Tag Archives: Art

Travel Guide: Battambang x2

Two years ago, I spent a week in Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city, as part of my school’s field studies program. That week completely changed the way I see education, my role as an educator, and what is possible with and for students. Last week, I had the opportunity to return to Battambang with about sixty grade 10 students for the same program, a week that has left me again convinced that young people can do anything as long as we support them.

On this trip, I acted as the school trip leader and worked closely with the program lead from the JUMP! Foundation, the organization that really puts together the whole experience. I can’t say enough good things about the work they do for students and communities and I am so proud to partner with them.

As trip leader, I wasn’t attached to a particular group of students and instead filled in for staff as needed, managed all student issues from discipline to illness to homesickness, switched groups daily to get to know each student, and met nightly with school staff and JUMP!’s lead to hear feedback about the day. Prior to the trip, I arranged airplane travel and rooming assignment, worked with teachers on curriculum coordination, communicated with parents, and managed petty cash. And, despite mental fatigue that hasn’t quite worn off, I really enjoyed it!

Welcome to Battambang, the arts and culture center of the Kingdom of Cambodia!

We flew into Siem Reap and immediately drove the three hours to Battambang where we spent the rest of the week. One of my friends immediately pointed out how much greener Cambodia is in November than it was in February on our last trip. It was really nice to be back in a city I had come to know a couple years before and see how it had changed.

On our first full day, I went with a group taking a tuk tuk ride to Phnom Sampov. Many of the students had never been on a tuk tuk, which is a really lovely way to see and engage with the countryside. The ride itself is beautiful and provides insight into how people live in a country still recovering from decades of civil war.

Phnom Sampov is a mountain dotted with Buddhist temples. We paused in front of several, but the goal of our time there was to visit a killing cave, one of the many legacies of the Khmer Rouge. Each group was partnered with a local facilitator for the week, in addition to teachers and a JUMP! facilitator, which gave the students a cultural connection to Cambodia that they would not have had otherwise. That was a change from the first trip and made a great impact on the students’ understanding of where they were and why.

That afternoon we visited Buddhist University and two monks led us on a tour of the campus temple and then guided us through a short meditation. From there we visited teh university library, which, in addition to the novel sight of monks on laptops, had a specific section for writings by peacemakers. That made me very happy!

As our last activity of the day, we met the dancers of Cambodian Living Arts, one of the many organizations working to revive the arts and culture that were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. They performed for us and then taught us a traditional dance involving coconuts, leaving everyone laughing and in high spirits. This was an uplifting change from the somber feel of the morning.

We caught a gorgeous sunset on our way to dinner, still travelling by tuk tuk. The sun rises and sets very early in Cambodia, something I always forget, but that also means that the stars are out when it’s still early enough to enjoy them.


The next day I joined a group at FEDA, an educational organization we used to work with that had just stopped its operation. Now, the visionary leader behind FEDA is working to build a peace museum on FEDA’s campus to chronicle Cambodia’s history and ongoing reconciliation work. That afternoon, we visited Banteay Srei, an NGO working for women’s empowerment in a country where there is a clear status difference between men and women from childhood onward.

It rained the following day, which was delightful because it cooled everything down and left the air quite pleasant. It’s always amazing to me how great of an impact weather has on the way we experience pretty much anything.

Another group started their morning with COMPED, an NGO that focuses on waste management and composting. The students learn about what COMPED does before going to the market to pick up organic waste. They then deposit it at COMPED’s dump sight. I missed it this year but remember the lesson very vividly: Everything goes somewhere and nothing disappears; we leave traces of ourselves wherever we are and that impacts people the world over.

Laster that day, I joined a group heading to Cambodian Children’s Trust. This is the organization that had the greatest personal impact on me from our last trip. CCT opened my eyes to the realities and dangers of orphanage tourism and the astonishing statistic that 80% of children in residential facilities worldwide have living parents. CCT works to support families by providing holistic care and services to the children they work with and their family members.


I went to bed laughing after spending the afternoon with a particularly entertaining group of young people. There’s a certain ease and genuineness that comes from eating together, learning together, and playing games together outside in sweaty clothes. It’s my favorite way to interact with students because everything I want for them, everything that leads to real questions, connections, and ideas, comes naturally.

