Donate or volunteer if you can. Carry out random acts of kindness to strangers or even to people you know. Start that chain of positivity.
Here are lists of ways to help affected communities collated by CNN, Rappler, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).
Exploring a new city is the closest thing to life’s reset button. Being immersed in a sea of different languages and tasting food items you’ve never had before — in short, going out of your comfort zone — is similar, I believe, to pressing one’s CTRL+ALT+DEL buttons.
So when you feel like you’re getting off track and want to break the monotony, go to a new city. When you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and want to take a look at life in a new perspective, travel. Some people might describe these as typical symptoms of the proverbial quarter-life crisis. But I refuse to call it a crisis*.
Two weeks ago, I traveled to the city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia to take a breather and — (insert Homer Simpson’s voice over) d’oh! — to celebrate my birthday, which was a first in several years, since I often find celebrating birthdays a tad too excessive. #killjoy
Nestled amid Central Java’s volcanic peaks and rice paddies is the bustling city of Yogyakarta. More popularly known as Jogja, the city remains to be one of Indonesia’s largest cultural hubs due to its strong Javanese heritage. In fact, one of the last reigning royal families in Indonesia is based in Jogja.
Located north of the city are some of the world’s finest temple complexes, the Borobudur and Prambanan. Visiting the Borobudur has always been in my bucket list as I have a very deep fascination with old, royal, and/or religious structures. The best I’ve seen (so far) are Myanmar’s Bagan and Kyaiktiyo, India’s Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb, and Thailand’s Ayutthaya. #humblebrag
SHOESTRING TRAVEL TIP #1: Sleep while you’re in transit.
One of the best ways to save money is to schedule your sleeping time while you’re on the road or in transit. Since there are no direct flights from Manila to Jogja, I first took a midnight flight to Kuala Lumpur before taking another flight to Jogja the next morning.
There’s a very big difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. That is, travelers are no stranger to sleeping in flights, midnight bus/train rides, 24/7 cafés and airports. However, sleeping in airports is not an easy task (unless, you’ve collected enough frequent flyer miles to stay in airport lounges). Finding that perfect spot requires adept knowledge and experience. Among the key things to consider: areas with the least activities (preferably away — but not too far — from check-in counters, immigration desks, duty free shops), nearest power sockets for charging, and the nearest toilet. Sleeping in airports is one of those special skills that should be included in one’s CV.
SHOESTRING TRAVEL TIP #2: Try Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is not just about getting free accommodations. It is a great and fun way to meet people and learn about cultures, places, and travel tips/secrets that no other travel books can offer. I’ve been with Couchsurfing for almost three years and I’ve had great experiences since.
When I arrived in Jogja, I was welcomed by my CS host Zaki Fajri at the airport. Zaki is a geophysical engineering sophomore based in Jogja and he hosted me for three nights while I was in the city. My trip to Yogyakarta wouldn’t be as memorable without Zaki’s generosity.
Zaki had an exam that afternoon, so he first took me to his apartment to settle in and to take a rest for the meantime.
After his exam, our first order of business was to look for the city’s best soto bakso. Yanto, my Indonesian housemate in Yangon, used to prepare bakso for breakfast but he would usually warn me that it wouldn’t taste like the authentic ones he’d prepare for his family since the ingredients were not available in Myanmar. The best place to have bakso in Jogja, according to Zaki, is in Bakso Pak Narto, about a 20-minute drive from his place. Zaki borrowed his housemate’s motorbike and asked me to drive it. And of course I said yes, just because. #YOLO
Driving a motorbike without a license and helmet on the busy left-hand-drive streets of Jogja has to be one of the best (and most dangerous) things I’ve done in my life. After having my first authentic bowl of bakso that night, I knew it was all worth the risks.
SHOESTRING TRAVEL TIP #3: The best way to get to know a city is to visit its public market.
