Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Afterthoughts of Macau Holiday Trip with The Changed Man (Day 2 of 3)

Day 2/Dim Sum Breakfast/Macau Island/0900hrs

It was a really cold morning and our stomachs were grumbling for a nice hot breakfast. Not knowing which shops were opened for business, we donned on our jackets and started searching the streets of Macau until we found a corner-sited Chinese restaurant selling dim sum. We ordered meatball porridge, shrimp dumplings, some roasted pork buns and washed them down with hot Chinese tea. Satisfied, we pored through the tourist map, deciding that day to be spent visiting the various world heritage sites on Macau Island.

Day 2/Visiting World Heritage Sites/Macau Island/1000hrs

We started by heading towards the famous A-Ma Temple at the south-western tip of Macau Island and as we walked through streets of Macau Island, I could not help but be amazed by how narrow the pedestrian walkways were and how the residential houses reminded me of Hongkong. They were really tightly-packed, a tad dirty and gloomy but all of these were muted by the shivering cold in the morning. We passed by only a handful of locals and odd backpacking tourists before we arrived at the already crowded A-Ma Temple - so that was where they gathered in the morning.

Both the Changed Man and myself bought huge incense sticks and began praying at the main temple hall (there were quite a few small temples including a huge Tai-Yi stone at the top of the small knoll). There was also a bronze cauldron for people to try and rub their hands on until the cauldron vibrates but we were interested in pressing on as there were at least another ten more sites to visit.

Subsequently, we visited the Lilau Square, the Mandarin's House, St Lawrence Church, and stopped at St Joseph's Church. The latter was worth a more detailed mention here because it was such a beautiful Portuguese church, with every nook and corner filled with something divine and related to Christianity. The whole place was imbued with a solemn and stately feel that one cannot help but keep one's volume down to really enjoy the visit there.

We then moved on to visit the signature Senado Square, Ruins of St Paul's, Mount Fortress and of course, the Macau Museum at the summit of Mount Fortress. The Museum was very well-decorated with relics from both Portuguese and Chinese heritage, which showed the fusion of the two cultures on Macau itself. I loved the display formats within the museum as they had very clear and different ways to present actual artifacts or even replicas with minimal barriers so one can get really close to the artifacts.

Day 2/Buying Local Goodies To Bring Back Home/Macau Island/1200hrs

The Changed Man dragged me into this store Koi Kei Bakery to buy some of the local goodies to bring back which includes black sesame biscuits, almond cookies and egg rolls. Not wanting to miss out since I like to eat, I bought as much as I could carry before we headed back to Metropole Hotel to unload and take a small break from all the walking up and down the slopes, nooks and corners for the entire morning.

Day 2/More Casino Visiting/Macau Island/1500hrs

The Changed Man fell asleep again and not wishing to wake him up, I took the liberty to watch more television until he managed to rouse himself up again. The poor sod was overworking and the trip was more like some form of escape from the drudgery. Feeling hungry again, we hunted down the elusive Portuguese egg tart store (which I could not remember the name..haha) and shoved down some egg tarts before proceeding to visit more casinos - Casino Wynn and Casino MGM Grand. I remember Casino Wynn better because we managed to catch a mechanized performance of some golden tree and a beautiful rooftop that opened up to reveal a gigantic chandelier. A lot of the gamblers were throwing money onto the tree, hoping to get some good luck for their gambling later on. Casino or not, I like places that offer a twist for the people milling within because they add that kind of excitement and anticipation which is seriously lacking in Singapore's shopping malls.

Day 2/Dinner at Portuguese Restaurant/Macau Island/1900hrs

The Changed Man wanted to watch some soccer match at any pub he could find in Macau so we went to look around but after more than one hour, we still could not find any working pubs. We settled down for a nice dinner at some Portuguese restaurant located at the south-western tip of Macau Island with red wine and a five-course dinner. I remembered I had some appetizer vegetables, soup, some really interesting sardines, steak and desserts with some odd nut powder I could not recognize. It was one slow dinner but we were more than happy to be out of the way of the coldness.

Day 2/Soccer Pub Hunting/Macau Island/2200hrs
Rejuvenated by the food, we kept on asking passers-by until we managed to find a small stretch of soccer pubs on the far side of that section of shops near Avenida de Sagres. Most of the pubs were quite poorly decorated and the only one which seemed decent enough with a proper screen and live singing performances was that place called Moonwalker. On hindsight, Singapore has a much better pub culture - more variety, better pubs and crowds. We ordered some gin volka and chicken wings and watched the match before Manchester United and Wolves but the Changed Man was actually trying to find the Arsenal match. By around 0100hrs, we were heading back to Metropole Hotel again for the closure of the day.