The next morning we visited the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit providing children with academic education as well as arts education, specifically centered on circus skills, as a way of providing them with future work opportunities. I’d seen Phare’s show in Siem Reap on this trip two years ago, but this time we were able to participate in an amazingly fun circus skills workshop! We learned tumbling and how to juggle, took a tour of the campus, and got to watch some of the students rehearsing. We saw Phare’s Battambang show on the last night of the trip and were excited to see the same students perform.

That afternoon, in keeping with the arts theme, we visited Lotus Gallery to meet a local artist and make some art. The gallery itself was beautiful and had a very calming influence on the students.

I spent most of the afternoon chatting with the artist about the creative process and how she gets inspiration from her love of nature and purposely surrounds herself with plants and flowers, even building a garden sidecar for her motorcycle!


I also enjoyed chatting with her husband about his work in drugs education through theatre. He told me that the drug of choice in Cambodia is methamphetamine, which likely comes into the country from Thailand. It was a real joy to meet a couple who have invested their lives in work that they are passionate about and can also make a positive impact on others.

I spent our last full day on a cycling tour with Soksabike, which had been a highlight for me the first time around. We stopped periodically to learn about local livelihoods and the local families that Soksabike supports. We visited a family making rice paper . . .

. . . Cambodian scarves, which are called krama . . .

. . . banana chips . . .

. . . and bamboo sticky rice, which is a popular street snack. . . .


The bridge that we would normally take to cross the river had been dismantled, so we crossed by ferry instead. Needless to say, I loved this part. Water and I get along really well.

After the cycle tour, we continued that day’s local living theme by visiting the market, which was just such a joy. The students had a scavenger hunt to help them interact with locals and my job was to follow a group and make sure they didn’t get into any trouble. We saw food stalls . . .

. . . the usual array of meat, fish, and produce (my favorite!)  . . .

. . . textiles, toys, and dry goods . . .

. . . cosmetics and toiletries (and hairdressers and nail salons!) . . .


. . . and a surprising number of jewelry counters! (Hint: This is where we found the most English speakers.)


I love markets. They are always my favorite part (or pretty close) of any place I visit. I love seeing people come together for the same needs the world over. I love watching people interact and engage in the common pursuits of humanity. I love watching life happen in its most natural ways.

After Phare’s circus performance to round out the program, it was time for an early night before a 3am wakeup so that we could make the three-hour drive to the airport in time for our 10:30 flight. Absolutely worth it.

JUMP!, I can’t thank you enough. I watched students learn, grow as individuals, become closer to each other, create new friendships, engage with new ideas, and experience a culture and a place that is very different from what they usually see in Singapore. Thank you for bringing out the best in our young people. Thank you for all that you do.



Travel Guide: Sydney

Last week, I explored a tiny fraction of a huge country and I can’t wait to go back. Two girlfriends and I flew to Sydney and took a road trip south along the coast to Melbourne. We ate a lot of delicious food, drank excellent wine, and sang more than a few Disney songs. We laughed, took pictures, and walked everywhere we could.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Sydney was the weather. It’s spring in Australia right now and I was cold. I tend to run cold, which helps out in Singapore but is a detriment elsewhere. Feeling the fresh air of Sydney and being able to dress in layers and walk around comfortably undoubtedly had an impact on our positive feelings throughout the trip.

We started our Sydney adventure with a wander towards Circular Quay (that’s where the Opera House is) and through the Rocks, which was hosting a neat artists’ market. It was there that we first recognized the laid-back, beachy, relaxed vibe of the city. People everywhere were friendly and welcoming. There’s a certain calm, even in large groups of people, that reminded me of my trip to Southern California last December. The atmosphere felt like California, but the architecture and style reminded me a lot of New Orleans. We saw these wrought-iron balconies everywhere!


