s w i r l * h e r e
before my head really hurts.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Long, long post: Ruicheng December 05

I mean it. Really, really long.

Since my return from Ruicheng, I'd been trying to come up with a way to blog about it. Too many things have happened, too many thoughts have run through my mind, too wide a spectrum of feelings that have been experienced on this trip. The eight CDs containing the videos and the pictures did help - but it is not enough to contain how much God had blessed us throughout this trip. Yea I have my journal but still ….

On a more personal level, it was a trip where I was literally forced to come face to face with God first thing in the morning - and it was good. Of course, it was more than good but you know that there is only so much that words can say (yes, take the cliche while you are at it). It is amazing how without explicitly talking about our personal faith, without directly quoting from Scriptures, without even mentioning the word G-O-D - I could still feel that God was amongst us as we did every single activity, as we spoke to every student.

And it's going to be a very messy, jumbled up affair if I attempt to continue writing like that. So, I've decided to revert to the old-school 5Ws and 1H method :)

Who?

Out of the other 9 people in this team, I only knew Rebekah (from hall) and Ben (from cell group). That's all. Zilch about the rest. But from the initial meetings, to the COOS (Church of Our Saviour) mission trip training in Little India and the very first outing as a group to the Esplanade to take pictures - I could feel that this was a group that was going to have a lot of fun together as there was so much chemistry going on! We only met up consistently (4-5 days) the week before we left and it was indeed good bonding that we had through dancing, singing, and generally the beginnings of many silly things ahead :)


When?
We departed on 4th of December and spent the night at Xi’an. The next day, we traveled about 3-4 hours to Ruicheng (this was one bus trip that I couldn’t sleep much in as the driver was HONKING all the way! There is this obsession with honking that I gathered on this trip) and met the students for the first time as we joined them for dinner that night.



Subsequently, we were just thrown into a whole barrage of programmes, activities, outings, dinners, students, yadayada. All the way until 14th December, our final day, where we also held a farewell gathering to show them pictures and videoclips of our trip.

I don't know why I came up with this thing to do on a cold night ...

15th December was a dreary morning as for the first time, we joined the students for a 650am breakfast, and they all knew that we were about to leave right after breakfast. Many little notes and gifts were passed to us since the previous night and it continued all the way till breakfast. We had to leave by 730am and standing in front of our bus, watching the students and the teachers who gathered in front of the main building, even some who were waving at us from the classrooms and balconies above – the only thing I felt was that- it was too short a trip.

Minutes before we left, Joseph, one of the head teachers in the school (who is also a Christian), said some very very encouraging things to me as a personal note and I think my heart skipped a beat at that point of time too :’(


Taken at the path leading to the Terracotta Warriors museums - read the sign carefully! In both English and Chinese!

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After our laughter-tension-filled dinner at the Hyatt

We brought Henry, the head of the Student Council along with us to Xi’an as he needed to go to Xi’an to collect his medicine (and we believe also to send us off ;)). He is a lovely, gentlemanly man of 22 years old, who accepted Christ the previous year. We made a trip to the Terracotta Warriors (I talk as if they are old friends of ours) and had a lot of fun there! At night, we had a scrumptious meal at the local Hyatt, where we did various silly things like prawn eating competition, making Henry speak Singlish, forming alliances (that, is another story but it’s just basically about how crazy we all are!) and coming up with devious plans. We also celebrated Henry’s spiritual birthday with a log cake- and later, the Hyatt staff thought that it was Henry’s *real* birthday, and they gave him another whole cheesecake! ? When Henry said:

“I’ve never been so relaxed before.”

I just smiled ? It was good to hear him say that ?

The next morning was our departure to Singapore. It was a rather teary farewell with Henry as we didn’t know when we’d see him again. But we’d keep in contact with him, that was for sure.
[picture with Henry]

Where?


Ruicheng Phonics Academy, Ruicheng, Xi’an, China was where we were headed to. Founded by an Australian Chinese man, he used the Phonics system to teach these Chinese students English the ‘proper’ way. There are currently 11 classes in the school – 4 Year Ones, 3 Year Twos, 1 Year Three, 2 Teachers’ Classes and 1 Plus Two Class (for students who want to continue in this academy after completing the three years of study). They study mainly English (comprising different areas such as conversation, grammar, and I don’t know what else) and a few other subjects such as Mandarin, Mathematics and also a major subject when they reach Year Two, such as Business English, Agricultural Studies, etc. Every class has a foreign teacher (they come from all over such as Australia, USofA, Philippines and even Malaysia) and a local teacher who sort of acts as a translator for the foreign teacher.


