EUNOIA G.O. MYANMAR 2019 – ROVING IN RANGOON: A TRIP JOURNAL

“You don’t help the poor by giving, you help by empowering” – Hsien Kit, 19-E5

The long awaited sequel to ‘A Vision of the World, The Work of an NGO in Myanmar’ is out. What are you waiting for?

Written by: Ernest Tan (19-E6), Wong Sean Yew (19-U4), Sit Jie Ren (19-A6)

Designed by: Lee Entong (19-U2)

Photographs by: Ernest Tan (19-E6)

“Our teachers always tell us not to learn in silos. So it was really cool to see the large silos in action – to also see where our food actually comes from.” 

Day 4

The three days of service learning activities ended, and we then took a bus ride to Yangon. To conclude our service learning component, we had a dialogue session at World Vision’s Myanmar Office, which coordinates all operations in Myanmar. The representatives outlined World Vision’s Strategic Projects in Education, Health, Child Protection, Economic Development, and cross-cutting themes like disaster adaptation and risk reduction. World Vision’s various projects, approaches and processes were also highlighted, especially its focus on sustainable and long-term development. Notably, we learnt about the humanitarian situations in Shan State and other parts of the Union, which we were previously unaware of. At the end of our journey with World Vision in Myanmar, we brought away with us a new perspective of viewing poverty and service learning, with Hsien Kit from 19-E5 saying “You don’t help the poor by giving, you help by empowering.”

Next, we visited UMG College Myanmar (UCM), a tertiary institution in Yangon specialising in engineering. We first sat through an introduction of UCM, and had an opportunity to interact with the students there. While we certainly had a language barrier, we could see that the students were extremely eager to engage with us. We had a brief discussion, somewhat comparative in nature, about our education systems and daily routines. We then learnt that their pre-university education already involved a high degree of field specialisation (civil engineering and electronic engineering, et cetera), which greatly differed from the junior college system we were used to. We also visited their learning environments where the students displayed their completed projects. We were thoroughly impressed with the sophistication that went into them (speaking as Physics students!). We were also subsequently treated to a cultural performance by the graduating students, ending the visit on a high note.

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Interaction with students at UMG College Myanmar.

Lastly, we visited the famed Shwedagon Pagoda, a majestic Buddhist religious monument dating back to 588 B.C.. Many of the buildings were adorned with gold leaf and plates, representing the great veneration the Buddhist people have for their religious figures. These gold-embellished pagodas are also the reason why Myanmar is sometimes called “The Golden Land”. We were extremely honored to visit the pagoda, which is considered to be the most sacred one in Myanmar. For fans of Rudyard Kipling, you might be glad that the author has written about the pagoda in the book, From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel.   

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A picture of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

 

In addition, here’s a haiku written by Li Xin Ru from 19-I5. 

Monks in saffron robes

Gold, diamonds and gems

Pagodas gleaming

 

Day 5

The next day started off with a meeting with the Singapore Ambassador to Myanmar, Ms Vanessa Chan. Ambassador Chan shared with Trip Members her everyday job scope, Singapore-Myanmar bilateral relations, and the structure of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Trip Members also had the opportunity to ask the Ambassador some questions at the Question & Answer Session.

One insight we gleaned was the behind-the-scenes and tedious work involved in the Foreign Service. Ms Chan shared with us the various roles in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from policy and operations, to even note-taking by junior diplomats. She also talked about the disruption that diplomats and their families have to go through due to the constant change in postings. “Three years in and three years out” was the phrase she used to describe the phenomenon of career diplomats’ 3-year alternate postings in local and foreign offices. Many of us were surprised because we were unaware of the rigour of diplomats’ lives. 

Another pertinent point she shared was ASEAN’s principle of consensus-based agreements and non-interference, which has shaped the relatively harmonious relationships that characterise ASEAN. She mentioned that ASEAN would only agree to the lowest common denominator of agreement between all states.

The visit was extremely fruitful and engaging. Ivan Tan from 19-E5 felt that the Ambassador gave “a realistic, no holds barred, yet inspiring review on the work of diplomats operating on foreign soil.”

Next, we also went to the Myanmar premises of Wilmar International, a Singapore based Fortune 500 multinational company. There, we were introduced to Wilmar’s operations around the world, and particularly in Myanmar. We also went on a tour of the extremely spacious premises consisting of office departments, high-capacity silos and even a port! As Jody Lim from 19-E3 described, “Our teachers always tell us not to learn in silos. So it was really cool to see the large silos in action – to also see where our food actually comes from.” 

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Production line of edible oils

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High capacity silos

We then went to Myanmar Plaza for a free and easy shopping trip, which was a wonderful respite from the hectic travel schedule. While primarily sedentary in nature, the shopping mall brought us further insight into Singapore-Myanmar business ventures. We encountered a variety of Singapore brands such as BreadTalk, Astons and Ya Kun. This odd sense of familiarity in a foreign land by finding the Singaporean identity in another cosmopolitan context was especially fascinating. However, this could not have been possible without the various economic efforts implemented, such as the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP), contributing to Singapore’s status as Myanmar’s biggest foreign investor. We concluded our shopping trip with a greater appreciation for Myanmar’s promising economic landscape – but not without getting some local speciality goods! 

