Saturday, August 30, 2014

Incredible India

How do I pee in this pants? This is my 5th time in India, and I still can’t master the art of peeing in a Kurta. Kurta, a common, popular and traditional Indian attire, which comprises of a long top that touches the knees and tapered but baggy on the crotch Aladdin drawstrings pants.
Like most women will understand you need to remove the entire bottom without staining your pants with your pee, but like most men will understand, where is the zip? Mind you, the top that touches the knee need to be taken care of as well.

Among the 15 countries I’ve travelled, and each country has a distinctive way to lure you in but India is too diverse, with 300 over dialects speaking in a same country, where as a vegetarian, I find eating anywhere in India convenient, the ashram that promises you tranquillity, the yogis that alight your body, mind and soul into one, where Buddha was enlightened and his Dharma can be felt in the world we live in, where the scene on the streets makes your heart cringe and be grateful with what you had, where buying a bottle of water needs your full attention to ensure it is fully sealed, your senses are heightened everywhere you go, everything you see and every breath you take.

Even shaking of the head are shown as an intimacy to get close to Indians. It’s like a familiar body language we can tell what each other is thinking without expressing through speech.

It’s spiritual, it’s awe-inspiring, it’s humbling yet we still have the desires unfulfilled. The quest for life. India makes you question about life. It makes you live in the present, in this moment, in the NOW.

Like peeing in a Kurta, there is never a logical way of explaining their way of life and it’s not for us to question but to absorb and blend into their centuries’ old culture, to humble ourselves and learn. I’m intrigued and can’t wait to discover what the 5th time in India might be…

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kangaroo, Koala bear & Kyle - Everything that hasn't kills me makes feel more alive

I've been imaging this trip for the past few months, my first trip after my cancer treatments. It's hard to imagine just 2 months ago, I was having my chemotherapy, pumping toxic into my veins. And now I'm pumping excitement for my trip, to the land Oz!

What's more, I'm in Super E-Mode, Elated, Excited & Ecstatic to meet Kylie, whom we backpacked together in India, not once but twice. It was such an memorable trip that till this day we keep reminiscing the funny things that happen on the road.

Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. I sure have lots of plan, but do I still need to hold on to the plan when life throws you a curve ball that hits you hard? Maybe I was hit by the ball for a reason, to reflect and rethink about life. We accumulate life experiences, one thing leads to another, allowing it to unfold in a way we can't plan it. Even when we faces adversary, always believe that there is a part of you that can possibly cope with it. Cancer didn't kill me, Cancer inspires me.

That's why everything that hasn't kills me makes feel more alive (Literally) or in my case just travelling will do the same for me ;)

So in this Oz trip, the few things I plan on is to see some Kangaroo, Koala bears (Noted all animals started with the initial, K) and shave some hair...ermm...I mean from the sheep . . . ; )

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Road to Recovery

How do I write a travelogue after going through cancer? Most people wouldn't think of stepping out of the house often, not to mention traveling, at least not after a year gap from the treatment. The fear of dealing with side effects in a foreign country, the inconvenience of following a strict post cancer diet to prevent relapse, concern on my stamina not able to handle the long tiring journey, the worries of how my low immune system can handle the germs slowly build up my vulnerability, all these and more generates anxiety and fear. 

Nonetheless, after 77 days of completing my 33 sessions of radiotherapy and 6 sessions of chemotherapy, I decided to move on with my travel plans. It’s funny how I foresee this trip is necessary, if not, why would I book a one way ticket to visit my chum, Kylie early January this year before knowing there is a tumor hibernating on my neck.

Honestly, the idea of not able to travel is more devastating than knowing I’ve got cancer. Without traveling, I feel like I’m imprisoned, in my case, confined by cancer, not able to be who I’m or liberated like the statue of liberty (Actually, it’s quite ironic for her to stay put in one place and not move). Traveling emancipate my thoughts, inspire my work. Walking free, smelling the fresh air, immersing in foreign culture, language and people that’ll amaze me. Isn't this the best way for recovery?