Why?
Personally, some years ago when God first impressed upon my heart that I was to be a teacher (that is ANOTHER story altogether- let’s just say it was amazing how God has always paved the way for me!), I did receive some sort of a message that one day, I’d be using this to bless others in (very specifically) China.

Of course I shrugged it off. That time you wouldn’t find me entertaining thoughts of even going too far away from home.

But when my cell leader Michelle mentioned this trip to me, I was reminded again of God’s message to me. Also, I had fairly selfish reasons for joining this trip- that I’ve never been to China before, that I wanted to check out the school to get an initial impression of Chinese schools should I want to do a year of teaching abroad or something in the future.

I didn’t really prepare my heart too much on touching people on a more personal level. Really, I am bad in that sense.

But after this trip, I realized that (duh!) it is not just about me or us … it’s ultimately about God! Every step we took, every word we uttered – all had some sort of holding power over the students that we shared 10 days of our lives with. The little knowledge I had of dance that I shared with them – I was held as some sort of dance guru. The smiles, the sincere notes, the laughter, the quizzical faces – it was all worth it in the end.

What?
So what did we do there?

The very first thing that we were made to understand was that we were not to explicitly 'preach the gospel' while we were there - no such things as sharing our personal faith on a group level, calling for people to come to Christ. The political environment just did not allow us to do that and any slip-up could potentially just shut down the school. Sounds incredible but after this trip, I've come to see the possibility of that happening.

Our message was simple: We are here to love you. And love them we did. On one hand, it was easy to fall in love with the students, for they were so warm and friendly, and were so eager to learn and to love us in return. On the other, some of us were quite overwhelmed with the attention given by the students heh. And I am not only talking about these two particular team members who had loads of members of the opposite sex swooning after them hee. I think the rest of us (apart from Moses and Rebekah who had been there previously) were slightly taken aback at how forward the students can be in their affection and the competition for our attention. Granted, we were foreign and all that, but still, being elevated to celebrity-like status for 10 days was not exactly what we were too prepared for.


Our day was mainly taken up by class time. In the daytime, we would participate in their English conversation classes where we would join the little group of students and encourage them to speak in English. Mainly, we would chat about our families, what Singapore was like, what Singaporean schools were like, whether they think this particular guy in the school was cute, whether I had a boyfriend (that was a hot question for every one of us heh), stuff like that. Our team were basically there to help boost their confidence and to encourage them :)


At night, we would join their self study period. During this time, we would open the floor for any question, any topic of discussion. As we were there really just to build relationships with them and really just to make friends, it was a very relaxed time where we would just chat about anything. Sometimes we'd share about Singapore, share about our views concerning BGR, about learning English, etc. There was one time where I had to go to one class alone so I shared pictures of HK Disneyland which of course led to them wanting to see Justin's picture. Hee. There were lots of singing as well - a couple of times I was in the same class as our resident guitarist-cum-popular guy Ben, it was just amazing looking at how their faces lit up with the singing and the generally good time that we had :)


Of course we organised other activities for them:

Team building and Mass Games




Seminars/Sharing sessions



Line dancing

And they organized activities too!




Playing basketball in the winter is no joke ok. Our team comprised of 3 guys and 2 girls (Sheng Hwee, Ben, Jon, Rebekah and me) and my lungs have probably never suffered so badly before! The students were good players and apparently, they didn’t even send out their best players! *pengsan* And they probably let us off quite easily, as we lost by only 2 points or something haha.





Before we left for Ruicheng, we were informed that we were to participate in a 10km relay race. We were like –NO WAY! In the winter? Running about 800meters each? We’d just keel over and die-la! In the end (probably cos they saw how we suffered during the basketball match) we were made referees. But still, that evening was particularly COLD and WINDY and my fingers were frozen despite it being wrapped up in Justin’s very thick ski gloves. One of the most vivid memory I have of that particular day is Sheng Hwee trying to enunciate the word “properly”. I wanted to laugh at him before I realized that I couldn’t pronounce the word too!

