Spring Break Trip 2018: Singapore/Cambodia (Part 1)

by Nathan Yang, Grade 11

On March 11, a group of 14 students and two chaperones ventured on a once-in-a-lifetime cultural journey through Southeast Asia. Our journey would first take us to Singapore, where we would attend the three-day Model UN at the Lycée Français de Singapour while we explored the architectural beauty and cultural diversity of the small island nation of nearly six million. Then, our journey would find us in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we would take in an almost extreme opposite experience from Singapore, from tuk tuk rides to night market bargaining in Khmer to learning about the impacts of landmines throughout the country, the journey was more than just eye-opening, but it was a realization of how privileged we are in Canada.

It all began with a delayed flight. That afternoon, the 16 members of the trip were dreading the over 24 hours of travel from Victoria to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Singapore, but knowing that there were many jokes to have along the way we were optimistic about sitting in a cramped economy seat for hours on end. The seven-hour layover in Vancouver even gave me the time to prepare my speeches and information for the Model UN before passing out in the seat for an hour prior to the 2 a.m. departure to Hong Kong.

The next day, as the airplane took final descent into Singapore Changi Airport, looking out across the left wing I could see the stunning city skyline with the sea full of cargo ships meeting beautiful sandy beaches. Then, after trotting through the airport and customs, we took a coach bus to our hotel. On the drive into the city centre I couldn’t help but be in awe of not only the amazing city but the architectural madness that is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Three skyscrapers 15 metres taller than the Seattle Space Needle with an amazing skypark and infinity pool connecting the three towers at the top spanning over three rugby pitches. To me, it almost looks as if someone took a massive container ship and parked it on top of three skyscrapers.

That night, our group went out to explore the Chinatown area of Singapore, where we sampled some wonderful food.

The following day, the group went out on an exploration day around Singapore. First, we went to the National Museum of Singapore to brush up on some of the history of the country. I learned that Singapore has a rich history in managing as a major Asian trade hub under the British control, and following many disputes (including the Japanese invasion during the Second World War), Singapore has developed into a dominant economic powerhouse in Asia. Then, we headed over to the Marina Bay Sands where we were able to head up to the top of the tower and view the amazing city and the great blue ocean just beyond the gardens. Even more so from this vantage point, I was amazed at the amount of container ships that were anchored just metres off the coast of the beach. I could never imagine that it would be allowed for these gigantic ships to simply anchor right near the coast in North America. This view completely changed my perspective on regulation and health considerations in Asia.

After that, we went down to the Gardens by the Bay nature park where we were able to view the amazing fauna placed in the centre of the city and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at 50 metres high. At that point, I was simply amazed at what such a small country could stuff into such a small space and make it so clean, green and beautiful.

For the next three days, we continued our journey by attending the event we came for: the Singapore Model UN. In the conference, SMUS delegates represented Portugal, Ethiopia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Nonviolent Peace Force. As for myself, I represented the delegation of Portugal in the environmental committee where we debated resolutions to issues such as universal access to potable water, the reduction of reliance on consumer plastic and strategies to implement disaster relief in countries devastated by natural disasters.

In my opinion, as this was my first Model UN, I thought the conference went extremely well! I was able to give a speech at the beginning of the conference to my committee regarding my country’s stance on the issues and was able to give some great POIs (Points of Information) to question some of the amendments and remarks made by other delegates. However, I thought the best thing to come out of this experience was the new friends I was able to make. Though we travelled the furthest to get to the conference, other delegates came from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, and even Saudi Arabia. I am so happy to have been able to have great chats over lunch or during breaks with them about their own life from where they live and to be able to tell them about what Canada is like. Overall, Model UN was extremely fun and I am so glad to have been able to experience it on this journey.

Then, after the event was over, we headed over to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Although it was only about an hour and a half fight away, it seemed as if we stepped into a completely different world. A world where regulations on the road didn’t mean much – anyone of any age could ride a motorbike under 125cc. There, the trash was burned instead of being taken from homes for waste management. And the days were a blistering 42 degrees Celsius and humid! Each day, I would sit there and sweat would be pouring off my face like the waterfall I saw back in Singapore! Nevertheless, we had arrived and were ready to experience Siem Reap.

For the next few days, we experienced things such as a rides through the crazy streets in tuk tuks, the sunrise at the famous temple Angkor Wat, and night market bargaining. Also, with the tour company that we stayed with throughout the trip, Ayana Tours, we learned about many topics including the history of Cambodia, the impact of landmines after the war, the effects of voluntourism, and how to cook a delicious traditional Cambodian dinner.

What stuck with me was learning about the impact of landmines. I was shocked to learn about how these mines that were placed back in the 70s and 80s are still hurting and killing hundreds throughout the country. For example, a farmer could be using his tractor to plow a field and accidentally trigger an anti-tank mine sitting undetectable a few feet below the surface of the soil. And with so many developed countries such as Thailand so close to the issues, and China’s and Korea’s investments into the country as well, I question why they don’t help Cambodia in fixing the issues.

For the last two nights, we travelled to a small town about three hours away from Siem Reap called Banteay Chhmar where we had an opportunity to live with a local homestay. During that time, we experienced life in rural Cambodia where we farmed cassava roots, rode on a single axle tractor and trotted through Banteay Chhmar temple. This experience for me was once-in-a-lifetime. Never would I have thought that I would be out in rural Cambodia, so far away from technology yet so close to my friends and the community. It made me realize that I need to step outside my comfort zone more often and to take chances in every regard.

From attending my first ever Model UN in Singapore to farming cassava roots in the rural farmlands of Cambodia to travelling with the best and most open group of friends, it is safe to say that my experience on this Singapore/Cambodia trip was once-in-a-lifetime. Each activity challenged my thoughts and ideas about the political landscape of the world, as traveling from one of Asia’s most prosperous economies to one of Asia’s poorest gave me a new perspective into the actions and opportunities I can take part in back home in North America.

This trip was not only an incredible opportunity to visit and learn about a completely different culture, but it allowed us to make new friends and make memories that will follow us forever. As our homestay in Cambodia told us: We are the generation that is capable of changing the world. And this trip definitely made me realize that 0 degrees Celsius in Canada is actually not bad at all.

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Nathan Yang is a Senior School student at St. Michaels University School.

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