Thursday, June 28, 2007


Ok, this post is way way overdue. Writing, researching, editing and organising the pictures wasn’t easy. Sorry for the long wait. Here it is, finally.

Something New About Travelling in Europe
The last time I went to Europe, we had to clear the customs and get our passports stamped whenever we moved from country to country. I was pleasantly surprised on my second trip that it was no longer needed. The practice had been abolished when the EU was formed. I was sharing with my friends, doesn’t that mean illegal immigrants or overstayers can just sneak from country to country in a breeze? Not having to stand in front of stern-faced customs officers definitely made travelling less of a hassle and more pleasant but travellers, you are still expected to carry your travel documents with you at all times when in Europe as random checks may be conducted by the authorities.

Another difference between the two trips was this second time round I didn’t have a proper guide. You really need to read up and know a lot of things before you go on a free and easy trip. Otherwise you’ll just be taking in the sights blindly. For me, the understanding only came after my return…hahaha. I did my research only while I was trying to caption some of the pictures here. Read on if you want to know about my Berlin trip…otherwise, just look at the pictures!
Berlin, Germany
The three of us went on a four day trip to Berlin by coach booked through a travel agent in Deventer. We had to take a train from Deventer to the town of Hengelo to join the coach. We reached Hengelo a little early so we walked around to get a drink before embarking on our six-hour long journey. We found near the train station a nice brown café with typical western style unfinished wooden flooring and blackened wood fittings. The row of bar stools aligned by the bar counter were all unoccupied as it was too early for drinking.
When we board the coach, it was full of senior Dutch tourists. Something I didn’t expect though was the sightseeing commentaries given by the driver and guide. Throughout the trip, they both spoke in Dutch! Hmmm…now what other language should they use when the coach was full of Dutch tourists except for three Singaporean Chinese and a Greek couple? Their rambling in a language which I couldn’t understand did not really irritate me that much because my eyes were busy taking in the bountiful greenery on both flanks of the highway while my ears were plugged in to either my laptop or mp3 player most of the time. As C could understand Dutch, she did try to translate some of the things the driver and guide highlighted.

Took these pictures while the coach was cruising on the highway. I just love the green scenery.
When we finally reached Berlin after being on the road for hours, my first reaction was, what a big contrast to Deventer! From a small cosy Dutch city of small houses, we were now in a huge German city with lots of concrete high-rise buildings, very much like Singapore. However, the city of Berlin somehow looked dull and gloomy with the cloudy weather and the massive grey buildings and monuments. Perhaps I’m too used to the abundance of trees and shrubs amidst the concrete jungle in S’pore. But despite the lack of greenery in Berlin, the sight of ‘botak’ or barren trees against the dim but magical blue sky before nightfall was still very captivating.
The Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

Don’t you think this is very ‘Winter Sonata’?

Interesting ornaments and monuments

The museum island and the Lustgarten in the middle. Five museums can be found here.

Berlin boasts of having one of the largest departmental stores in Europe. The KaDeWe, short for Kaufhaus des Westens is bigger than the Harrods of London, sells anything and everything. If I remember correctly, I think the coach driver said there are 2500 varieties of sausages and cheese being sold in the store. But the things there are mostly branded and of course expensive. All the Gucci, Mucci, Fucci, you name it, they got it. I really wonder how many Berliners can afford to shop there. The store was just too big and too expensive for us so we didn’t really cover the entire building.

All visitors in Berlin will surely walk down the famous Unter Den Linden which means “Under the Limetree”. This promenade is almost a mile long and can be quite a tiring walk. The dynamic, long straight avenue is flanked by shops, museums, consulates and monuments and will lead you to the Brandenburger Tor, Berlin’s only remaining city gate. Situated in no man’s land just behind the wall during the separation, this monument reminded me very much of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It looked more magnificent at dusk than in the day. When you’re there, do also look out for the famous Hotel Adlon. No, I wasn’t drawn to the grandeur of the hotel but the cute bellhops that work there…hehehe! Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of them.
The Brandenburger Tor by day and by dusk.

Humboldt University

A war memorial but I have no idea what’s the name of this monument.