How the students managed I don’t know. I wanted to cry when I saw the girls fainting and puking after the run as they did not do any warm ups nor training prior to the run. Neither were there any first aid facilities available. Thank God that no one got seriously ill.

But I must have been quite lousy la. Stood there for about 1 hour and 40minutes? I fell sick that night with a fever. Only siao people like me get fever in the winter I guess. But praise God, I was up and jumping away again in the morning, after a second dose of paracetemol.

Oh and we visited this other school called Po Ai Secondary School, which is a school that is somewhat affiliated to this academy in terms of their phonics teaching/learning system. The children in this school range from 10-14/15 years old and are basically poor kids whose families are not able to afford their education. If I am not mistaken, it's only around RMB500 to sponsor one child's school fees, books, meals and other miscellanous fees for ONE WHOLE YEAR. Anyway, they are sponsored to study there and we had the opportunity to visit the school twice.

The students are ADORABLE. Yes, they really are. I had the opportunity to be in the same class twice and the first thing that struck me was that these children are just so starved for knowledge - they have never really seen a picture of the beach, let alone been to one, and I don't even know where to begin listing the things that they have never heard of, which are the very same things that we take for granted every single day. Every single thing that we uttered or did would generate a collective 'WOW'.

When the teacher was conducting a Math lesson


This adorable little boy volunteered to tell us a traditional tale.

Having them run around us as we played outdoor games with them was another blessing as they slipped out of the regimented classroom behaviour and just played the games wholeheartedly. I just watched the video of one of the games and it made me smile all over again.




When we informed them that we were due to leave in a couple of days time, I was very surprised to see teary-eyed children even though we had only met them twice. Oe boy stood up to say something but when he stood up, he remained silent and the other children told us that he was trying hard not to cry. I don't know how, or what we did, but somewhere through the brief time we had for the games, the singing, and the sharing with the children, God must have used us to bring some joy to their lives and to touch them somehow. Isn't it amazing, how God can just talk to us in every circumstance? Like with these children, I felt God affirming us that yes, indeed we have done good but I was also assured by Him that He will continue to take care of these children.


On the Saturday night that we were there, we also organised a variety show of sorts for the teachers and students of both the Phonics Academy and Po Ai Secondary School. The first half of the show consisted of programmes prepared by the students of the Phonics Academy (songs, dances, skits, mimes) while the second half was our show. What we prepared were songs, a dance, a fashion show (featuring various ethnic costumes and also Singaporean school uniforms), a line dancing competition and also a game. We tried to involve the students and teachers in these programmes and it was indeed a success. Before we went for the variety show, we prayed that God would allow us to have a smooth show but I guess we were somewhat prepared for technical glitches here and there. But guess what? Nothing of that sort happened and we were in fact ahead of schedule! As the lights went off and the lightsticks came to its brilliance and as we all sang ????? together …. It was love all around ? I used to pooh-pooh this song before this trip but throughout this trip, I’ve come to realize how its lyrics can really be utilized to express our very simple message of love – along with the other songs that we prepared. Praise God!


The only Sunday that we were in Ruicheng was spent with the students. These students are only allowed to be out of the school for three (3) hours each Sunday! And it's either between 8am-11am or 2pm-5pm. For that, they'd have to obtain permission from their teacher. If they were so much as two minutes late, they would risk getting detention the following week, i.e. they would not be able to go out at all!

We solved the problem by going out with different students throughout the day ?

In the morning, 8 of us trooped down to town with Rose, Stanley and Charles. These three students are possibly the sweetest people that I’ve encountered throughout this trip! They brought us for breakfast (the local hamburgers and also my ultimate fave – jiaozi (dumplings!)) and for some grocery shopping ? Stanley and Charles were really sweet as they helped me out in buying ah-soh stuff like geizi (the red berry thing that they use in Chinese herbal soups?) and tea, as they were obviously better in judging the quality of these items than the very suaku city me :P



Walking out of the school with the students

With Lenny and Nick

In the afternoon, while some of my team members went shopping with some other girls, Ben and I visited the Malaysian pastor who lived a mere 5 minute walk away from the school. I had gotten to know two of the Malaysian boys who were studying in the academy and when Ben mentioned that they had a cell meeting every Sunday, I knew I just wanted to go. While we were there, the Malaysian pastor (who is a senior pastor of a church in Malaysia as well) shared to us his amazing story of faith, of how he brought these kids here (from his orphanage/home for troubled children) to Ruicheng, to this school. One particular line that he said impressed upon me particularly:

?????????????????
(Believing in Jesus is not just about having something to rely on, but it’s giving your life to Jesus!)

