Thursday, January 15, 2009

The GHI's of Treasure Hunting - "H"

"H" is for "Helping"

This has to be my most difficult topic to openly write about. It is a topic that our team members have often talked about - it never fails to crop up, during hunts and offline.

What's so troubling about helping friends, relatives or just fellow hunters "in times of need"? I guess it is an "onion" question - with each layer peeled, it brings a sting. Let's try to peel this bulb - s l o w l y, sensitively and candidly and see how we fare at the end of it.

Off with the first layer ... why would a non-participant help participants in a hunt?

I believe it is the lure of the challenge. The temptation of the opportunity to "show off/relish" one's own abilities or resourcefulness. That is a "talian hayat" urgent call - emergency in some instances . It is not an ordinary call on an ordinary day.

It is special. So, why not? What's in it for helper? Big Thing! Being a social animal, we crave for recognition and acknowledgment - that SOS call is saying "thank you for thinking of me". The fact that you, of all people out there in the hunter's community, has got a life-line call says a lot. The question is not even asked yet - it is just nice to hear a hunter is on the other line asking for you.

The "pride" is even greater if that person is someone who "sees you up". True, that recognition opportunities come dressed in many clothes but who cares "I am the one who gets the call". It is not easy to say no. It is just not Malaysian.

What would it be about?

50% of the time is "could you help solve this treasure for me?" "YES! Give it to me! Glad to". It doesn't matter what your confidence level is - the thrill is in just trying. Nothing to gain from it other than just the sheer chance to have a crack at it! This may include asking helper to physically look for the treasure. More about it later.

20% of the time is a route question. "Ran out of angles. Could you give us some of yours?". "No idea what the COC is talking about - can you figure it out?" Here is the chance to muscle all your experiences and try to help someone out there "blind folded" - you have no signs to look at! Some will attempt to text KIVs over - not a popular way but it happens.

Another 10% will ask for general information or an opinion not directly related to the question - kind of an indirect question to confirm a thought or a concept that may or may not solve the clues. Usually, this technique is used to avoid giving the "helper" the answer - just in case lah! That's typical Malaysian!

Clearly, the rest of the time, help is about googling from home. Many still do not invest in data services (can be very costly - I remember forking out some RM120+ for just one hunt!). To use free wi-fi services would be limited by location and availability of "unsecured" hubs. Those who have invested gained a clear advantage in saving time.

When is help needed?

I have experienced from "every question" to the occasional one. It can get very addictive - give the helper one q and s/he will be hoping for more. If after one - and there are no more - it can mean one of two things - one, the team is okay, so they can go on without further help. Two, your help was judged to be "unreliable" - so that life-line has been temporarily disconnected. You will never know because we are Malaysians!

And especially when the stakes are very high. There is so much to lose if you drop just one question.

How is help extended?

Apart from those that I discussed under "what" - treasures deserves a special mention. Treasures are not just riddles to be solved. The physical aspect is just as challenging part of it. So you or "whoever" may be asked to locate it. To confirm that it exist (especially those who could not google for it) and to give an idea of what kind of stores would carry it. With that info, the team can try to locate it along the route.

And what happens when there is not enough time to get the treasure? Helper is asked to "get it and pass it over at some secret place". The cloak-and-dagger operation begins. Has anyone been seen doing that so far? Some even do it in the open - right in front of the COC! You bet - but no one has been "punished". Should they?

Puzzles are the other favourite items on the menu. With phone-cameras, blackberries, mobile emails, MMS and SMS, it is so easy to send full picture or text puzzles to helpers. Usually done very early in the day, the team saves a ton of time with a 5th brain (and maybe even more) engaged.

Helpers may not work alone too - they may have "cascaded" the requests to others in their network. Today we have Friendster, Flickr and what-not - so why not? Two teams of heads are always better than one! The difference? The chief helper gets all the credit - who gets to say "You're welcome! Piece of cake!" Imagine the "respect" one gets from doing a "good job"! You ride high on the list of "reliable life-lines"!