(Stay tuned for the third and final blog post on Day 3 of the Holiday Trip to Macau)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Afterthoughts of Macau Holiday Trip with The Changed Man (Day 1 of 3)

Day 1/Prelude/On a cab towards Budget Terminal/1030hrs
A chance to go on a holiday - finally - after slogging for a year at work and attending a couple of volunteering camps in December. The trip to Macau was planned within the space of a few hours because The Changed Man (A VIP friend of mine) was so busy with work that he could only grab leave from work on the day before and he was actually in full work attire when he turned up to meet me at the Budget Terminal in Singapore prior to our flight itself.

We packed really light and with no exact plan in mind, we hopped onto the flight we booked and off we go on a holiday together to explore Macau - a group of three islands - the casino city of Asia.

(Photos are still inside The Changed Man's superior camera phone. Will upload them once I have them on hand.)

Day 1/Budget Terminal/Singapore Changi/1230hrs

My first time taking Tiger Airways from the Budget Terminal in Changi. The seats were really cramped and there wasn't any entertainment onboard. I must have looked so bored from studying the lines on my palms that the Singaporean middle-aged couple offered their Straits Times newspapers for me to read. Thankfully, that helped me pass some time for the four hour flight.

Day 1/Macau International Airport/Taipa Island/1630hrs

Customs are tough and vague in Macau International Airport and after several attempts, I finally got the arrival and departure blue slips right by running to and fro from the check-in counters to the writing counters several times, much to the amusement of the customs officials. Hey, it's my first time in Macau and nobody told me that the slips are to be filled in together in the midst of all the frantic rush by the frequent travelers.

The first thing I grabbed after clearing the customs was a tourist map of Macau. The map was one bizarre labyrinth of streets clustered with hotels, sightseeing venues, casinos, residential housing, colonial fortresses and churches. That would take some head-scratching to interpret them all to plan some decent itinerary.

The weather was blisteringly cold when we waited at the taxi stand. An icy northern wind was blowing across the whole island and temperature plummeted to 12 Degrees Celsius in a matter of hours.

Day 1/Metropole Hotel/Macau Island/1730hrs

Finally checked into the hotel that the Changed Man had booked last minute. The room rate was unfortunately higher since it was done at last notice - around 660 SGD for a 3D2N stay. I was a little skeptical since the hotel was nothing much to look at from the exterior - a bland-looking building smack right alongside a busy mainstreet road but I was delightfully surprised when we entered the room. It was on the top floor and was actually an executive suite with sofa, two televisions, two bathrooms, one bathtub, bedroom on the second floor and an excellent view of the island of Macau itself.

Day 1/God of Kitchen Restaurant (食神)/ Macau Island/1830hrs

Our first dinner was at a fairly large restaurant tucked at one of the many streets of Macau Island nearby to our Hotel. The Changed Man ordered some salted egg toufu, green kailan, duck meat stir-fried with beans and Peking Duck.

Day 1/Touring The Grand Lisboa, Lisboa/Macau Island/2030hrs

Casinos are the main attractions in Macau and obviously I am not going to miss the chance to tour the casinos even though I don't even gamble at all. After dinner, we made our way down the streets and came across The Grand Lisboa and Lisboa Casino - brother casinos of the same company and their differences - the stakes at each time. Lisboa is the less glitzy one with stakes from HKD200 while Grand Lisboa can easily be at HKD500 onwards. They have every game imaginable - baccarat (the most popular one), blackjack, slot machines, dominoes, texas poker, dice, roulette and many discreet VIP rooms for the high rollers whom I imagine to put at least HKD10,000 per hand. I shudder at the sheer amount of money that changed hands in the space of just one night in one casino alone, let alone the twenty odd ones in Macau itself.

Being the less experienced when it comes to casinos, I asked The Changed Man what the average working hours of the croupiers are and the answer came in: easily more than 14hours. No wonder some of the croupiers were haggard looking and yawning away whenever their supervisors were not looking. As I have studied a couple of modules in architectural design when I was still an undergraduate, I turned my attention to the designs of the casinos - high ceiling, plenty of glided gold, ambient light to reflect on the glitz and glamor intended to seduce the customers with extra wads of money to spend on.