Every city has a public market — be it a farmers’ market, a seafood bazaar, or roadside fly-by-night bargain stores. A public market is a city’s lifeblood. This is where you’d usually find the best place to have breakfast or where you can buy the cheapest souvenirs. Case in point, you’ll find the best shawarma shop in Islamabad in the F10 markaz and the cheapest laver sheets in Busan’s Jagalchi Fish Market. It’s also the best place to people-watch, one of my favorite activities whenever I’m in a new city.
The next day, Zaki and I went around Jalan Malioboro, a major shopping street in Jogja where you’d find cheap batik and some of city’s best street food treats. At lunch, we caught up with fellow UNESCO youth ambassadors Muthiah Muthe and Anggita Putri Chaerani. Muthiah and I were together in a conference in New Zealand in 2011, while Anggita and I first met in Bangkok last year.
SHOESTRING TRAVEL TIP #4: Learn basic conversational sentences.
When traveling, it pays to know how to start a conversation in the local language. Based on experience, here are some essential conversation-starters:
- How are you? What is your name?
- Have you eaten?
- How much?
- Where is the toilet?
- The weather is (too) hot/cold.
Make sure that you also know how to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘help’. If you’ve memorized these, then you’re good to go. If you’re into languages, the easiest way to master a language is to identify the sentence pattern, especially the placement of the verbs. It would be much easier to learn a language, once you’ve grasped verb placements and conjugations.
On my third day in Jogja (also my birthday), I decided to catch the sunrise over the Borobudur. Taking the local bus (or any other local transpo) during the early morning rush is also a fun experience. You get travel with mothers on their way to the market, fathers on their way to work, and the little kids on their way to school. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to travel with the fresh produce and live chickens.
The majestic temples of Borobudur are located in Magelang, about one-and-a-half hours north of Jogja. I left Jogja around 5 am and arrived in Borobudur shortly after sunrise.
At the entrance gate, there were two busloads of local visitors queuing. Not knowing where the entrance for foreigners was, I decided to join to line and paid the entrance fee at the gate. Owing to birthday luck and my rusty Bahasa skills, I only paid USD 2 instead of USD 20. Pretending to be a local, however, is not always advisable.
Once inside, I immediately went around the main temple, starting from the lowest platform until I reached the main stupa. Another tip: when visiting a Buddhist temple, always go around it clockwise for good luck. When I reached the highest platform, I saw what the Japanese describe as a komorebi: the moment “when sunlight filters through the trees” or “the interplay between the light and the leaves”. I couldn’t ask for a better way to start the day.
After that, I searched for a spot where I could take a rest and enjoy the picturesque view. For about an hour, I sat down under a tree at the foot of Borobudur. It was what my favorite travel mates Anna and Joseph would describe as the spa for the soul aka bubble bath for the being.
On my way back, local CSer Muhammad Jati sent a message inviting me to go around the Kraton, the royal family’s main palace. After a quick tour of the Kraton, Jati and I went to a small mosque for the afternoon prayer. We then went straight to Muthiah’s street runway gala in Jalan Prawirotaman. What better way to end the day than with a street party.
SHOESTRING TRAVEL TIP #5: When in doubt, look smart.
It’s always easy to spot wide-eyed travelers in the crowd and they’re usually the ones easily preyed upon by tourist scammers. Whenever in a new city, act as if you’re a local. When in doubt, walk. Walk as if you’re going somewhere important.
On my last day, I went to visit the Prambanan temples, one of the biggest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia. The entrance gate to Prambanan is about a 45-minute walk from the nearest bus station and, along the way, hordes of tourist guides will lure you to come with them to visit ‘secret gates’ and ‘hidden temples’. Be wary of these unscrupulous schemes.
At the temple complex, I met local CSer Asa Alamsyah, who is originally from Jakarta and is also just in town for a couple of days.