And then there is the "mercenary recruit". The team calls to a life-line to go to the hunting sector(s) to look at the signs and help solve the clues. This is a variation of "deploying a second car". Here the team breaks into 2 pairs. One pair uses an "unregistered'' car to cover some of the sectors before rejoining the 1st team at some convenient spot. This is more likely to happen when a hunt has no routine tulips. Hunting sectors are named by locations and hunters are free to start from any of the sectors.

Do mercenaries get paid? Yes and no, depending on what is at stake.

Heavens! Are all these allowed? The simple answer is "What do the rules & regulations say?"

And now for the more stinging layers : a double whammer - who needs help? who is helping?

Newbies will ask without a second thought. Just have to ask - how else do we assure ourselves that we get a few decent points? And how are we going to enjoy treasure hunting if we don't solve any of them. Their main challenge - do we know anyone we can ask?

Regular hunters have already established their yellow pages. They know who they can call, will not, cannot, should not and for what. They don't really know every available life-line yet, so the list will eventually grow.

Masters will have "unofficial reciprocal" arrangements. "u owe me 1". Implied or not. But most will just pass it off as "favours".

Own team members who are not hunting will get calls from those who are - sometimes the members are in competing teams too! Really testing!

Then there are the "Teams United". The biggest pact I have heard - 3 teams - the TriParTite. This appears like a different form of "helping" from the genre I have been discussing - these are "helpers" within the teams - all are participating in the same hunt. But that just means, that the combined teams have an even larger "outside network of helpers"! How powerful can that be?

The most stinging layer is the last one:

Should one help?

It is the most difficult part for me to discuss because the foundation I speak from was paved with guilt. So why am I speaking about this now? This has been a taboo topic for since "heaven knows when" and now I am revealing how it is done? Simple answer.

It is 2009! It is a good time to start growing up and to move on with greater pride and clearer conscience! I just have to stop helping others during their games!

To me, it is time I take a serious view on this and really take a bold step in my maturity journey in this respectable game. It is time for me to be honest about how guilty I feel about my past roles and to courageously grow out of it and hopefully mature into a truly "professional" Malaysian Treasure Hunter. After all, as in all professional sports - participants do not get any direct help during competitions. They only get training and coaching BEFORE the competitions!

I started like everybody else - asking for help from "whoever I could reach". I am grateful for their help - through which I learned the tricks of the trade. Respectfully, none of the help they gave me and my teams in my 17 years of hunting goes unappreciated or forgotten.

When you have hunted for close to two decades - you would sit back and ask - could I have done it any different? Where would I have been if I didn't ask for help? And if help was not given? Probably not even writing this now. Maybe writing some children story books about family values.

I think the answer lies in one word - technology. Then - the mobile phone was a brick - probably only a couple could have owned one. Very quickly over the next 2 to 3 years - half the hunters had candy bars in their pockets. Today - some of us could even have two in our pockets. - a blackberry and a regular pda/phone. Notebooks with broadbands are made for treasure hunting!

What if I had joined treasure hunting only today? Would I have needed to call for help? Then - the knowledge was all with the "masters". One had to "beg" for past "Q&A"s. Those days, even photocopies at those out-of-town places were of the "wet chemical paper" type - expensive and not easily available.

You had to use the best diplomacy, built carefully over time, to gain access to even more "tips and hints". Those "info" were guarded "treasures". There were no "soft" copies available to share and even email was not common then. It was not easy to break into the "circle".

Today, everything about hunting is blogged! Q&As are easily obtained! We have video recorders to record the entire answer presentation! Some COCs even post openly their entire presentation decks. We have forums that discuss openly all that we need to learn about treasure hunting. "Go ahead - help yourself - is today's open invite". I am sure the readers by the side are cherry picking from every blog page on treasure hunting!

