The World Universities Debating Champs is now over and for the first few days in a while, I feel moderately sober enough to write a missive on the whole experience. The fact that this is the case is, as you might have surmised, that neither my partner nor I managed to make the break to octo finals (we think we were close, but will only know in a few more days when the results come out). As is tradition at such debating events, not breaking puts you largely beyond the scope of the formal program and people tend to pop in and out of watching the knockout rounds, while trying to recover from the night before and prepare for the night to come.
The initial half of the competition was held at Assumption University in Thailand, a campus so massive, so opulent and so well manicured that I am convinced that no analogous facility exists in all of South Africa. Possibly Africa. Imagine if you will a massive chunk of the Vatican transplanted and freshly built in the middle of absolutely nowhere – complete with golden lions, statues of saints and popes and not one, but two, student malls. Neither of which would sell alcohol or condoms. Way to go catholicism.
The residence accommodation at Assumption U was fantastic, and I can honestly say that I have been in a number of so-called ‘three star’ hotels which cannot hold a candle to the sort of sumptuous suites and attentive room service – yes, room service in a res – that we were privileged to receive at AU. The room service became particularly handy later in the competition, as it allowed one to rationalise that the party from the night before really hadn’t been as bad as your broken body and tired mind would have you believe. Simply leave your room for a wee bit sometime in the afternoon and on your return, you would be greeted with a newly pristine setting, ready to be defiled once more.
As may be obvious at this point, there are really two parts to Worlds. First and foremost, there is debating, which was eagerly pursued in this case by almost 400 teams from 43 nations. Competition was fierce, and the South Africans acquitted themselves well, but ultimately we were wildly outclassed by the sorts of intellectual behemoths that make Worlds their playground, and none of the teams found their way to breaking through to the octofinals. The motions were nicely varied and ranged from the assassination of Vladimir Putin to local governments deporting the homeless and whether or not central banks should bail out those institutions afflicted by the credit crisis currently plaguing the markets.
Not breaking to octos means that the majority of the teams and adjudicators find them with nothing much to do in the days at a competition with free alcohol at functions – the result of which should be obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with alcoholism. Each night’s official function would therefore be followed by a gleeful formal or informal late night binge drinking session until the not so wee hours of the next day. This would be followed by a sleep in until the afternoon, some greasy snacks and a complete repeat. Neither the manky 80s style accommodation of the Ambassador Jomtein resort (to which we were moved for the closing half), nor the flu which began to plague much of the delegation made much difference at all to the overall level of enthusiasm for drink filled masochism every night.
As anecdotal evidence of the brutality of this part of the competition, the average wake up time would usually be around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and would consist of opening ones eyes and pondering the sheer amount of physical pain and stiffness one felt from drunken prancing the night before. This could go on anywhere up until 4pm, when you would drag yourself into the shower (also manky) for a revitalising wash before going off to try and find similar casualties running around in the lobby somewhere. After attending whatever actual program-legislated events remained for the day, thoughts would inevitably turn to drinking – usually Singha and Chang beer with vodka in various configurations – and the whole cycle would repeat. I cannot remember feeling so broken in a very, very long time.
One last point that it would be pertinent to comment on the cabin fever that such extended physical and physiological damage brings to a party. It is interesting to see that I have come to dislike a number of formerly appealing friends for grounds ranging from the (perceived) legitimate belief that one is a closet rapist to the less legitimate crimes of having a fat head, stalking or being a dick. The crime of being a dick, I can appreciate, is most likely the result of my somewhat grumpy post-binging demeanour reflecting off others, but many of the other more serious charges remain and it will be interesting to see to what extent immersion in the real world will help to rebalance my outlook. I have been on enough such ‘fun trips’ in the past that I realise the transience of the whole emotional experience insofar as much of what we feel will come to be meaningless outside of the particular psychological bubble we are occupying now. That said, to rationalise about what I know to be true about the psychology of such trips and to reconcile this with my current state of heart are as different and chalk and beer, so dwelling on the issue, beyond trying to be aware of what is going on, is probably an unproductive endeavour.
Besides, it should definitely be pointed out that this emotional analogy to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is not all bad, as equal to my varying dislike of some of my debating siblings are certain positive realisations about myself, the sorts of people I may or may not be inclined to fall for, and a suitable amount of unrequited philosophising what-ifs about a debater mixed with a very resounding thank-god-not towards another. Such feelings too, as with the grizzliness in the paragraph above, are likely to be partly or wholly transitory and while I would certainly like to have certain chats with certain people about certain things (captain Coverhisass McVagueness strikes again), I realise that little good would be likely to some of it and that it would be rather selfish and emotionally dishonest to force others to have to deal with my emotional distortions. At least not until the real world has given them a good scrub and I can have an idea of what it is, precisely, that I feel.
And so it ends that as we bus off to Cambodia now for further adventures, I am sad to see the tournament end – but cannot help but feel that it has perhaps ended well, and at precisely the correct time to avoid the worst of the irritation based bloodshed and sexual politics that such functions tend to engender over time.