By: Juin Shion
Photos: Juin Shiong
The 12th of November 2009 lies upon the brink of a gaping void that yawns before us, a stretch of dates which are also lovingly termed as “End of Semester Exams”. As the frenzy of studying heightens in its intensity (I judge by the number of times I am asked how close my exams are on the occasional trip to the loo), I mark this highly important date down in my calendar with the words “Exam Supper”. Graciously prepared by the Welfare Committee, the Exam Welfare Supper is the biannual calm before the storm of the examinations, and a signal to all that the end of the semester is nigh. However, though the tradition perpetuates through the years, the question remains whether or not the food provided this year will stand up to KEViians’ standards, and if the spread will satisfy or disappoint. Brushing off visions of unidentifiable comestibles with the consistency of mushy cardboard, I pause from my crepuscular habits to take a look for myself.
At precisely 10.00pm, the doors to the dining hall fling wide open, admitting hordes of KEViians to the much awaited supper. As the crowds descend ravenously, the Welfare Committee servers stand poised with tongs in one hand, the other hand outstretched and ready to receive the plain plastic plates, and a wide smile on their faces that stretches from ear to ear. I position myself at a vantage point on one of the many countless communal tables, observing the brightly-lit eyes, the hands lifted in supplication, and the grateful smile on each person’s tired face as he is served his share.
So far, so good.
In ten minutes, a queue forms up in almost no time over steaming hot mounds of nuggets and delicate cream puffs begging to be eaten, and the throng of people presses forward ever eagerly as their eyes scan for the slightest hint of the food running out. As an empty serving box is discreetly nudged away, all eyes follow to see if the box will be replaced by another (it isn’t). The Welfare Committee are now working at triple speed to supply the multitude of hands that reach out, and yet, the food never does seem to run out as more and more trays filled with cream puffs and cakes are revealed the moment a tray is finished. While the line of people waiting stretches and twists about like a snake threatening to devour its own tail, I take the opportunity to slip in an interview with a KEVIIan already munching on his hard earned share. “The food is so succulent”, he gushes between mouthfuls of golden brown nuggets. “I mean look at this, man: the juice just flows out!”. I leave him to his private moment of ecstasy, nodding quietly in agreement as I wander around the hall.
Elsewhere, as fingerfuls of fragrant chicken are gobbled down amidst hearty conversation and the aroma of food, I hear snatches of conversations amidst the hubbub of voices from the different residents. True enough, all are about the upcoming exams, and to the extent of whether one is prepared for it or not. I overhear a modest complaint proposed by my neighbour to the ringing laughter of his peers: “They say that the final test for the module is very easy… But they only say that after spending 3 hours after midnight studying for the module and getting a C+! Some more I choose the module after hearing about how easy it is! Wah lao!”. At the next table, booming laughter rings out from a group of KEVIIans after one of their companions returns, red faced, with a second plate laden to the brim with food. “Hungry”, he sheepishly announces to nobody in particular. As they marvel at his gastronomic capacity, I attempt to rescue the hapless fellow from the jibes of his friends by interrupting them to ask him about his opinion of the supper. “It’s a real help during the exams”, he perks up brightly. “I hope I can have this kind of supper everyday instead!!”. As gales of laughter break out again, I take my leave with the jovial grins of his friends and his crimson stained face imprinted in my mind.
Half an hour later, as the crowd of a hundred or so people disperses and as many slip into the night after bidding farewell, the night ends on a quietly victorious note, with undergraduates retreating to their rooms satiated and well-fueled to study on further into the night. Truly, the ability of this welfare supper to bring together strangers in the hall and to connect them in the face of adversity shows just how much of a success it is in helping people to manage the stress of the impending exams. Special mention goes to the long communal tables, which definitely add to the ambience of brotherly fraternity and help to encourage conversation among KEVIIans yet to meet each other.
Finally, kudos to the Welfare Committee for creating a most praiseworthy meal which satisfies both in terms of food and company!