Day 1/Metropole Hotel/Macau Island/1030hrs

Lazing on the bed watching B.I.O channel on the bedroom wall. The Changed Man was fast asleep and snoring away. I had a hot shower to fend off the coldness in my bones and was trying to figure out about compulsive hoarding which is being featured on the television program then. Maybe gamblers themselves are also compulsive hoarders too - they hoard winning streaks to boost to friends and peers? Hmm...maybe...

Yes, I am a weird person who suddenly watches psychology related shows in the middle of a holiday trip. Oh well, I like to learn new things everyday, no matter where I am and I knocked out around midnight. Zzzzz....

Stay tuned for the next two blog posts on what I did for the remaining impromptu trip at Macau. ^__^

Sunday, June 19, 2011

World Vision Singapore 30 Hour Famine Camp 2011 @ Ngee Ann Polytechnic from 17 June to 18 June 2011 Camp Review and Afterthoughts

Finally, after a long hiatus at blogging, I've finally found something to blog about extensively - my most recent camping experience at World Vision Singapore's 30 Hour Famine Camp 2011.

The 30 HOUR FAMINE Camp in Singapore aims to transform the mindset of youth in Singapore towards issues of poverty, and to motivate campers to take action steps towards achieving change.

This is the third time I joined them as a Camp Facilitator to try and do some good. My primary objective is, of course, to help World Vision Singapore reach out to the youths of Singapore through experiential activities in the camp to raise awareness about poverty and hopefully, spur them further to help impoverished children around the world through World Vision Singapore's various programs. My secondary objective is to do something I enjoyed all my life - camping and leading groups to achieve something for themselves so they can grow to become better persons through camping.

For this particular camp review and afterthoughts, I shall be going through the key activities within the camp which started from 17 June 2011 at 1300hrs and concluded at 18 June 2011 1900hrs and bring across my thoughts about the hits and the misses of the camp. It is intended to provide a clear reflective view of what has transpired through what I have seen for myself so that readers of this camp review can have different perspectives through which they can understand the camp better and learn more about it if they have not experienced it themselves during that duration.

To conveniently sum up my thoughts for readers who wanted something to reflect all those wordy paragraphs, I will use a
blue to signify my personal approval of each key activity or a red ☹ to represent my personal disapproval of each key activity.

Click the subheadings for beautiful camp photos provided and uploaded on Facebook by Eric Chow, one of the volunteer photographers of the camp.

Without further ado, here we go...

Day 1/1300hrs/Opening Ceremony:

The Camp Facilitators, Logistics Warriors, Game Masters were already waiting in positions to receive the newly-minted campers from the Convention Hall of Ngee Ann Polytechnic. None of these groups actually attended the Opening Ceremony of the 30 Hour Famine Camp 2011 because we had plenty to do - final administration work and program briefing for the facilitators before the campers were released, logistics (primarily water and securing of the bags of the campers) to be moved around, game stations to be set up and checked by Game Masters so that campers can enjoy Day 1's experiential activities without a hitch. Personally, I would love to enjoy watching the Opening Ceremony with the campers but I suppose this arrangement, which differs from previous Famine Camps I had attended, is better because there was so much more groundwork to be done and those groundwork was better coordinated if all those three groups of camp volunteers were not inside the convention hall for the Opening Ceremony.
X 1

Day 1/1430hrs/Beginning of 4 Phases of Experiential Activities:

One of the major highlights of Day 1 is the experiential activities which are divided into four phases. Once the campers has been grouped into "families" of different "countries", they are briefed by the Camp Facilitators about their objectives which will included accumulating iconic food, water, health vaccinations, education and monetary savings in Game Dollars for their respective families to survive in simulated Third World conditions. The Campers were then to explore Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a very simple map and a token sum of 10 Game Dollars for the entire "family" which averages around 10 family members comprising of Family Head, Family Vice Head, Adults and Children. I loved the series of experiential activities because it allowed the Campers time to bond together and interact with one another to solve problems at dozens of Game Stations scattered around the campus grounds of Ngee Ann Polytechnic. I am glad World Vision Singapore did not deviate from this and continued to use interesting Game Stations to test the strengths, tenacity, intelligence and even wits of Campers.
X 2

Day 1/1500hrs/Dialogue In The Dark (D.I.D):

