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Welcome to UNICEF

August 28, 2010

After my return from Vietnam, and having decided not to return for a third year, there was a sudden urge to contribute to another community. (Volunteering can sometimes be addictive.)

So, many of my personal friends, or readers of my previous blogs would know, there are a couple causes I strongly support. Namely (but not an exhaustive list), education of Children in developing countries, reduction of plastic bag usage and campaigning for the Arts. As an ad hoc supporter of UNICEF over the last couple of years, I finally decided to commit to a subscription with UNICEF International and a membership with UNIFEM Singapore this week. (UNICEF does not have a dedicated station set up in Singapore, but UNIFEM Singapore also campaigns for causes related to children.)

Here’s a welcome email I received.

UNICEF email

Instead of just emailing 2 people, and sharing my beliefs over dinner, I’m gonna do one up, and share this with all of you (I’ve checked my stats, there’s definitely more than 2 people reading this page. LOLz~)

(1) Why I joined this cause?

I grew up with a generous mother, who made volunteering a way of life really. As for UNICEF in particular, it’s because I think children are the most innocent victims as well as the brightest future we have. They are a group of human beings that did not choose to be in a particular scenario due to greed, irresponsibility or any other vices. They were simply born disadvantaged, and one cannot be fault merely via their birth. Also, I’ve met many people in my life from disadvantaged backgrounds, but have achieved great feats when given the right opportunities (one of them is a recipient of the prestigious President Scholarship). So why not make a difference to those who can make the most out of it?

(2) Mention something from the UNICEF website.

(Paraphrased and heavily edited)

In a first world country, many of us often take schooling for granted. In fact, we often dread making the daily trip to school. BUT, DO YOU KNOW, in the aftermath of war, often nothing can make a child feel more secure than having a school to go to?

After the Rwandan genocide, many children had witnessed horrible violence or were forced to commit atrocities. For these children, going back to school meant a return to normalcy.


Your MacDonald’s meal @ US$5 can provide ten children with a pencil and exercise book.

Your weekend clubbing @ US$60 can provide a School-in-a-bag with individual school supplies for 40 students and 1 teacher.

Your new pair of jeans @ US$100 can provide 100 children with a sketch pad and crayons.


I do not advocate that you join UNICEF, unless there’s an emotional commitment attached to it. However, it would be awesome if you can dig into your pocket, and make a ONE TIME donation, even if it’s only a hamburger worth of US$5. Even dollar makes a difference.

Vulnerable Innocence

Huế, a special place in my heart

August 24, 2010

Last year, I spent a couple of weeks in Hue, Central Vietnam, as an English teacher for 20 over Vietnamese teens, thanks to the help of The Kind Exchange, a non-profit organization that matches young professions with community groups.

The Kind Exchange

The centre I volunteered at was called Bao Tro House, or, The Haven, by English speakers.

Bao Tro House (The Haven)

Bao Tro House (The Haven)

The Haven Education Project was originally established by the Alumni Association of the Đồng-Khánh High School for Girls in Huế. It relied on small, ad hoc donations from the community, with the objective of paying the school fees of children from disadvantaged families in the area who showed promise at school and wanted to continue with post-primary school education.

The Haven supports junior and senior high school students – Grades 6 -12 or 12-18 years of age. The students live at The Haven’s residential complex in Phú Thương Ward, Huế, Central Vietnam. They attend school during the day and then receive after-school tutoring focused on building vocational skills such as English language and computer literacy.

In early 2007 The Haven received a substantial donation from a Vietnamese donor from Australia which enabled it to expand and improve the quality of its services.

In December 2007, the Project received final permission from the People’s Committee of Thua-Thien Province to operate as a ‘live-in’ facility for up to 30 students, with full and part-time tutoring and support staff.

And in July 2009, the school had it’s first foreign volunteer… me!!

This is my first time doing community work outside Singapore, with no knowledge of any Vietnamese (language/history/culture) nor the realities of what entails this trip, just an opened mind, and an idealistic soul.