Yes - today, newbies are spoilt for choices in getting help BEFORE a hunt! It is so much easier to prepare. There is so much more openness in sharing. 2R1I and I, have even coached newbie teams, using "impromptu" tulips and Qs. I know for certain that one of our most respected masters in the north even have an online forum to coach hunters in his region. His compatriot, Professor COC, publishes almost all his presentation decks. Together, they must be responsible for the rapid rise in the high standard of hunting in Penang. Kudos to you guys!

We, HRU, blog the finer points of hunting right after each hunt. We share mistakes and learning. Our Sabah King does the same too! He even "trains" hunters there! I don't give him that title for nothing! Master MikePang used to do critiques on questions and hunts - but for some reason - he seemed to have delegated that and has got more selective! Master Sam still has his Q&As posted on his web-site. There are more sharing by even more COCs. One blog leads to another blog!

So, a newbie hunter of today - does need help - deserves help - and will get plenty of them - BEFORE a hunt. Then, they should be able to really enjoy hunts - prepare well and do their best BY THEMSELVES. The satisfaction will be so many times greater! They can now learn from their own mistakes and those of others. Trust us - it truly feels great to be able to say "We Did It All By Ourselves!".

Nowadays, it does not take very long for new teams to be in the top 15 - just a year or two! Soon they will be in the top 10 and in no time, they can be at the other end of the "tulips".- clerking hunts. Does it sound like I have justified why I asked for help in my newbie days and the newbies of today have no excuses why they cannot help themselves? I hope so, at least for the latter part.

So why some regulars still don't help themselves? When you are in this "life stage", you have just begun to taste some rewards - an occasional win - and a boosted confidence. You do not examine how you arrive at this level. You only want more of it - again - now. And in that desperation and eagerness to win again, you start to device "strategies" that incorporate "short-cuts". That's so Malaysian, isn't it? Patience again, my friends. You are almost there.

Then you become recognised as a master - don't look at me - look at theSUN Masters' List. Now, there's the Grand Slam Hall of Fame! You are the one that people "look up to". You are the one who will mostly get those "life-line" calls too. You are listed in the yellow pages. Your own calls for help may reduce - become more selective - but may not have stopped completely. Now imagine the power of "cooperation" amongst masters! There are master teams which will not see anything amiss about such "joint ventures" or "reciprocal arrangements". Okay, some will say "just doing a small favour".

But it's 2009 ... treasure hunting is at least 25 years old now! See the tree, how big it's grown!

It is time to really make a change towards professionalism in hunting - at least ethics wise. My fellow hunter, compatriot, comrade in arm - 2R1I started the ball rolling just over a couple of years back about this "need to mature". He asked a couple of questions"How good are the masters really?" "Can any team really win without any kind of help from other non-participating masters?" We like to believe that is the case but there are conflicting observations over the years.

He started to stir the conscience of our minds, and we all agreed we have to start somewhere. If we can only manage baby-steps, then let it be that way. We have to begin to seriously think about not asking and not giving help. So, we agreed to take the baby-steps. Each of us went on our own paths in this journey, in full respect and awareness of our individual views on this matter, as we did not have total agreement in the approaches.

I have taken my own baby steps and I feel that I am now ready to take those bigger steps to grow up. I don't know for sure if I will succeed. I may trip a few times - but it will become fewer and fewer very quickly. So, if you call me for help during your hunt, you already know my answer "You are the master-in-waiting, you can do it yourself, don't give up!"

We only wish all masters around the country will use this new start of a new year, to do something positive, constructive and bring a good difference in helping the hunting community grow up in the proper way too. You already heard it so many times about fishing for someone and how it is better to be teaching someone how to fish - now create the environment for it too!

Share all that you can openly BEFORE & AFTER HUNTS, so everyone can then help themselves DURING hunts and only then, I believe, we will see the emergence of the "TRUE MASTERS" AFTER each hunt and hopefully see the demise of the "pakat team" culture, that has to some extent, smeared the name of the game!

