World Cup 2018—a Season of Let Down and a Tale of Grit

The roar of victory after France’s Paul Pogba scores in the second half of the World Cup Finals  (Photo: Martin Meissner, Associated Press)

BETWEEN this year’s World Cup and the one four years ago, give me the last one anytime. I’m sure I’m not the only who feels this way. Game after game, I came away feeling cheated. Take that Germany-versus-South Korea game, for instance, the Germans literally gave away a free goal to the Koreans just because the goalkeeper decided he was more cut out to be a striker than a guardian of his own goalpost.

What about all the hot soccer teams—the star teams you were sure would not just give you a winning performance, but also world-class soccer? Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Uruguay, England—all of these teams lost not because the underdogs they were up against played well, but because they played badly. And not just badly, some of them displayed such appalling attitude.

I’m sure you know who I’m referring to. Brazil’s star player Neymar, and also soccer’s hottest dude, Ronaldo. Here are two players the entire world watches with great enthusiasm, but when playtime comes along, what do they do? They put up a horrible acting performance, faking injury and wasting time, rather than giving the world truly sublime soccer, the kind they are known for. D-list actor is how the New York Times has described Neymar. Imagine him stooping to that level, an A-list soccer star! That’s just so sad.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is this: The great Lionel Messi did not manage to score a single goal, and for this to be his last World Cup outing is just too tragic. But then again, maybe it’s not. Messi wasn’t in his element just because he was playing with his national team, and not his home team, F.C. Barcelona. Without his pals, Messi can never be the real Messi.

Messi may have faded, Neymar may have disappointed, but some unknown and upcoming stars saved the day. Croatia’s surprise victory over England, giving them a spot at the finals for the first time ever, was a reminder of how anything is possible. Theirs was an extraordinary story of the unexpected. It was a grand celebration of the underdogs.

Sure, we were all hoping for a France-England showdown, but somehow, a France-Croatia finals was just as good. Any team who makes it to finals does so not by just sheer luck.

So when the finals finally rolled in, you wonder, “What if Croatia wins?” Of course, most of us weren’t rooting for an underdog victory. I was just thinking of Les Bleues. But as the game rolled on, when France notched a 4-1 lead, the Croatians were still giving their all. The energy, the go-for-it, the never-give-up—they were all too palpable. Then, that second goal came so late into the game. These Croatians were still at it, a roaring fierce game.

By this time, at the 69th minute, it was clear that France would be the champions, but I thought, “Croatia, you’re good!” And even as I cheered at the French team’s victory, I felt the Croatians emerged triumphant in their own way. They have come very far—certainly not by sheer luck, but amazing and admirable grit.

(536 words)

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Nicholas Tan, 9th Grade
July 2018

Amazing Japan

A view of Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

TRAVEL is one of the best forms of education, better than school. You get to see new things, eat new things, encounter new people, experience a whole new culture, an unfamiliar season, or an entirely different language. That was exactly how I felt about Japan in December last year. It was my first time there, and after 17 days, I decided, without a doubt, that Japan is the top travel destination. That sounds like a line you would find in any travel guide, but it’s truly how feel. None of the places I’ve been to—London, Australia, New Zealand, Maldives—beats Japan.

The beauty of Japan lies in so many things, too many that I struggle with where to even start. Do you start with the wonderful shopping or the great food, the Zen-inspired gardens or awesome beauty of Mount Fuji, the clock-work precision of the high-speed bullet trains, the hot-springs, magical Disneyland, or the centuries-old temples in ancient Kyoto?

Oh, there’s also that amazing aquarium in Tokyo, the largest in the world, where I must have come face-to-face with close to a hundred species of marine life! I would also be including Studio Ghibli here, except we didn’t get to go because my father, our chief travel planner, hadn’t known that we had to reserve spots a month in advance.

But missing Hayao Miyazaki’s creations couldn’t quite count as a disappointment given everything else that this beautiful country offered us. As a teen, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of visiting temples, but when I actually got there—Sanjusangendō and Kinkakuji in particular—I was mesmerized.

At Sanjusangendō, the longest hall in the world, I saw rows and rows of Buddha statues, each of them seemingly identical, but their faces were all different if you walked up close to look them in the eye. The bigger, solo statues that guard these endless rows of statues are probably more fun to gaze at. With their pupils studded with crystals, you aren’t quite sure if they would suddenly come alive and whisper to you.

At Kinkakuji, the famous golden temple, this feeling of light is equally profound. That day when we visited, we were approaching dusk. It wasn’t exactly sunset yet, but the light had an intensity about it, and it played a game of ebb and flow, brighter some moments, dimmer others. Who would have thought that a 14-year-old teen would have been transfixed by all this? But he was, much to my surprise.

Kinkakuji kissed by a not-quite-dusk-yet light (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

My other transfixed moment was when we were on a schooner cruise across Lake Ashi where I beheld Mount Fuji for the first time. Such a majestic mountain, so beautiful, so symmetrical. But my favorite view of Fuji-san, as the Japanese call it, is when we were on the Shinkansen from Hakone to Osaka. It seemed to lord over us in the train, such that all we seemed to see through our window was Mount Fuji and just a little sky and smatterings of village houses.

A view of Mount Fuji from a schooner drifting leisurely across Lake Ashi (Photo: Jerome D. Lye)

It’s hard to believe that at the start of our 17-day trip, we felt as if we had so much time to take in all the beauty of Japan and stuff our faces silly with sushi and soba. But as each day passed, the culture, the cuisine, and the natural beauty of this country greeted us with the same old konnichiwa, but always colored with something new. The same dip in the same onsen the second, third, and then the fourth time, was still as rejuvenating as always, but each time, I would sense something different. One time, the sulphur stung the nose more aggressively, another time, it was more muted. But each time I went, it felt like a place I would love to return to again and again. I suppose Japan is like that. I want to return soon. 