The locals like their tea very much – it was a constant at every settlement we visited in Hmawbi and Taikkyi – both in drink and food (such as tea leaf salad). And it was extremely refreshing – and we would think, a wonderful complement to fried or savoury food. We therefore purchased “a lot of tea” from the local supermarket – from instant milk tea to loose Oolong tea leaves from the high mountains. What a euphoric and cathartic spree.

 

Day 6

We first visited Yangon Bakehouse, a non-profit social enterprise for disadvantaged women started in 2012. The Yangon Bakehouse empowers these women by employing them as apprentices to equip them with Culinary, English and Life Skills. This improves their employability and their job prospects to secure them a stable economic livelihood. The women were also empowered with knowledge about safe sex and their rights. We also later visited the Yangon Bakehouse Cafe, where the pastries were supplied to. 

We were extremely touched by the uplifting mechanisms that were extended to the disadvantaged. Nicol Low from 19-I2 commented that “it was really empowering to see the Bakehouse employ workers who have disabilities – something that you cannot really see sometimes due to the sometimes pragmatic focus on economic profit.” 

We also stopped for brief photograph stops at Aung San Suu Kyi House and Yangon University. Our guide told us about their historical contexts and political significance. Notably, we drew comparison between Aung San Suu Kyi House and 38 Oxley Road, both sites bearing great significance for Myanmar’s road to democracy and Singapore’s road to independence respectively. Our guide also informed us that Yangon University was the site of demonstrations in 1962 and 1988 (8888 Uprising), which History students will be familiar with.

We also took the Yangon Circular Railway for about 35 minutes. It was truly an experience, with many sights and sounds along the way. Interestingly, the train set was previously owned by Japan Railways, a herald to Japan-Myanmar relations.

We managed to get a glimpse of how Myanmar people go about their lives daily, including the real and not-so-beautiful. Ngia Wen Xin (19-U3) added that the train ride “was really fascinating because we could observe the charming daily lives of the Myanmar people – ranging from the fruit peddlers to everyday commuters.” 

 

Day 7

After dwelling in the city centre for a considerably extended period of time, we set off for a neighbouring township – Dalla – via a 10-minute ferry ride! Upon arriving at the harbour, we were greeted by trishaws – our primary mode of transportation in Dalla. Soon enough, we were on the trishaws to experience the sights and sounds of Dalla.

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Ferry ride!

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Trishaw ride in Dala City.

The hospitality of the local people were once again evident, as we heard enthusiastic greetings of “mingalabar (hello)” and saw children with their tiny hands, eagerly extended to give us high-fives. It was also a reminder of the time we spent in the rural areas of Hmawbi and Taikkyi at the early part of the trip, with the beautiful rustic charm and community spirit. 

We first visited a man-made water body, serene and flanked by lush greenery. According to our guide, it is a communal space for washing and the water deposits are also used for consumption. 

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We next visited a handmade rice paper business – the equivalent of popiah (spring roll) wrapping in Singapore. It was interesting to see the spreading of the paste over a hot metal plate – the very same traditional process that is now hard to find in Singapore. How nostalgic!

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Rice paper making.

Lastly, we visited Chu Chu, a social enterprise committed to recycling, upcycling and providing employment opportunities to rural people. It trains and employs the local people to modify items regarded as trash (such as plastic bottles and rice sacks) into merchandise sold to fund the enterprise. We felt that the enterprise was very innovative in terms of how they managed to upcycle material to useful items. 

This was evident not only in the merchandise they sold, but also the shop interior. We were first greeted by a bridge made of worn-out rubber tyres, followed by glistening lamps that turned out to be solar-harnessing glass bottles. 

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Glass bottles on the ceiling, to allow natural light!

 

After that, we returned via ferry to visit the National Museum, where there was an abundance of artifacts illustrating Myanmar’s rich heritage and its predecessor states. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited, hence we could not take photographs of the artifacts on display.

Surprisingly, we noted that there was no mention of Myanmar’s Post-Independence Era or mention of General Aung San, who our guide informed us was the father of independence. This stood in stark contrast with the narrative of Singapore’s road to independence and developments following that, which we are all well informed of when we visit the National Gallery. This set us wondering about how countries choose to frame their history, emphasizing different periods of their past, which may reflect the different beliefs and values of their society.

 

Day 8

After an exhilarating 7 days, we headed to Yangon Intl Airport for our morning flight. We arrived back at Changi at 3pm, in cold, wet and windy December weather. Exhausted, we collected our baggage and returned home, but not before taking a wefie!

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EUNOIA G.O. MYANMAR 2019 – A VISION OF THE WORLD, THE WORK OF AN NGO IN MYANMAR

Join three EJC Press members as they uncover what NGOs like World Vision are up to in Myanmar. This article covers the first 3 days of their trip so do check out the sequel ‘Roving in Rangoon: A Trip Journal’ about Myanmar’s historical and cultural landmarks too.

Written by: Ernest Tan (19-E6), Wong Sean Yew (19-U4), Sit Jie Ren (19-A6)

Designed by: Lee Entong (19-U2)

Photographs by: Ernest Tan (19-E6), Sit Jie Ren (19-A6)

Waking up at an ungodly hour, three half-lucid EJC Press members dragged their feet to Terminal 2 of Changi Airport – weary but full of anticipation of what was to come. 