We saw a lot of people walking through this park and so we followed. Nice right? I think it is part of the Tiergarten.

Oh…you can find another cute chap at Checkpoint Charlie, the legendary checkpoint between the American and Soviet sectors during the split. Throngs of tourists took turns to have their pictures taken with this guy in American GI uniform at the famous border crossing. I’m not sure if he is really an American or just dressed up for display. According to E, you need to pay to pose with him. Gee…that’s silly right? But then again, who would agree to stand there on display the whole day without being paid?

To be fair, he looks quite cute lah…right?

A reminder of the split…a piece of the Berlin wall and the two types of passports.

Ask me for my impression of Berlin and I will tell you that it may be the biggest city of Germany but honestly, it looked a little depressing. We saw lots of graffiti on the walls which I normally associate with acts of anger, frustration or boredom. This is more prominent in the eastern part of the city which still looks rundown as compared to the western sector. The Berliners also generally don’t look as happy or friendly as the Dutch in Deventer, perhaps due to their political history and their still bleak economic situation. The guide told us the unemployment rate there was 18%. I would be depressed and grumpy too if I were jobless and living in this high-cost city.
Remnants of the Berlin wall…now a showcase of avant garde art.

Fortunately, there were many colourful buddy bears lining the streets to brighten up this otherwise dull city. The bear is symbolic with Berlin thanks to a ruler some 900 years ago by the name of Albert the Bear. A Berliner, Eva Herlitz created the colourful buddy bears in 2002 to convey an important message - one of friendship, tolerance, and peace. These bears were subsequently sold to raise fund in aid of children. I think Jackie Chan was the one who made these bears famous. He spotted them while filming in Berlin and when he found out they were created for a charitable cause, he got involved in the programme, bought some of the bears and naturally generated big publicity for these bears. Now I understand the existence of those obiang looking lions that were found in the Raffles Place area a few years back…copycats of the Berliner buddy bears. Merlion buddy cats? Yaks!
Buddy bears and teddy bears galore…
including one that tried to kill me!

On one of the nights, I wanted to eat the frankfurter when I saw the guy with the umbrella selling them along the streets. How can I not eat frankfurters when I’m in Germany right? But C refused to let me buy from him. She said it wasn’t hygenic! >_< Anyway, when we spotted this frankfurter stand at the bazaar, she finally permitted me to buy one. Yes! Happiness at last.
See me grinning from ear to ear…
eating the famous German frankfurter.

The art and craft bazaar…quite iconic of European culture.

Oh yes…while in Berlin, we also ended up in Potsdam accidentally. I said accidentally because on that day, we thought the coach driver was going to drop us off in the town area but he ended up taking us all the way to Potsdam where the rest of the people on the coach were supposed to visit a couple of palaces in an optional tour. I later found out online that Potsdam was actually the former centre of Prussia, famous for its castles and gardens which are now part of UNESCO’s world cultural heritage. Hmm…if I had known earlier, I would have joined in the optional tour.

Anyway, by mistake we saw another part of Germany which I found to be more warm and welcoming than Berlin. But very strangely, the streets were so quiet, practically deserted. C and the Greek couple were in a hurry to get to the train station to go back to Berlin…I wonder why. We were already in Potsdam so why not take in the sights right? Me and E did just that! Here are some of the pictures taken in Potsdam.

We took this double-decker train back to Berlin. Pretty impressive…clean and comfortable.

Lastly, something interesting in Berlin. Huge lifesize digital canvas printouts were commonly seen instead of hoardings for covering construction and renovation worksites. Pretty impressive, very vibrant and from my opinion, definitely very costly to have. They make it look so much like the real thing. See the pictures below. Nice!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SHG Camp 2007

We just had our annual camp again last weekend. I must thank all my Yuying volunteers who made it to the camp and helped out in one way or another. As usual, my poor body is still recuperating from the physical exhaustion of running around with the kids and not getting proper sleep. I think I managed to catch only about 1-2 hours of sleep on the hard canteen benches.