Oh and eating bat kut teh in the winter is possibly one of the syok-est thing ever!

How?
How do I feel now?

Yeah la clichéd la but it is literally indescribable. I don’t quite know what we did there, and I don’t quite know what exactly touched me when I was there. Okay, maybe I do know – it was possibly the knowledge of the students hunger for love and knowledge. So many things that we take for granted here, they’ve neither seen nor heard. So much love was poured onto us – from God through His many blessings, through the students, through the teachers.

God has indeed spoken much to me throughout this trip. Every morning, even when it was freezing cold, God has protected me. I’ve seen Him in all that we have done, and I felt His presence especially when we were with the Po Ai kids. At that point of time, what mattered was God’s work, God’s presence, God’s love. With the songs that we sung, I really pray that the children and the students felt the presence of God’s love through us.


Taken during prayer walk, about 715am?

We took turns for prayer walk every morning in the school. On the morning where I did the prayer walk with Andrielle, the first thing that struck me was the sight of a sparrow among the dead weeds in the school grounds. Now, I do not remember the scripture verse that says that God’s eye is on the sparrow, but I do remember the song that says so ? At that moment, I just felt God assuring me that though all things are dead in the winter, He has continued providing even for the sparrow – even if we feel that the school might be spiritually dry or even dead, He will continue to channel life to the school. Even through us, even through other teams that are to come. Also, as we passed by the school walls, and as I prayed for protection for the school against harm of both the physical and the spiritual, God continued to assure me that He will protect the school against all these harms.

Another amazing thing that happened to me during the trip was how God had blessed me with the fluency of Mandarin. Although I did speak Mandarin every single day for 10 years during my primary school and secondary school days, Form 6 saw me leaving Mandarin far far behind me and when I came to Singapore, once I began to speak Mandarin again, it became a great difficulty for me to speak as fluently as I once did. However, among my team members, I was somehow the one who was most proficient in Mandarin, thus landing me the job of the unofficial interpreter. Amazingly, as I shared with Ben during the trip, God had blessed me with the fluency of the language throughout the trip as I interpreted for the rest of them quite fluently and Mandarin equivalents appeared in my mind swiftly at the very moment they spoke the English word. Certain Mandarin terms that I thought I never knew just appeared and I could voice them at that point of time. Indeed, there is no way that I could do it if not for God’s blessing. Praise the Lord!

Our God is a great God – who is not limited and can speak to us through every way unimaginable!

And I thank God so much for my team members. From literal strangers we spent so much time together for that 2 weeks and we clicked so well and did so many stupid stuff together and shared so many inside jokes that I know that it will be a foundation for a strong friendship ahead. The final night when we had the camp-like QnA session was hahaha……

I don’t know whether I’d go back. I am probably still on a high but there IS a possibility, as I do not want the connection to be a one off thing. You might just see me talking about another trip soon, hee.

p/s I had EIGHT CDs’ worth of pictures to go through for this blog entry, hence, they might not be the best of pictures as my eyes are going rather blurry in these two days that I’ve spent writing and prepping this entry. Looks like I am not exactly cut out for full time blogging ay? Heh.

p/p/s This entry is still begging for editing and whatnots. Grarh. Later.

posted at 9:15 AM by sze

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Saturday, December 24, 2005
Blessed Christmas everybody!

Christmas Eve was spent at CGMC this year, the way it has been for the past 9 years or so. Meeting up with old friends in familiar surroundings is always good :)

Blessed Christmas everybody :)

p/s Super long entry on Ruicheng coming up! Yeah le, I know I am cheong-hei (long winded) queen la!

posted at 11:01 AM by sze

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005
There are still good people around :)

I decided to walk from hall to PGP today to meet Sheng Hwee, just to lay my hands on the precious 8 CDs which contained the pictures and videos of what we did in Ruicheng - both the good, the bad, and the unmentionables. So as I was walking and silently cursing the mosquitoes to die their most vile deaths, a car stopped across the road and the driver asked:

You want a lift?