Dialogue In The Dark is a completely new program in the camp itinerary compared to previous 30 Hour Famine Camps. This is like a blind man's trail but it is conducted in a completely dark maze and small groups are actually led by visually-handicapped guides through a selection of tours with different themes. The idea is to let Campers experience the loss of use of their sight in the maze so they have to rely on other senses to find their way inside, listening to instructions, learning how to trust their fellow group mates, overcoming simple obstacles within and learning how important it is to communicate in such a context. As a Camp Facilitator, I have already experienced D.I.D and I thought it was quite a challenging and intriguing experience which lasted approximately about 20 to 30minutes.
X 2

Day 1/1500hrs/Bottleneck outside D.I.D:

A problem developed when one of the groups inside D.I.D was delayed long enough for other groups to start gathering outside, creating a bottleneck as only five Campers from each "family" got to experience D.I.D, which meant those five members had to suspend their Phase 1 or even Phase 2 activities to wait outside D.I.D and that actually defeated part of the experiential purpose of the Phase 1 to Phase 4 activities as the "families" were split up and thus could not really bond well enough to be tackling Phase 3 and Phase 4 as a closer "family" unit. Personally, I thought D.I.D should not be interjected within the experiential activities, which would disrupt the flow of the activities but it should be made as a separate activity on perhaps Day 2 instead, alternating with some of the written work activities. This bottleneck obviously was not a good thing in the camp.
☹ X 1

Day 1/2300hrs/Sleeping Arrangements:

The female Campers and female Camp Facilitators were to sleep in LT56 while their male counterparts are to sleep in Block 50. So after collecting our bags in the holding area, I made my way to Block 50 with other Campers and Camp Facilitators. Block 50 was a way off from the Convention Hall area and the bag holding area so it was quite a trudge for many who were now running on empty engines and fatigued from an entire day's worth of physical activities. Most of the male Campers were too restless, however, to fall asleep and they were trying to clean themselves up as best as they could since there was no shower heads available for anyone to use. The Camp Facilitators were quick to fall asleep as they knew they had a long day ahead the next day. After briefing my roomful of Campers about how to overcome some of the possible "uncleanliness" from the story I had heard from Ngee Ann Polytechnic Campers about Block 50, I turned in at around 12.30am and woke up at 5.30am, giving myself a full five hours of undisturbed sleep. The next morning, a number of Campers and Camp Facilitators were grumbling about how cold the place was for all the sleeping rooms had air-conditioning within. For me, I think the accommodations were much better than most of the other camps I had attended.
X 1

Day 2/0900hrs/Fish To Infinity:

Fish To Infinity is one of the less physically demanding activities in the camp which requires Campers to break into small groups to come up with a business proposal to help children. The Campers were given some parameters to work with and they had to submit the proposal after consulting information within a catalogue provided by World Vision Singapore. As the Camp Facilitators were not briefed or trained to provide any direct guidance to help the Campers, most of the Camp Facilitators just left the Campers to their own for their brainstorming sessions. I felt that forty-five minutes were a little too short for proper organization of a decent proposal and some of the Campers made use of this time to take naps instead of participating. Perhaps, more could be done if Camp Facilitators had a preview of the catalogue and a better idea of how to assist the Campers instead of milling around. X 1 + ☹ X 1

Day 2/1100hrs/R.O.M.A.S:

This is an outreach activity aimed at Campers to interact with members of the public outside key shopping venues along Orchard Road so as to raise public awareness of World Vision Singapore, its 30 Hour Famine Camp, as well as the plight of children who are in dire need of help. It involved photo-taking sessions with members of the public, as well as Campers to take jump shots and creative shots of themselves to be uploaded to a specific Flickr account created by World Vision Singapore. My group had only about less than twenty minutes outside Paragon to accomplish all the activities and I thought it was far too short compared to the originally allocated ninety minutes so most of the photos taken were hurried though the Campers enjoyed the short excursion away from the confines of the camping grounds.

I thought the outreach was successful to a good extent but it could have been better if the Campers stayed at Orchard Road longer with more planned activities to keep them in the limelight. Then again, activities along Orchard Road always had to go through stringent checks and approval from the Singapore Police Force.
X 1 + ☹ X 1

Day 2/1400hrs/Reflection Time:

Reflection times are necessary in such camps as they involve more cozy discussions about learning points which should be aligned with the learning objectives of the various camp activities and overall camp focus - awareness and action. Most of the Camp Facilitators had gone through at least two and a half day's worth of training, which is a good thing but the reflection time in that afternoon stretched more than three hours till 1700hrs. That posed a serious problem for Camp Facilitators whom some of them commented that they were running out of ice-breaking games to play and were worried that idling time would bring the thoughts of hunger back into the minds of the Campers who had then been keep busy since the moment they woke up.