Later that afternoon, I met Zaki and his friends from UPN Yogyakarta’s English conversation club, where we shared our travel stories and some pointers on running community youth projects. They also taught me my new favorite Bahasa word, jomblo, which loosely means “forever alone” in English. After the discussion, we had a quick lunch at this spicy chicken joint near the university and went straight to the airport to catch my flight back to KL.
A recent Medium article describes the act of traveling as overrated and “certainly not an accomplishment”. The author has no idea how completely wrong he is. Visiting Jogja that weekend gave me that
orgasmic warm fuzzy feeling. It’s like my whole body heaved a huge sigh of relief. And it doesn’t hurt that minus the airfare, I spent less than USD 100 the whole weekend.
*It is just a state of mind. If you choose to be happy, then you’ll be happy. It’s all about tapping your cognitive to work with what you believe in and then with what you feel (or vice versa). They describe this in social psychology as learning the ABCs of attitude (affect, behavior, and cognition).
More photos here.
Davao is one of the largest cities in the Philippines, both in terms of land area and population. Located at the foot of the mighty Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak, the city serves as one of Mindanao’ s major regional centers.
More photos here.
Known as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’, Macau’s glitz and glamour is definitely not for the fainthearted. Although best known for its casinos’ bright lights, much of Macau still reflects its rich colonial past, from its small cobbled streets to its Portuguese-inspired sweet treats.
More photos here.
At the heart of Hong Kong, considered as Asia’s financial hub, are towering skyscrapers and crowded neon-lit city streets. Away from the city’s hustle and bustle are zen-inducing Chinese temples and outdoor trails.
More photos here.
Beating the scorching April heat with buckets of water, dancing to the beats, plus some booze (and bomb blasts).
YANGON, MYANMAR — A total wet and wild pandemonium.
Thousands of young Burmese gather along major roads waiting to be splashed with water while grooving to some loud music. Others pay for tickets to dance at the temporary wooden platforms called pandals and spray water to the revelers below. Some ride their own/rented cars and mini-trucks to visit the roadside dance floors scattered across the city. This is how they celebrate Thingyan, the Burmese water festival.
Similar to other water festivals in other countries in Southeast Asia, the Thingyan marks the start of the new year celebration in Myanmar. As others would say, this is the only time of the year in this very traditional and reserved country when people are allowed for such public celebration. During these times, it is acceptable to splash ice-cold water to strangers, even to foreigners. These days, the usually conservative Burmese young women wear tight-fitting clothes and are somewhat allowed to act more “liberal” in public. Not to mention that alcoholic drinks are virtually overflowing, so you won’t be surprised seeing drunken Burmese men even before noon.
Originally, the custom of splashing water symbolizes the “cleansing” of the people as the new year arrives. It is believed that during Thingyan, the Buddhist deity Thagyamin visits the human world and checks every person if they have been good or bad for the past year. The tradition is to spray water to family and close friends and wash the Buddha statues and images. Although these traditions are still practiced, the modern-day Thingyan now have shifted into a weeklong street party. As part of the celebration, the government declares a ten-day holiday and it allows the temporary pandals to be built along the roads.
Three years ago, I had the chance to celebrate Thingyan in Yangon. Together with friends, I went around Yangon visiting several pandals and other festival booths. On the first two days of the water festival, I actually felt like I was in college all over again, with the endless supply of booze while dancing and singing at every pandal we visited.
But the celebration that year was literally rocked with controversy when three bombs exploded on the third day, April 15, 2010, killing at least ten people and injuring almost 170 revelers. The deadly bomb blasts occurred in front of the X20 pandal at around 3 pm.
My group was about a kilometer away from the blasts but we virtually had no idea what happened. We didn’t hear any explosion or see any commotion. Most people on the streets were probably still unaware of what happened as most of them are still busy dancing as the speakers spew out loud rock music.
When my housemate and I went home that night, we saw the news and realized how lucky we were that day. We were literally at the right place at the right time as we were at the exact area two days prior to the blasts. That night, we decided just to stay at our apartment for the next few days.