First Shock – Language

(Like Duh!)

I never learnt to speak any bits of Vietnamese before heading over. Not even basic words like Thank You (Cảm ơn) or Hello (Xin chào). How could I communicate with a bunch of Vietnamese kids whose only contact with the English language are classes conducted by Vietnamese teachers, who focused on simple writing, and little on speech?

In the Classroom

Their comfort zone – English words with Vietnamese “subtitles”!

Thank goodness for English – Vietnamese dictionaries *phew*~ I have to admit it was really tiring to breakdown sentences into words that we’ll have to search in the dictionary. Took almost forever to say anything. However, it taught me to simplify sentences using a couple of key words, instead of blabbering superfluously (my usual modus operandi).

Other methods of communication included sketching, gesticulating and observing.

It felt like a lot of work initially, and was extremely exhausting. Thankfully, there was Uncle Khon (his family contributes heavily towards The Haven) who spoke fluent English, and western expats near my hotel, who kept me sane with English conversations.

However, once you get over the initial stage of linguistic adjustment (took me half a week), it got really rewarding.

Often, we communicate so much with words (many of which are unnecessary), we forget the other forms of basic human instincts like facial expressions, body language, and energy levels. We also forget to observe simple visuals which are oh so gorgeous! While I still yak away incessantly (just check my phone bills for proof, or read my blog rants) the experience of communication without words was absolutely therapeutic, sincere and totally amazing.

Second Shock – Standard of Living

Call me ignorant, idealistic, or adventurous (take a pick), but my initial plan was to stay at Bao Tro House, instead of in a comfy hotel that Andrew (sponsorship Director of The Haven) suggested. Man was I in for a ride….

Standard of Living

The basic infrastructure of the centre is actually very well set up. There’s a TV, a shared computer, dormitory rooms, a huge kitchen, a yard, fans in every room, a proper washing area, a washroom in every bedroom in the centre wing, and common washrooms for the left wing… everything but… a HOT SHOWER!!!!!

I can’t live life without my hot showers. It’s ok if I had to sleep on wooden beds cover with straw mats, inside mosquito nets, no air-conditioning and even shower from a bucket, but here’s my limits. I need hot showers. Technically I could have boiled water and mixed it with the pail in the toilet, but I didn’t wanna inconvenient the matron (a sweet Vietnamese old lady who lives in the centre) or my students, or seem like some stupid foreigner who’s demanding superior treatment. So I moved out into a hotel (only US$10/night for cable TV, WIFI, aircon, clean sheets, nice bathtub, mini-fridge etc) after 3 days of endurance.

However, something my students said almost made me cry.

I really like Bao Tro House, because the standard of living here is much better than home.

These kids are so appreciative of everything. They appreciate the fact that there’s regular source of food (3 full meals a day) at the centre, loads of study time (kids often work in the villages as a contribution to the family) and education opportunities. The really simple things in life. Makes me feel really guilty, and a spoilt city girl.


Simple Living

Life in Bao Tro House is simple, and communal, the traditional Vietnamese way. During meals, the girls help to serve the food, and the boys set up the tables + chairs. Everybody enjoys their meals together at 6.30 am (breakfast), 11am (lunch), and 6pm (dinner) everyday.

When we go out for excursions, Bao Tro House has a full time cook, who’ll prepare the same meals, lag a pile of plates + pots with us and the routine never changes, when if meals are taken while squatting by the road side.

However, during my trip there, we took the students out to a “restaurant” for their first time ever!!! Talk about exposure huh? 😉

Best things in life are free!

I also love that my students are a really happy bunch. Besides hitting their books, life is pure joy. They play 5 stones (with actual pebbles), chess sets, traditional games, cycling, chasing each other, messing around in the yard and watching TV.

They always contented, even though don’t go out beyond school, tuition classes and religious lessons (except when donors of The Haven or foreign volunteers visit).

