Chris in Australia

Chris is majoring in business in SMU’s Cox School of Business. During spring 2011, he is participating in SMU-in-Australia, where he will study at Curtin University in Perth, in western Australia. During the first three weeks of the term, the group takes an Asian study tour to Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Fun and learning in Asia, Part 2

vietnam4.jpegWe left later that afternoon for Danang. We traveled up the coast until we made it to Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi. While we were there we saw Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, Vietnam’s first university and Ho Chi Minh’s quarters while he was president of Vietnam.

After Hanoi we went on a cruise through Vietnam’s legendary Ha Long Bay. There was a slight fog over the water, but you could still see the different landforms protruding from the water. When we reached our destination, we took a smaller boat to see the Cave of Surprises. After that we went to another island that has a pagoda at the top. I wasn’t in good shape at the time, so I had to battle to the top. The view was worth it. After a night’s stay in Ha Long Bay, we went back to Hanoi and departed for Singapore.

vietnam5.jpegWe spent only a few days in Singapore. One of the themes of our trip was sustainability, and we visited the New Water plant, which cleans sewage water and makes it suitable for drinking or use in industrial processes. It took time for the people to accept New Water. We were given a free sample, and it tasted perfectly normal. During the nights we were able to explore the city and areas along the water. I remember reading about Singapore in my sixth-grade social studies class, and it was awesome being able to experience a place that we were taught about in class. Everything there is high quality and very diverse. In terms of food, you can get anything from Korean barbecue to German cuisine. If I ever had the chance to work as an expatriate in Singapore, I would definitely take the opportunity to do so.

vietnam6.jpegWe concluded our Asian Study Tour in Kuala Lumpur. This part of the trip wasn’t as exciting. Although we did go on a tour of the city and visit some sites, we were mostly working on our papers and presentations. At this point I was ready to go to Australia. I loved seeing the different countries in Asia, but after three weeks of traveling you become worn down from constantly going from place to place. I was ready to get settled and to see the land down under.

On February 14 we left Kuala Lumpur and landed in Perth. I embraced my second summer while thinking of everybody back in Dallas dealing with the severe winter storms. (Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, its summer is America’s winter.) School commenced on February 28, so we had two weeks to get oriented and set everything up. The best part was the orientation camp. We woke up early the first morning and traveled an hour and a half to a popular surf spot for a surfing lesson. That is when it really hit me I was in Australia. Later that day, we saw kangaroos roaming freely and koalas relaxing in the trees at the zoo. It was the quintessential Australian day. Better yet, we finished off the day with a little Veggiemite and toast, which I have to come to really enjoy. That’s all for now. Cheers!

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Fun and learning in Asia, Part 1

vietnam1.jpegGreetings from Perth! It has been about two months since I left Dallas, but it has felt much shorter than that. The time is flying by, but our group has done so much already.

We spent our first three weeks touring Asia. The SMU and Trinity students met up in L.A. before we all embarked for Kuala Lumpur. We stayed there for one night before we left for Ho Chi Minh City. It was the beginning of our two-week tour of Vietnam. I was overwhelmed when I saw the city for the first time. The city was much more developed than I had imagined, and the streets were absolutely crowded. The majority of people travel using motorbikes, and the traffic was extremely dense. I wondered how no one ran into anybody moving within such close proximity of each other.

There was a lot of construction taking place for the Tet Holiday. It is the equivalent of our New Year. In the span of a few days the city was transformed into a beautiful display of color and grandeur. On our first night touring the city, we started it off with a drink at the legendary Rex Hotel. During the Vietnam War, it was a popular place for key military personnel and correspondents. While in Ho Chi Minh City, we traveled to the Cu Chi tunnels. We learned about the Vietcong’s tactics, living conditions, and tunnel life. We also had someone take us down in the tunnels and followed a route for about 20 meters. That was more than enough for us. Some of the tunnels go as far as three stories underground.

We also went on a one-night trip to the Mekong Delta. We woke up early in the morning to witness the legendary floating market. Locals basically play bumper cars, except with boats. As Vietnam has become more developed, the people have gained access to modern goods. Sadly, due to their old habits, much of the river we traveled along was heavily polluted with plastic bags and other garbage.

vietnam3.jpegAfter Ho Chi Minh City, we flew to Dalat, which is in the central highlands. It is a very beautiful city with a slower pace compared to Ho Chi Minh City. We were only there for a short while before we embarked on our long bus ride to Boun Me Thout.

Boun Me Thout was my favorite part of the entire trip. On the morning of our last day there, we went to a place that gives elephant rides. It was also the same day the locals who ran the business were conducting their annual offerings to the elephants and their ancestors. After we finished our ride, Paul, a professor from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, acted as a translator and told us what the locals were doing and the reasons why. The people were very kind and allowed us to take part in their ceremony.

They prepared a communal jug of rice wine, which they had made for the occasion, and we all took a drink before taking a seat in their elevated house. Next we watched a man smear blood on the head of the elephants and place a pig’s head above it. They view elephants as equals to men, so they take this time each year to honor them before Tet. Family is also very important, and they honored their ancestors as well. It was a great experience in an isolated community in the middle of the central highlands. Never before had I ever experienced something like it.

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