We left for Chiang Mai around mid-day, meeting at Changi Airport with our parents for check-in. Since one of the group members bought the tickets together on one account, we all had to check in with the details from her flight details. We were using the digital check-in, and ran in to slight problems when only two of us could check in. While going to the counter to fix the issue, the two girls tried to get the printed ticket set. After completing check-in and immigration, we waved goodbye to our parents and went into the terminal. Some of us exchanged money to prevent having to worry about it later on, while others already exchanged money beforehand. We had lunch and then boarded our flight to Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport. Landing in Bangkok was confusing, as the airport didn’t have much signage for transfer flights and there were many people going in and out of the terminal. However, after going through a second immigration, we had around an hour to relax and get re-situated. Two of us bought Thai sim-cards in the airport, while the rest were going to use their Singaporean numbers with data plans. There was a slight mixup with our gate and our flight was delayed, but we landed in Chiang Mai International Airport on time. We arranged for a shuttle service to pick us up from the airport, but there was confusion with where they would wait for us as international passengers are divided from domestic passengers, even if the flight was domestic. Eventually, we found the shuttle and drove to the hotel. It was a short distance and checking in was very quick. After setting our things down, we went to the hotel cafe to eat dinner and went to bed not long after. Overall a successful journey 🙂
Bright and early, we scheduled our day trek with Wild Planet to begin at 8 am. Wild Planet came and picked us up, and we were informed that we would be driving for around an hour to a market to pick up supplies, before continuing up to the mountain area where we would be trekking. It started out fairly cool, but the weather eventually warmed up, and by the time we reached the base of the mountain to quickly stop for a break, it was already quite warm out. The temperature was estimated to reach 38 degrees, but humidity would make it feel like 42. As we drove up the mountain, I started getting a bit carsick as the road was very windy, but it was a beautiful location, forested treescapes as far as the eye could see. The top of the mountain allowed a wide view of the surrounding lands, and our guide pointed out our final destination, approximately 15 km away. That was our first issue, as we anticipated the trek to only be around 5-7 km. While I have done several hiking trips before, they have never been in such warm weather, and I knew this would be a personal difficulty. The initial part of the trek was slower going and also easier than the later parts of the trek as the descent was not as steep and we were not in heavily wooded areas. On this part of the trek, our guide showed us many local Thai plants, including coffee and tea plants, along with several different fruits and vegetables. He also showed us a particular type of wood that easily burns and was once used as torches by the local hill tribes. During lunch, we stopped in a small village. In my past hiking trips, we did not get the opportunity to interact with the local culture, so I found this to be a slightly different experience compared to what I have done in the past. After lunch, our trek because much harder. We were in much steeper sections of the forest, with many uphill and downhill changes. The path was only wide enough for single file walking, so we all took turns in the various positions. There were some parts of the trek where I was quite scared because one side would be the side of the hill and the other side would be straight down. I was concerned that someone in my group would slip and would be injured. It was also getting progressively warmer, especially as we exerted more effort, so we started taking electrolytes to make sure we stayed properly hydrated. One of our group members became slightly heat-exhausted over the course of the trek, leading the rest of our group to take initiative for various small tasks, such as periodically giving her water, ensuring she wasn’t the last person, fanning her if she needed, and trading bags so she was carrying a lighter load. This sense of responsibility and teamwork was the most important aspect of the 7 hour trek, and we gained not only an appreciation for the Thai landscape and Hill tribe culture, but also an understanding of our personal strengths and weaknesses, along with how we could support each other using these discoveries.
I found and organized the cooking class that we went to on Monday for the aspect of Creativity. We decided on cooking because food is an important part of culture, and we wanted to be able to take what we had learnt back home through learning something practical. There are actually many different cooking schools in Chiang Mai, but I found a cooking school within walking distance of our hotel called Thai Akha Cooking School that looked interesting because we would get to experience going to a Thai market to buy ingredients before cooking a variety of dishes. It was only around 10 minutes or so to walk to the school, and after the other participants arrived, we went to a local Thai market. Our instructor showed us various different food dishes and ingredients that are important to Thai cooking. I noticed that many of these ingredients were familiar to me, as my mom grew up in Thailand and cooks Thai food fairly often. Additionally, Indonesian cuisine also uses similar ingredients. The entire cooking experience was nicely planned out by the cooking school, despite there being 10 different dishes to cook. We also learnt that the Akha in the name of the school refers to a particular hill tribe, which has their own cooking style that differs from traditional Thai dishes. This day was far less challenging than our trek, but more creative and interesting. The environment we were working in was friendly and inviting, and the situation
was a very dynamic and animated one. I wouldn’t say there were any downsides to the cooking class, other than the fact that is was essentially outside, and therefore very warm, and the fact that we made 10 dishes and ate them all. I personally really enjoyed learning how to cook as I don’t cook very often, and I don’t often cook complex dishes such as some ofthe ones we made. It was an overall fun experience for everyone, and time passed very quickly through the “learning process”.