The first part of the camp was held at the Singapore Discovery Centre (SDC) to coincide with another CDAC event that was being graced by the Minister Mr Lim Swee Say and several other MPs. I think it’s the first time that SHG was being showcased to the Minister. SDC definitely wasn’t the most conducive place for camp activities but I shan’t complain too much because we were running around in air-conditioned environment most of the time…hehe!

In the evening, we moved on to a school compound to continue with the rest of the activities for the camp. I must say the classrooms in that school were one of the dirtiest I’ve seen in all my years of camping in schools. There were plastic bags and other rubbish all over the place…that’s why I refused to sleep in the classroom. At the canteen, at least it was cleaner and had better ventilation. In fact, it was so windy in the middle of the night, I almost caught a chill. I had a tough time deciding whether I should cover my upper body or my legs with my windbreaker.

This year’s camp was different from previous years as the organisers were not our own SHG volunteers but volunteers from B-cube and JJC. As such, the planning and activities were quite different from what SHG volunteers have been used to. Well, when you have volunteers from 17 to about 25 years of age doing the organising, you can’t have the same expectations. They were less particular about things like discipline and orderliness. In fact some activities seemed a little disorganised but generally, I thought they did a good job in giving the kids a fun time. They were able to stimulate interest among the kids in most activities such as the cheering and even got the kids to participate in a couple of dances which us oldies would have regarded as mission impossible. In our opinion, the kids will never do such lame dances but they actually did it. We did it too. Bravo! Clap! Clap! Clap!

There were some grouses though. Some volunteers felt that it was improper to get the kids to shower, have dinner and then get all sweaty again by running around and play captain’s ball in the night. An older volunteer also grumbled about being ‘ordered’ by the young volunteers to do some actions repeatedly together with the kids…kind of humiliating huh? I think the young volunteers basically did not realise that some of us are twice their age. If they knew my age, I’m sure they would have got a rude shock…hahaha!

Any complaints from me? Not really…oh yeah…there’s one. When I was on sentry duty, one girl got up around 5+am to go to the washroom. I walked her all the way there, only to see her wet her hands, brush her hair, look at herself in the mirror and walk out of the washroom. I asked her very sternly “You mean you didn’t need to use the toilet? Don’t try to be funny with me!” Guess what? The girl dashed into the cubicle in super fast time to pee! Hahahaha…I’m quite a tyrant huh?

Here are some pictures and videos I took at the camp:
Getting to know each other through ice-breaking games and flag-making.

Learning to cheer and follow instructions.

The Minister actually sat down on the floor to see us play…^_^

Lots of games to keep the kids busy throughout the day. Kept me busy too…had to run with my team from station to station.

JJC students full of energy…but of course…they are less than half my age >_<.

Dance No. 1 - The Chicken Dance

Dance No.2 - The Indian Dance…I thought that was quite fun.

The waterbomb session was a bit messy. Everyone just started throwing at each other aimlessly. Our kid Vindy got hit on the neck and cried so loudly…boohoohoo.

The aftermath…look at all the plastic bags on the floor.

Prize presentation time…

About to break camp…cheering for the last time…also photo-taking time.

Why all looked so glum huh?

My afterthoughts
Although the young volunteers did not organise everything to perfection, I thought they accomplished the most important thing which was to let the kids have fun. Some activities were silly, I agree. But as long as the kids had fun, screamed, yelled, cheered…and the most grouchy girl from my centre actually smiled and laughed so much, I think the camp was a success. And when a usually quiet little girl also started chatting with me about the most mundane thing on our way back, I know we broke the ice! Yes!

I personally think it’s good to have young volunteers participating in the camp. They have the energy, can do with little sleep, are more tolerant of today’s kids’ antics and are popular with the kids with their hyperactive attitude. From a score of 1 to 10, I would say the JJC volunteers deserved an 8.

I have to admit that my no-longer-young body needs proper rest every night and I mean every night. Because of the stupid security guard’s refusal to let us in and out of the school compound freely, we had to stay in throughout the night. Thanks again to my fellow volunteers who also stayed the night to help with the sentry duty. But seriously, we oldies really should not stay overnight at such camps anymore, agree?

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