Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art!
Granted, the years may pass and even dreams may grow old, but I shall look back to this night as well as these 7 days, and find a journey of friendships, of strength, of growth, and most importantly, of a young man’s most precious dreams coming into life under a starry, starry night.
I woke up early in the morning. The sun came up, bringing laughter as well as bustling activity as we all set off to breakfast and our respective activities. For me the entire first day of activities was on the community project, where we had to help build a toilet for the local school.
As soon as we arrived, the instructor gave us a short briefing to explain the significance of our volunteer work. She told us that in fact because most of the children who join these primary schools have come from Burma (for their parents have escaped over the border into the hills of Thailand to escape the oppressive regime), they are not officially registered. Government funding for the school is thus not representative of the amount of children actually in the school, and hence community work from volunteers like us are of crucial importance. As I gazed upon the faraway mountains that acted as both the home of these children and the border of Thailand and Myanmar, I felt this sense of awe course through my veins. Here I am, thousands of miles away from home, standing right on the soil of a country where many problems I’ve studied are actually right before me…as a passionate student of history, this was in a way a huge step forward to me in terms of understanding global issues. The mountains were shrouded in mist, but within its dense forests must hide generations and generations of stories, just like how each and every brick in this school holds a story, a dream, a hope for a better world, from both the volunteers and the students.
Being so close to these stories make the air I breathe seem so much more breathtaking.
The laboring part of the community project was surprisingly enjoyable. Our group was tasked to dig a 2-metre wide hole as well as shovel sand to fill up the base of the toilet. At the beginning, our work was slow and disorganized because we were each working on our own. Having realized this inefficiency, we developed a plan of working together: we would work as a sort of a “chain”, with each person in charge of a certain area of work and swapping with each other at regular intervals. We laughed, we worked, we splattered each other with mud…time sped by as quickly as the wind picked up our joy. As cliché as it might sound, working on this project made me not only understand the importance of teamwork, but also of commitment. Since the pit-digging required a lot of strength two of our strongest classmates took up the work, but it was evident that at some point they were tiring quickly. Even though I was horrible at doing physical labor I still opted to replace them for a while, to show them that we’re all in this together, and we appreciate their every effort.
It was not before long that we were on our way back to the resort. As night settled in and the resort began to light up, I saw my serenity reflected back at me in the tranquil silence of the night sky.
I expected Day 3 to be a nightmare; it turned out to be something I wouldn’t forget for a lifetime. After having heard from various people how dirty, dangerous, steep, slippery…the Fang Hike was going to be, knowing my physical capabilities I was mortified. It did not look like anything I could possibly conquer, and thus with a huge gulp and a heart packed with dread I got off the bus and began the hike up the hill, treading on concrete road that seemed like a giant pan.
I nearly wanted to give up at the cave. The first parts were fine, I didn’t fall a single time during the entire process. Everything seemed relatively cheerful until I arrived at the slope.
When I saw the rope, all the positive emotions I had been building inside me came tumbling down. I wanted to scream and run and scream and just get out.
But there was no way out. The only way was up, and to do so I had to grab on to the rope and scale a slope.
As I slugged upwards, holding onto the rope for dear life as well as the slope, there were moments when I simply wanted to leave. I wanted to go. I could not do this I’m going to fail oh no oh no nononononoNO –
As a war waged within my head, a group of tourists calmly and happily passed me, trekking up the slope without the help of a rope.
And so I told myself to calm down. I told myself that since there is no way out, and I’m going to be stuck here for eternity if I don’t move, I have to try. And just go. And just reach for the light, something I had never dared to do in my past 16 years of life.
And just like that, I did it. I got up the slope, I made it. I took a step, and it took me out into the light.
With this sort of attitude, I survived the hike. I climbed through jagged rocks, running streams, paths too thin for me, paths too rocky for me. I stumbled. I wanted to give up. I called for help.
But most importantly, I trusted myself. I took a step out, and the world repaid me with all the vibrant colors I saw on the hike. The lush trees swayed as though a quiet sonnet, the wind whispered words of freedom in my ears, and as we finally arrived at our destination where the bus would pick us up, a sea of flowers greeted our sight, a host of wondrous beauty that perhaps only the daffodils immortalized in Wordsworth’s poetry can contest.
I thought to myself, someday, I’m going to write this down in this great novel I’m going to write. Not only the flowers, not only the cliffs, not only the jagged rocks and slippery stones and all that, but also the bravery I found within myself. The bravery that brings us towards victory even at the hardest of times.
I originally had high hopes for teaching at the local primary school; in fact, I thought it was going to be the only highlight in the entire trip, for it has always been my dream to be a teacher, and every teaching experience holds a precious place in my heart.
However, things completely did not go as I intended. To start with, the planning process was strewn with rocks and obstacles – my groupmates and I couldn’t decide on what to do because we disagreed over what our primary objective was. They wanted to teach them how to ‘understand’ English and be able to apply it; whereas in my perspective the kids were only Primary 1 and all we should do is to just raise their interest in the language, to make them comfortable using it. In the end after rather…intense discussion we settled on some activities and games.
