Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life update: from LLB to the Bar.

WOW. Apparently I haven't updated my blog in almost a year!

Not that I haven't been writing though; I've been extremely active on Dayre (link!) since December 2013. I post nonsensical updates there practically everyday because well, there really isn't any quality control that goes into my Dayre posts. I don't care if my sentences are disjointed and if I use a disgusting amount of bahasa rojak (Malaysian slang – a mix of English, Malay, Chinese, and occasionally Cantonese and Hokkien) instead of proper English.

It's basically just me writing about whatever I'm up to that day or how I'm feeling, and I don't have to spend hours typing and editing and re-editing like I would a blog post. For instance, I spent 6 full hours on this post, whereas it takes me 30 minutes to produce a lengthy Dayre entry.

I started with it because I thought the stickers were just so adorable, but I ended up really loving the simple interface and the convenience of blogging from my phone. I mean you could still blog blog with a phone, but it isn't as convenient or practical when your posts are ridiculously long. Plus it's the easiest and quickest way for me to keep my family back home and friends scattered everywhere updated with my life.

Not sure how much quality control is gonna go into this post though since I haven't blogged in so long, but I'll try my best! Not exactly promising to revive this blog again, but I feel like I've changed so much as a person since coming to the UK in September 2013, that I should document as much as I can while I still can remember all this stuff.

Well first thing's first  where am I now?

I'm currently doing the bar professional training course (BPTC) in Cardiff University. It's been absolutely hellish, but I'll get to that bit later.

Some people might be curious about why I decided to go here, or how I ended up doing the bar course anyway, since my plan was always to go home and do the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) program back home. Bear with me now while I launch into a long tale about what transpired last summer.

I don't know if anyone still remembers this, but after my EU final paper in May, I kind of had an emotional breakdown, and wrote a very emotional, defeated blog post after I came home that day, about how I could no longer achieve a First Class after royally screwing that paper. I was beyond upset that day, and I regret that post so much because of all the anxiety I put my family through after they read it.

I'd deleted that post a few months ago because well, as some may know, I did end up getting a First Class for my LLB. No one was more shocked than I was.

I remember walking towards the Law Building with my two friends from Cardiff who were visiting at the time, and Abigail came out at that time. She told me that there was one person on the BAC transfer programme who got a first class, but she didn't know who. See, everyone's final result was posted up in the common room, but beside their student number instead of their name.

And not even for one second did I think that that person was me. Honest. When I recognised my student number, I think I just stood there slack-jawed for a few seconds, double and triple checking just to be sure. And I would subsequently find out that I was the only Malaysian transfer student to get a First Class, and one of two Malaysians to get it, the other girl having done all 3 years of her LLB in Reading.

Then it was like walking on air; like being in a dream. I'm beyond thankful for it really, and it was a very happy day for the Chow family. I would catch myself smiling for no reason sometimes for about a week afterwards heh. It's such a proud achievement that I'm very careful not to talk about it because I don't want to be seen as bragging, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've brought it up since then.

So anyway, the Bar course.

When I was skyping my parents after I collected my results, the first thing my father said was "Why don't you stay back and do the Bar?"

My answer was that I couldn't; the deadline for making applications was in January and it was then mid-June. Plus I was quite content with my UK experience and was looking forward to going home to Malaysia for good.

(From left: Cynthia, Mun Yew, Kelly, me, Khai.)

And then well, this happened. I went to Bournemouth with this bunch of people. Mun Yew and Kelly were the two friends from Cardiff staying in Reading at the time, with Khai and myself respectively. I've been friends with them for years now, and despite our differences in location and schedule, we'd managed to get together quite a bit in our final year.

And of course, all 3 of them were doing the Bar. We were just on the train back after a freaking amazing day trip to Bournemouth (hands down the best sandy beach I've been to!), and they were talking about all the trips they were planning for next year. Then I suppose I felt quite envious, and decided then to at least try to get accepted by a Bar provider.