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They were to catch an early morning flight for the 8-day Eunoia Global Orientation Programme to Myanmar. The trip would consist of a service learning component facilitated by World Vision, and a cultural immersion component to various places of interest. 

We were greeted first by World Vision officers who were to facilitate the service learning component of the trip. One of them, Wei Jie, had previously met us in Singapore to explain World Vision’s modus operandi, a summary of which can be found below.

 

World Vision’s Modus Operandi

World Vision is an international relief, development and advocacy organisation with a strong presence in countries worldwide. In Myanmar, World Vision has been operating since 1991, in 12 out of 14 administrative states and regions. With over 700 staff, 5000 volunteers, and 50 projects/ programmes, World Vision has been making great strides in improving child welfare in Myanmar. 

We observed World Vision’s efforts firsthand in two townships, Hwambi and Taikkyi. These two townships are part of World Vision’s Area Development Programme (ADP), a programme where World Vision partners with local stakeholders to improve the well-being of children through multiple sector projects aimed at the root causes of issues that negatively impact children in a distinct geographic area (World Vision, 2019). In these ADPs, World Vision increases child protection by improving the health, education and livelihoods in the community.

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A World Vision Field Office in Myanmar.

 

Health

Out of ignorance, many parents in Myanmar may not know how to adequately feed their children. Indeed, some parents only feed their children excessive amounts of rice or instant noodles, resulting in malnutrition. To combat this, World Vision carries out growth monitoring for children aged 3 to 5. Every 3 months, parents bring their children to measure their height, weight and the thickness of their arm at a designated centre. If the readings show that the child is suffering from malnutrition, parents will be advised on the diet their child should have. World Vision decides the diet through the strategy of ‘Positive Deviance’, where the diet of a healthy child in a community of malnourished children is used as the model for the diets of the other children. In this way, the ingredients of a healthy diet can easily be sourced by any parents from the community so that all parents can easily improve their child’s wellbeing. In our trip there, we witnessed for ourselves the way a health monitoring centre operated and had an opportunity to participate in the health monitoring activities. Ming En from 19-E6 commented, “I feel that it’s pretty useful and effective for a low cost operation” which encapsulated our admiration at World Vision for coming up with such an innovative solution even when faced with limited resources.

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Growth Monitoring Activities, including height and weight measurements.

To improve the health of communities, World Vision also improves the sanitation facilities under its Water, Sanitation, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme. In the past, villagers had to use mere latrines, which were essentially just a hole in the ground for their human waste. But now, functional toilets that could adequately store waste and prevent the spread of diseases  were established. 

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Toilets established by World Vision for a school

Kitchen sieves for filtering groundwater were replaced with modern water filtration equipment, such as the LifeStraw, which adequately cleans water to ensure potability for their residents.

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LifeStraw at a school.

 

Education

Given how education is a crucial enabler in a child’s progress, it also naturally plays a huge role in World Vision’s promotion of child welfare. In Hmawbi, World Vision has established Early Childhood Care and Development Centres (ECCD) to teach young children the basics, such as the alphabet, so as to prepare them for their eventual entry into formal education. We visited ECCDs in our journey and were really heartened by the enthusiasm the children there display. Even when we ran out of prepared activities, the children gladly went along with our improvisation and painted on pictures that we drew on the spur of the moment. In the words of Anastasia from 19-U4, “I felt really grateful for everything that I had and inspired by how they can be so happy with so little”; this trip to an ECCD really enlightened us that we were truly lucky to be able to live in Singapore, while also enabling us to appreciate how the children in Myanmar were so enthusiastic, even when they had limited activities when compared to a childcare centre in Singapore.

When World Vision comes into contact with a community, they often cooperate with community leaders such as religious figures due to the influence they hold over their congregations. We observed this firsthand during a visit to a primary school which used the facilities of a church as a hall to hold large-scale activities. During this visit, we gave the children a quiz on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the premise that knowledge of their rights will allow children to escape from exploitative situations. What surprised us was how most of the children were correct in their answers, even for some obscure sections, which escaped even our purview. But we were left to ponder: if the children know their rights, why is the child rights situation in Myanmar still so bad? We were also encouraged by the amount of enthusiasm that the primary school children possessed, as they clamoured to answer the questions posed in exchange for sweets and notebooks. 

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Performance by children at a primary school.

Livelihoods 

It may be strange to think how the livelihoods of families in a community will contribute to World Vision’s mission of child protection, but in Myanmar, both are inextricably linked together. Many families in Myanmar face unstable livelihoods, as their jobs often depend on weather conditions. For instance, activities such as farming are seasonal. At other times of the year, rural families supplement their incomes by collecting rice husks for fuel in factories, working as labourers or even catching eels. However, if events such as bad harvests occur, families will need additional sources of income. Children are pulled from school to work, resulting in the proliferation of child labour. We saw the detrimental effects of this firsthand at a factory, where children worked in unforgiving conditions to create bricks. It was easy to see why World Vision will want to eradicate this.

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A brick factory in Myanmar.

World Vision improves the livelihoods and resilience of a community by helping Most Vulnerable Cities (MVFs) to find sustainable sources of livelihood. In Hwambi and Taikkyi, this was done via pig rearing. World Vision taught MVFs the necessary skills and provided them with the base animals. 

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Different breeds of pigs that are commonly reared in Myanmar. 