Thus, this will be a road to recovery; by saying recovery doesn't mean I’ll be staying in an expensive resort facing the sea or backpacking it like a tough cookie like I used to be. I’ll manage it with a balance. By traveling slow, slower than the pace I traveled before, visiting my friends rather than filling up all the sightseeing in one day, seeing as much as I could and giving thanks to my friends whom show me so much support during my cancer treatment.

I remember a dear friend of mine, Nancy from Malacca once told me, or maybe more than once that I’m very blessed especially when I’m travelling. I’m always surrounded by extremely hospitable good friends, so much so I feel like

a) They are like my extended family members or

b) I’m V.I.P (Very “Impressive” Person) like Obama that needs to be taken care of carefully

Whatever I need is a stone throw away. The kindness I received everywhere I go from my friends or even stranger humbled me. I can give you various occurrences but that will take up the whole weeks narrating it. All I can say, I’m overwhelmed with goodness every day!

So where will I go then?

I’ll first arrived in Melbourne, Australia, flying out from Darwin to Bali, Indonesia then back to Singapore for my MRI, soon after that to Bangkok, Thailand followed by Hong Kong and last but not least back to Singapore from Guang Zhou, China. This journey will take 3 months, even though some of the countries like Bangkok, Hong Kong or Guang Zhou might not be the best countries for recovery but till to the fact, this is where my friends are locating. Recovery will be a state of mind for these places.

A wise man once said, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey. As for someone after going through cancer, it’s not the knowing I’m cancer free; it’s the mental mindset on how I choose to deal with this illness that’s far more important.

Coming back to the question, how do I write a travelogue after going through cancer? I can’t write, I can only feel from my heart, let my heart do the writing. I will let this journey heighten my senses and reduce my side effects. Letting go of the uncertainty, letting go of all the anxiety and worries, letting go of fear, the unknown, just letting go.

For all you know, aren’t all these emotional states causing the cancer in the first place…

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer - After effect

A smallest thing at the right time and place can change your life forever. It might be exaggerating to say that, but if I haven’t participate the Freedom to walk, if the children didn't say see you next year. I wouldn't have volunteer on this trip in Thailand.

Thailand seems to be my second home now especially I look like Thai and I eat like Thai, extremely sweet and salty. It’s a pity I couldn't do more till to Songkran, and also not able to see all the children in Dream house but I've got a feeling the end is only the beginning…

I dedicate the good effort and merits I’ve accumulated to all my donors whom raised USD$1050 for the Dream wall. May they be well and happy!

Nin –Groceries

USD$1050 Dream wall  - My mum, Lee Chin Pern, Jeannie Lee Manjun, Tse Ying, Lew Shi Xiong, Neo Li Ping, Elaine Sng, Soh Lay Peng, Salvina, Esther Ng, Wee Nee, Cai Yun, Liau Jeannie and Trina

Sunday, April 28, 2013

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (6)

VW Day 3
(VW - Volunteer Work)

Today is an easy day, I’ve been volunteering the past 2 days on the construction site but my heart keeps going back to the children in Dream house. The "see you next year" effect I guess. I was surprised when I saw Amon, the driver whom accompanied the walkers for the charity walk last year, 15 days from Bangkok to Sangklaburi, picks me up from my guesthouse. It’s quite nostalgic, reminiscing the time during our walk.

He is a joker and I love making fun of him. He has a way of saying no problem, effortlessly redundant whenever he meets a situation : )

I remember last year, the van he was driving is so muddy that you can write on top of the mud, and he wrote Amon, handsome man in Thai, and so I asked Pan, my fellow walker to write eat shit in Thai beside Amon handsome man. He didn't discover till during our lunch break, he saw it and have a big laugh, of course he figures out who the mastermind was. I’m so happy to see him again.

He drove out of town about 30 minutes; dropping the volunteers to the construction site first before sending me to Dream House, where I took pictures of where they live and the condition they were living for my donors whom donated the USD$1050 for the construction of the new house. Sadly, most of the children have left Dream house to reunite with their family for the Thai New Year except for a few orphans.

