It’s already winter in Taunggyi, Myanmar. The temperature is chilly right now which is to say that it is colder than before. Thick coats and gloves, I’ve worn them all but not consistently as my body gets sweaty rather than all of the time. The sky often looks clear but sometimes it remains unclear all through the day because of the thick fog during this cold month. Occasionally, it rains also during the winter season and makes the condition more badly.
This month has full of good times and memories I can’t forget. During the first week of November, I went out to see some Burmese festivities and luckily, I had witnessed most of them with my co-volunteers. It started with the Taunggyi’s Fire Balloon Festival which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. I could see thousands of locals and foreigners gathering in this place. Before the event took place, there were various tribal dances. Even the Myanmar minister was there too. Later on, balloons were beautifully lit up and ascended serenely into the sky, then fireworks burst into an extraordinary, multicolored shower. It was also a surprising thing to see a large group of people across the town celebrating the Kahtein procession as we were about to go home from a bakery one morning. So we decided to stay there for half an hour just to watch the procession. Even on this last week of November, many Shan locals are celebrating the Shan New Year. Myanmar is such a wonderful country with rich and diverse cultures.
I experienced not just the happy times here, but the sad times at some point of this month. I didn’t expect that I had a fever the day after I watched the fire balloon festival. It is the weather perhaps that I was sick that time. I did nothing but to rest the whole day and I was even excused from a scheduled meeting. The good thing is that I was relieved the next day and I gained a lot of energy for my work.
This month is also the start of the second semester for both Communicative English Learning Program (CELP) and Young Learners Program (YLP). Soon, the second semester classes for the students of Integrated Diploma Program will resume too. Several preparations like meetings had to be done before it started. As a result, matters related to both programs went on smoothly and successfully. I’m so glad to meet my Level 6 students again and throughout our weekend classes, I enjoyed teaching them with some new plans and strategies I’ve already applied. It has really insightful learning and observing how each student communicates, learns and applies what they learn. For example, when teaching new concepts to students, I learned to use more visual explanations step by step and in simpler ways, to be more patient, and to accommodate or use their learning preferences. It is not easy though, but it’s worth changing or broadening ones teaching style to suit that of the students, so that they have the chance to understand and apply what they’ve learned. It is indeed rewarding when a student acknowledges that they’ve understood what you teach them, then apply what they’ve just learned independently.
There is also one time when I had a class observation in a regular class. I wanted to gather some ideas and see the classroom interaction there. I enjoyed seeing how the teacher interact with the students and how they respond to his methods of teaching. This volunteering has taught me how to be creative in doing education differently.
Part of this month is our last visa exit for this year as well. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to go outside Myanmar not just for this visa exit, but also for a four-day adventure and exploration around another country which is Vietnam (a French colony, communist, and another Southeast Asian country). Our days of explorations were such amazing, exciting, and wonderful experiences.
Vietnam is a beautiful country with a rich history, diverse landscapes and culture. And just like any countries I traveled, it also has a lot of welcoming and friendly local people. Hanoi, its capital, is known as the city of the lake, a beautiful and peaceful city. You can see a lively and colorful lifestyle there. I noticed that every shop is very simple with plastic chairs in the sidewalk, drinks, and some Vietnamese cuisines. Many wonderful French buildings and architecture also remain. However, Hanoi has a crazy traffic jam system which would terrify tourists for their first time. We visited lots of historical places (Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long, and more). Even though it was our first time traveling on our own, our trip to Hanoi has blown us away and we just can’t get over with it. I would really like to thank St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute (S.A.G.) and Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) for these wonderful days of vacation.
During our days of vacation in Hanoi, I also have an awe-inspiring and satisfying moments. It began when we walked on the streets and headed towards KFC for our dinner. It’s just that it has been 2 months already since we last visited KFC in Malaysia and we were craving for it over the past few days. We still have leftovers from the foods that we ordered so we decided to take those out for our breakfast on the next day (by the way, it’s a funny thing that the phrasal verb “take away” is used by the people here and by most countries that we visited rather than “take out”). Afterwards, we just met this hardworking man who was riding on a Vietnamese transportation called as “cyclo” and it’s our first time to ride on it. It seemed to us that he hasn’t got any passengers that day. We were the only possible passengers that he saw before we went home after our long and exhausting walk in some souvenir shops and night market. Instead of riding a taxi, we wanted to try how it’s like to ride on a cyclo. Besides, it is cheaper than the taxi. We thought we have arrived in our destination but unfortunately, he took us in a different route perhaps he couldn’t understand English that much. What we did was that we showed him the map that we have and pointed out the location of the hotel by which we are staying in. We could see that he was already tired but still serious in working, contented that we’ll pay him with our desired amount. By the way, we had a bargain with him since we only had small bills left before riding on his cyclo. That didn’t happen however. I and Darl came up with a decision of doubling the pay and gave him a small box of KFC chicken popcorn that we took out. And as he was about to receive those, he was surprised and joyful. In expressing his gratitude, he shook hands with us and put his hands over our shoulders while we were having a picture-taking together. That kind of experience eventually struck us.
As a volunteer, I’m happy to meet such person whom I think is in need of money for living. Whenever I travel to another country, it is a coincidence to see and meet beggars. What I usually did was that I gave them some coins or bills and as they received those, they smiled at me in return. Random acts of kindness will define how good you really are, not really the big things you do but the very small things that you do every day with love. Honestly speaking, I’m not just a typical tourist who enjoys the luxury of being sent away, but also as a volunteer in my own little ways.
My volunteer life is good oftentimes, but I hope that the best is yet to come. Volunteering abroad has been an experience of a lifetime for me. It is something that everybody should think about doing at some stage in their life. Because when you do, you will go away with a lifetime learning, memories, friendships, understanding, new perspectives, skills and much more. It will also enrich you, more than you can imagine.