The very next night (incidentally after a day trip to Oxford with the same gang), I wrote an e-mail to 4 bar schools  Cardiff and all 3 Bar providers in London, and all 4 of the Inns of Court.

As you can see from the excerpt I sent to Cardiff above, I was completely honest with my late application. I saw no reason to make up some elaborate lie about not applying, and I'm not about that kind of life anyway.

I was gunning for Cardiff, because well everyone was going to be in Cardiff, and I didn't want to live in London – too expensive and way too distracting. I had decided that it was Cardiff or bust.

And guess which Bar provider wrote back enthusiastically? :)

Middle Temple also wrote back, stating they would accept me, no problem. Then things progressed very rapidly after that.

I had to scramble about getting my formal application in place as fast as possible, and during this period I changed my mind practically a million times about whether I wanted to do the bar or not, now that it had become a valid option. It was quite an emotional few days for me there, and honestly I think if my father hadn't sort of ordered me to do the Bar then, I think I would've been back in Malaysia now.

Apparently it's quite an unprecedented thing to make an application this late. Dr Nick Roberts, my personal tutor back in Reading, said that he hadn't heard of such a case before.

I'd like to think it was my amazing creative writing skills that got Cardiff's attention, but let's be real here – having a First Class opens a lot of doors.

So after that really long background story, here's the proud Bar student now!


I knew this going in; I'd heard stories about how demanding and time-consuming the Bar course was, and let it be known that no one is exaggerating!

Cardiff bar students get Fridays off, and we have 4-6 tutorials each week. There aren't many lectures after the introductory sessions, and most weeks we won't have any lectures. Which means that unlike in the LLB where you did a tutorial based on what you've learned in lectures, what we have to do for each tutorial is to teach ourselves a brand new chapter and answer questions about it.

Obviously, this means that you need a whole lot of time to finish a tutorial. I'd say that you'd need at the very least 3 hours to complete a tutorial, but most of the time it takes 5-6 hours. And for bigger subjects like Submission Advocacy and Opinion Writing which require quite a bit of research, the required prep easily takes up to 12 hours. And just when you're done struggling through the week, you realise the next week is no less hellish, and the work just never ends.

Insane right?! Bar students have so little free time and so much stress that it's really hard for anyone to understand, unless you've taken the Bar yourself or have dated someone who is. It's hard for other students to comprehend that there is no such thing as "I have finished my work" in the Bar, and that there is always more work to do. Most people think Bar students are just being dramatic.

But oh no people. This shit cray. For reals.

Lots of nights are spent like this. :/

I think about two-thirds of my Dayre entries these past few months are posts complaining about how stressed and busy I am with coursework. I still am, but things have gotten slightly better this term, at least for Cardiff students, because we've already concluded the final assessments for the Submission Advocacy and Opinion Writing modules, which were two crazy bulky modules.

Of course new modules have come in to replace them, but they're not as bad. It could also be that we're getting more efficient at our coursework after 3 hectic months. (Yay?)

Despite the craziness of it all though, I'm thoroughly enjoying my Bar experience in Cardiff.

There's a surging sense of achievement and self-satisfaction that you get when you hone your barrister skills. Like when you know you've kicked ass for a tutorial or one of your advocacy or conferencing sessions, which you wouldn't be able to get if you were doing the CLP. The course is very practical, and almost everything you learn will actually be used when you enter the working world.

Also, Cardiff provides for two placement weeks for court marshaling and chambers internships. These were during the first term, and it was a welcome change of pace from our crazy study schedule.

I absolutely loved my placements! I got placed in Thirty Park Place in Cardiff under one of the nicest barristers ever, who really talked me through everything that was going on and made sure I understood.

Ditto with District Judge John Regan, whom I marshaled with. That guy was probably the coolest judge in existence. Who else keeps a pack of cards in his court and does magic tricks there after hours? Plus he had a great sense of humour and made an effort to be relate to us, which I really appreciate since he really didn't have to.

(From left: dolled-up me, Nicole, Tausif)

The coursemates this year are amazing.

