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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Circle Xperienced

The feedback form was the last official barrier barring us from freedom. It's first open-ended question was on it's second printed page (yes, two pages of feedback: multiple-choice and structured questions exam-style): what were your impressions of the camp, before and after?

My first impression of the camp was Jan grumbling on how it was compulsory (the word emphasized in bold on the matriculation form, reminding us to hand in our orientation booklet).

Because a deliberate misspelling in its title isn't cool enough to appeal to the freshmen, the metaphorical stick will do most of the trick. The same goes for the big SMUve event. In case the big balloons, song and dance, rock concert, free t-shirt and parade down the streets in town doesn't fill your crowd expectations, there's always the slotting of a compulsory CCA sign-up session right behind the festivities.

It's nothing personal, it's just business. And it's alot cheaper than hiring extras to provide people scenery and atmosphere.

Then again, with some creativity and tenacity, nothing is really compulsory except death and maybe taxes.

And in case anyone forgets: the Circle Xperience is not an orientation camp. It is a leadership and team-building experience. It's not just some session where you play games, exchange phone numbers and eat bad food. It's some session where you play games, exchange phone numbers, eat bad food and endure numerous debriefings after each activity where you are asked to voice your feelings and bare your emotional innards to the world.

Yes, spilling your soul is also compulsory.

Downing a can of Nescafe's dark coffee in the morning made tiding over the first day easier. From a routine of sleeping at 5 in the morning to waking up at 5 to accomplish last-minute packing, the natural adrenaline high and caffeine boast accompanied me into Chinese Gardens.

I have never been to the Chinese Gardens. The closest contact I ever managed was a secondary school chinese textbook with a passage on the Gardens, water-colour-ish pictures included. The only things I recall are the pictures (which I tried matching with their real-life counterparts), which go to show my interest and competence in the Chinese language.

We passed a garden of rain-beaten concrete "terracotta" warriors, standing around trying to look regal but mostly looking embarrassed sporting bright scarves in primary colours. The grass, rocks and trees were cast in painfully artifical although scenic landscapes. Should the Gardens stay open long enough for weathering to take its toll, at least the components would be easily reproduced. I wonder if there's even a warehouse of mass manufactured spare parts.

The place was empty. The gate to an area read "Garden of Abundance" - a title suspiciously vague and invitingly ironic.

There was supposed to be a High Elements activity. Our choice: crossing a wooden bridge of sorts dangling in mid-air without hand supports (the aim being to cross without grabbing the harness cord).

It unfortunately started to rain. What refused to wash away was the graphic imagery suggested by the instructor in his half-hour briefing as he went through the safety precautions (popping sounds and all): severing of fingers, removal of limbs, tearing of earlobes, head lacerations, plummeting to your horrible death while your harness is in the air laughing at you (his words, really).

On the last day of camp, there were also activities designed to test ones integrity. Herein lies the paradox. If you're watching for breaches in integrity, there would be no integrity to observe. As the philosophical question goes: if you could commit a wrong and get away with it, would you still do so?

Testing ones integrity with people circling around watching and commenting is completely missing the point. There is fear of retribution, peer pressure, a lack of incentive among the elements interfering with this little experiment. You can't just announce "This game is meant to test your integrity ok!" and expect accurate results.

en at 12:48 am