The Thingyan celebration is definitely a great opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of how the Burmese people behave when cultural taboos are temporarily lifted and the government holds its guards down.
The deadly bombing, on the other hand, is a bitter reminder that evil lurks everywhere even at times when people are in their most festive spirits.
Last November, I attended the Fifth UNESCO Youth Peace Ambassador Training Workshop in Thailand and spoke on the use of social media in peace advocacy through the When I Was 20 initiative, a Global Changemakers project we first presented at the Third YPA workshop in Penang. Aside from this, I also shared my personal experiences as a Fredskorpset Peace Communication fellow in Myanmar in 2010.
At the conference, I had the chance to meet other young leaders working for peace in their own communities. Through the workshops, around 50 youth peace action plans were developed and presented. These include Tarabyangan, a community adoption and social entrepreneurship project spearheaded by the UPLB Development Communicators’ Society that intends to provide a sustainable source of livelihood for a resettlement community in Southville 7, Calauan, Laguna.
This year, the Sixth Youth Peace Ambassador International Training Workshop is scheduled from May 24 to June 2 in Bangkok and Kaeng Krachan, Thailand. Please see the details below from the Eubios Ethics Institute website.
Sixth Youth Peace Ambassador International Training Workshop
From Ethical Minds to Ethical Action
Co-organizers: Eubios Ethics Institute, International Peace and Development Ethics Centre, Center for Ethics of Science and Technology at Chulalongkorn University, and Oran Patana Foundation.
We invite you and your organization to join the Youth Peace Ambassadors International in building peace in the world through empowering youth from different countries across the world to share experiences of working to promote the culture of peace and to develop practical action plans with the inspiration of the young people. Since 2010, Eubios Ethics Institute and UNESCO, in cooperation with partner institutions have organized five Youth Peace Ambassador Training Workshops across the Asia-Pacific with 410 youth from many countries and circumstances. Together, the youth have worked to identify issues that can promote a culture of peace, and developed 170 action projects promoted at making a difference in their communities.
Through the Youth Peace Ambassador International Programme, we are jointly harnessing the power, optimism and influence of young people to promote action and change for Peace. The Youth Peace Ambassador International programme is global in reach, and the YPA6 will bring youth from around the world together. At YPA5 participants planted trees, at the official opening of the International Peace Park. If you planted a tree, you can come and see it. All the YPA6 participants can also help plant medicinal herbs that will grow around the trees, now that the Park has a water sprinkler system. Those who are new may like to also plant a tree. The outcomes you could help achieve include:
- Strengthening the youth peace ambassador network of young people as a forum for the exchange of ideas and good practices for effecting social change for peace;
- Reducing the suffering from conflicts and violence;
- Broadening aspects of participant life plans from a multicultural perspective;
- Support for specific youth-led projects to be implemented in different countries; and
- Expand the integration of security and peace activities into policy making, with special relevance to young persons.
The programme is especially for youth who have already started to make a difference in their community to overcoming the challenges for their communities, and persons who are actually doing things to rebuild communities. If you are one of the people, or would like to become, then you can join us.
Applications should use the standard form, including full name, address, affiliation, age, and include a letter of intent (unless previously accepted for a YPA workshop; with a list of past and current activities) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The registration fee includes materials, accommodation and meals from 25th May evening to 2 June, all teaching materials, and transport in large bus from Bangkok to Kaeng Krachan return. The early bird registration is USD300 (if paid by credit card by 1 April) and USD400 (or THB12,000) on site upon arrival.
For previous trainees of YPA workshops the applicants should have returned their evaluation forms from previous action plans (including those still current, whether or not the action plan was completed or not you are still invited). We are also seeking support for a few scholarships to assist those persons unable to pay the registration fee, but these will be very limited. Participants will be informed by 26 March, the results of scholarship applications. Do include your justifications and requirements in the application form.
Download the PDF copy of the Call for Participation and UPDATED Agenda here.