On the evening of the 7th of December, UWC held a sort of caroling night for the Lower school students to enjoy, where they could come
with their family and bring some food and blankets to sing along with some Christmas carols for the evening. Earlier that week, Ms Stirrat asked a few of us in Sonos if we were free to help sing some songs on the Friday. Along with Georgia, Emily, Lydia, and Hannah from Bersama, we met on Wednesday to choose some Christmas carols that we wanted to perform. We settled on White Winter Hymnal, Silent Night, White Christmas, Hark the Angels, We Three Kings, and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. We spent around an hour and a half learning the different songs and testing some different ideas out. We decided to combine some of the songs and shorten certain parts, and tested the way our voices sounded with others, eventually coming up with partners in the song to sing different parts.
On the day, my service did not have a meeting, and I was therefore able to practice another time with the other girls. Considering the short amount of time we had, we were able to pull together most of the songs. However, we found out that instead of “performing” the carols, we would be singing along with the children, and inviting some of them to also get up and sing with us. This meant that instead of singing only 4-6 predetermined songs, we would actually be singing all 15 or so carols. Seems like a good idea, except for the minor fact that I am not familiar with many of the words or titles of carols, and therefore do not actually know which carols I can sing or not (Nothing quite like learning the song as you’re singing it into a microphone). We all covered for each other though, and there were adults singing with us as well, and many children, so the experiences wasn’t as daunting as performing in front of a large audience while being half prepared would normally be. It was all in good fun and Christmas cheer, and the children were even visited by Santa Claus. I got to know some of my other choir members and grade members, and learned some songs while we were at it.
For the past three sessions at RDA, I have been working with the same rider and horse, but with three different partners. The first week, I was with a partner who was from a different school but had worked at RDA before, the second time I was with someone from UWCSEA, and the last time I was with a partner who used to work at RDA when they were in high school. All in all, while it is definitely important to be able to work with different people, the whole situation is so new that working with constantly changing partners makes the dynamics of the session harder than it could be. It makes it harder to work together because we first have to get to know each other and also to know the rider and horse.
I wouldn’t say that it was necessarily easier to work with someone from UWCSEA because I also did not know many of the people from school that well. It was easier to work with the two partners who hadn’t come from school because they both had previous experience with the facilities and with other riders. Each time, I did need my partner to various extents, but I could have never done it alone. Having a partner allows for better support of both the rider and the side walkers, and is more safe. I still think safety is a huge concern. The goal is to push the rider to improve as much as they can, but I don’t really want to let go (Physically, as we stand on either size and support their legs). It’s really important to individually focus on how you can help the rider, but still be aware and responsive to the horse, your partner, the person leading the horse, and the instructors. You have to plan and initiate but also pay attention and listen.
The third session was difficult because my partner and I found that our rider was quickly getting tired and unhappy, and was rather unwilling to do the exercises. The lead instructor was getting angry with us because we could not convince her to do the activities as well as some of the other riders. This was slightly frustrating, because I think both my partner and I were trying very hard but also know that the rider themselves was tired with the activity. I don’t think either of us wanted to be pushy or mean. So it took patience, a lot of coaxing and praising: we both had to try new things for different outcomes. We had to try some new things and experiment to see what could work best for everyone.
Overall, it’s really important to challenge yourself and the rider, and try new things to meet a goal. You have to work together with everyone, but also be able to focus on yourself and your contributions.
What I have found in the past as I’ve done clubs and service is that I find creativity the easiest of the three to complete. Despite not taking any of the fine arts, I still enjoy participating in creative clubs to continue being able to have creativity in my school life. While I have already picked a year long creative club to join, I thought that participating in CultuRama would be a really special event that would just happen to count for creativity and action again. As a new student, it was really surprising to me that the school participated so heavily in dance, and that one of the largest events was a massive showcase of student led dances. One of my favorite activities is dancing, so I immediately wanted to participate.
But I was scared. Everyone described it to me as a massive wonderful performance, but very intensive to prepare for and time consuming. Some of my friends were even able to show me some of the dances from the previous years, and they all looked very challenging, albeit beautiful. But I watched the audition videos and decided to take a leap and sign up for Egypt, a style completely opposite to my favored style, and one I hadn’t often seen before. Another friend who wanted to audition as well practiced with me, and we worked on the steps together. At the end, I think we both felt much more prepared than when we first started, and we waited for the audition day, anticipation mixed with dread.