Cultural Exchanges

Foreign Invasion!!

Last year, the Hooper-Nguyễn family and their friends visited while I was there. By then, we’ve taken the students to a couple of temples, a beach and the Elephant Springs, but this time it’s a full fledged excitement!

Every time that the Hooper-Nguyễn family and/or their friends visit, they always prepare lots of games, prizes and a fun-filled time for the students. Last year, they organized a drawing contest at the temples, a boat trip along the perfume river and a building contest at a heritage site (all in a day)!

After all education’s about fun, creativity and cultural exposure too!


All good things have to come to an end, so did my time in Huế.


Both times that I visited Bao Tro House, the matron (she’s like my Vietnamese mother) threw me a party. It’s really a simple gathering with candies, fruits and loads of singing, but it’s always really nice and touching.

Often it’s the best gifts aren’t the most expensive, but those from the heart. I always feel really bad when the matron offers me nice food or drinks, throws me a farewell party or gives me presents. However, I never appreciate any gifts more, because I know the giver has very little for themselves in the first place.

That’s sincere generosity, a true spirit of giving.

I thought I wouldn’t cry, but my girls did after the party, and when I eventually got back to my place at night, my eyes were moist.

Positive Changes (one year later)

As mentioned in The Haven website, the centre is focused on building vocational skills such as English language and computer literacy. I’m really really proud to say that when I visited the centre a year later, we have definitely managed to achieve both of these goals!!

During the one year, when I was back on Sunny Island Singapore, a few of my students were constantly in touch via emails. This is an amazing feat in 2 ways. (1) During my first trip there, the internet/computer seemed like a huge unknown force to some of these students. So the concept of logging on, on a regular basis felt surreal. (2) For teenagers who struggled to string even the most basic sentences together, writing a proper account of their experiences, that’s way impressive.

Just when you think we’re ready to feel congratulate ourselves, check this out!!

Technological Upgrade!

Laptop’s mine actually but it’s lovely seeing them get all excited checking out pictures we took a year ago! Even got one of my students to transfer the files to Bao Tro House’s shared computer, so everyone can look through these memories whenever! =D

Finally chased the big scary monster of the unknown cyber world out of the room and replaced it with a friendly chirpy cyber angel! *gRiNz~

My personal growth

Of course the exchange was 2 ways. In fact, I now believe that volunteers often receive more than they give out.

First, I learnt to appreciate life much better. The simple non-materialistic physical aspects of life. Which once you understand, and get used to, make you a much happier person.

Second, I learnt the power of love and appreciation. Again, contributes to happiness.

Third, I learnt how to slow my pace and be less uptight about life.

Fourth, human kindness, love, and more joy.

Finally, I learnt some Vietnamese!!!!!!!!!! How else can I convince my young punks to speak English unless I make the effort to learn their language?

(Actually this isn’t the best representation of my lessons, but some experiences are better felt than read. Didn’t wanna make it sound like a preachy or romantic speech either >.< )

Community Spirit in Huế

I know my impression of Huế may seem biased to many, due to my personal experiences, but most of Vietnam has a really strong sense of community. Besides orphanages and centres for the disabled, there are also loads of ventures in Huế that are community driven.

Food with a cause

Both of the above restaurants are set up as a means to provide a learning environment that aims to alleviate the situation of children wandering the streets of Huế. The French Bakery even provides training for its students, and pair them up with jobs post graduation. The prices are a tad steep by Vietnamese standards, (which is still reasonable by first world standards) but it’s all for a good cause!! Not to mention, the bread is so awesome it melts in your mouth… even the Europeans would agree, and these people know their pastry…


Besides my students, friends, and a surrogate Vietnamese family in Huế, it’s not difficult to understand why this part of Vietnam holds such a special place in my heart. Of course there are many other beautiful memories I can’t share in a single post… =)

Next up, I’ll share more about the beautiful sights of Huế, and experiences outside Bao Tro House!!

