Words by Janice Ng
Photos by Janice Ng, Hamza Delbar and Yeo Li-Sha
Travelling: it leaves you speechless; then turns you into a storyteller.
The three successive ‘In Search Of’ study trips the author has participated in (from top-bottom): In Search of Yangon 2015, In Search of Vientiane and Luang Prabang 2016 and In Search of Sabah 2017
Has it already been three years, three ‘In Search Of’ (ISO) study trips?
As Traveller Franklin has previously mentioned in his interview with former travellers currently in the ISO Sabah team, I had been tremendously blessed to be a part of three (consecutive!) ISO study trips to date: ISO Yangon, ISO Vientiane and Luang Prabang and ISO Sabah. And apparently as I was told, I am just one step (or year) closer in attaining the title of ‘veteran traveller’.
October 2014. It was the second day of orientation. We, the freshies, were introduced to and warmly welcomed by the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) of Monash University Malaysia. The faculty hosts and boasts a myriad array of extracurricular activities, especially and highly taken pride in is the annual study trips. Upon learning about the ISO series, one day I decided to search it out of sheer curiosity. At that time, the 10th study trip in the series was still ongoing, ISO Makassar and Toraja 2014, led by the first pathfinder, Dr Yeoh Seng Guan. Scrolling through their blog, I was truly captivated by the tales that were told. It was there and then where my wanderlust desire was inspired. I even vowed to myself; should I ever be given an opportunity to be part of something as inspiring as such at least once, there will be no hesitations and second thoughts. And the rest is history.
No two study trips in the ISO series had been similar; every year, it has always been a whole new place, with a whole new group of individuals. But even then, as the saying goes, same same but different. Here are my three main takeaways obtained from the ISO series:
- Not all classrooms have four walls
I suppose it is the ancora imparo spirit that is deeply embedded in each and every one of us. There is definitely so much more to be voiced and heard than a written work could encapsulate, especially from Myanmar and Laos as not many had ventured to the aforementioned places.
This is even more evident during the Kota Kinabalu Heritage Walk. A self-proclaimed history aficionado, I would acclaim myself to be quite extensively knowledgeable of my homeland’s history. Having witnessed myself the relics left behind serving as reminders, its significance delves even deeper than just mere requirement to pass a paper.
- Living in the Moment
In the ISO series, we go off the beaten track – we do things that tourists would never would had thought of, sometimes pushing beyond comfort zones. But it is those moments that make the trip truly memorable. Some of these highlights included embarrassing ourselves performing a flash mob, meeting a gentle giant face-to-face and experiencing a local cultural festival.
A gentle giant indeed
3. In Search of Humanity
And most definitely, the ISO series would not be just as it is without the people encountered along the way. I guess that is what makes the ISO study trips truly special – an adventure of its own kind. If it wasn’t for this series, never in the million years who I thought to have encountered people just being, well, people. Beyond nationalities, beyond cultural backgrounds, beyond age. Of all the sessions held, the encounter with the Mount Kinabalu guides made a lasting impression. Their dedication, perseverance and fiery passion to do their jobs they best as they can have been nothing less than inspiring. I have also been inspired by the students from the Myanmar Institutes of Theology (MIT) in Yangon and Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang – their desire for education motivates me to never stop learning. And the session with a punk rock band in Yangon during their weekly street feeding made me see humanity in its purest form. Indeed, at the end of the day, each of these stories serve to impart lessons that, again goes beyond textbooks.
Looking back, it is truly mind-boggling that I never expected to find myself in Monash University Malaysia, what more being part of not just one, but THREE study trips back-to-back! But of course, this journey was not ventured on its own.
Special thanks to both pathfinders – Dr Yeoh Seng Guan and Dr Tan Meng Yoe; for providing the opportunities to go on an experience of a lifetime.
Thanks to all the guides – Ambrose, Ann, Katherine and Khun Jar from ISO Yangon; Bew, Mook, Parn and Petch from ISO Vientiane and Luang Prabang; and Sintiah, Nasiri and Andrew from ISO Sabah; for being exceptionally patient with the number of questions bombarded from all of us travellers.
Not forgetting, thanks to all the travellers met in the three study trips; from mere acquaintances to friendships almost closely knitted like family.
With that, I guess that’s the end(?)
Je zu tin ba de ISO Yangon for giving us the chance to explore your wonders you have to offer.
Khop jai lai lai ISO Vientiane and Luang Prabang for enchanting us with your mystical, rustic charms.
Kotohuadan au’ gina ISO Sabah for exposing us to a different side of Malaysia that we would have never known of without this trip.
And thank you very much ISO series for having me along in this amazing journey – to many more as such in the future!
Meanwhile, I think I have found my calling as a bird whisperer
ISO’s resident poncho girl
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land, it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land – G.K. Chesterton
This dancer/cheerleader has conquered half of Southeast Asia to date; next up Asia? The current item being prioritised in her bucket list at the moment is to witness the Japan 2020 Olympics