I think we started out with over 75 students (Cardiff only takes up to 80 Bar students), but now we're left with 71 after some dropped out or were cut. And umm 38 of us are Malaysian/Bruneian and only 17 are locals, with the rest being from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mauritius.

Because there're so few people in the course, you really get to know almost everybody. It's a very supportive learning environment because we're all facing the same heavy workload, and everyone's normally willing to spend time talking and reasoning things out with each other, be it about law, politics, religion, culture, or anything really. I've never had so many intellectual discussions in my life!

And of course, people who take the Bar are damn serious about becoming a lawyer, so they work their butts off. They really keep me on my competitive toes; being a First Class student means absolutely nothing here. Noone can afford to be lazy while doing the Bar if they want any shot at passing anyway.

This was also the first year I'd ever hung out with people from Pakistan and Bangladesh. I didn't meet any whilst in Reading because I only ever stuck to my Malaysian friends, but here we've all just meshed together.

People from those countries have a bad rep in Malaysia, and quite a few back home were shocked and expressed worry when they found out that I was friends with them, but honestly, loads of them are huge sweethearts and are also bloody smart. It's really all about education I think  back home we avoid such foreign workers, not just because they've been known to commit crimes, because most of them don't speak English well enough for any meaningful conversation to take place.

The people I've met here have really helped reshape a lot of old racist views of mine, and I'm guessing those of other Malaysians as well. After a short while, you don't even see their skin colour anymore; we're just one big happy family.

Oh and this was the first year I was exposed to friends who smoke weed.

Or maybe I have had such friends, but they haven't smoked up in front of me. Anyway, it was quite jarring for me to see it for the first time. It's not something I want to get used to, so I usually just excuse myself whenever they head out to smoke.

I haven't tried weed, or even cigarettes actually, and I don't foresee a time when I would do so. It's just not my thing, but I don't judge or isolate people for smoking up, as long as they don't force it on me, which noone ever has.

If anyone has to deal with something similar and wants some advice on how to avoid the temptation to smoke up, my advice is to find friends with similar principles to keep yourself grounded, because the temptation is always stronger if you don't, and of course to always pray. I will say that my religion has really guided me through loads of challenges in the UK, and I know that loads of people have also turned to their religions to keep their moral compass straight over here.

(Pic credit: Yi En. Austria trip with the loveliest people!)

During our winter break (which is only 3 weeks long btw), I was blessed enough to go on a trip with a group of people that I wasn't really close to at the time. And we were all pleasantly surprised at how well we were able to get along and just have a great time together. Probably my favourite Europe travel group to date, just because everyone was so willing to accommodate different wants. By the end of it, we were all good friends and have hung out together quite a bit since.

Austria was so beautiful! We traveled through Innsbruck, Salzburg and Hallstat, and loved every single place. Though I think our favourite place was Innsbruck, just because of the many memorable adventures we had there.

(Pic credit: Yi En)

The Austrian landscape is absolutely breathtaking. So much love for this beautiful country. It's really no wonder that the views here inspired The Sound of Music.

It was a pretty awesome trip to round off the year, before we had to head home and get started on work for the new term. Bleh.

(Pic credit: Han Rui)

I think what I'm trying to get to is how much I've grown as a person while being in the UK.

My personality has become a lot more boisterous (though I can still be very shy) and I've gotten a reputation for being blunt/brutally honest. I remember being far more reserved when I was still in Malaysia, only being comfortable enough to act silly and be annoying in front of really close friends or family members.

But out here, everyone starts out with a completely blank slate, so I guess I unconsciously decided to treat everyone as a new family member. Sometimes I worry about whether my remarks will make people hate me though (social anxiety is a real problem for me); and I'm trying really hard to think twice before I speak, even though some friends have told me that they appreciate my brand of honesty.

I've also realised how much I filter my friends so that I never hang out with people who are full of shit or just want to cause drama. And I love that I've managed to find quite a few friends this year who think the same.

