Tag Archives: TravellerNotTourist

Bike for TNT!


I’m not someone who exercises a lot. I probably visit the gym less than 10 times a year. However, I’ve noticed that I somehow enjoy giving myself physical challenges every year. 2 years ago, I participated in the NUS Legs & Paddle competition with Weibiao, which was a 5km run + 3km kayak race. Last year, I went on the Inka Train, a 45km hike over the course of 4 days that eventually led us to Macchu Picchu. This year, on May 1st, I will be embarking on a 42-mile (67.6km) bike tour around the five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx).

I’m pretty excited about it because, to be honest, I haven’t been to the Bronx or Staten Island even after 4 years of being in the city, and doing this will perhaps be the perfect way to commemorate by life here before I leave in June. However, I’m also excited because I’m taking this opportunity to raise funds for Traveller Not Tourist (TNT), the organization in Arequipa that I volunteered with last June. If you click on the “Traveller Not Tourist” tag on the right, you’ll be able to see some of the articles I wrote on my experience there.

Please, please support me in this venture by donating some money (any sum will be appreciated!) to this cause. The money will go towards school supplies for the Flora Tristan school that I taught at, and also the Casa Holgar orphanage that TNT is supporting. They have been actively trying to raise money in the past few months to build a new orphanage as they are being forced to move out of their existing building. If you’re interested, you can also take part on their “Buy a Brick” scheme (more details here)!

To donate, please click here.

Muchas gracias from me and everyone at TNT!

Thank you so much! (:


What I Love About Travelling.


The thing I love, and sometimes hate, about travelling is the impermanence associated with it. There is absolutely nothing that you can be sure of: you could be perfectly healthy one day, and then the next moment find yourself slumped over the toilet bowl puking your guts out; you could be used to waving to the man dressed in a Santa Claus suit selling chocolates in the middle of the road but yet still be surprised that Santa Claus suits come in yellow and green; you could meet an amazing bunch of people, do ridiculous things like parade down the city in animal suits and flamboyant headdresses, but not know if you will ever see them again, or even be able to have fun with them again once you’re taken out of this common context. And here’s my favourite: you can almost be sure that the combi bringing you to school will come, but whether you end up levitating by the force of 5 squished bodies combined, exposing your butt to the possibility of catching fire whilst sitting on the bus battery or watching women attempt to breastfeed surreptitiously, is really up to fate (and whether the combi driver is a Grand Prix- wannabe). Every moment in a life of impermanence is just that- a moment to be enjoyed and relished before it vanishes.

There are some things that have come close to the essence of permanence. Take my routine here, for example. Spanish classes from 8 to 10 am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; teaching at the school everyday from 3:30 to 5:30 and then Salsa class for an hour on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. But just as it was starting to become second nature, BAM. Somehow, 5 weeks have passed. Time to leave and try something different.

I love the impermanence in travelling because it ensures that there is always change, and it necessitates the need to treasure everything that you see and experience. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be extremely painful at the same time, since falling in love and becoming attached is often inevitable. Still, as they say nauseatingly, better to have loved (and left) than never at all.

So to all the travellers (not tourists!) that I’ve met along the way, thank you for making this journey so magical. I wish you impermanence in life.

The Idiot’s Guide to Paving.


When Brad, the coordinator at Flora Tristan School, said that he would need help with paving the school, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant since I envisioned a large cement mixer pouring cement over the school yard and some other machine spreading that out. What ‘paving’ actually meant was us being the cement-mixers. Woot!

In case you’re bored or ever feel like paving your own yard, this is how it’s done. Be warned though, it’s an EXTREMELY dusty process. There were definitely times when we could all taste the cement at the back of our throats, and that was not fun at all.

Transporting A LOT of water to be mixed with the cement.

Shoveling and transporting the sand, also to be mixed with cement.

Manually mixing the cement and sand.

Pouring a lot of water to make a huge cement pool.

And the mixing continues... There has to be a gooey consistency before it's ready.

Make sure the ground is level.

Fill it up, buttercup.

And that's how it's done.

Note: You have to be careful not to tiptoe across it because that will obviously leave footprints in the cement… which is exactly what I did. After that, everyone else climbed over the wall.

It was much harder for the vertically-challenged.

And of course, it's necessary to have an awesome team! Go gringos!

Updates from Flora Tristan!


Can’t believe it’s been 3 weeks since I’ve started teaching at Flora Tristan! Teaching has really been a joy here because the kids are so enthusiastic about learning. Here are some videos of the games we play in class:

Prepositions class:

On giving directions:

The kids are split into 2 teams. One member from each team is blindfolded and assigned to be either ‘cat’ or ‘mouse’. Their team members have to direct them through the maze to either catch/avoid being caught by the other member. This was such a big hit with the kids!

Also, more pictures of adorable kids to whet your appetite:

Daniel & Rodrigo playing "Restaurant" in class.

Top-spinning whizzes.

Weibiao teaching the older kids Mandarin.

Oh my heartbreaker.

Our blur babies.

Only 2 weeks left ):

Party Animals.


Hey jiggle, jiggle,
Minnie and Daffy wiggled,
While the lion tried to eat the ass’ head.
The Arequipeños laughed
To see such a zoo
And the bull gave the cow a smackeroo!

El toro giving la tara a big kiss!

Halloween sure came early this year.

