SASS Study Trips
Started in 2004, the aim of the annual study trips is primarily two-fold. Firstly, student travelers are exposed to some of the complex and changing social, cultural and political realities within Malaysia and in the region through dialogues with various institutions and civil society groups. Secondly, these trips provide opportunities for students to hone their interviewing, video documentary and writing skills.
Romancing the Land of a Thousand Bikes: In Search of Saigon 2011
For 2011’s annual study trip, the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) chose Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as the veritable destination for its travellers. Comprised of 19 students from countries like Kenya, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the travellers were part of a 9 day trip to Vietnam’s commercial capital. Veteran SASS alumni traveller Eunice Phang and her mother, Susan Chai, joined the ‘In Search Of’ series for part of the trip.
Led by Pathfinder Dr Yeoh Seng Guan and chaperone Bats Mohsinali, the students were graciously hosted by the Center for Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University (VNU).
Indispensible assistance was offered by Dr. Tran Dinh Lam, Director of the School, in procuring last-minute visas for 2 students who almost couldn’t make it due to embassy formalities.
Making their way into Saigon, students spent the first two days indulging in sightseeing, visiting tourist hotspots such as the War Remnants Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Cao Dai temple as well as the war-time Chu Chi tunnels.
Day Four was an important and unique experience for all travellers who were, thanks to the help of the Chuong Trinh AIDS organisation, privy to various experiences of the same disease as faced by different members of the general Vietnamese community. Divided into four groups, each traveller experienced for a day what it was like living with HIV/AIDS while faced with the added pressure of poverty; in some cases stark. While some students visited the ‘Ghost Town’ and were offered lunch by their hosts (also residents of Ghost Town), others were shown community efforts by pagodas and churches in endeavours to assist HIV/AIDS afflicted people, while still others met and spent time with families living with HIV/AIDS.
Day Five brought us to the offices of the Archbishop of Ho Chi Minh and the Catholic Church organisation of Caritas. Mr. Joe, from the organisation, explained Caritas’ role in helping various pockets of Ho Chi Minh’s society and how philanthropy efforts were organised, statistics of people affected by HIV/AIDS and disabilities and how Caritas maintains its operations in a state where religious activities carry loaded connotations. Caritas was, previously also shut down by the Government, having resumed its charity work only recently.
On the sixth day in sunny Saigon, travellers first visited Doi Rat Dep (DRD), an organisation that aids People with Disabilities (PWDs). Functioning as a clubhouse, the founder of the organisation, Ms. Vo Thi Hoang Yen, explained what it was like living with disabilities in Ho Chi Minh city and the impediments faced by PWDs in day-to-day transactions. Combating stigma that arose from religious beliefs like karma raised an interesting point on how people negotiate disabilities variedly depending on religious acknowledgement. Ms. Vo also explained the many activities and services DRD offers, among which are social living skills, open mike nights at the clubhouse and even a soon-to-be-introduced speed dating session! Following an introduction session where all travellers indicated their names in sign language, we made our way to a Catholic church to sightsee, students even having the chance to experience Vietnamese downpour, getting drenched trying to back our way back to the hotel. Frantic drying ensued in time for our last session with Mr. Nicholas Lainez of Alliance Anti-Traffic, who in a sit-down session at the hotel lobby explained to us the multiplicity of the human trafficking situation in Vietnam. He noted hurdles that came with trafficking, the measures AAT takes with regards to providing shelters and counselling for sexually abused women, as well as what it was like to be an anthropologist trying to ‘go native’, working with the subjects.
If Night Nine was any indication of the tears Day Ten was about to bring, then it was a day that surely didn’t disappoint. Sharing warm hugs and endless Thank Yous with the guides we’ve come to spend days and nights with, new friends who were previously unfamiliar faces, recounting hilarious experiences and the knowledge taken away from the trip, all the travellers headed back home with a bittersweet feeling- happiness to be going back to the comforts of home and family, but overwhelming sadness at leaving a second home and a new-found family behind.
To catch more of their travels and travails, visit www.insearchofsaigon.blogspot.com
By Abeer Yusuf, Editor-in-Chief
From No Where to There: Chiang Mai 2010
Basking in the Land of the Arts: Yogyakarta 2009
The year 2009 brought our group of 18 students along with 2 pathfinders to experience the artistically-rich and vibrant city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Over the span of 9 days, from 9th July to 17th July, the travellers were well-taken care of by 5 extremely warm and capable student guides of Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), an institution we visited for one of our scheduled sessions in this study trip.
Eighteen students from the School of Arts and Social Sciences were in for a surprise as they stepped onto Cambodian soil to experience culture from a whole new perspective.
“It’s good to know that there are people right here in Malaysia who will not succumb to the norm,” said Anthea Haryoko, an Indonesian student.