I suggested bringing the children out to the town for a day trip. Amon then drove us back to the town, for ice-cream, and mainly also my friend, Nin has donated SGD$50 before I left Singapore for me to buy groceries for the children in Dream house. One of the caretakers follows us which is good, as she will know what is needed in the house. We bought cooking oil, sugar, chili sauce, tooth paste, other necessities and even some water guns for the children during Songkran.

David, one of the children in Dream House is so passionate in music. He even knows the American band, owl city, their song, fireflies is my favorite and he shares his music with me on the truck. I remember the last time I was in dream house he played guitar really well. Till to the education opportunities provided by Dream House, He now speaks fluent English. I even taught him a few Chinese words. I wanted to get him something, feeling that he might be lonely as he is staying behind while the rest of the children reunite with their family. I ask him what he wants when we were in 7-11 and guess what he asks for, a pop musical score book for guitar. I truly believe music heals all pain and sorrow, also motivates and drives us to a better place. I’m so glad music provide that comfort and sanctuary for him.

Joshua, one of the orphans took the biggest ice-cream cone out from the freezer, I was worried at first, it might be too big for him but I underestimate him, he eats it with grace and watching him slowly indulging the ice-cream makes me happy. Seeing him also reminds me of my godson, Alfonso. Both are boys at the same age but the difference is a big contrast. Joshua is an orphan; he has not seen his parents since 2 years old when his parents abandoned him at the Dream House after walking 5 days from Burma. Joshua also doesn't have a name given by his parents. He doesn't know when his birthday is whereas my godson just celebrated his 5th birthday in Legoland last month on the 18th

The toys Joshua played are usually unwanted toys donated by Samaritan from the city, most of his clothes too. My godson will usually have 2 set of new clothing for Chinese New year, not to mention occasionally from me as well when I’m travelling. 

As Joshua fall asleep on my lap on our way back to dream house, I can’t help but to wonder why some children are more deprived from another. Can we do something to alleviate and provide equal opportunity for all children?

Songkran* Thai new year (Water Splashing Festival)

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (5)

VW Day 2
(VW - Volunteer Work)

Same early morning awakes but this time I’m more familiar, good to see the toilet paneling is up. The simple toilet that builds out of love is nothing compared to the luxury bathroom, it’s not how good it looks but the amount of love you put into.

Back to mixing cement, I can actually get addicted to it. At one time, I think I have been mixing cement for too long, that I accidentally pronounce it as semen and it cracks everyone up except for Nat as her understanding of English is quite limited. After pouring the cement and getting the entire boundary stands up and standing, I was told to cut some wires for the roof, as fencing. We need to cut into a triangular shape to fit the roof.

At first, after watching Molley doing it seem to be effortless and easy but after trying to cut the wires for 5 minutes, I swear it takes an elephant to break the wire. Even Tiffany gives up saying it’s impossible. I suspected Molley must have masturbated so often and daily in order to master this great strength through his hand. J Not convinced, I ask for a bigger and better cutter. Size does matters, within seconds; I managed to cut the wires into half. Sometimes size matter, and if you can’t work hard, you work smart.

During the break, I asked the volunteers what is their motivation and have the volunteer work exceed their expectation. Some said, they realized how fortunate they have been and wanting to give back and also, making their holiday more meaningful. Also, they feel that the organization needs clear instructions and more routine work. They feel like the organization can be more organized. I mentioned from my past experience, sometimes, we might not know how beneficial this experience is until you look back and as you grow older, every experience leads you to somewhere and does help you in the future. We might not be happy with our current situation and lament about the existing problem but every adversary and unsatisfactoriness is a test.

A Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh once said you cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.

For me, the mud also represents reality, unjust, defilement, often downright sorrow and suffering, but never-the-less, this medium we are planted in that we can’t escape from, provides the “nutrient” for us to grow, understand, empathizes and live our life through this discovery, learn and then perfect ourselves and blossom into a beautiful flower. The innate ability of all mankind is still love and compassion that we seems to distract from the illusion and temptation of life.