I’m proud to say that my adaptation of the nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle, Diddle” is 100% factually-based and inspired by Saturday’s costume party. We had all sorts of creatures: 2 asses (i.e. donkeys), a lion, a chicken, a pig, a bull, a cow, 2 mice (Mickey and Minnie), a duck (Daffy) and then 2 Incan royalties, a Roman gladiator, Zorro, a Super Creep, Miss AreCreepA, etc etc.

Most of the costume rental shops are in downtown Arequipa (Ave Siglio XX). They have an astonishing variety of costumes: from the above-mentioned animals (including gorillas, monkeys) to superhero characters to traditional Peruvian ethnic wear. Weibiao and I went as “Incan warrior royalties”. (It’s really an exaggeration of traditional Incan wear.) I had the most amazing headdress (replete with a real fish skull, jagged fish bones, fish scales, red and blue feathers and beads) and a dress with leopard preens and two skulls. WB was going to go as a mummy but decided on this Incan ceremonial garb that had one of the most elaborate embroidery that I’ve ever seen. Fashion came at a price though. The headgear was mad heavy, and I was paranoid the whole night about knocking into the chandelier in the house or stuffing my feathers into people’s faces while at the club.

Hello, my name is Xena.

Amazing detail on Weibiao's costume.

Things got pretty wacky at a certain point when we decided it would be fun to mix and match costumes. I never knew how hard all the walking stuffed animals/ cartoon characters at theme parks had it until I put on one of those animal heads. It was so hard to see and the silly head kept bobbing around my neck. As the night progressed, we started having lion-headed gladiators, dancing headless chickens, and an Incan Minnie.

Talk about cross-breeding!

Party animals in the volunteer house!

We went out to get takeaway Chifa (Chinese food) for dinner and befuddled quite a lot of the locals along the way. The Chifa hawkers very sincerely asked us if we were from the circus. Attracted even more attention when we went pub-crawling at Calle San Francisco. There was a lot of wolf-whistling, lip-smacking and shouts of ‘bonito!’ (pretty) and ‘muy bien!’ (very good). We were also let into (most) clubs instantly. Guess it’s not everyday that you have a whole zoo heating up your dance floor.

Having a good time with the locals (:

Much fun (: Dressing up should totally be a random affair and not something we only do on Halloween!

Click here for the Facebook album!

The Magical World of English;


Welcome to the Magical World of English!

This is the sign greeting the children at the gates of the Flora Tristan school, located in a pueblo joven (i.e. new town) in the Northern outskirts of Arequipa. An hour’s drive away from the city center, this community is right in the cradle of the mountains… and the accompanying construction work that is being done to develop the area. There’s a lot of dust, and rows and rows of half-built brick houses where most of the children and their families live.

Had my first local initiation on yellow bus A, struggling to keep my balance on the first step of the swerving bus as the conductor casually swung his body in and out of the half ajar door. Slowly made my way in, squished between flushed and sombrero-donning children, newspaper-reading grandpas and senoritas with their multiple bags of groceries. All this while the live broadcast of the Brazil v. North Korea match was playing in the background, but of course, I couldn’t understand scant except for when the commentator screamed GOAALLLL! No one cheered though. People here don’t seem to like Brazil much. And then at some point, the conductor jumped down the bus, ran to a counter to get his ticket stamped and then jumped up the bus again as it turned the street corner. Bus conductors here probably have to pass some form of IPPT before they qualify.

This is where we get off the bus.

The school is about another 100m away, past two mama shops, several giant holes in the ground which are supposedly for plumbing, and a basketball court. The good people who built the Flora Tristan school also built a basketball court/play area for the kids nearby, and we spend an hour each day after class playing with them. The school compound and classrooms are beautifully decorated with paintings done by past volunteers (WB is itching to paint as well) and they’ve recently also installed a toilet. But there are several problems with the flushing so apparently it gets pretty nasty towards the end of the day.

"Head, and shoulders, knees and toes! Knees and toes!"

The kids who come to the school range from ages 2-25. This is after-school enrichment for them, but they come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy. Was slightly overwhelmed when they started speaking very quickly in Spanish and all I could say was, “No entiendo, habla espanol un poco!” Not that it really matters because it doesn’t stop them from being effusive. The kids are divided into 6 classrooms, generally according to language ability:

  1. The ‘Junior group’, where the students learn sounds, numbers and simple words;
  2. The ‘Basic group’, where focus is given to developing basic vocabulary and communication;
  3. The ‘Elementary group’, with emphasis on enabling students to converse confidently; and
  4. The ‘Intermediate group’, which focuses on higher-level communication and application.

I’m teaching the advanced basic class (bit of an oxymoron) with Sheri, a Canadian who’s had experience teaching English in Japan for two years. Emphasis is largely placed on practical application of the language for vocational purposes, so this week we’re focusing on food and the  typical conversation between a waiter and a customer in a restaurant. The kids are also designing a mock menu for their mock restaurant.
After class, students get an hour at the basketball court. You really get a sense of community from the kids by the way they take care of and look out for each other. Spent a gorgeous hour bouncing kids on my lap; teaching Julio how to play ‘scissors, paper, stone’ and trying in turn to learn this Spanish chant that he was trying to teach me (which strangely enough, none of the native Spanish speakers understood as well); teaching adorable little Valery how to take pictures; and being completely awed by the sunset over the basketball court.

Basketball with one hell of a view.

After playtime and a water parade, the kids walk back home on their own, hand-in-hand. Some are siblings, others just older kids bringing the younger ones back. So sweet.


On a separate note, am also teaching Teochew Biao how to speak English in a way that the English, American, Canadian and Australian volunteers can comprehend. He’s whining that no one can understand his accent. Oops.