NBS wins Asia-Pacific Business School
Desert Challenge’s Sandpiper Award
Written by: Nicolle Liu 刘莉莉, Kai Wei韦凯 & Richard Li 李鸿鹏
Translated by: Tina Sim (with assistance from Alan Lim)
We have traversed hills and seas; this time we sought to cross a desert as old as time itself, our eyes set on the stars above.
The 6th Asian-Pacific Business Schools Desert Adventure – also known as Yasha – was held in China’s Tengger Desert from 29th April to 2nd May this year. Over 1800 MBA students from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, UK, Canada, Australia and other countries participated in this year’s event.
Yasha is the premier outdoor competition among Asia’s institutions of higher education institutions, and a platform for today’s business leaders to show if they have what it takes to take on tough challenges and reach beyond themselves. In addition to the challenge of trekking 70km over three days in desert conditions, participants also commit to adhere to the race’s ethos of environmental conservation, teamwork, perseverance and responsibility.
When the final whistle blew on May 2nd, the committee announced that Singapore’s NBS team had won the Sandpiper Award, the highest honour in the Yasha challenge. NBS was one of 25 teams out of the 81 participating institutions to be awarded this honour. NBS had outpaced schools such as NUS Business School, China Europe International Business School, National Taiwan University, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management.
The NBS team comprised 22 MBA students – one is from the 2015 intake, while the rest are from the 2016 intake. This means almost half of the class of 2016 (total enrolment 49) participated in the race!
Many of the other MBA teams like Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University, China Europe International Business School had participated in Yasha since it started. By beating over a hundred other MBA schools in the selection rounds to eventually win the Sandpiper Award, the NBS team won this praise from the other teams: “The class that beat entire schools.”
Our team received immense support from NBS Dean Neo Boon Siong and NBS staff, who raised over $60,000 to cover the team’s registration expenses. The team also received support from Mr. Otto Wen Quan, Director of NTU’s China Office; Mr Shen Genlin, President of the NTU Alumni Association (Shanghai); as well as the members from last year’s Yasha team. In addition, the Alumni Association also donated over $10,000 towards training expenses. The team from the 2015 intake also willingly shared their experience, helped train the new team, loaned them their trekking gear, and sent them off with wishes for a triumphant return.
On 28th April, the team from 2015 formally handed the NBS flag over to the team from 2016, signifying the continuity of this challenge, the second time the NBS will set out to conquer the desert.
The regulations were stated clearly. There should be at least 12 members in Team A, and three in Team B. Teams would trek 70 km over three days. Team members were required to clock in by a stipulated time. For a team to qualify as having fully completed the race, no member was allowed to withdraw during the race, even if they fell ill or were injured. Teams must also take care to preserve the ecological integrity of the desert and abide by race regulations. The Sandpiper Award would be given to teams that met all these criteria.
The NBS team knew it would be challenging, but did not shy away from it. They came to appreciate that this was why the team leader had insisted on a strict and very tough training programme the past six months, chanting often his favourite mantra, “Suffer now during training, or really suffer in the desert.”
The three days of competition were full of challenges. All sorts of unpredictable circumstances arose; it was harder than expected; and the toughness of the race far exceeded any pre-race expectations they had.
They shared with us their journey:
Day One – 26 km
Weather – Overcast sky, with many clouds
Except for Shu Qing, none of us had ever stepped onto a desert before. When the starter gun went off and the teams moved off, was the moment most of us discovered just how different walking on sand was from walking on the terra firma of roads and mountain treks. The sand was so soft it was like we were stepping on slush. Our feet had nothing to push each stride off against, and we kept having to exert so much effort just to keep moving. Not long after, we came face to face with the precipitous sand dunes. The effort used to surmount one dune was two to three times what it took to walk on land. We harked back to the friendly advice from last year’s team, “Yasha is 30 percent effort, 70 per cent will power.” We had to call forth all our willpower to keep trudging on.
On day one, all three teams – A, B and C – were able to reach the finishing point two hours early. Exhausted, we rested a little, then it was shoulders to the wheel again. The team divided up the chores – the men put up the tents and sorted out the luggage while the women collected supplies and the meals. Others tended to injured team mates.
On that first day, arising from lack of conditioning, three team members suffered painful cramps in their calves which made it difficult for them to walk; one member had a heat stroke and started to run a fever; others had huge blisters on their soles and feet; still others had injured their knees. To keep up team morale, the injured parties did not give up and rejected the suggestion by the competition doctors to withdraw from the race – for to give up now would be to give up the chance of winning the covered Sandpiper Award!