I was like,

Erm, but I am going to PGP?

No problem!

You see, good people do exist!

I am still a tad overwhelmed by the pictures that we've accumulated through the 12 days. Let me sort them out before publishing more, hee :)

posted at 9:01 AM by sze

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Monday, December 19, 2005
Photolog: Xi'an

As the trip was mainly about Ruicheng - Xi'an will just be a photolog here :)



View of Guangzhou from the airplane/Proudly brought to you by China Southern Airlines/RMB88 worth of food at Guangzhou airport/The team looking slightly lost/Delayed and then we saw the birth of the Numa Numa dance/Right after "I've never seen a bus before!"/Sunset at Guangzhou airport/Pretending to wave goodbye to adoring fans/Passing through a rainbow?


Xi'an @ night/Forgot this street's name/And we walk some more/Andrielle and me/Yummy fried rice on a cold winter's night/Sour plum drink- thoroughly refreshing/Satay kambing/shops/Lots of these around!


The room that Andrielle, Joanna and I shared on the first night/The hostel's cafe/With flash/Our scrumptious breakfast before leaving for Ruicheng/In front of the hostel/Pretty, pretty kitty!/I'd like to come back :)/View from outside/Xi'an by day

posted at 8:58 AM by sze

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One thing to get used to

Apart from the fact that I can wear sleeveless tops now and only one layer of clothes -

I have to get used to the fact that I am not sharing a room with 4 other girls and being with 9 other people constantly throughout the day. Woke up on Saturday morning/afternoon thinking:

Where are the rest of them?


One crazy bunch, we were, we are, and I believe, will ever be.

posted at 8:15 AM by sze

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Friday, December 16, 2005
Swirled back!

Touched down @ Changi at about 1130pm last night!

Updates later!!!

posted at 5:44 PM by sze

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Saturday, December 03, 2005
Sze swirling to Ruicheng!

I plan to sleep on the plane, really.

My room is in such a mess that it would be utterly embarassing to even allow you to have a peek into it hee :) But packing's 90% done - just left with my hand carry luggage which also includes this very laptop.

While I was browsing through my old pictures, looking for stuff that I could use to present to the students, I stumbled upon old D3 pictures:



And there are loads more still in my sister's laptop into which I transferred the pictures to from my old Fosa. Mainly stuff from EHOC (what would D3'd be without EHOC?)

Love you girls :)

Btw - Sheng Hwee found the website of the place we are going to - Ruicheng Phonics Academy :)

posted at 11:40 AM by sze

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Thursday, December 01, 2005
Shopping whee....

My dad should count himself extremely lucky that one of his two shopaholic daughters is too big to fit into most things. :)

So today I went shopping alone at JB- mainly for the toiletries that I needed for the Ruicheng trip but also not forgetting to pick up some other, erm, essentials :)

I guess this can be considered shopping in moderation as:
#1 I couldn't fit into most things.
#2 I literally physically restrained myself from like 2 other tops and 3 pairs of earrings.
#3 I only had like 3 hours or so.

And yes, I've stayed true to my principles and have bought only sales items. Why buy them at original tag prices when it'd be slashed in a couple of months, inevitably?





Counting down to Ruicheng :) Have been really really excited as we have been meeting every day since Friday and the team is amazing! Really praying that this chemistry will sustain even throughout the trip and after. And I must add that the team members are extremely talented and pick up things really quickly - within like 4 days, we've managed to finish learning 1 dance, 1 line dance and 1 choral speaking script.

However, we will still need plenty of prayer to cover us as things ARE beginning to happen - both good and bad ....

On a more personal note, it has also been amazing how God has richly provided me with the funds necessary for this trip. Thanks so much to those who responded to my mass email and those who have helped out- really means an awful lot to me! Now I am left with a very manageable debt, about one quarter of what I would have to borrow initially :)

Yay!

posted at 12:59 PM by sze

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the girl


sze-lyn
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Last 10
And so it is.
Cos I am already sick of NIE canteen food
Still learning, after all.
Gah.
1 Tuesday night 2 weeks since we've met up 3 hours...
So, stuff have been happening
The only thing that kept me from bursting out in l...
Broken Bridges, anyone?
Weekend, good.
When shall we three meet again?



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