(Hopefully there won’t be such a huge gap in the time lapse too!)


If you’re ever interested in community work, write me comments on my post and I’ll answer all questions to the best of my abilities. Meanwhile, do check out The Kind Exchange (Singapore based), for various ways to contribute to our community, whether you’ve only a couple of hours to share, either on an ad hoc basis or as an ongoing commitment.

Happy Birthday Singapore!

August 9, 2010

To all those Singaporeans out there, Happy National Day!! =)

After being on the road for almost one month, the question of Singaporean identity came to mind multiple times (especially during conversations with other travelers).

To the Vietnamese, I look like one of them (most Vietnamese have Chinese heritages), yet I dress, walk and talk like one of the western tourist. To the Westerners, I’m kinda not really Asian, nor am I white (or black). Many western travelers also describe Singapore as an European city within Asia. To me, Singapore is sorta Western infra-structurally and moralistically Asian (read: historical and political structure of Singapore for more info). This was especially highlighted to me when I was in New York City, and the city scape felt almost like home; yet when I’m in the villages of Vietnam, my traditional Chinese upbringing aided my understanding of how things works.

I guess being Singaporean is a complicated concept, especially so for a young country of 45 years, one that has gone from a post-war third world climate to a first world city in rocket speed.

What do you think about Singapore and/or being Singaporean?


Sorry for having left the blog quiet for a week. Things have been crazy since I sent my mom home, in-between my time in Dalat and Hoi An. There was heavy rain, a flood, blackouts, visited my students in Hue, saw one of them in the hospital, visited a good number of Vietnamese friends from last year, met loads of new friends, went parasailing+sand surfing+controlled a motorbike for the first time, did a number of tours, hopped on many long bus rides, got extorted money by street kids, met my feverish/bed-ridden best-friend in Saigon, spent many hours with a cute little attention seeking 4 year old, just to make a few events.

Will definitely backlog my adventures though. So stay tune for my next blog, as I spend time in a part of Vietnam that’s really close to my heart, before moving down South again.

JustJesz in Hue, Vietnam

Hoi An 2010

August 1, 2010

I love Hoi An,
And this is my second trip to the charming town.

Hoi An River

Hoi An is famous as a hub for tailors, it’s gorgeous silk merchandises, but there’s so much more Hoi An has to offer! Such as…


Coming from a cosmopolitan city, it’s relaxing to be away from the huzz buzz from traffic pollution (Hoi An has walking streets which ban cars from entering). Plus it’s protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which means it’s “unbastardized” by “civilization”. It’s time to go back to basics!

Fishing boats as a way of life

Family bonding

When’s the last time you went fishing with dad?

The original gossip girls

A good old Vietnamese market

You see a trent that’s been dug here? Initially I thought they were trying to build something, so I didn’t give it much notice, except, that was a year ago, and this year, the trent was still dug. Furthermore, in the evening, I saw a bunch of people covering up the trent. Really can’t figure out why people would dig a huge hole every morning only to cover it up at night. Could be it for dumping unsold food, or other forms of waste? If anyone has an answer for this mystery, please let me know!

Cultural and heritage

Hoi An Ancient Town is so rich in culture, and many of the old houses date back to a century old. (You can even stay in one of the ancient houses, even though they can be infra-structurally backwards, hence lacking in comfort.)

For 75,000 dong (US$5) you can purchase a booklet for five attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall会馆, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. I skipped them this year since I’ve done them previously.

I took a walk along the river instead.

Along the Hoi An river

Do you notice that the street lamps or French, but the benches are Chinese? Love the juxtaposition!

The Japanese Bridge

A view of the Japanese Bridge from the river. Notice the French buildings by the Japanese Bridge? I am in love the visual tapestry of culture influences here!

Another set of immigrants in Hoi An are the Charm people, originally from Indonesia. One can take a boat ride to the Charm islands (great for scuba diving), or a day trip up the mountains to My Son, where the Charms used it as a place of worship. Not being able to scuba dive, I choose the latter.