After being raised for two months, the MVF can sell the pig at the market for 200 000 to 250 000 (approx SGD 200-250) Myanmar Kyats. By teaching skills, World Vision ensures that its strategies are sustainable so that families can continue to use pig farming even after World Vision eventually leaves.

In conclusion, these first three days to Myanmar were very fruitful, as we learned a lot about the work of humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisations like World Vision and the strong mechanisms they have employed to ensure their effectiveness. On a more emotional note, we were extremely touched by the actions of the Burmese people. Despite being poor, many villages we visited specially prepared a wide array of traditional Burmese food for us and fanned them continuously to protect them from insects. Their actions surprised Jingyi from 19-I1, who remarked that “I felt really surprised but touched because they went out of their way to prepare food for us even though they we were supposed to be there to help them”. Village schools we visited took the time and effort to prepare special performances and willingly participated in our various TikTok shenanigans, even when the students were not clear what was going on. Their friendliness and their hospitality truly left an indelible mark on our hearts.

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Enjoying traditional dishes with the villagers.

In the next article, we will venture to Yangon to learn more about the more cultural and historical parts of Myanmar.

Eunoia G.O. Chiang Mai 2019 – More Than The Land of Smiles

Have you heard of Chiang Mai? This city in mountainous Northern Thailand is famous for its rich history and much more.

Written and designed by Lee En Tong (19-U2)

Photos provided by Lee En Tong (19-U2)

 

Country roads, take me home

To the place, I belong

Northern Thailand

 

Mr Pomelo, our friendly tour guide from Northern Thailand, always sang his own rendition of John Denver’s most famous song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on all of our bus rides around the fascinating city of Chiang Mai. 

Despite being less famous than Bangkok, Chiang Mai surprised me in so many ways that I did not expect. Needless to say, as the days went by during our 7D6N service learning and cultural trip, Mr Pomelo’s song really started to grow on me. 

We kicked off our trip with a visit to Doi Inthanon, which is famous for being the highest point in Thailand. As we were 2565m above sea level, the temperature was much lower than the city but despite that, there were certainly no complaints about the cool weather for us Singaporeans as we excitedly threw on our sweaters and took in the fresh, crisp mountain air.

We continued to make our way down a maze of boardwalks in the midst of the dense and luscious forest. Having been cooped up indoors completing assignments for the past one year, these moments gave me a sense of liberation and vulnerability as I was reminded of how small and insignificant we are compared to the vast expanse of nature. These feelings continued to linger as we made our way to Wachirathan Waterfalls.

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Wachirathan Waterfalls

 

As I took in the spectacular view of the King and Queen’s Chedis, set against the backdrop of mountain ranges that seem to go on and on, it also struck me how significant the Thai King is in unifying the country. I would read about it in the news, but being physically at the Chedis and soaking in the air of solemnity there truly made those words come alive for me. 

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Mountain views

 

We also visited Doi Suthep, a temple in the mountains. As we stepped into the temple barefooted, we were greeted by the gilded pagoda that shone elegantly against the hues of blue and pink in the sky brought about by the evening sunset. The scent of incense floated around the temple grounds and believers quietly made their way to pray. Orange robed monks sat at corners of the temple, chanting. The same air of solemnity of respect could be felt here. During our nightly introspection, we came to the conclusion that because Buddhism is deeply ingrained into the Thai national identity, it has shaped the lives and habits of the Thai people who display warm hospitality, friendliness, politeness and gratitude to all. We also learnt that their religion plays a huge role in policy making in Thailand through various case studies of the political system and their religious council. 

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Doi Suthep

 

Most of us have not interacted with monks before as we hardly cross paths with these somewhat mysterious, elusive figures. However, we were given the opportunity to find out about their lives at a sheltered monk chat at the corner of Chedi Luong in Chiang Mai Old City. What surprised me the most was the fact that the monks were multilingual! The monk that we spoke to was perfectly fluent in English, Mandarin, Thai and other languages used in his religious studies. Through our interactions, we discovered more about his life before and after being a monk. It was later revealed by Mr Pomelo that it is compulsory for all boys in Thailand to become monks at some point in their lives and that monks are revered and hold noble positions in Thai society. Monks are even exempted from military conscription!

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Chedi Luong

 

Let’s move on to the next highlight of our trip, the all-important national symbol of Thailand: Elephants, also known as Chang in Thai.

The elephant print can be found on beer bottles and super touristy elephant pants most cringey tourists (like ourselves ahem) don when they return from the land of smiles. Thai kids even learn an elephant song that goes a little like this:

“Chang chang chang chang chang…”

We sang this song on our bus rides, during our meal breaks and introspection to prepare for our song performance to the kids at Ban Noi School. Up till now, it’s still stuck in my head. 

Beyond all this, Thailand is also home to elephant parks. However, we did not ride elephants at the park that we visited. I’ve seen photos of people riding elephants on Instagram and honestly, it really did seem fun at first. Little did I realise how grim this tourist activity is – baby elephants are forcibly separated from their mothers, isolated in unspeakably inhumane conditions and tortured to break their spirit. Wild elephants won’t let people ride on them, hence, they are tortured as a way to tame them. 

