Wednesday is Deepavali (also spelled Diwali), so Singapore is decorated, lit up, and celebrating. A friend and I ventured to Little India last Friday night for absolutely delicious banana leaf rice and masala dosa (also spelled thosai). We looked around at everything for sale at the Deepavali market, did a little shopping, and walked away with flowered henna on our hands.
We’re celebrating in school tomorrow and it will be fun to see everyone in traditional Indian dress. Very comfortable, too!
I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately but do want to share some of what I have seen and snapped. Singapore now has a neat bike sharing program, which has added to the already robust (but still dangerous) bicycling culture here. Technically it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk but everyone rides on the sidewalk because it’s safer than riding in the road. I normally don’t mind but sometimes I walk faster than the people on bikes. And sometimes they don’t react when I’m running and the only place for me to go is in the road.
In addition to enjoying the various cultures that exist in Singapore, I’ve also really loved living in a truly local part of the island that feels completely different from the work world where I spend most of my time.
And finally, since we’re talking about color, here’s a sunset walking home late from work one evening:
This is the first of three blog posts that illustrate the week Mitch and I spent in Sri Lanka. You can see the posts for Kandy and Galle here and here, respectively.
Mitch and I met up in Sri Lanka for the week I had off for spring break. Going to Sri Lanka had been in the back of our minds since we met two Sinhalese Sri Lankans at the guesthouse we all stayed at in Langkawi, which was my and Mitch’s first travel experience in Malaysia. When I was in the States back in December Mitch and I spent a considerable amount of time evaluating travel options for this week. We considered a variety of places – Japan, Korea, Nepal, Kenya, Iceland, Latvia – before settling on Sri Lanka because it was relatively halfway (4 hours for me and 20 hours for Mitch, which was better than 17 hours for each of us) and quite affordable (the entire week ultimately cost only $300 more than flights to Kenya). And, of course, we have friends in Sri Lanka. Who we met in Malaysia. Which I just think is so damn cool.
One of these friends in particular, Janitha, was instrumental in helping us plan what we were going to do for the week. He also made sure we were able to work around the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, which fell during our travels. We had a useful guidebook, Rough Guides, but having a friend is even better.
My flight landed in Colombo a few hours before Mitch’s, so I had some time to explore on my own.
This cracked me up, but should have warned me about Sri Lanka’s attitude towards women.
I didn’t go inside the temple (rare for me, I know) but enjoyed looking at it as I walked around the lake.
The highlight of Colombo was meeting up with Janitha and Jayamin for drinks and dinner (yes, in that order). They took us to a bar at the Old Dutch Hospital (exactly what it sounds like) and then to a restaurant where Jayamin ordered me a plate of cheese kotthu, which, though considered standard local fare, was everything drunk food should always be.
The next day, Mitch and I took our first Sri Lankan tuk tuk ride. Tuk tuks were the easiest and most accessible mode of transport everywhere we went. Janitha told us about a very useful app, Pick Me, to hail tuk tuks in Colombo. It’s basically Uber for tuk tuks and worked really well!
We wandered through the colonial district to take a look at some of the buildings left over from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonization periods:
By far my favorite part of Colombo was our visit to the Pettah, Colombo’s bazaar district. I’ve been to markets literally all over the world and felt so out of my element here! It was big and loud and crowded, divided as it would have been when guilds were in power, and totally overwhelming. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I would not have been comfortable attempting to haggle over any purchase. I haven’t had a problem doing that anywhere I’ve been in the past, but this felt very different to me, perhaps because of the sheer numbers of scams and general harassment we had encountered by that point (more on that below).
The Pettah district is also home to a stunning mosque:
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Independence Arcade (used to be the Colombo Asylum and is now a pretty spiffy mall) and Viharamahadevi Park. I particularly liked that bike rentals were available!
At the end of the day, we watched the sun set from the rooftop of our hotel and enjoyed espresso martinis. Coffee time had passed and we both wanted the caffeine, so we improvised. It worked.
Later that evening, we headed to Galle Face Green to have dinner at a different hotel located by the shore of the Indian Ocean. We could hear and smell the sea and I felt completely at peace. The ocean has always been my happy place.
As this is a travel post, I’m going to close with a note of caution:
Sri Lanka is the only place I’ve been where I wouldn’t have felt comfortable alone. However, even being with a buddy (in this case, a pretty tall guy) didn’t diminish the amount of harassment we experienced everywhere we went. The Pick Me app likely saved us from extortion, just based on how much regular tuk tuk drivers suggested for a rate. The location of one of our guesthouses had disappeared so we had to find a new one. Boys and men hurled dirty comments in broad daylight, regardless of whether I was alone or with Mitch. It was the sexual harassment and its various forms that surprised me the most. I’d definitely still advocate a visit, but I’d also suggest getting out of Colombo as soon as possible. We much preferred Kandy and the hills and simply loved Galle. Click on the links to read about them!
