're so willing to help and committed to their work that initially I got a little bit of culture shock. I mean, compared to the STF wardens (and some of the teachers too), these seasoned army retirees were waaaaaaaaay better at taking care of us. There was a time when I went crying (and I rarely ever do) to a teacher in the middle of the night, asking if I could sleep with her (dorm problems, you see), and instead of turning me away she said nothing, allowed me in, and opened a mattress for me next to her bed. She listened to me cry, and she listened to my story, and kept silent till the very end, after which she gave me advice to help me back on my feet. I'm not talking about those black-suited counselors and psychologists who give you oh-so-professional comments, I'm talking about people who really have a lot in common with you and years of experience, who are not afraid to sit in their pyjamas with their students(?) and laugh the whole night off until 3 in the morning, even though there's a huge camping event the next morning. And no, they didn't let me sleep with them for security and moral reasons, but they did impart me with a piece of advice that inspired me a lot:

"No, you can't sleep here. That would be breaking the law, and also running away from your problems. And if you do that, the problem will haunt you no matter where you go; the only way to end it is to face your problem and beat it like a champ."

And she was right. The remainder of the night I stayed up writing a letter straight from my heart (because I am NOT a vocal person...). The best part? All the hurt and the hate was gone, and I felt like I was complete somehow. I really, really did. There was no presumptions, no prejudice, no ill feelings towards my dorm mate. Thank you Cikgu Rokhaidah, you helped me through a turbulent time in my life and gave me inspiration to move on.

Another thing that happened to me in camp was a one-on-one with one of the male trainers there; he told me how he noticed that I wasn't very close to the girls, the Malays in general, and how I'd rather spend my time with non-Muslims, with guys, or with no one at all. Initially it bugged me; until I wrote it down, and realized that I didn't have a problem with it at all. What they are doing - forming groups, alienating others not of their race, clichés, not even bothering to mix in with others, and oh, the endless gossip - they're doing what people expect of them. They're repeating high school. And usually they're a lot more close-minded than the non-Muslims. Why does it bother people that I, as a Muslim and as a Malay, am not ashamed/afraid to mix with others not of my race and religion?

Why do I do it? Here's my opinion; non-Malays rarely ever talk bad about their own people. They are united in a way that is on a whole different level than us. Even if they don't regard someone highly, they don't go around spreading rumors. They look out for each other. Non-Malays are also very supportive. No trash-talk, no discrimination, no prejudice. And National Service is probably the only time I'll be able to get exposure to other races before university. This happened to me; the Indian Dance in my particular camp is close to hip-hop in terms of speed and the moves as well as the song itself. The crew was initially all-Indian, since they were the only people interested and skilled enough to pull it off. During the closing ceremony the trainers made it compulsory for all performances to include members of all races, which was a challenge to them. They made their selection based on skill, and only that. No such thing as barring a person to join because of their being a different race, or because of personal issues, or things such as 'dengki' (to translate to English would mean envy/jealousy, but that's not the full meaning of the word) that so often influence the Malay society. How did I get in? I sneaked up on the main choreographer while he was bustin' some moves and copied him. They wanted me to join, and I didn't ask for anything.

The support they gave me was amazing. Even the ones not involved in the actual dancing helped me out with the moves I had trouble with, the energy the whole group had was really positive, and we even played a game or two, just goofing around, to let off some of the steam and the pressure that built up (hey, practicing for a whole song in basically 5 days, minus 2 for choreo is NOT easy). Even when there were problems and everyone got frustrated, there would always be someone to say, 'We can do this, it's not easy, but we can do this' and the whole team would get psyched up again, unlike in some teams I've been in where someone would say the same thing, and get a million death-glares from the other members. So thank you to my dancing team - Sasi, Raja, Priya, Acap, Nash, and all the rest! You guys are the best team I've ever worked with! You guys were so committed I thought we'd be doing a National-level competition =)

Aaanyway, back to the topic. So the trainer met me again a second time, and here's how it went:

"So, have you thought about what I said?"

"Yes, teacher. And you're right."

"How do you feel about that? Don't you feel like you're missing out on things?"

"No, sir. Not at all."

"And why's that?"

"Because I know that not all the Malays are like that. Because I know that wherever I walk, there's always someone who will say 'hi' to me, someone who wants to talk to me, someone to hear me talk. Because I don't need to change myself to conform to just a single group of people who might not have your back when you most need it. I've been in the situation where I thought a certain group was the best for me; by the time I realized what was going on and wanted to change, it was already too late. This is my chance to build relationships with people 'out of the box'.

