It only seemed like yesterday when we first saw each other’s faces and sat down for our first meeting session. Fast-forward six to seven months later and amongst ourselves we have friendships forged, trust earned and memories that will last a lifetime.
The first 2 or 3 months were spent brainstorming for ideas of not only what to do for our trip and Hong Kah North Day Care Center (HKNDCC) visit, but also on what to give as souvenirs and gifts to the Vietnamese hosts and the elderly, both locally and Vietnamese. We also have to think of what to do for our fundraising event.
A downpour of ideas ensued and the results were extraordinary. There were unique ideas. For our fundraising event, our main ideas were setting up a carwash, selling key chains made of Pyssla beads and busking within school compounds.
Our first visit to HKNDCC was a challenge to me personally as I could not speak Chinese almost at all. Thankfully, I was given the role of photographer. We hired magicians to perform to the elderly and that was just the appetizer. Things really picked up when we played the “guessing game” with the elderly in which they have to guess the price of the product shown correctly to win the product itself. This was an idea suggested by JJ and it really got the elderly crowd going.
We then played bingo with the elderly and rounded off the visit by celebrating the birthdays of the elderlies in that particular month, which was September. There were about 3 or 4 elderly if I was not mistaken. They were particularly moved because with us there, it seems like they were celebrating their birthdays with their grandchildren.
We spent the rest of term 3 planning for the trip itself. Assessing risks, thinking of and preparing gifts while also coming up with one video per group. The remaining 16 Singaporean members were split into 4 groups and we were supposed to come up with a video that encompasses the topic of ‘happiness’ or ‘gratitude’. We also need to think of ideas to engage the Vietnamese elderly during our visit there.
Then, the fateful day finally arrived. 8 December 2013, we flocked at the airport at 6.30 am. We also happened to chance upon part of the Singapore team bound for the SEA games in Myanmar which I thought was a nice coincidence. After a restful 2-hour flight, we finally arrived in Vietnam. We used the first day to acclimatise to our surroundings.
Day 2 was an ice-breaker day, whereby we meet our Vietnamese hosts, staff and students of Thu Duc College of Technology (TDC), for the first time and introduce ourselves to one another. It was a day of interaction, discovery and destroying the language barrier.
Day 3 was lesson day, where we shared with the Vietnamese how to use a tripod, DSLR and a video camera. Also, the Vietnamese were split into 4 groups to assist the 4 Singaporean groups, with one Vietnamese group assisting one Singaporean group. We also think of ways to do the video that each group was supposed to do.
Day 4 was touring day, whereby we visited some places of interest in Ho Chi Minh City, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office (both District 1) and the Star Bridge (District 7). Our main purpose visiting these places, though, was to aid us in our group video work because the scenery, especially at the Star Bridge, was beyond gorgeous.
Day 5 was when we really started on shooting the music video, which was an initiative on our part to make something that both we and the Vietnamese hosts will remember through the coming years. We also got members of the public involved, especially during our visits to District 1 and the Chu Chi Tunnels. We pulled random people in to help us act in the video including tourists. At the same time, we continued with our group video work.
13 December 2013, a.k.a day 6, was our visit to the Chu Chi Tunnels some 40-odd kilometres Northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. On the way there we passed by huge farmlands and abundant fields of lush green, grazed upon by bulls and goats. Some of us have never seen rural areas before so we were snapping away our cameras despite the turbulence caused by the bus.
After some 2 hours of bus ride we finally made it. These tunnels are a good sport, I must say. Just travelling through them made me burn a good amount of calories. On the way back, the bus’s air conditioning broke down so we were forced to spend the rest of the bus ride with the windows open.
We spent the whole of day 7 completing 2 objectives: to prepare for the elderly nursing home visit and to record vocals for the song of the music video. With no established singers within the 16-member group, everyone had to take at least 10 recordings. Being the lead off hitter, I get the privilege of torturing the singers after me with laughter.
Day 8 arrived and we set off for the nursing home along with our Vietnamese friends. We kicked things off with a food tasting session, in which we let the elderly taste some of our local snacks. We then had another guessing game as we thought that it would engage the Vietnamese elderly as much as it did the local ones. The Vietnamese students (from another school) then performed a number of acts for the elderly before everyone sang some Christmas songs together. We rounded off the visit by making photo frames for the elderly and giving them photos that we took with the individual elderly. This ensures that every elderly has one photo frame each with their pictures in them.
We then proceeded to have lunch at a monastary, which was something totally new to me. On the way there, though, the bus broke down. Fortunately, it broke down opposite the monastary so all we had to do was to cross the road, the muddy patch of grass separating the opposite roads and the other road to get across to the monastary.
We spent days 9 and 10 finishing up our own group videos and the music video, with me mixing the song. I also composed the score to our group’s video, whilst also adding “Kung Fu Fighting” by Cee Lo Green and Jack Black for one of the scenes.
18 December 2013, a.k.a day 11, was to be our Gala Night, whereby we showcase the fruits of our efforts, exchange gifts and contacts to keep in touch and finally, say goodbye and part ways with our Vietnamese friends. It was a heartwarming moment for us all, some more so than others. The curtains had came down on the trip, but not the project, we still had one more post-trip activity to go.
And thus, we flew back to Singapore safe and sound on 19 December 2013. That was not the end of the project, however. On January the third, 2014, we accompanied the elderly of HKNDCC to Changi Airport for an outing. We basically just went around sightseeing and eating roti prata with them. They were really ecstatic in seeing us again and they were more interactive than they were the first time we went as they were more comfortable with us now.
Each SP student and staff was paired with one elderly and what surprised me most was that the elderly I was paired with was 95 years old but was very energetic. We then accompanied the elderly back to HKNDCC and said our final goodbyes to them and to each other and then we went on our own separate ways.
Thus, the curtain comes down on this Youth Expedition Project MELT3. I admit, I was very pessimistic about this whole project but after going through it, I really enjoyed myself and I hope the next batch will have as much fun, if not more fun, as our batch this year.