This week-long adventure was different from any I have ever experienced. This was my first time in Cambodia and my first traveling internationally with students. I visited Battambang with the entire grade 10 class of my school (about 90 students) along with the seven other teachers. Upon arrival, we joined JUMP!, a very wonderful experiential education social enterprise with which school is currently working to plan the annual field studies trips for all secondary school students. I am in awe of what JUMP! planned and how their plans came to fruition.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The focus of the grade 10 week in Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city, was to get students thinking about community development, both as communities of advisories (groups of about 15 students that meet daily) and global communities. We spent the week learning from and working with different social enterprises that aim to make Cambodia a better place. All the restaurants where we ate were social enterprises, as well. As part of the program, we explored privilege, voluntourism, sustainable development, Cambodia’s history, and how to bring about positive social change. Throughout the week, I saw my students’ hearts and minds open up, not only to these ideas but also to each other as individuals and as friends. I can say without a doubt that every student returned to Singapore wiser, humbled, empowered, and with new friends.
This post will chronicle my week in Battambang as best as I can based on the photos that I can share. Most of my photos for the week were of and with students, and there are a variety of reasons (i.e. privacy, confidentiality, just plain propriety) why I won’t share them in an unprotected online space. Heartfelt thanks both to JUMP! for their incredible work and to John, the extraordinary JUMP! facilitator assigned to my advisory for the week.
To get oriented, here is a very helpful map from Lonely Planet:
One of our first activities was a tuk tuk ride to visit Phnom Sampow. We took a difficult climb up a steep hill, pausing along the way to see Buddhist temples and learn about Cambodian agriculture from our guide. We could see farms for miles from various lookout points.
The temples were exquisite, as well. I have a few Buddhist students who stopped to pray along the way.
We also encountered a number of monkeys and actually had to alter our route at one point to get away from them. Monkeys are vicious and will grab any food item or even backpack in site. My favorite monkey was this one:
The highlight of this trip, though not photographed because I felt weird about that, was the killing caves, a site of Khmer Rouge slaughter. The caves contained a memorial to victims, including skulls of those who died there and a Buddha statue for those who wished to pay respects.
Probably my favorite morning of the trip started with a trip to a local market to pick up ingredients for the Cambodian lunch we would learn to prepare! The market was wonderful (and sold more than vegetables, though my photos might have you believe otherwise) and the cooking school was incredibly accommodating to my vegetarian needs. Even better: We received cookbooks to take home!
Another really transformative experience was our visit to COMPED, a social enterprise that collects organic material, turns it into compost, sells it to farmers for fertilizer, and uses the money to run enrichment programs for children. To learn about what they do, we visited a market, collected rotten produce, and shoveled it onto the compost pile at a local dump. While there, we also learned that the families who live on the dump are paid more than they would be in other jobs. Despite health risks from being around burning trash, they choose this life to feed their children.
New organic material on the right, four months into the composting process in the center.
This child lives at the dump and wandered over to the sifter just as I was taking a picture
Like many social enterprises, COMPED receives support from another foundation, this time in Germany. This partnership is because COMPED’s founder used to be a waste management engineer in Germany before returning to his home in Cambodia.
Another social enterprise, Coconut Water Foundation, also runs after school and summer enrichment programs for students. We joined them at a school for about an hour one morning to play games with some of the students. Rather than sharing pictures of children, here are a few artsy shots:
Our last full day found my group on a bike ride with Soksabike, a social enterprise that pays families to produce traditional products, therefore putting money into the economy, and brings tourists to see these products. Soksabike’s tour guides are local university students who are working to enhance their English skills as they do their jobs.
Among other things, we learned how rice paper is made . . .
. . . and sampled some delicious dried and fried bananas.
The final stop on the tour was a very moving memorial to another killing fields site across the street from a Buddhist temple that the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison and interrogation facility. I didn’t have the heart to take pictures of the memorial, mostly because it broke my heart. The 1970s weren’t that long ago, and the Khmer Rouge existed in Battambang until 1991. 25 years ago is not very many years. The detachment with which Cambodians speak about the Khmer Rouge genocide is painful to witness.
I don’t have photos to share, but other social enterprises that we visited and worked with were Phare, FEDA, and Cambodian Children’s Trust. All of these organizations work with and for community development, specifically targeted at children. CCT was the most moving for me because they taught us about orphanages and orphanage tourism. We learned that 80% of children in Cambodian orphanages have living family and are in orphanages (and often exploited and abused as a result) because their families were tricked into thinking their children would have better lives and a better chance at education.
It was a week of growth, that’s for sure. I’ll be back in Cambodia in March to spend a weekend in Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to travel with my students to Battambang to learn how real Cambodians live. The trip we took and experiences we had would not have been possible for me to orchestrate. JUMP!, thank you for opening my eyes to this beautiful country and its proud, hopeful citizens.
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place