There are no words for me to completely expound these feelings of wonderment and contentment blooming within me upon my return from Thailand. The past couple of weeks has been most transcending to my journey towards liberating my exhausted soul and appreciating life in every form.
When I buckled up on the plane taking me to Bangkok, I only expected to gain knowledge academically, but I never knew that I would have gained so much more: my rebirth as an ASEAN Youth and a deeper, bolder understanding of self-love.
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok
When I arrived in Bangkok with Zai, a fellow Bruneian delegate, we went to get our Thai SIM cards mainly for internet and then we met up with delegates from other ASEAN countries who were arriving at the airport on the same day.
The bus ride to Tawana Hotel was approximately half an hour from the airport and I was talking with Amber from Vietnam throughout the whole journey. She was such a fun and bubbly person and I felt so connected with her in a lot of things.
Registration at the hotel went smoothly and I was paired up with Uyen from Vietnam. Like her fellow delegate that I met on the bus, she was very easy-going and friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate.
At the welcoming dinner reception, I met more delegates and everyone looked excited to be there and it was not hard at all to get along with them. Then we did a short ice-breaking activity before we were dismissed.
As the night was still young (when I said ‘young’, I meant ‘8PM’), Pan from Myanmar and Lasma from Indonesia invited me to take a walk around the area with their friends. Apparently, our hotel was right next to Pat Phong, an infamous red light district in Bangkok. As we passed through the district, there were many ‘managers’ promoting an array of ‘sexy shows’ to us including myself who was clad in a hijab, so that was quite an amusing experience.
There was a lot of stalls selling a variety of things ranging from clothes to bags. Some of us were feeling a bit hungry, so we made a pit stop at one of the food stalls on the roadside, and to our surprise, we were sitting at a table on the road itself with cars driving down the next lane!
Day 2: Ice-breaking Session and Opening Remarks by Dr. Suthipand Chirativat.
We were welcomed by Dr. Suthipand Chirativat, Executive Director of ASEAN Studies, who gave us an introduction lecture on ASEAN. This was an absolutely exciting kick-start to the program, followed by more ice-breaking activities conducted by ASEAN Youth LEAD Alumni. We were first divided into 6 groups in which we had to designate the role of a group leader to supervise and look out for all members. So I ended up being the ‘mother’ for my group known as Team Universal.
After dinner, I went out with my new friends to MBK, Siam Centre and Siam Parragon. It was a thriving business centre and so I finally did some shopping. There were many of us going around together to the point that we had to split up into two groups and each group was still relatively large.
Day 3: First Day of ICONAS
The International Conference on ASEAN Studies was held at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, from 3rd August until 5th August 2015. It was the first ASEAN university that I’ve ever been to and I was beyond amazed. It was also interesting to see that the undergraduates and graduates alike had to wear uniforms.
First Panel Session: ‘From Southeast Asian Studies to ASEAN Studies.’
Second Panel Session: ‘New Trends in ASEAN Studies.’
Third Panel Session: ‘Empowering Women in ASEAN.’ (Optional)
The third panel session was the most sought after among all of the distinguished guests and participants alike which was as expected.
After a long yet insightful day at the conference, we were brought to Asiatique, a more rustic and modern shopping market that oversaw the river. It was somehow hard to find cheap postcards in Bangkok, but I stumbled upon a small shop tucked away from the main walkways which offered only 5 baht per postcard. So I bought a bulk of them to be posted to my friends around the world.
There was also a variety of food chains and bubble tea bars, so I came back to the meeting point with more food than souvenir finds, and not to mention, a pair of slippers because I ended up feeling uncomfortable walking around in my brogues. Yep, proudly doing it the Asian way!
Day 4: Second Day of ICONAS
First Panel Session: ‘ASEAN Economic Community 2015, What’s Next?’
Second Panel Session: ‘Strengthening Human Security in ASEAN.’ (Optional)
Third Panel Session: ‘Imaginative Government.’ (Optional)
The second day of ICONAS was just as intellectually stimulating as the day before. From my personal selection of panel sessions, the topics comprised mainly of the prospects of ASEAN and its implications which called for a broadening look on the governmental role in regional, economic and human security.
As soon as our agendas for the day were over, Amber, Pea and I went to Siam. Pea was a Thai delegate, so she became our voluntary tour guide for make-up shopping and she brought us to Eve and Boy and it was every girl’s make up haven. Not only that, everything was so affordable. It was literally the Thai version of Boots and Superdrug. I was most excited about purchasing some authentic Thai herbal masks since Pea said that it was only available in Thailand and it was really effective. So I can’t wait to try that out!
Day 5: Third Day of ICONAS
First Panel Session: ‘Governance and Society.’ (Optional)
Second Panel Session: ‘ASEAN and The New World Order.’
Third Panel Session: ‘Implications of AEC on Community Building and Social Development’.
After yet another long day of intense discussions and debates focusing on what we can do to improve the role of ASEAN in the region, there was a presentation for the Best Paper Awards to five academic scholars. One of the Best Paper Award recipients was Muhammad Anshari from Brunei who wrote a paper on ‘Big Data Era: Big Challenge for ASEAN Economic Community’. None of us knew that he was a Bruneian nor was there any other Bruneian scholar who was there besides the Bruneian youth delegation. So it was a tremendous surprise and a proud moment for us all.
As soon as we had our dinner at the hotel, the Burmese youth delegation did a presentation on the flooding crisis that was on-going in their home country and what we could do to help the affected victims in the disaster. Here are ways to donate to flood victims in Myanmar.
Afterwards, all of the youth delegates started brainstorming ideas and reflections from the three-day conference to be presented to each other. So we had to regroup according to the topic that was most interesting to us, so if it was not obvious, I got together a group highlighting democracy. It had been an exhausting day with a lot of useful information to take in and relay into words, so I decided to stay in for the night.
Now there you have it: my first half of the ASEAN Youth LEAD 2015 in Thailand!
Although I have only shared 5 days of my experience in the programme, it’s obvious that there was so many things going on and I learned way more than I had ever hoped for. The first half was definitely more serious and intense because of the real-time discussions among scholars and key figures in ASEAN Studies, but worry not, the second half will be a tad more adventurous and laidback, where I will fill you in on my trips outside of Bangkok, namely Suphanburi and Pattaya.
So, stay tuned and have a great week ahead!