I've become a lot more independent and capable too, but that goes without saying I suppose  how else would I be able to survive?

My loner instincts have become more pronounced this year though. I don't live with any of my friends, which means that for friends who aren't in the same tutorial group as me, I see them only once or twice a week. Most of the time I'm in my room alone just studying or wasting time.

Surprisingly, I really like it this way. And even though I'm spending quite a lot of time alone, I haven't really felt homesick this year, compared to how torn up I got last year. Guess I've gotten very used to living and being on my own.

The unpleasant bit though is of course the weight gain. The difference in my weight in October 2013 and August 2014 is a whopping 6kg, and I'm still the same weight now, though I suppose it's a cold comfort that I haven't put on anything further.

I'm quite shocked and upset with myself, since my resolution when I set out in September 2013 was not to put on any weight in the UK. I had also been gymming quite a lot in Reading, managing to train myself to cover 10km of running distance on the treadmill. I struggled quite a lot with my self-esteem, and I still have intermittent days now when I just hate myself.

The weight gain has been mostly in my face and stomach, with everywhere else staying pretty much the same, since my jeans still fit pretty much in exactly the same way as before. But since my face has gotten so much bigger and rounder (just compare it now to my sidebar pic), of course I feel like shit a lot when I see pictures of myself.

...But hey, shit happens.

I've recently started the Insanity workout, and by recently, I mean yesterday.

I know, I know, am I crazy to even attempt this? I've heard so many stories about how tough it is and even fit friends of mine have given up on it before because it's just too damn hard. Plus I have mock exams coming up in two weeks and an all-round heavy workload; do I even have the time to commit to this challenge?

My answer is I have no freaking idea how I'm going to do this, or whether I'm going to crash and burn out within a week, but I see no harm in trying it out.

I've even told some people that I was going to start it, just to make myself more accountable to follow through with it. Two of the people I told are in my tutorial group, so they would see me everyday and would be able to tell if there was any difference.

Yesterday was Day One, which was the fit test. And even that had killed me, and I started feeling the muscle sores just 5 hours later. I still feel a little sore today, but I know that my muscles get the most sore the second and third day after a heavy workout, so I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's aches. I'm definitely gunning to finish at least 10 days of Insanity before my mocks start (11 days from now) though!

Interval training is a completely new thing to me; I'd only ever done low resistance cardio for long periods, and dancing. My back-up plan if Insanity fails is to start Shawn T's Hip Hop Cardio, which would be a much more fun challenge, but for now I just want to push my out-of-shape body until it breaks.

2015 is definitely a year to be a hugeass over-achiever. There's no other reason for me to want to undertake Insanity at the same time as the Bar wth.

Oh and this happened this year too. (Link!)

I've always wanted to do covers, but have always been too shy and self-conscious to make videos, so Soundcloud was a great alternative. I also don't play instruments very well; but "Creep" turned out to be a really easy ukulele song. I'm not that impressed with this cover, but I was proud of myself for finally recording something so I just decided to put it out there.

Am hoping to get a few more covers up there, but I naturally tend to harmonise rather than sing the lead vocals, so I'm going to figure out how to layer audio tracks before making my next cover.

I told you this is going to be an over-achieving year! Just gonna go out there to chase all the dreams I've ever had.

Speaking of which, I suppose I've kind of put my writing dreams on hold. I still love writing, and I think I'm fairly skilled in it, but I still have no clue what I can actually make of it, unless I one day become a famous blogger.

I dunno honestly. But what I do know is writing is still my favourite method of release, and I'm never more honest with myself than when writing down my thoughts. I'll figure it out one day.

(Pic credit: Joy Lene)

I think that's all I have for this update. I'm still growing and changing every day, and I'm thankful for the multitude of blessings and opportunities that have come my way.

I'm no closer to figuring out what I want to do with my life than I was when I first started out with my degree, but I guess I have a lot more confidence in my abilities than before. For now though, I'll just give my all to the Bar so that I pass it, and make sure I don't let the people I love down.

Till' next time!

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