These pictures are from my trip up to My Son last year.

My Son

Some people have compared My Son to a smaller version of Angkor Wat, except it’s high up on the mountains.

My Son ruins

A huge chunk of the ruins have been destroyed during the World War, but what remains is still amazing. Do you know that archeologists are still trying to figure out how the Charms managed to hold these bricks together, without cement or other noticeable adhesive agents?

Night Life

For most people, night life conjure up an imagine of booze and music. While there’s pubs and restaurant bars in Hoi An (they close around 10pm for most places, and by 11pm it’s a ghost town), be prepared for a different take of night life here!

Lantern Shops

In Hoi An, the street lamps are merely aesthetic and non-functional, and the main light source comes from these pretty pretty little lanterns!

Paper lanterns for sale

You can even buy paper lanterns and release them onto the river!

Roadside stalls lit by lanterns

You won’t think that the street vendors could carry on business in the dark? Think again!


Of course there’s shopping, which is a huge draw in Hoi An. The variety of silk is incredible, and so are the prices! But who has time to take photos when you’re busy shopping… especially when you’re trying to customize your own designs…

Custom made sneakers from Hoi An

Time to pack up my bags, although I wonder how all those dresses will fit into my backpack >.<


All pictures from this post are shot with a Canon TX1 and have not been digitally enhanced.

Da Lat Country Side Tour

July 30, 2010

So we booked the Da Lat City tour, which appealed to both my romantic side (Valley of Love, Bai Dai’s Summer Palace, Datanla waterfalls, etc) and my love for history (The old railway station and Da Lat Historical Village). Unfortunately, on the morning of the tour, our guide requested to change my tour itinerary to one of the country side tour (an increased rate from US$11 to $17 at no extra charge). Oh well, why not…

So we were the first tourist on board the car, followed by a girl from China. It’s pretty cool cause we had a driver, a tour guide and an intern from the tourism university, so it almost feels a private tour, with a chaperon for each tourist. *gRiNz~

Guess what’s our first stop of the day?
(Hint: What Da Lat is famous for!)

Fresh flowers

Coffee Beans

That’s right! Flowers and coffee, the biggest export business for Da Lat. I especially love that they have they favourite flowers, baby’s breath! Especially since this is the first time I’ve seen it in its natural surroundings.

Also, the first time I’ve seen coffee beans being processed from plant to dried beans. It’s kinda unexpectedly red and green on the outside but gluey and yellow on the inside. In fact, if you see closely at the picture above, our guide has actually broken the skin of some beans, for us to compare the differences.

Next up, a silk “factory.”

Silk Factory

Since many Asian countries produce silk, and most of their tours include a visit to a silk factory, I shan’t dwell into the details of its process.

However, do you know that silkworms are edible? In fact they tastes like peanuts, or earthworms if you have ever tasted them. I tried one of them boiled, although the Vietnamese people usually have them fried, and I totally regretted not having shot a video of the experience!!! *pOut*~

Now, time for the Da Lat’s Elephant waterfalls!

Elephant Waterfalls

I wished I have the courage to climb up to the top, but I gave up half way. The last minute change in itinerary also meant that I was wearing the wrong type of footwear.
Note: Pretty slippers do not maketh good countryside companion.

Check out how slippery and steep the path is…

Slippery and muddy

My knees are were soft from trepidation halfway through the hike!

However, I climbed underneath the water fall, after taking a break to gather more courage!

Underneath the waterfalls

Looks like fun doesn’t it?

Check out our next crazy stop!

Crazy House

Hang Nga Tree House Hotel (Translation: The Spider Web Chalet) or Crazy House (a nickname by the locals), is designed by architect Ms Dang Viet Nga, best known as the daughter of Truong Chinh, former president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Inspired by nature, Ms Dang calls her creation an essential mingling of nature and people.

Do you think the house is a good representation of her sketches/ideals?