When we learnt about it during introspection, the glitzy, Instagramable elephant riding picture in everyone’s mind absolutely shattered. Fortunately, the elephant park that we had visited did not conduct elephant rides. Instead, we got to feed elephants, young and old, with bananas, sugar cane and tamarind balls (specially prepared for the ‘ah ma elephant’ that garnered everyone’s attention). The main highlight of this visit was the washing of elephants. Some got to scrub the elephants and for all of us who didn’t, there was a surprise in store. Who knew that the elephants were going to secretly stage an ambush? They had us cornered. One particular elephant (BonBon?) stuck his trunk into the muddy elephant bath water for a suspiciously long time. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say we left the park covered in muddy water the elephants bathed in and may have had their Number 2 in (go check out @eunoiago.chiangmai for videos!). We had a great time and so did the elephants..

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Elephants bathing

 

While all of the places we had visited were enjoyable, there was one place that we visited that left many of us feeling quite dejected, the Long Neck Village. 

In order to fully understand what we were going to experience, we examined several articles that questioned how ethical it was to visit the Long Neck Village. The tribes that live there are not just limited to the Karen tribe. While the tribes differed in the clothes they wore, they all had something in common – they were all being objectified when their villages was turned into a tourist attraction. The work they do in these villages is their livelihood. As a group, we faced a moral dilemma. If we visit, will we be the ones objectifying these tribes? Will this then prolong their objectification as the tribes maintain status quo? On the other hand, if we do not visit, they will have no source of income. If business declines, travel firms will lose interest. How else can we help them? 

We went to the village with the expectation of having meaningful conversations with the villagers to find out about their lives and show that there are people who do care for them. Despite the villagers’ ability to speak English and Mandarin, our attempts to have conversations about their lives were limited as many of the villagers could only hold conversations about the prices of the goods. For many of us, this was truly a low point during the trip as we did not know how we could help.

However, all hope was not lost. One of the teachers, Ms Iris, discovered and contacted Mr Lee Ayu, the co-founder of Akha Ama Coffee, a company that involves Akha families growing coffee beans as a means of income for them to improve their quality of life for e.g. improved educational outcomes. His story of working hard as a minority to receive an education, improving his tribe’s life through this business, empowering tribes and the brand being recognised internationally is an inspiring one. This was a great learning experience for all of us as Mr Lee Ayu decided to take action and be a changemaker himself, rather than wait for change to come. 

Besides the cultural component of this trip, the service learning was the heart of it all. We taught English to the children at Ban Noi Primary School. Initially, some of us faced obstacles such as language barriers, mischievous children and difficulty in retaining their attention and desire to learn. Unabated by these challenges, we persisted, experimenting with creative ways to teach them and tried our best to learn basic Thai phrases, supporting one another. Some were fast learners while others were a little slower, so we also had to learn to adjust the lesson pace and content according to every child’s needs. Making all the children feel that they matter was really important as some of the children were less participative and sat aside during the games. I’m particularly thankful that all of us recognised this and looked out for every child, whether or not we were familiar with them. For many of us, the children’s break times were our favourite moments as the kids would come running to us to play. Their energy to play and interact is something that I wish I still had but for now, I’ll stick to caffeine. 

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Making krathongs during cross culture exchange at Ban Noi primary school and playing at Baan Pan Tan primary school

 

All in all, I felt that I’ve learnt a lot from the children at Ban Noi Primary School which cannot be explained in one article. The children were willing and eager to listen, learn and give selflessly. They displayed gratitude towards us through handmade thank you notes, hugs and words of appreciation. They also gave thanks for the food they received at every meal. I too, am reminded that the lessons we learn are not just from those who are older than us, but also from those who are younger and see the world through a different lens. 

All these lessons and complexities can only be best explained by being physically there rather than in words. My hope is that all of us will apply all these invaluable learning points back here in Singapore and serve the communities here or even abroad.

This trip has been an eye-opening and enjoyable one which would not have been possible without our experienced tour guides, Mr Pomelo and Mr Brown, and amazing teachers, Mr Alvin Toh, Mr Gabriel Woon, Ms Iris Lee and Ms Nadira! A huge thank you to Group 2 as well for the great company, meals and bus ride to Doi Inthanon!

 

*Writer’s note: There are some places that we visited that were not included in this article such as the Kantoke Dinner and our brief visit to Baan Pan Tan Primary School where the students who went to Chiang Mai last year taught at.

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Painting work by students from Eunoia GO Chiang Mai 2018 at Baan Pan Tan Primary School

 

Eunoia G.O. 2019 Chongqing & Chengdu – A Tale of 2 Cities

Will ‘Made In China’ be the new ‘Made In the USA’?

Written by: Dillon Phang (19-I4)

Designed by: Lee En Tong (19-U2)

Photographs taken by: Dillon Phang (19-I4)

 

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The Belt and Road Initiative (source)

 

The Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路), China’s ambitious project to link up with countries all the way from Erope to Southeast Asia. “Belt” refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt that links from Europe to East China, while “Road” refers to the Maritime Silk Road, which passes Southeast Asia, Australia and Europe. This project is an iconic representation of China’s rapid development in recent decades. Chongqing and Chengdu are 2 cities that are key in China’s development and themselves have seen much growth. The country’s growing influence and strength is why the China Studies in Chinese Syllabus (CSC) was introduced. Of course this trip is heavily related to the CSC syllabus, and the Bicultural Studies Programme (BSP). I went on this BSP trip as a non-BSP student, and yet, what an eye opener it was, to have a chance to visit China and have first-hand experience in learning about its history and current developments. And so, here are some moments from this trip I’d like to share. 

