Archive for February, 2014

Earn more than S$3,500 a month? Congrats! You’re earning more in a month than what a villager in rural tumkur earns in 10 years. All the internet memes on how much Bills Gates earn as compared to you.. now you’re on the other side of the fence. But it doesn’t make you any happier does it?

This is the situation that many faces in rural tumkur, an area off Bangalore. Starvation might not be widespread in this area, but there is definitely room for improvement in terms of quality of life. Women are still not on equal terms and the caste system is still deeply rooted in the culture.

At the frontline to battle poverty is education. Schools are structures with barely any necessities. You may think that books and a proper shelter are the foundation of a school but even basic things like water is a major consideration. As quoted from a sociologist that we met on the trip, 90% of diseases are water borne.

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The teachers and their prized water purifier.

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The techniques they use for preserving insects for education may be primitive, but it works just as well. It costs S$10 to purchase one on the streets but costs less than a dollar to DIY.

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Construction in this area is an ongoing thing, a constant reminder than progress is always present.

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In most villages, the interior of the houses are more appealing than the exterior. Kind of cosy even.

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Visits to houses always results in food, food and more food. We had bags of coconuts, bananas, oranges, citrus-sy stuff and others on just a single day of visit. And of course, we had the chance to eat like the locals.

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It was great that we had a sociologist who was interested in social work to bring us around. He was patient and enthusiastic about explaining local myths and beliefs. Contrary to what we believe, vegetarian is a by-product of the caste system and not religion. Women contributes to 50-60% of the actual work that drives heir GDP, but is hardly recognized on the same level as men. And this, despite the southern part of India having a higher level of education than the north.

The experience was marred by the inevitable Delhi belly (or Bangalore belly in my case) but nonetheless was an eye opener. It is one of the most impoverished places I’ve ever gone to and it brings you a whole new perspective of money. S$30 for your next meal? It could well be the amount a villager would earn in a month.

Happy tet from HCMC

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Travel

Chuc mung nam moi! Vietnam does celebrate the lunar new year like most of the world. Here, it’s a public holiday lasting 4 days. The influence of the Chinese culture can be seen in their daily life.

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Most shops are closed during the entire 4 days as they do have their traditional family visits:

Pre tet: clean and repaint the graves of ancestors
Day 1: visit paternal relatives
Day 2: visit maternal relatives and friends
Day 3: visit teachers
Day 4: celebrate with neighbors and village

With modernization, lesser and lesser Vietnamese tend to stick to these traditions. Some shops are open during the 4 days (thankfully) and do their celebrations separately.

One striking similarity to the traditional Chinese celebration would be the lion dance. And the cai shen ye of course…

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And what’s CNY without fireworks!

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Happy tet everyone!

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Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

Posted: February 2, 2014 in Costs, Travel

Phnom Penh -> Ho Chi Minh City
Cost: S$14
Time spent traveling: 6.5 hours

The ride to HCMC was an interesting trip. Filled with constant honking, potholes, a border crossing and even a boat ride (with the bus). Phnom Penh is bordered by a river and to get to the other side, a 15 min river crossing is needed. Food was sold in your face. They had everything from bananas, rice, noodles, water to even cigarettes.

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The border crossing itself was pretty quick and we were gone in 20 minutes.

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Alas the end of my 1st leg! Welcome to Vietnam!

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P.S. Shall leave the story of why the communist flag is found on every corner of HCMC for another day.