(652 words)

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Jerome Lye, Secondary Three
March 2018

For more essays by Jerome, visit Jerome Writes

No Place Like Home

Image: Charles M. Schulz

HOME sweet home may sound like a cliché, but it speaks volumes about where our hearts belong. And where mine belongs is not school, not Universal Studios, not La Pizzaiola, my all-time favorite pizza restaurant, but home.

When I’m at home, I don’t have to worry about how I look. Even if I’m having a bad hair day, home is a forgiving place. There wouldn’t be Dylan, that mean guy, who has poked fun at my hair, not once, but twice.  

Home is where I can play around in the kitchen, whip up something nice, something new, something different. As an avid baker who bakes once every three months—blame it on school, no time!—I love spending time tinkering with recipes from my Masterchef Cookbook.

Rest, chill, relax, take it easy, these are all the wonderful things I can do at home. And that’s not all. Home is where all who are closest and dearest to me are—Mom, Dad, Cheh Cheh and Mei Mei. And let’s not forget Auntie Lilik, our housekeeper for six years, our one and only Kaka—that’s Bahasa for sister. Without her, we wouldn’t have such a home, so spick and span, and such wonderful meals—the nasi lemak, the beef rendang, the chicken noodles, the million other things.

I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful home. Home is not just the shell, the shelter, and the roof. Home is, as Kit Chan has sung so beautifully, where I must be. It is where family resides, where all my cares tend to go away, and where I know I would be loved no matter what, even on my bad hair days. 

(279 words)

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Jerome Lye, Secondary Three
March 2018

For more essays by Jerome, visit Jerome Writes.


This essay was written in response to the theme, “Your Favorite Place,” to be accompanied by a handful of selfie shots at the very place itself. Jerome decided to write about home—it’s convenient!—but we didn’t include those selfies here. Some of us are shy, and so we chose Snoopy to be the perfect proxy. 

New Year, New Dreams

With daily tidying, there would be no mountains, no mess, no monsters.

NEW YEAR’S DAY makes me nervous. Once school starts, everything will get more difficult. This coming year, the school is going to put me in a different class, and I cannot be sure if I would be in the same class as my best of friends. Another thing that gets me edgy is that weird feeling of having forgotten something I had learned the year before.

Will I do well? Will I do worse than last year? Will I win the 80-dollar voucher for being one of the top 25 percent in the level? So many things to worry about! It doesn’t help that the word “scared” is looming over me like a dark cloud.

Sometimes, when the worries get too much, I’d tell myself, “Oh I don’t care!” or “Never mind!” This is a great cure for all the silly whirling in my head. Better to spend time on real dreams than awful worries. And so, here are my Big Dreams for 2018.

The biggest thing I want to do is to master the guitar, good enough to play Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The idea is to play this song to my kid brother, Amos, on his birthday in August. Sometime last year, I had asked him, “Would you rather that I get you a birthday present or play you a song on the guitar?” I don’t mind either way, he said.

So Ed Sheeran it would be. I have eight months to master the guitar. I am not a fan of the song, nor my kid brother, but it’s a pretty good deal if I don’t have to buy a gift for him just by crooning a Sheeran hit.

My next big dream is to improve my spelling. I want to work on at least one problematic word a day. Presently, my spelling drill goes like this: In my spelling book, I would make a word entry on the top right-hand corner of the page—the weird way I would write a word: expesially, for instance.

Then, on the top left-hand corner of this same page, I would write the correct spelling: especially. On the rest of the page, I would fill up all the lines with a million correct versions of the word. It is like a meditation. The moment I lose focus, I would make a mistake, which is exactly what happened with “burgalar” recently. Look what I did:

burglar
burglar
burglar
buglar

Pretty silly, right?  After just three words, I trip up. That’s not going to happen in 2018. At least, I’m going to do everything I can to avoid such silliness.

The last important New Year dream is for me to be neat and organized. I don’t even know where or how to start with this one. It’s a monster! But I know I would get somewhere just by putting my mind to it. I am going to enlist the help of my dad and Therese, my elder sister. I am also going to adopt the motto of my writing teacher, Miss Viv: Tidy every day, and not when you have a mountain of mess. With daily tidying, there would be no mountains, no mess, no monsters. Besides, tidying is like a meditation.

And who knows, when I get into the groove of being a little neater, maybe the burglars would forever be spelled the way they should be spelled.

(570 words)

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Edith Lee, Primary Five
January 2018

For more essays by Edith, visit Edith Writes

A Portrait of Daddy and Me Painting

(Image: hercampus.com)

THE holidays are upon us.

There is every reason to be excited. With a million things to do, I really don’t know where to start. Cycling, painting, playing cards and board games, scooting, swimming, hanging out with this crazy, chatty writing teacher who happens to cook and bake like mad. 

The one big thing I’d like to get cracking on is painting with my Daddy. We will sit by the balcony and paint the scenery. From where we are, we can see clouds, trees, and my kid brother playing with Natalie, his baby girlfriend, our neighbor.

We won’t be painting our own separate portraits. When we sit together, we paint one single portrait. This is how it works: Daddy paints the right side of the scenery, and I do the left side. We paint with water colors. He takes his time, and paints slowly. So do I, except that I paint even slower.

Now, why do I always paint the left side and never the right? Make a guess.

(169 words)

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Kristen Chan, Primary Two
December 2017

For more essays by Kristen, visit Kristen Writes.