Fortunately, the Camp Facilitators from my country, Ethiopia, whom I wished to commend publicly here, were a resilient bunch who tried their best to keep the Campers entertained after reflection time by combining all the "families" under Ethiopia for mass games. A total of three mass games were played which somehow worked the Campers to peals of laughter, brought smiles to their faces and thankfully took one hour off the possible idling time. I guessed somehow this lengthy time slot did bring the Campers and Camp Facilitators closer. I just thought more ice-breakers taught to the Facilitators, some of them who were completely new to facilitating groups, during pre-camp training, would have helped a little more in situations like that.
☺ X 1 + ☹ X 1

Day 2/1800hrs/Closing Ceremony:

The Closing Ceremony was much more entertaining than the previous year as the performers were much better prepared and they took efforts to whip up the mood of the audience who were hungry but ecstatic enough to enjoy popular English songs. Some of the more energetic ones even stood up to dance! I recalled games played by deejays from FM91.3, a cheer-leading performance, two sets of songs performed by Jack and Rai and a female singer whom I could not remember her name at the moment. There was then a countdown event though the official Break Fast timing was supposed to be at 1900hrs (which marked the official end time for the 30 Hour Famine Camp itself) but the Closing Ceremony ended at around 1920hrs.

Dismissal from the Convention Hall was also delaying the collection of the break fast meals and I thought the delays were probably excruciating for those Campers who had already made plans after the Break Fast timing of 1900hrs
. After more than thirty camps under my belt, I completely understood that no camp could end exactly on the dot but the thing was that the Facilitators were not briefed on such a contingency and thus some of them were a little lost when Campers asked about delays and collection procedures of the Break Fast meals.☺ X 3 + ☹ X 1

Day 2/1930hrs/Break Fast Meal Collection:

That, in my opinion, was the biggest and most visible glitch in the 30 Hour Famine Camp 2011 because by the time my group of Campers were dismissed from the Convention Hall where the Closing Ceremony was held at, it was already past 1930hrs and without knowing exactly where to collect the meals, I only managed to spot two queues forming outside the Hall. I joined one of them only to find out that that was but the drinks queue and the other one was actually for the food. Deciding to collect drinks first since I was far ahead in the queue, someone then shouted to the Facilitators there to get a helper from the Campers since there was a lot to carry. That posed an immediate problem because I had already dispatched my Camper to the allocated Facilitation Venue which was at least 400 meters away from the queue. So I took out some large plastic bags to try and carry every packet of drink and food for my group as I moved to queue the food queue.

To my utter dismay, the food distributors announced that they ran out of rice and thus everyone had to wait for at least 15 to 20 minutes for the next batch of rice to be cooked. The time on my watch was nearly 2000hrs so I decided to head back to my group of Campers and dismiss them straightaway without the Break Fast meal as they would be waiting far longer than 20 minutes on empty stomachs. It was, of course, not a good piece of news, because some of them seemed really keen to break fast on an official note but a few were really in a big hurry to leave the Camp as their parents were waiting. I made the decision but I was in quite a foul mood as I thought the Break Fast was an important finale to the Camp and should have been more well-prepared instead and that it was not the first time World Vision Singapore had organized a 30 Hour Famine Camp. After talking to the various members of the organizing committee, I finally verified the reason behind - the newly appointed food caterer was not well-equipped to handle the sheer number of people requiring food to the point that one of their two rice-cookers broke down in the midst of cooking. It was one spanner in the works thrown into the final hour of the camp when everything else was relatively smooth and the hiccups paled in comparison to that rice-cooker problem.
☹ X 3

Nonetheless, I felt that the 30 Hour Famine Camp 2011 was all in all much better organized than the previous ones with a lot more attention on Camp Facilitators' training, clearer program objectives, more variety of programs to keep the Campers engaged, and much better camp accommodations so that everyone was better taken care of.

Of course, there is still room for improvement and every Camp Facilitator had even received an email which asked for their feedback about the camp. This alone speaks volumes of how World Vision Singapore remains pro-active in improving themselves and their activities.
X 1

I believe this blog post would suffice as my reply. For now, I am already looking forward to attending World Vision Singapore 30 Hour Famine Camp 2012 because it surely has the potential to become one of the best camps in Singapore!

Thank you for reading such a long and lengthy post. I'll end with a Youtube video of photo montage of the camp itself. Have a great week ahead! ^__^