Upon arriving in Chongqing, one of the first things I recall the tour guide told us to take a look at the highway construction. Peering out of the bus window, we saw a complicated network of several layers of roads stacked on top of each other and at least a dozen exits. The tour guide even joked that if you took a wrong turn here, you might as well prepare to spend the night somewhere else. Looking at this, I wouldn’t doubt that. 

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Chongqing’s road network

 

That was the first thing that really got me intrigued about the city of Chongqing. For the government to have to construct such a convoluted network of roads, there must be something really special about the landform here. Chongqing is nicknamed “山城“, or Mountain City. Despite the mountainous terrain, the urban planners have done a remarkable job designing the city. The way they made use of high-rise buildings and how they designed their roads and rail network to accommodate to this terrain certainly reflects the urban planners’ ingenuity. One instance of this that I find really interesting is with Hongya Cave (洪崖洞). 

We alighted the bus and entered Hongya Cave on level 1. We then exited the cave on like the 11th storey only to see we are next to another main road. Learning about how the government developed this city was one of the main objectives of this trip, and that is also backed up by our visit to Raffles City Chongqing and the Three Gorges Museum (三峡博物馆) on Day 3. 

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Hongya Cave, Chongqing

 

While Chongqing is filled with mountains, Chengdu is known for its plains. Chengdu is blessed with favourable weather conditions and fertile soil, and is also well-protected by surrounding mountainous regions. These favourable conditions saw the city thrive and earn the reputation of 天府之国 or Land Of Abundance. Chengdu was also hence established as the capital for several Chinese dynasties. In comparison to Chongqing, Chengdu would seem more liveable, and the pace of living is much more relaxed here. Its slow pace and good natural conditions even led to it being called 一个来了就不想回去的城市, translated as a city one does not want to return from. And yeah, I feel like going back there now that I recall those days.

I think the one place we visited that best exhibits this relaxed pace here will be People’s Park (人民公园). 

Street food stalls lined the park and there was a teahouse where we saw people getting their ear wax cleaned. Groups of elderly people dancing just like how the elderly in Singapore have morning exercises. There’s even a corner where elders in their families would put up blind date notices to help their children look for their significant other. The whole atmosphere was just very carefree and lively. The closest comparison I can think of would be Chinatown, where we see dozens of old folks coming together to watch some of them play chess. 

The first couple days of this trip were focused on the culture and history of this place, as we got to visit cultural sites like Hongya Cave itself. Hongya Cave is interesting as it showcases some of the developers’ creativity in making a shopping street and tourist attraction out of an otherwise inhabitable cliff. 

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Dazu Rock carvings, Chongqing

 

Another site was the Dazu Rock Carvings (大足石刻). Dazu is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Chongqing, and was first constructed in the Tang Dynasty (681 – 907 CE). The carvings come from 3 different religions; Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Despite the fact Dazu was constructed in the Tang Dynasty, the intricacy coupled with sheer size is still something that modern stone carvers may not be able to replicate. Taking into account the lack of technology back then, we get a sense of the wisdom, passion and dedication that these ancient people had towards this ancient art form. These carvings bring ancient religious teachings to life, in a way that is fascinating even for us tourists hundreds of years later. The carvings that we saw told stories about Buddha’s deeds, each of these carrying lessons on filial piety, and discerning between good and evil. This place showcases how religion has been used by the rulers of Ancient China to pass on and preserve the teachings and values they want their people to inculcate. 

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Sanxingdui Museum, Chengdu

 

Apart from learning about Chinese history, having a chance to look at ancient artifacts really exposes us to the wisdom of ancient people. As mentioned earlier, the countless rock carvings of Dazu gives us a first taste on how dedicated ancient carvers were, to be able to construct artworks that are 10m high, intricate and durable enough to last all the way to the present, all without modern technology. I was in awe once again when we visited the Sanxingdui Museum (三星堆博物馆) here in Chengdu. These artefacts date even further back than Dazu, all the way back to 1200BC. The displayed artefacts included statues and masks made of bronze, and ornaments made of jade and gold. Some of these statues were up to 3m tall and stupendously heavy, and some ornaments only a few millimeters thick. All these, without technology. Some of these, unreplicable even with modern technology. We would think that we are way more capable than our ancestors, to be able to do more with less, due to technology. And yet, these artifacts showcase to us just how remarkable ancient people were.

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Chongqing No. 8 Secondary School

Next, we have the one event from this trip that I enjoyed the most, our visit to Chongqing No. 8 Secondary School on the 4th day. We visited 2 out of 5 of its campuses, one being its largest and newer one, and the other being the original and oldest site. The best part about interactions between schools from different countries will always be us getting the chance to interact with students from vastly different countries and backgrounds. I got to learn about the lifestyles and attitudes of the students there. They face the same exam stress that we face, if not more, preparing for their National Exams (高考), just as we prepare for our A-Levels. However, their school life is possibly even more dreadful than ours. Their school hours last longer, and even after school, they have to self-study until 10pm. On top of all that, they are not allowed to use their phones or laptops at all. And yet, they have no complaints, and I respect them for that. Our JC life doesn’t seem that bad now, does it? Another thing I noticed was that the students here are friendlier with their teachers. In a music lesson that we sat in, I got to see how the teacher and students are basically friends with each other, cracking jokes and having fun together. 