Inside and around the Crazy House

I think it makes a pretty neat guest house or a vacation home. What do you think? Would you call it crazy?

Our last stop was supposed to be the embroidery centre but due to some domestic affairs (they were worshipping ancestors), we ended up changing routes to a Catholic church.

Domaine de Marie

Doesn’t it feel like a European cottage? Or one of those nursing homes?
(Please leave me your reply at the comments section below.)

Now, that marks the end of my Da Lat country side tour.
Next up, central Vietnam!!


All pictures from this post are shot with a Canon TX1 and have not been digitally enhanced.

泳闯琴关 (No Limits) – Final episodes!

July 28, 2010

泳闯琴关 (No Limits) is ending this week, and I haven’t caught any episodes.

I’ve been told multiple times that I can watch back episodes online on XinMSN, unfortunately, it’s not available in Vietnam (Video reads: Not available in your region). *pOut~ Isn’t Vietnam in the same region as Singapore? The Southeast Asia region…

So I really hope that you guys can watch 泳闯琴关 (No Limits) and let me know how it goes alright? Like have you seen any of these scenes on air?

During a playback of our recording

When Thunder forces his necklace on Jiayi

From the director's monitor

What am I doing here? :S

Probably trying to check the light, even though I look like I’m clapping…

Getting Yule fired from the company

You would think that getting Yule fired from the company’s the end of Pauline and Thunder’s ploy? Now that Thunder has Jiayi in his hands and Yule’s music career ruined, do you think he will stop the games? Will Jiayi and Yule ever find out the truth?

Stay tune for Thunder and Pauline’s ultimate showdown!

泳闯琴关 as Pauline

Cody Rock – Down, wet and dirty

July 27, 2010

In my previous blog post on AnD, I introduced the cast of Cody Rock and showcased some of the stuff we did outside work.

Since we’re at the last episode of the kid’s drama this week, it’s time to check out some of the more exciting behind-the-scenes footages!

Cody Rock in Kuching, Sarawak

So we were based in a rainforest resort, set on the shore of the South China Sea, which although a visual treat on screen, but not always the best condition for filming.

First, we got to be flexible with the available spaces!

Morning makeup session!

Here’s the resort cafe, where we have a meals, which we use as a makeshift makeup area.

Nicole getting her hair touched up

Sometimes we do our touching up on location too, like on the beach…

Makeshift storage space

and use random shacks as equipment holding areas…

Director and DoP behind the monitor

Secondly, we must be prepared for getting down, wet and dirty.

Villian Pyriss (actress Shannon) giving me a knock out kick!

Such as receiving a kick from a pair of sandy boots!

Knocked out!

And falling flat on the sand afterwards.

Art director Roy, leading Cody (actor Scott Hillyard)'s canoe into the sea

Or going into the waters…

A chase scene

running along the beach…

Effects of the sand and sea on shoes

And getting your shoes completely iky!

Under the hot sun

Thankfully the crew were really sweet with us, ensuring our welfare were well taken care of. The casts even had assistants carrying umbrellas for us whenever we are off screen.

Sarah (by Nicole) and Pyriss (Shannon) in front of the green screen

Plus there were days whereby we shot comfortably indoors.

Luxury in the wilderness

Or had our comfort items within reach.

Scott, Me, Nicole and Firdaus

I miss you Nicole, Scott, Shannon and Firdaus!

It’s not often that we get to shoot an entire series in a tropical rainforest by the beach, for a good number of weeks. Which means limited access to the internet, friends, family and many other things we are used to in the city. While it took a bit of effort to get used to the various conditions presented, it was really fun, and everyone got really close to each other, in a sort period of time!

On Cody Rock as Aunt Emily

Please catch the last episode of Cody Rock and the Quest of Macguvitonium this today (Tuesday) at 8pm and/or the encore telecast on Sunday at 11am on OK TV!


All pictures from this post are shot with an iPhone 3G and have not been digitally enhanced.

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