We need to dig deeper and we can see how everyone is the same, we need love and compassion to grow, just like the sun to the flowers. Let’s be the sun for one another and blossom together...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (4)

Meeting Joe, 24, English
Execute, plan, Co-ordinate on volunteer and community outreach programs. Provide training for volunteers. He has been working with Starfish for the past 12 – 14 months

He is currently working with the schools on prevention of human trafficking and English camps for local community this school holidays.

In order to make my trip worthwhile, I also requested to talk to the ground staff, understand their background and on the projects they were doing, one staff I met is Joe. He is passionate on welfare and education development. He has a clear vision of how the new dream house will be. It’s not just to provide sanctuary to homeless children but also a learning center, providing skills and knowledge for the children for them to earn a livelihood in the future. It is like; don’t just give a man a fish but teach him how to fish. An all in one center, where everyone feed on each other strength to develop a self-sustain community.  

I realize there are so much Starfish have done but none of these good works is reflected in their website. I wish they could start archiving and hopefully inspire more people to work for the same cause.

I have a wonderful conversation with him. I even share with him that since last year, I’ve a dream to open a guesthouse in Sangklaburi. I realized there are a lot of fancy resorts and hotels but none of them talks about the visible issue of human trafficking in this town.

I wanted to build a guesthouse with the following agendas:

1)      Educating tourist or backpackers on human trafficking with
a.      Photo gallery exhibition (
b.      Thematic room with statistic of human trafficking printed on the wall E.g India Room or Africa room  showing the statistic or the common kind of human trafficking issues exists.
c.       Merchandise – Arty stationary with thought provoking slogans related to human trafficking, Fashion accessories like tote bag or necklaces with chain of key that say FREE ME
d.      Tea house/Café – renaming the drinks or food related to human trafficking issue, like Sex slaves could be a curry or Masala Chai, originate in India, employ children at the age of 5 to pick tea leaves 12 hours a day with little food. (Fictional)

2)      It can be also use as an operational/learning platform for locals, whom are interested in Tourism, provide job opportunities.
3)      Revenue can be used to sustain or develop more local community projects

He did talk to me on the difficulties working in a foreign land and things cannot move on as fast as he wants but I guess with his intention, it’s good enough to stay longer and I also promise to guide him on the Thai local temples, unfortunately the next few days, he was having migraine, and perhaps my conversation with him is too intense.

After talking and sharing my “visions” to him, I’m inspired whether to work full time in NGO. Nonetheless, I know the time is not ripe yet…

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (3)

VW Day 1 (VW - Volunteer Work)

Its 6am, I received a Facebook message late last night from Lucy that I can participate in the building of the new dream house, which perks me up for most people knows I’m the most hand on person, construction site might not be a place where you can find me but I sure can do what I can with what I have.

Early in the morning does make me drowsy, but I’m not afraid of hard work. The excitement I’ve generated last night, does elevate my morning. Wiwat, one of the staff from starfish, picks me up at 6.45am from P. guesthouse. My first impression is his hip hop swagger, even the t shirt that printed with fuck you is formed by small little fuck words. Feel like he has a lot of angst but in actual fact, he is a fun loving and soft spoken boy. He is from Karen hill tribe, has been working with starfish a year plus. He loves R&B and Hip-Hop. Quiet but with amicable personality which is a big contrast from the T-shirt he is wearing.

The Karen Hill tribe, are an ethnic group originally from Burma who have been displaced due to years of fighting and unrest. They were one of the earliest people to reside in Southeast Asia and were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in present day Burma and Thailand.

After the violence with the Burmese Soldier, some of Karen villagers escaped the poverty and violence to Thailand. Therefore, many problems were happened at the border between Thailand and Burma. Citizenship was no given to them so no health care benefit or even education is given, which means lack of many opportunities and prone to human trafficking. There were many groups of private and charitable organization, Starfish volunteer and Dream house is one of them. But, the problems are still unresolved till now. What's nice about starfish volunteer is that they provide job opportunities for the local as well; they have 6 local staffs and 2 foreign staffs working on the ground.