Day Two – 31 km
Weather – Clear skies, the sun hung high and hot
While members were now more experienced after the first day, we remained wary of the longer distance we needed to walk today, thus we tried to keep a steady pace. The stronger members helped the weaker, the fitter helped those sick and injured. Our team motto was – we do not give up and we do leave one of our own behind. We encouraged each other across the dunes, snaking across that salty and alkaline land, slowly inching towards our goal.
Under the hot sun, the sand heated up very quickly. Some of us showed symptoms of heat stroke, where the ground seemed to slip from under our feet, and we started to stagger. More and more of us developed knee pain, and were dragging ourselves forward, limping. To compensate for all these issues, we made adjustments. We regulated our pace, so that no one would fall behind. We encouraged each other, even to the extent of “bluffing” that we were only two kilometres to the finishing line. Driven by pure willpower and determination, all three teams were again able to arrive at the check-in point two hours ahead of schedule.
We had good news that night. Based on the two days of competition, the NBS team was currently placed at 30th place, and it was noted that all team members had been able to complete the routes. We were comforted that our hard work was not wasted and the Sandpiper Award was still within our sights.
That night, Yasha organised its first desert music show. Talented students from the teams performed – it was a night of friendship and a night of wonderful cultural exchange. NBS Team leader Liu Li Li was the emcee, and in front of 81 schools, represented NBS in presenting our well wishes towards all the other schools and participants. As they say, “Once in a desert together, friends forever”. Though the competition was hard, we made many new friends those three days. It was touching that along the way, members from competing teams encouraged and egged each other along.
Day Three – 13 km
Weather – Sudden desert storms
Victory never comes easy. It certainly did not for us. It hardly rains in the desert, yet on Day three, from 5 am – it poured, heavily. We quickly got up, packed, and set off earlier than expected.
Still, we had barely trekked 3 km when a member with injured knees had to rely on a constant intake of painkillers to able to continue to walk on, while the team member with heat stroke started to have palpitations and feel dizzy. Victory for us seemed to hang by a thread.
The competition organisers had stated that, in the interest of safety, they would allow us more time to cross the desert, so that injured students would not be left behind. Yet although the third day’s journey was the shortest, they had also made the final check-in time earlier. It meant we had to move faster. We watched disconsolately as many teams passed us by. As the seconds seemed to slip through our fingers like fine sand, we started to be gripped by anxiety – would we make it?
It is in time of trials that we see what we are truly made of, true friendship and true unity. Our team wanted to bring home the Sandpiper Award. We did not want to regret not being able to raise our green flag high in the desert. We would make good the promise we had made before we started off. We kept pace with each other, moving as one united body; we encouraged each other – and in that last leg, we gave it all we got.
The miracle happened. We walked faster and soon caught up with the other teams. As we neared the finishing point, our leader called out a cheer, and our team ran – towards victory!
At 10:18, all three teams – A, B and C – dashed forward to reach the finish line! At Alashan desert, we stood on the podium of heroes; and yes! we were bringing home with us the Sandpiper Award!
Hurrah, NBS team! Celebrate with us, NTU!
- Our own better self – if we had not challenged ourselves, pushed ourselves beyond our limits, we would never have found out that within each of us lay extraordinary strengths
- The management of NBS, and NBS – for fully covering our fees for the expedition. Among all the 81 institutions, you were the only institution that did that
- Our sister school, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Antai School of Economics and Management – for your encouragement and support pre- and post-race
- Our fellow competitors – for your awesomeness which brought out the awesomeness in us
- Fellow team members – for keeping faith, that no matter how tough it got, we would stand by each other
- Our own better self – if we had not challenged ourselves, pushed ourselves beyond our limits, we would never have found out that within each of us lay extraordinary strengths.
Annex: Names of members (comprising mostly MBA Class, 2016 intake)
Team A: 12 members
Wei Kai (Male, Captain), Liu Lili (Female, Team Leader)
Li Junfeng (Male), Zhang Changgui (Male), Liu Xiaojie (Female), Huang Qi (Female), Ye Hang (Female), Zhuo Lei (Male), Liu Huiqi (Male), Fan Min (Female), Liang Yue (Female), Cai Ziqi (Female)
Team B: 4 members
Wang Shenghua (Male), Li Hongpeng (Male), Deng Zhenghao (Male), Zhang Yaokun (Male)
Team C: 4 members
Bai Shuqing (Male, class of 2015), Wan Lianli (Male, Reporter), Xu Mengdi (Female), Fang Xiu’e (Female)
Support Team: 2 members
Wang Han (Female), Zhang Yi (Female)