I rarely do any shopping when I travel and didn’t buy anything at the market, but did enjoy looking at everything for sale. Lots of good gifty things if you’re into that. Eventually, we made our way to Harbor Bridge, walked across it, and looked out over the water. That was my personal “must do” for Sydney and the view did not disappoint:


From the bridge, we followed the road around the harbor back to Circular Quay where we saw some really beautiful foliage and the bridge itself. I absolutely loved the purple trees! It was also fun to watch the sun begin to set, which happens later in the evening in Sydney than in Singapore. That was nice, too.

The following day started with a walk through Hyde Park, which made me laugh because that’s the name of the Chicago neighborhood where my family spent a year when I was very little. Hyde Park in Sydney was full of runners and bikers and is also the home to the Anzac Memorial. I first learned about Anzac from an Australian colleague in Malaysia a couple years ago; I’d seen a lot of war memorials but never one for Anzac.

Later, we made our way to the Botanic Gardens (walking through pretty areas with greenery was a theme of the trip), pausing at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The church itself struck me as odd because the architecture just didn’t seem to fit. But church architecture is church architecture the world over. I love identifying human commonalities because they act as a reminder that we are indeed similar, despite the very different ways that we interpret the world.


The Botanic Gardens, located across the harbor from Circular Quay, were really beautiful and a charming place to be on a Sunday afternoon. Like Hyde Park, they were also full of people. We saw more than one garden party complete with stylish hats. Legacy of colonialism, methinks!

When it started to rain, we visited the Australian Museum where we were happy to learn about some of Australia’s history. We saw the same names repeated over and over on street signs as we traveled and I appreciated the sense of grounding that comes from knowledge, a glimmer of understanding of what makes a place what it is.

For our last full day in Sydney, we decided to take a bus out of the city (Opal cards for public transit work throughout the state of New South Wales – so cool!) and visit Bondi Beach to see Sculpture by the Sea, a really cool annual art show set in a beautiful place. Many thanks to the Uber driver who told us about it! The bus ride took us out of where we were staying in the CBD through parts of Sydney where real people actually live. It was nice to see regular neighborhoods and get a brief glimpse of their individuality and character.

As we knew it would be, Bondi Beach was beautiful and so was the weather, another theme of our trip. The sky really was that blue!

Sculpture by the Sea was a really engaging show because the sculptures were designed to fit into the landscape. It was a very enjoyable walk up along the rocks, admiring and trying to understand the art while looking down at the beach below. Admittedly, my favorite piece might not have actually been part of the exhibition. I didn’t buy the booklet with the information so I can’t be sure, but it was too amusing not to share. Please enlarge the photos below. I promise they’re not all the same!

We headed back to Bondi and took the bus through rolling hills that gave us gorgeous views of the Sydney skyline. I was tempted to suggest getting off but we didn’t really know where the stops were or when we could expect another bus to arrive. All we knew was that we were heading to the bus terminus at Watsons Bay, again on recommendation of the Uber driver.

Upon arrival, we found exactly what we were looking for: lunch and a nice spot in which to eat it. The pelicans (enormous birds – I had no idea!) thought so, too!

Again based on the advice of our Uber driver (goodness, we are trusting people!), we used our Opal cards to take the local ferry from Watsons Bay back to Circular Quay. I love boats and was so, so happy to spend about 20 minutes standing at the railing, taking pictures in between closing my eyes to absorb everything I could from the water, sun, and air.

In a poetic sort of way, our Sydney adventure started and ended in Circular Quay. That was the first place on our list of places to go and where we were heading when we got distracted by the artists’ market at the Rocks. It was also the last real “sight” of this part of the trip, with a sense of familiarity this time instead of awe. After all, new sights are only new once. (Arguably, they’re new again if you see them through someone else’s eyes, but that’s a different discussion for a different time.)

After three nights in Sydney, we embarked on part two of our Australia adventure. We rented a car and drove about 1,000km along the coast to see pretty places on our way to Melbourne!


Travel Guide: New Orleans, LA

Prior to leaving on this long weekend with my mum (the first time we’ve traveled somewhere together!), I had the following conversation with more than a few friends and colleagues:

Curious person: Oh cool, New Orleans! Are you going for Mardi Gras?
Me: No, that’s not until next week.
Curious person: Oh right, of course.