After picking me up, he continues to pick, Nat, one of the staff in starfish, Tiffany, Rob and Molly from Canada, UK and Australia respectively. When I arrive at the land, I can’t believe this empty land has only 8 people including me working on it.

P Lek is the only professional Thai contractor employed. The rest is all volunteers. It’ a bit intimidating, knowing there is going to be a lot of work done. More so, after knowing that, the new dream house has to be completed by this July. With the Songkran long holiday in April, and without financial support, things do get very slow in the progress. I doubt this will happen.

Besides, intimidated by the size of the land, I met Brett and Min, architect and interior designer from Australia. Weather is so much better than Bangkok, but it’s still hot, as a city boy, I like to get down, dirty, wet and rough, most people have not seen this side of me before :)

Brett gave us a short briefing on getting the toilet paneling done, mixing cement with rocks and sand for the boundary post around the area, we went to look around for scrap woods that are still useful for the toilet paneling, I found a few good pieces of wood but with nails still attaching to it, I then pull out the nails with the hammer, reminds me of extracting wisdom tooth, some are really stubborn.

Rob and Moley cut up the scrap wood into the right sizes, I then left them for cement mixing with Tiffany and Nat, Trust me, it’s not like mixing flour and egg, mixing cement, tones and sands requires a lot of effort, making sure they are properly mixed is not an easy task, the boundary post will need it to stand still and strong. Nonetheless, with a few runs learning from P Lek, I got the drift and it seems to get much easier. Bob might be the builder but Kyle is a learner!

First time working as a construction worker, mixing cement, pulling out nails, paneling one of the toilet walls does seem easy but it’s not. There are a lot of mind and physical coordination with the body. Of course, Nat and I always try to find easiest way to work on our task. It’s about working smart not hard J Nat is also from Karen, she has 1 daughter, very jovial and outgoing, loves her energy, and she always teases the volunteers.

I got to know, Tiffany, Rob and Molly has been volunteering for 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 2 weeks respectively. It’s amazing to see these young people making meaningful choices and a difference in other people and theirs life.

As the sun rises further up in the mid-day, it is intolerable to continue working, so we pack our tools and went back our guesthouses. On our way back, we stop by Blend café, where Tiffany is obsessing with green tea frappe. That’s where I met Vicky from Hawaii. She is a researcher, teacher, human trafficking expert. She is working on the curriculums on prevention of human trafficking to local schools and provides training as well. She is so gentle, patience and knowledgeable. There is this warmth you received from the conversation. This also makes me realize there are a lot of unsung heroes in this town working hard for human trafficking causes.

May all us are inspired to know more about the world and how the daily decisions you made can change the world. Stay awake!

More pictures

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (2)

Bangkok to Sangklaburi

Traveling from Bangkok to Sangklaburi is not a smooth motoring journey, knowing it especially after the 370kms I have walked last year to raise fund for anti-human trafficking, The high mountain road really slows the vehicle down, at one moment I think I can walk faster than the bus, with that motion, it also means the journey will be scenic and beautiful. I changed into 3 different modes of transport, Minivan from Khao San to Kanchanaburi then AC local bus, 8203 from Kanchanaburi to Tha Pha Poom, finally an even more local Non AC bus from Tha Pha Poom to Sangklaburi.

On the way from Khao San to Kanchanaburi, I met a lady, Sau, hearing from her conversation with her friend that she is vegetarian, I’ve got a feeling we have more to talk about. It turns out she is a Dharma practitioner-who has a shop selling Buddhist amulets, and hoping one day she can left her business and set up a meditation center in Cha-Am. I truly enjoy this kind of uncontrived and inspiring conversation, whether it’s on the train, café or in minivan during your travels. There is something mysterious about having conversation with strangers or friends you have yet to know. It seems like the world is conspiring to tell u something perhaps through an unforeseen incident. For me, this message is telling me to mediate and cultivate more in Dharma, perhaps volunteer more as well.