Unfortunately things completely did not work out as we planned because of the language barrier that existed between us and the children. If they could not understand what we were saying, how then could we carry out any activities? It got to the point where for the first two groups of children we were to teach, we couldn’t do anything so we let them just play around with the material we have prepared (alphabet sheets). It really made me doubt myself, yet at the same time I couldn’t show it to the kids because as a teaching figure I was responsible for engaging them, not the other way round.
Through brief discussion we soon decided to play with the kids outdoors by ‘improvising’ our activities, but they were to limited effect. Just as I was about to completely give up, the teachers announced that break time was out, and because boys will be boys, everyone flocked over to play football. I stayed behind in the school hall, hoping to take some rest, but instead I was greeted by a bunch of adorable children who climbed all over me and hugged me and demanded piggybacks and showed me karate (their improvised version of it)…the hall rang with broken English, occasional Thai, lots of footsteps, and most importantly, laughter.
It was thus I realized that the most important thing I could give to the children was not anything I could “teach”. What I could give them was exposure to an environment where they had to learn to communicate with someone who completely does not know their language. I could envision one day when these children would grow up, when the entire of the family rested upon their shoulders, then they would have to go out for jobs (particularly around the APEC region). Would these kids with bright shining eyes and wonderful laughs one day become silent young men and women, working in an unknown environment of English that they simply cannot communicate it? Would the heat and passion in their eyes be one day replaced by the cold patters of rain? It pained my heart to think of that, and this is exactly why my volunteering work has meaning: because it makes them learn how to communicate with an English speaker, something they will find useful many years later, when they’re out to explore the world.
Sometimes being a teacher doesn’t mean that I always get I want to do; it’s so much more about what my students need the most. If what these children need is someone to play with them, someone to show them care, someone to give them some laughter on their face, then that’s what I’ll do.
Someday, perhaps when I’m old and tired of teaching, I’ll look back, and I’ll find perhaps somewhere, a photo of this very day – a photo of me huffing and puffing, carrying a child on my back, rushing towards the “finish line” as part of a piggyback race. I’ll remember that years and years ago, when I haven’t even become a teacher, I made one of my ‘students’ smile as brightly as the sun.
And I’m confident that it’s going to rekindle my passion for teaching no matter what.
Because making one’s student smile is exactly why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.
As I write, my mind once again wanders back to that starry night where I looked upon the stars and found a piece of my own soul reflected back at me.
After I parted with my friend, I returned, once again, walking through the concrete path, feeling much more light-hearted and cheerful. As I opened the door to my room, I was greeted with a room of smiles, each radiating from a person I hold dear to heart.
Indeed, the CAS trip is just as much about friendships and bonding as it is about individuals surpassing their own limits. Sometimes there are trials and turbulences that we must learn to brave on our own, but more often we must learn to face difficulties and challenges together as a team. There have been countless occasions, no matter physical or mental, during this trip or back at HK, which I could never have dreamed of being able to face if not for these very people.
I used to think that the only single indication of whether a person cared about me or not and whether we were truly ‘close’ friends was by examining how much time we spent together, and this has led me to countless moments where I felt sad and alone and neglected. But this trip has taught me otherwise. For a true friend is one who will stand by your side whenever you need him, and that bond between the two of you will surely transcend space and time. Perhaps parting may be inevitable in the end, but knowing that somewhere in this world there is someone who will always care and hold you close to heart is all that it takes for us to continue braving the journey ahead.
Oh bright star, would I were as steadfast as thou art, not only in my dreams and passions, but also in trusting, in connecting, in caring and in guarding over all those I hold dear to heart.
And so in a blink of an eye 7 days drifted by, and it was time to return. Months later, sitting here in the library, typing the finishing touches of this piece of travel prose, time seemed to me a mirage, a reflection in the river of life, flooding me with memories and emotions I would treasure for a life time.
As I looked up, rubbing my eyes in fatigue from looking at the computer screen for too long, I found familiar faces all around me, each hard at work, desperate to gain the most out of each and every second of their lives. These very same people had journeyed to me with Thailand, journeyed with me up the highest hills of the Fang and down to the great rivers of Kok, and are now journeying with me on this path of life.
And that’s when I realized the journey would never end.
While the CAS trip might only have lasted for 7 days, and while one day we’ll all part and head towards different directions, the journeys that we’ve taken and the roads that we’ve walked will always stay with us. We might not talk about them every single day, our memory may get hazy at some point, and there might also be a chance that some of these journeys and paths we would forget. But some day, when we need them the most, I’m sure they’ll all come back to us, embracing us as though old friends.
And with this in mind, I’m ready to embark towards my next journey into the unknown, with the memories and experiences of this trip shining above me, steadfast as bright as though the North Star, guiding us travelers on.
CAS Trip 2017