My biggest takeaway from this trip would be the opportunity to be able to witness China’s development, especially since we visited 2 cities which are integral to China’s plan to develop its Western cities. It was not so long ago where China was lagging behind all Western superpowers. It was not so long ago where we had made fun of “Made in China” goods. Yet in a blink of an eye, the country has become the one we see today. A good representation of this is perhaps how quickly technology has evolved here. Cashless payment, something that Singapore is yet able to establish nationwide, is ubiquitous in China, even in the smallest of shops. The high speed rail that we took from Chongqing to Chengdu, covers 308 kilometres in less than 2 hours, and is smoother than our own MRT rides. What’s more impressive is China’s ability to retain its rich culture and heritage despite its rapid development. We see that in how Chongqing is developed without forsaking most of its identity as a Mountain City, and how Dazu Rock Carvings and artifacts from Sanxingdui Museum have been preserved to keep alive their ancient heritage. Hongya cave has also demonstrated how modernisation can take place hand-in-hand with preservation of heritage. 

 

The rise of China is why Singapore aims to establish these bilateral ties with them. We got to learn about that on this trip, from our visits to Raffles City Chongqing and the Consulate General of the Republic of Singapore in Chengdu. The architect for Raffles City, Moshe Safdie, is also the architect for Marina Bay Sands, and you may see some obvious areas of resemblance between the 2 buildings. With 3 Government-to-Government Projects established, we see how Singapore has been able to seek out these opportunities where our strengths in  may come in useful for this superpower. But this responsibility does not just lie on our policy-makers, we as people of this country need to better understand China as well. The best way to build these ties between the 2 countries would be for us, the next generation, to expose ourselves to their culture and better understand its people and its beliefs. 

 

Here’s a panda to end it off!

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Theatreland

Want to know what the theatre scene is like in the UK? Read this article and find out more about the theatres and plays available there!

Theatreland

By Ashley Ng

Here is the final article to end this series of our experiences in the UK (because I’d personally love to finish off this series with my love for theatre)~

Throughout the 4 days in London, we spent it exploring the Covent Garden, that houses many famous theatres all within the area.

Firstly, we visited the National Theatre, which from the outside seemed like a cold giant concrete block. However, during the tour, we learned so many secrets about this astonishing building. Did you know that every single board of concrete put in place was casted on a block of wood to create the wood grain texture? What is even more amazing is that no two wood grains are the same. We learnt more about the history of the theatre and even visited the props and costumes department where we saw all the people hard at work producing pieces of clothes and items for the play, Macbeth.

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The National Theatre

Next, we had a backstage dramatized tour of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which was an incredible opportunity to explore the theatre and to learn more about the history and culture in this theatre, such as the ghost that will only appear during great shows. The tour guides were actually retired actors and they carried out the tour so brilliantly and hilariously. The use of facial expressions and pauses before they deliver their punchline really left us in hysterics.

 

Our backstage tour of the Theatre Royal

We also watched the musical, Matilda, at the Cambridge Theatre. Upon entering the theatre, the majestic set blew us away. The child-like innocence reflected in the way the big letters were put up along the wings was remarkable and so relevant. For those who have watched the movie, you may remember the Trunchbull pulling on Amanda Thripp’s pigtails and performing a Hammer Throw. With the flashing lights, amazing coordination and stunning sound effects, this scene was perfectly reenacted in the musical. I really enjoyed the songs that were written for this musical, especially “The School Song”, where the clever use of word soundings were put in use to create a song with alphabets. “So you think you’re Able to survive this mess by Being a prince or a princess you will soon C (see) there’s no escaping trage-D” By the end of the show, everyone exited the theatre singing the words to the song “Naughty” and “Miracle”. (Matilda will be coming to Singapore on 21st February to 3rd March, so if this is your kind of scene be sure not miss it!)

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The set of Matilda

We also watched the play, “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Duchess Theatre. It was a hilarious play that kept the audience in bolts of laughter throughout the whole show. We arrived at the theatre half an hour early to watch the pre-show, where the actors were interacting with the audience, in search of something. When the show began, we were awestruck by the clever use of words and pauses when reciting their lines. In addition, the set was an incredible one, with props being able to stay on the wall for a second and then falling off the walls at the next. The actors performed this play with so much gusto and their timings were amazing. We left the theatre reciting this very line, “Annie: Kiss me a thousand times – I’m yours!/Robert: Of Course, Florence, that’s what brothers are for.”

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The Duchess Theatre

Overall, this trip has been a rollercoaster ride, but we are all very thankful to be given this opportunity and our sincere appreciation to our teachers, Mr Lionel Lye, Ms Ang Siew Ching and Mr Xie Zhi Zhong for such an amazing trip (and for tolerating us monkeys).

 

Dialogue with the High Commission

Dialogue with the High Commission

Dialogue with the High Commission

By everyone who went on this trip

 

On the 6th of June, we visited the Singapore High Commission in London. We were greeted by Ms Cheryl and Ms Rozana. It was extremely exciting to be stepping on Singapore ground so far from home. We instantly felt welcomed by their warm smiles and their confident postures and after being ushered into a room, we started our discussion.