"Sometimes I don't need to go to anyone, they literally come to me to have a chat. They respect me and I respect them, and they know that 'respect' doesn't mean you have to follow whatever the person says and accept everything they do. They are willing to respect me because they can see that I respect them. We don't have to be together all the time. But what matters most is that we'll be there when we're needed most, and that's why we're friends.

"The thing with this whole 'geng' thing is that they're limited to just a few people out of the 422 potential friends you could have. Nobody else bothers about them when they need help, and they don't bother to help anyone else. Nobody else knows them, or only knows them by name or by face, and that's it. And they can't see past their flaws, since they don't care about people's perception of them, and in time it only grows worse; you can never be sure that the person who's in the same group you're in is your actual friend or a person who's been spreading negative rumours about you behind your back. How could you, when you don't mix with others?

"Last of all, these people have, at the most, less than 10 friends; I have almost 422 at the same time."

My answer definitely caught him off-guard. Okay, so maybe it didn't go on as long as that and it wasn't that formal, but the essence of it is there (see why I prefer writing to speech? You tend not to leave out details when you write it down). He then told me that he saw me as a sort of 'Avril Lavigne' figure - completely comfortable doing my own thing and following my own head, but at the same time not the kind to make a fuss out of it. I'm not the 'follow-me' kind of person. If you want to come along, then that's good; but if you don't, that's totally fine.

He also said something that inspired me as well: "There is no wrong or right. It all depends on what you feel, deep inside your heart."

Which is also essentially the same thing Bosz told me in a letter she hand-wrote (in response to a letter I wrote her, about a month into the programme).

Haha, I think I was probably among the people who had the most drama in the NS life there. Being Penghuluwati doesn't help either. But if Cikgu Ang hadn't chosen me for that part, I'd never have mixed with all those people, and would probably never get the chance to do that for the rest of my life.
Involved myself a lot. Painted murals, did the logo and the flag for the Alpha Wolves, had my first real experience being a leader (and of such a big group), got disciplinary punishment the military way, broke people's perceptions that a 'normal' girl can't play guitar, had my first experience with guys since leaving Grade 6 (and they were a really great bunch), got picked as Wirawati Terbaik Keseluruhan under Kompeni Terbaik Keseluruhan (go Alpha! =P), and basically had a kick-ass time. {Well, the camping trip could have fared better if we didn't have to take down our tent mere minutes after spending 1 1/2 hours putting it up, but a real-life war won't save any late soldiers out of mercy, right?}

Phew. Now that was a loooong entry....

Actually, I felt a lot better in the camp than when I did at STF. Too much pressure, too much peer pressure, such high expectations, and nary a reward for doing your best. I always felt helplessly overshadowed there, and it didn't help that people put me down even further. Thanks a lot for drilling the self-confidence out of me, guys. If it hadn't been for the band and Bosz and a few good friends, I'd have quit long ago. Same goes to all you people who act nice in front of my face but don't bother to help me out when I need it the most. I know that you're a lot more comfortable spreading rumours about me than actually helping me fix the problem. Of course, you can't see past your own flaws, so I really shouldn't be too judgmental, right?

It was you guys who made the problem worse, because you left me nowhere else to turn to.

None of you even care to know how empty I really felt when I was around you guys, ever since the first year. Are those how good friends really act? Are you still playing your pretending games with each other? Pretending to care while leaving each other in the dark?

Are you still playing your flute?

Thank you guys, because you made me realize how important my few friends are. And how important it is to never associate yourself with just a set group, with no desire to extend your friendship outwards, to other people who, sometimes, go to sleep dreaming that tomorrow, they'll be able to feel appreciated.
Unity doesn't mean spending every last second of the time you have together. Unity means that you'll be there for each other because you really want to, no matter what, when you need each other's help. Everything in between pales in comparison to that rule.

Oh, yeah. And guys? I know you believe I ain't straight. Believe what you want; both God and I know who I am, and there's really no point in me trying to prove anything to anyone. So enough of the bad-mouthing already, if you haven't stopped yet.

Thank you guys, for helping me slowly rebuild my independence. I no longer need someone's nod to do something, or someone to follow me everywhere I go just to make sure I'm doing 'the right thing'. I can live on my own now.

Right. Before I end this post, I'd just like to remind all you readers (again) that these are just my honest thoughts. If you don't find it very likeable, I suggest you skip any of my blog entries (I'll add the tag #hikarinaito to each of my entries from now on). These are all experiences from my point of view; other people have different feelings and thoughts on the exact same events. I place importance on sharing exactly how I feel about things, and being honest and open about it. Again, if that bothers you, don't read this. Thank you for your support.

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