After 8 long hours, I’ve reached Sangklaburi. I love surprises, and guess what, on my way from the market to P. guesthouse. I bumped into Josh in Blue Rock. Josh is one of the kids taken care by dream house, also I gave him my shoe after my charity walk last year, knowing he walked and run barefoot with me through the last day of my walk. Till to Songkran, he is in town overnight, returning home to reunite with his family near the Burmese border, Three Pagoda Pass the next day.

I talked to him for a while, asking how everything is, he is very interested in Arts, and being a tour guide so the past few days he was touring with the Starfish Thai tour guide who brought the volunteers to the jungle for Thai experience. I sense that he is responsible (since he is the oldest kid in dream house) and sensible (planning for his future) and also very sociable and eager to learn. I see great potential in him and his future.

I then left him and sat on the deck afloat by the river bank, seeing the boats drove by, and the sun set in different shades of oranges that mesmerises me, reading a book that puts my mind in another place, listening to music that brings back my memories, nostalgia seems to linger on with remembering the past and anticipating the future. I can’t help but to wonder can life really be that simple…

Dharma* - Law that "upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe which mean maintains the stability and harmony of the universe.

Joshua and me on the last day of the walk

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

See you next year - An ordinary life changing tale as a volunteer (1)

“See you next year”, that’s what the children in The Dream House prophesized when I visited them after raising fund for anti-human trafficking cause, by walking 370km, which takes 15 days from Bangkok to Sangklaburi (Burmese Border) on my birthday last year.

Instead of saying see you tomorrow which they said it to everyone but particularly not to me, unravelling these children must be some kind of oracle to be or there are some kind of karmic connections between them and me. We’re after all in Thailand, land of nearly 95% Buddhist. Anything Karmic is a mandatory here.

Whatever it is, if a child wants to see you again regardless next year or tomorrow that means they need you, and you do whatever you can even if you have to jump into the river when you can’t swim.

Due to its location, Sangklaburi has a huge migrant population made up of Burmese and home to many hill tribes. Immigrants from Myanmar, Laos and Thai Hill Tribe villagers are stateless. This means they don’t get any support from the Thai Government, have no access to education, medical relief and more.

One of the organizations supported by the walk is The Dream house. It helps support a home for stateless children along the Thai-Burmese border who are at high risk, or survivors of, human trafficking. DREAM House is run by UK Starfish Asia Foundation, and currently houses over 30 children.

Some are orphans, or they come because their families financially not capable of supporting them. Some children have no belongings, passports, or even last names or birthdays they can identify with. Regardless, these children have something in common which is they have nowhere else to go.
I spend 2 days in The Dream House after my charity walk, observing where they live and how their living conditions are. 6 - 8 young children shared a small and plain simple hut. Their food supply comes from largely other people donation or the commercial effort from Starfish organization to sustain their livelihood.

With that in mind, I booked my Bangkok air ticket this January, not knowing what my itinerary in Thailand will be (I’m a backpacker; I don’t make plans or eat Macdonald. I’m spontaneous) so just one day before I leave Singapore, I saw the Facebook post that starfish foundation is raising fund to build a Children’s home, not just any children, but those children whom said see you next year, so I “solicit” and told my friends that I would like to raise USD$1000 for the Dream wall (A dorm room) and the next 7 days of my arrival in Thailand turns out to be a trip to remember, I have received generous donations from my kind friends which I’m forever grateful to build the dream wall come true.

So with these 3 little words, see you later, I'm back in Sangklaburi, my purpose is to volunteer for 7 days, babysitting, ploughing the land or laying the bricks for children's home, whatever they need my brain or physical strength for. And also by writing my volunteer experiences, hoping that this will increase the awareness of the situations these children are going through. And you who are reading now can act upon it…

About me
Freedom to walk
My freedom to walk Facebook page
Yahoo news article

About Starfish Volunteer
Starfish Volunteer Facebook