The Singapore High Commission was set up to form strong international relations with the United Kingdom as well as to care for the well-being of Singaporeans in the UK, especially since such a large population live or study there.

it was a very fruitful and unforgettable experience as it was a rare opportunity for us to openly voice our questions on any issues ranging from international problems to even questioning their personal opinions about the issues that Singapore and the world is facing.

To Singapore, the UK is a partner to enhance capabilities, investment opportunities and technical expertise. Singapore is trying to create partnerships and forge strong ties with different countries (as seen from the Trump-Kim summit) The UK is one of the permanent five members in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the 5th largest economy and also having the long defence cooperation with Singapore through the 5 Power Defence Agreement and Cybersecurity. We have learnt how the UK’s relationship with Singapore plays an imperative role and the importance of establishing good international relations since Singapore cannot sustain itself.

Having a job at the High Commission does not come easy. It is indeed a privilege to serve one’s country in a diplomatic capacity. One of the challenges they face is the different stances and views that they have as diplomats regarding government and global issues which causes many political uncertainties. They often have to stand from Singapore’s perspectives in terms of policies because thought they may disagree with it, there are always points that are beneficial to Singapore. At times, Singapore may be forced to take sides on controversial issues. We will face some form of opposition for whichever choice we make, however, diplomats have to stay true to Singapore’s beliefs and principles and make informed decisions that will best benefit us. For diplomats, however, this means always prioritising the country’s stance and interests over their own. Ms Cheryl and Ms Rozana also shared about the techniques of how to achieve our country’s interest when handling issues without crossing borders and offending others; which is to understand the other party’s position and be aware that they’re both trying to achieve what’s best for their country, which will then enable us to work towards a win-win situation and achieve common ground.

As we were about to leave the High Commission after the fruitful dialogue, the phone rang and after answering a call, Ms Rozana hastily left the room. It turns out, there was a fire that had started at the Mandarin Oriental hotel (just a 10 minute walk away from the High Commission, and the hotel that we were standing at while waiting for a few of our friends earlier) they were worried that there might be Singaporeans staying in that hotel and had to confirm their suspicions. Fortunately, no one got injured in the fire.

All in all, it was a really enriching and eye-opening experience. Ultimately, everything is done in the interest of Singapore, and the people at the MFA have done an extremely good job in establishing good ties with other countries.

 

Exchange Programme with Hockerill

Wonder what it’s like to study in the UK? What they learn and what their classrooms are like? Read this article and wonder no more

Exchange Programme with Hockerill

By Julia Duerr and Ashley Ng

On the 4th of June, we visited Hockerill College for an exchange programme. At 8am sharp, we donned our full school uniform, excited for the day ahead. Once we stepped out of our coach, we were immediately greeted by the biting cold wind that gnawed at our knees. However, the cold shivers were immediately forgotten when we met with the warm and kind students from Hockerill.

We, the students of Hockerill Anglo-European College were visited by a group of friendly students from Eunoia Junior College. Through all differences, we also discovered many similarities between us, as we were all excited, young learners with an international mindset. Even as the rather quiet and shy person I usually am, I found myself immediately engaged in conversation, and most of all, countless jokes.

My group sat through their English (more of literature actually) and Math lessons. We were shocked by their level of critical thinking and knowledge of their literature text, The Great Gatsby. At first, a chemistry teacher, Mr. Pollard, was teaching the class. You might think that it weird, in the Singaporean context, but I was extremely dumbfounded by the intelligent questions that he asked the class and the depth of their discussion. After Ms. David took over the lesson, she swiftly got into the book and started asking questions such as “To what extent are characters defined by possession?” Immediately, many students raised up their hands willingly. Ms. David then gave each one of them a number so that they could speak in order. I felt like it was an actual discussion and the teacher was not just feeding them the answers, instead merely tying up all of their answers. There was no trace of negativity; instead, Ms. David was perpetually very positive, engaging and enthusiastic. It was a very fruitful discussion. Besides that, the freedom to use their computers in class and the level of trust the teacher places on them is truly remarkable. All in all, the small differences that made all the difference here was truly enlightening, and opened our eyes to so many different angles education and learning could take for the most conducive learning environment!

Cultural issues and life in and around the school were discussed along with more personal things such as pets, siblings and food preferences. As we went into lessons together, we all discovered more about learning around the world and were all impressed by each other’s strengths.

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A classroom in Hockerill College

We also attended their Math lesson, where the teacher was teaching graphs. It was a pretty simple class and we did also engage in discussions with our peers. The teacher used incredibly fun ways to engage the students and help them remember how to draw their graphs – with dance! It was hilarious to watch the students flail their arms around and try to show the curves. It did also help us recap our own graphs concepts from school at home to use for the mid-year exams.

Personally, I was especially amazed by how easily you fit into lessons you had never been to before and engaged as if you would have been here all year. Far too soon, our little insight into life on the other side of the world had to come to end. Even though we only got to spend a few hours together, we all felt really close immediately and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Finally, at 3pm, we had to say goodbye to our newfound friends from Hockerill. We took pictures, exchanged gifts and said our farewells before boarding the coach with heavy hearts. Even though there was a chance we might never get such an experience again, it was one we will hold fond to us forever.


Our gift to Hockerill College

In the name of all Hockerill students, I would like to thank you for coming to us, we hope to see you again soon.