There were approximately 30 to 40 girls auditioning for Egypt, and most of them also came well prepared, but the audition went well enough, and I finished it as best I could and waited.
I didn’t get it, but my friend who I practiced with did. While I was slightly disappointed, I was very excited to see her perform, she’s a wonderful dancer and I think she deserves the spot in the final selection. But by chance, several groups requested to have re-auditions, and I decided to try something new. I chose to try India Ghoomar, a complicated, intricate traditional dance from Rajasthan led by two of my friends, and one that I didn’t think I would be able to learn in time for the deadline, the next day. I spent a few hours trying to decide if I really wanted to audition again, but my friends prodded me ahead.
The next day, I went to the Ghoomar audition, along with less than 8 other girls, and learned the steps to audition with. Similarly to the first Egyptian audition, it went rather smoothly, and I wasn’t sure of the outcome. Exhausted as I was, I re-auditioned for Egypt. There were far less girls this time, and I knew the dance better. While I knew it better, the outcome didn’t change. I didn’t get in.
But I did get in to Ghoomar, and I was extremely surprised by it. Not only was I surprised, I was uncertain. I don’t know much about Indian culture, and my experiences with dance could clash. I didn’t want to make mistakes while surrounded by people who identify with being a part of this culture.
I’m scared of culture appropriation, but this isn’t. This is appreciation for art. And I’m glad to be a part of it.
In 11th grade, and the first year of the IB Diploma Programme, each student choses a Local Service to participate in for the school year. Participating in Local Service allows the student to experience direct service, wherein the student would work directly with people, animals, or the environment to support a goal.
When looking at the options for Local Service, one that really stood out to me was one under the name “Support and Friendship with Riding with the Disabled (RDA)”, and I knew from the moment that I finished reading the description, that I really wanted to be a part of this service. I’ve done recreational horse riding in two countries for the past seven or so years, and I love being around horses. To me, and opportunity to share that excitement with others who may not have the same opportunities seemed perfect. I decided then that I really wanted to work with horses in order to help provide therapy and support to the disabled community in Singapore. Animal therapy is shown to have many positive effects on the body and mind, and horse therapy is one of the most dynamic. The movement of the horse helps loosen muscle tension and stabilize the core, promoting strength all around the body, especially good for children or adults who are rely on crutches or wheelchairs for support. I wanted to able to share my love for horses with others, the way that horse riding is good for the mind, and adapt that to how others could use it to be good for their body as well. I also went to the Riding for the Disabled Association website to read more about what the organization believes in and what they try to achieve. The organization is completely non-profit, the riders who come do not have to pay for their sessions, and the organization relies heavily on donations and charity events in order to support the stable and sessions.
On Friday the 14th of September, I travelled with the other members of my service group to the RDA stable, which is located between the Singapore Polo Club and the National Equestrian Centre. There, we met some other volunteers along with one of the instructors, who guided us through our first time, including the the checklist that we needed to complete and the forms for each rider. I think that one of the small goals that we completed as a group was gaining some understanding of the processes that we will go through weekly, and understanding the style of the stable. Each rider has three supporting people: one to lead the horse and two on either side to physically support and help guide the rider through different exercises.
From riding, I already knowhow to interact and be around horses in a safe manner, additionally I have previously done an activity where I helped beginners to prepare and guide the horse once they were seated. Therefore, I would stay that I am quite comfortable with my ability to be near a horse and also be able to help people who are new to being around horses. This will be one of my strengths that I start off with, although I know I will develop other strengths along the way.
As excited as I was to do this service, I also have a healthy dose of fear (or caution). Although horses can be very gentle animals, especially when trained to be a part of therapy, I still understand that there can be things outside of our control that can alarm, scare, or injure a horse, and that this could be very dangerous to the rider and to those of us in the arena. The member of my group who was leading the horse mentioned at the beginning that our particular pony could be slightly temperamental depending on different factors. This is more of a mental challenge than a physical one for me: to understand the difference between caution and fear. I didn’t know either of the two people that I was working with, as they were not part of UWC, however, they did have previous experience which I feel was important for my first time.
This activity is fairly new to me, not because of the fact that I have to be next to a horse walking, but because of the riders we work with. Although I am not unfamiliar to different physical or mental disabilities that members of all communities face, I don’t find myself working with them very often. The rider that I was working with was quite young, just 7 years old, and has Down Syndrome. There is the combination of age along with condition to work with, and boundaries, because I’m not sure what sort of relationship I am allowed to have with the riders.
I enjoyed myself, the young rider I was working with was extremely excited to be on a horse, and couldn’t wait to tell their mother at the end of the session. They did really well with the different activities, responding with the according action and having short conversations with me and my partner. It was a fun session working with her, and I hope to do so again next week.