It’s Debating Time!

‘Cause there’s never seems to be enough time
To do the things you wanna do
Once you find it
“Time in a Bottle” – Jim Croce

I’ve just finished watching the recorded video of CIMB WUPID 2008 Finals (about military intervention to stop Somali pirates). After congratulating the great speakers in the debate, I noticed something minor but interesting. A speaker in the debate spoke for 7.30 but the continuous knock (or bell ring, for a bell was used as the time indicator in that round) was not heard. Obviously, at that point of time, the bell wasn’t rung continuously. Two assumptions out of this: the timekeeper was lousy; or there was no instruction to have the bell rung continuously after 7.20 passes (if any, the instruction is deemed a less important one to enforce).

Scavenging my memory at the Worlds 08, I can’t seem to find any encounter on continual ringing/knocking too. As a speaker that often brings 5th-minute or even 6th-minute extensions, certainly at the times of those terribly-structured speeches I embraced 7.21 with all my might, passionately kissed 7.26 or 7.28, and spared a little affectionate pat to 7.30 before an embarrassed good-night was thrown and I rushed back to my seat. Was there a drumroll over the timekeeper’s table? I can’t recall any. Further more, at every international tournament I’ve ever been into, a timekeeper is virtually non-existent. One of the adjes usually volunteers to time-keep.

In Indonesia, it’s quite the opposite. In almost every tournament I’ve ever competed in, there’s always a reigning timekeeper sitting behind the speaker, equipped with all his/her glory and a pen, a whiteboard duster, or other forms of knocker (or just their bare hands, with which they voraciously clap). Only God knows when they start the stopwatch, because sometimes they start the stopwatch the moment the chairperson calls the speaker, without regarding the fact that some speakers start speaking 10-15 seconds after being called. The moment their talisman, the stopwatch, light up a 7.20 in its screen; they will start a thunderous, repetitive bam with their knockers.

“Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!”

I might as well go tumble-gadoonk-ga. The knocks will get stronger as each second-afterwards passes. If the speaker dares to pass a 10-second limit, be ready when the timekeeper starts to thrash in a poisonous look and visual signs/bodily gestures of anxiety. Some would even smash the table with three sharp and quick smashes, pauses, then another five quick smashes with an irritated look on his/her face; obviously indicating a “Shut up! Your time is up, idiot! Darn, what a rascal” to the floor (focused more to the speaker, really).

Downright annoying.

With all fairness, some nicer (and perhaps experienced) timekeepers aen’t that annoying. Even, they render themselves nicely unnoticeable. The knocks were not at a very rapid, rushed succession; the strength of the knocks were mild, etc. They really fulfill their role, which is defined as being ‘indicators’. At a general paradigm though, the question for me would be, ‘why continuous knocks?’ Why does it exist in some contexts and why does it become non-existent in others? I can’t help to connect this dot with other time-discourse-related dots on other aspects we face in daily life.

Indonesians are very famous for their problem regarding punctuality. A laidback culture of ‘5 minutes to 10 minutes doesn’t count much’ is very much instilled in the general society. Mentioning that an event starts at 10 AM means the event will start at a decent 10.30 AM. On the days of bad weathers? Expect an 11 AM or even after lunch. 10 AM? Downright miraculous.

The paradigm extended by this ‘lifestyle’ would be on how time is seen. Time is deemed an entity with high elasticity that provides expansion room, so that rolling a bit behind (or even a lot) would be okay. Angkots and buses never worry as to how long they spend on ‘ngetem’, since 5-minutes stops at intersections, crowded spots, or wherever the darned driver likes to stop is naturally not a big deal. Traffic users never worry about the 5-minutes or 10-minutes lateness because they have angkots and buses to blame. The only pattern where punctuality exists would be those strict instances where relatively severe punishments await for those dragged post the schedule’s tails.

The default assumed trend would then be, if there is no strict, external, active rules or enforcements of any kind, people will be late.

If this is assumed, we then have the concession that a continuous knock is necessary as a form of strict, external, active enforcement being imposed on a speaker so they don’t finish their speeches late and (possibly) torture the listeners some more. Sad to say, sometimes this enforcement is needed. I’ve been in many instances where I almost-literally have to drag the speaker down from the podium, out from a speech that spiraled endlessly. At Mock AUDC 2007 (which rule, similar to AUDC’s, is to have a three-knock at 7.20 instead of an endless continuum of knocks), a speaker went as far as the 9th minute for an Asian Parliamentary speech! I know some nasty speakers who, when understanding that his/her listeners don’t carry a running stopwatch with them, spoke for an abusive 9 to 10 minutes innocently. A small and more general example: ask a man of bureaucracy to deliver a ‘short’ foreword, and we’ll have to say bon voyage to ourselves, as we would be adrift in a sea of boredom for an undetermined length of time.

Ah, our Indonesian life.

For the people keeping time in Worlds or WUPID, perhaps a continuous knocks is not very much necessary as their default assumption is: “the speaker won’t exceed 7.20. He/she knows that they only have that much of time. Speaking for longer would be overtime. Even if it’s exceeded, it would just be for a few seconds while he/she ends his speech elegantly.” Upon assuming (or building) such traits, it’s not the punishment for being overtime that matters, but overtime itself is the matter.

I’m never a big fan of continuous knocks. They annoy me. I know my time is up as soon as the two-knocks tumble upon my alineas. I don’t need to have someone in the room telling me with plain, unmelodious raps how enthusiastic they are about the prospect that my speech’s coming to an end. In the days where moods are somber-most, I would go as far as saying I would be hurt. And/or offended. And/or distressed. Whatever words describe the severity of emo I’m suffering at that point of time.

This writing has been a strange discourse that overlaps debating, time, and general nitpicks on daily life. It is shapeless. To continue its gallop of nuttiness, I’d end this writing with a confession about the birth of my new moral juxtaposition. My new habit is to scrap punctuality. If people can innocently walk 10 to 20 minutes late into an appointment or start an even 1 hour late, I might as well lose the guilt that usually strikes me whenever I’m late. It’s all about blending in and ‘feeling the vibe’, right?

As for debating… I’ll just take refuge in pragmatic optimism.


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