To all of you who asked such a good question, I owe you an apology. I was completely wrong and you seemed to believe what I said without question (likely because I go a lot of places and do a lot of things and usually sound pretty confident when I speak, the latter of which is largely smoke and mirrors anyway). Mea culpa. Lessons learned: Factually, trust no one (as aptly phrased by Kyle) and always, always research.

The Mardi Gras season, as the extremely friendly and hospitable New Orleanians (I may have made up that word) told me, runs from Epiphany in January to actual Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). As the locals explained it, Mardi Gras is an excuse to do as much sinning as possible for 5+ weeks in order to have something to atone for over Lent.

So yes, I was in New Orleans for part of Mardi Gras. And it was amazing. There were parades everywhere at all times of the day and night. Most of these photos are from the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter:

My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed collecting as many beads as we could and ogling in astonishment at the parades, costumes, and general debauchery, especially on Bourbon Street. There are no open container laws in New Orleans, which was a lot of fun and probably explains much of what we saw:

More importantly, we learned a lot about the rich history and culture of New Orleans, which has been Spanish, French, and American throughout its history, creating Creole and Cajun cultures that give the city a flavor and a pulse unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The food is darn good, too, and this is coming from a vegetarian. If I was impressed, omnivores will be even more so.

I have to admit, however, that I still don’t like doughnuts. It was a lot of fun to eat beignets and drink café au lait while walking down the street, but I just don’t like doughnuts. That said, I’d still recommend a visit to Café du Monde, if for no other reason than to say you did. We got there around 8:15am on Saturday morning and beat the lines by about a minute. And the café au lait was truly delicious.


Mum and I really love wandering along streets and in and out of shops and galleries wherever we are, which is how we spent most of our time. We explored the French Quarter and French Market on our own and also took a French Quarter walking tour to actually learn a thing or two about how New Orleans came to be. We were amazed at the beauty of the streets and buildings, and delighted with the art and music that were everywhere:

Another really excellent walking tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. There were some incredible homes in the Garden District, with a remarkable diversity of architecture based on sheer whim of the wealthy homeowners.We learned about the burial laws of New Orleans (as long as you wait a year and a day, you can open a tomb and shove another body inside) and some of the history of the city’s wealth from trade. The first burial in Lafayette Cemetery took place in the 1840s and the cemetery is still active, which is really neat:

We also spent one evening on Frenchmen Street where there was jazz everywhere, as well as an art market. The hard part was picking a bar to visit (we chose The Spotted Cat based on several recommendations) and a place to eat afterwards! And then we were interrupted by the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade in Marginy, which was so much fun. Unfortunately, I’m a rather petite person and couldn’t get close enough to the police barrier to take any decent photos of the parade itself. But here’s Frenchmen Street:

On our last night in the city, we took a ghost tour to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. I’m glad that we did the French Quarter tour first because the histories are obviously intertwined, but I don’t know that I’d seek out another ghost tour. I enjoyed hearing the stories and visiting a possibly haunted bar that doesn’t have electricity, but I got a lot more out of the daytime walking tours. That’s probably not surprising, considering the supernatural is questionable at best.

I’ve always admired the “doors of” posters of various cities that are often on the walls in waiting rooms, so I decided New Orleans was a good opportunity to work on my own collection of “doors of” photos. My favorites, including one set of mailboxes:

The most surprising aspect of New Orleans was the culture of the city and the genuinely open, receptive, and free spirits of all the people I encountered, from the man in the suit to the young couple in togas to the woman wearing only glitter. People playing music on the streets seemed genuinely excited to be doing it and artists hung their work anywhere they could and worked wherever they were standing. Palm and tarot readings were readily available and the voodoo shop we visited could not have been more welcoming; they even suggested a different shop when we couldn’t find what we wanted!

(Full disclosure here: Friends have read my tarot cards twice and palm once, and while I don’t know if I “believe” any of what they said, it sure was telling. And, in hindsight, frighteningly accurate.)

Maybe it was Mardi Gras or Southern hospitality, but there’s something truly wonderful about a place where what is normally considered “subculture” is just everyday being.