Masters, I know that feeling of staying at home with that vacuum cleaner and you cannot hear the phone ringing - try to find other ways to entertain yourself when you are NOT hunting on a weekend!

I acknowledge that it is very highly possible that there are masters out there who discreetly contribute towards developing the hunting community in proper ways - it is just that we don't hear of them. I applaud you for your effort and contribution - whoever you are and whatever you have done. Do it again, masters and try to be open about it - it may encourage others to follow your good steps!

That was "H" ... the many layers peeled, the eyes soggy from the stings but it feels great to be able to finally unload my personal thoughts on this most difficult topic. I only hope some of those that I shared will strike the right chords in your hearts and cause you to want to make a difference too!

Good Luck In Your New Year of Treasure Hunting!


Cornelius Koh said...

A well-written piece, BlogCe5nt.

It is easy to agree with your goal for the betterment of the sport. I’m sure most, if not all, would welcome a “cleaner” sport. The only question that begs to be answered is whether we can all refrain from the temptation of getting external help. And if someone has to be the one to start the ball rolling, then who is prepared to take up the role of the scapegoat? While he is pursuing his goal for a cleaner sport, others who are still actively getting external help will probably win. And they will win with “clear conscience” too – there is no feeling of guilt, for they don’t consider getting external help as something wrong. In fact, a fair number of them will feel good about it – that they’re able to solve a question or two because they have been “resourceful”!

I think your appeal to the current hunters to refrain from seeking external help on grounds of the abundance of “help before the hunt” is a red herring to justify your past “wrongdoings”. The hunts of yesteryear can’t be – and shouldn’t be – compared to our modern-day hunts. In the good old days, hunt questions were in the order of asking hunters to spot a round circle on a bus stop – literally. These days, the nature of hunt questions are more sophisticated – they are very cryptic and therefore requires a higher level of lateral thinking.

We have now reached a level of something like this:

Q) A Drip

A) Breakfast

And the above was supposed to be for “beginners” – family hunt, so to speak. I seriously doubt that one would have been able to see anything close to the above 20 years ago.

No – if we want the current hunters to “play a clean game”, it should be because we want to move forward to a, hopefully, healthier sport where 4-persons-in-a-team means really that. Get all the help from the internet if you want to, but not from external hunters. Forget about what happened in the past, because it’s just not comparable to the present!

Having said that, however, I foresee an uphill task in enforcement. Who is going to enforce the “no external help” rule; and how is he going to carry out such enforcement? That is where we should focus, because, truth be told, if we are unable to enforce the rule, no amount of appeals to the hunters will help. The law-abiding hunters will probably lose out in the long run, and the law-breakers will rule supreme.

If I lost to another team because of a single question of which the other team solved due to external help, I don’t think I can accept that result and say something like, “Oh, that’s OK, because at least I have been successful in upholding my moral and ethical standards.”

BlogCe5nT said...

It is a hope - not a rule of life. It is a call to self-discipline/self-enforcement as we are all adults and we don't need to be policed.

It is an uphill (maybe up-mountain is truer) task - but not impossible.

It may not happen in my life time - to witness a "tsunami of change" but it will just be as satisfying if I could see the first "ombak" out in the horizon.

I count on our community of masters to see beyond winning games and help make those waves of change.

Can I count on you?

2 Romans 1 Impostor said...

I am confident that there are at least a few teams in our fraternity that regularly finish in the top 5 that do not need to employ a 5th man, which goes to show that one need not be unethical in order to finish on top.

The highest mountains and the deepest oceans can never be conquered from just talking about it. Thus, I have decided to follow Vincent's cue in cutting off my phone line.

Not that we are being unfriendly. Just think of it as our little contribution to promote good ethics in this wonderful pastime.

BlogCe5nT said...

Get my High V to you, VK!!!!!