First HIV/AIDS Workshop in Malaysia

Our first HIV/ AIDS workshop was on June 13 at SMK Batu Lapan, a secondary school near Subang Jaya.

SMK Batu Lapan, High School  in Subang Jaya
SMK Batu Lapan, High School in Subang Jaya

In the two days prior to our workshop, we were furiously preparing the presentation, practicing our parts, and ensuring we had all the materials we needed.

Upon our arrival, I was surprised to learn that our workshop will take place in the cafeteria, which was quite exposed to the outside. We did have a microphone, a projector and a screen to help run the presentation.

Just before our presentation is about to start! Group shot with the school counsellor.
Just before our presentation is about to start! Group shot with the school counsellor.

Thankfully, our Prezi worked like a charm and we were able to go through the workshop without too many unexpected difficulties.

Our attentive audience!
Our attentive audience!

Our audience of 150 students sat on the benches and dutifully listened to us talk about various aspects of HIV and AIDS. We also included a small demonstration where students would get up on stage with us to “act out” how HIV affects the human immune system. Although they were a little reluctant to participate at first, we did manage to get a few students to pretend to be the white blood cells.

Ralph explains how HIV damages the white blood cells
Ralph explains how HIV damages the white blood cells (students with white balloons) and harms the body (as represented by Dominika)

As I’m writing this post a couple of weeks after our first workshop, I can definitely say that we have refined our presentation since then. We had more time to rehearse our parts and we are more familiar with the entire routine. Overall, I think it was a good start for holding workshops: we followed our schedule, spoke clearly, and got the attention of our audience.

After our workshop, the counsellor invited us to have brunch at the school. We enjoyed an excellent mee hoon goreng (fried rice vermicelli) with egg and vegetables.

Group brunch after the workshop
Group brunch after the workshop

With a final goodbye, we left the school and finished our first HIV/AIDS workshop in Malaysia!

Group Photo: with the school counsellor, Vivian, Krystal, and exchange participants.
Group Photo: with the school counsellor, Vivian, Krystal, and exchange participants.

Chinese Restaurant in Malaysia- V Garden Restoran

During our second week in Malaysia, a large group of AIESECers and Exchange Participants (EPs) went out for dinner at V Garden Restoran, a Chinese restaurant in Klang.

V Garden Restaurant
V Garden Restaurant

We took up 2 huge round tables. At my table, we tried to teach each other how to eat with chopsticks.

Chopstick lessons from Eslyn (exchange participant from Hong Kong).
Chopsticks lesson from Eslyn (exchange participant from Hong Kong).

It was also a great opportunity to get to know other AIESEC members. From one AIESECer, I learned that many Chinese people (including his family) immigrated to Malaysia from the south of China to escape the Japanese occupation during WWII. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work too well as Japan did eventually invade Malaya.

Back to the present day, we ordered several dishes and shared them with everyone at the table. This is when the lazy susan in the middle comes in handy!

One of the AIESECers ordered for both tables, so we ended up having the same food. The first dish that arrived was braised tofu with pork.

Braised tofu with pork
Braised tofu with pork

The tofu (probably) was deep-fried first. It had a thin, rough “skin” on the exterior which helped the sauce adhere to the tofu. The inside was very smooth and silky. The contrast between the inside and out was quite nice. The sauce had enough flavour to carry the otherwise bland tofu, and I enjoyed it very much.

Next up was green beans with salted duck egg sauce.

Green beans with salted duck egg sauce
Green beans with salted duck egg sauce

When I first took a bite, I noticed two things about the dish: it had a familiar saltiness that I could not quite identify, and the beans had an odd granular texture. After asking a local AIESECer, he told me it was salted duck egg. All of a sudden, it made sense! The duck egg was preserved with salt, so it is quite salty, and the egg yolk separates into small particles in the mouth. This was quite delicious and I’m tempted to attempt this dish at home!

Whole Chicken

I did not try the chicken, but I’m sure it was tasty!

Stir-fry cabbage, okra, green beans and eggplant with spicy chili sauce.

Here’s a dish I did try: cabbage, okra, green beans, and eggplant with a spicy chili sauce. The stir-fried vegetables were a little greasy, but I enjoyed the chili sauce very much. Plus, I’m usually not one to complain about vegetables in a meal.

Fish with Ginger
Fish with Ginger

The grand finale arrived on a gold-coloured platter with lit burners underneath. It was a large whole fish covered with finely minced ginger lying in a light brown sauce. Its fins were spread out, making it seem even larger and very strange looking. I would guess the fish was steamed whole after it was seasoned. The meat was very tender, and the generous quantity of ginger gave the dish a warm and fresh fragrance.

In Asia, it’s not uncommon to eat the edible portions of the fish head. When I was younger, I always used to eat the eyes. This time, Vivian (our AIESEC project manager) and I each ate one of the fish eyes! If you’ve never tried them, it’s like eating little blobs of fish flavoured Jello. I know it probably doesn’t sound too appetizing, but for me, it’s a ritual that reminds me of my childhood.

Our table!
Our table!

By the end of the night, we were pleasantly full. A few group photos later, we were on our way out of the restaurant. The total cost of this meal came out to be ~20 RM per person (exchange rate is approx. 1 CND= 3 RM).

Exchange Participants! Left to right: Reema (US), Eslyn (HK), Soraya (Pakistan), Ralph (Lebanon), Mehak (Pakistan), Valentin (Germany), Dominika (Slovakia), Cathy (Canada), Laura (Germany).
Exchange Participants! Left to right: Reema (US), Eslyn (HK), Soraya (Pakistan), Ralph (Lebanon), Mehak (Pakistan), Valentin (Germany), Dominika (Slovakia), Cathy (Canada), Laura (Germany).

A big thank you to Winnie and Seto for driving us to and from the restaurant, and AIESEC Taylor’s University for organizing this dinner!

AIESEC Taylor’s University LLDS

For those of you who are unfamiliar, my exchange in Malaysia is facilitated through AIESEC , a student-run organization focused on youth leadership development. As part of my exchange, I am also invited to participate in various AIESEC activities in Malaysia. One such event was the Local Leadership Development Seminar (LLDS) from June 7-9 in Port Dickson, Malaysia.

NUBE Training Centre
NUBE Training Centre

We arrived in Port Dickson around 3 pm on Friday. Soon after, we were led into a heavily air-conditioned room for icebreakers and our first conference activities. There were about 50 of us in total, including the conference organizers (OC) and AIESEC executives (EB). We started the conference with one of many dances that we will participate in over the next 2 days.

We were broken into groups that functioned as our “home room” for the duration of the conference. Each group’s theme was based on an AIESEC value. My group was “Enjoy Participation”, and our nickname was “Group FUNtastic!”

Group FUNtastic
Group FUNtastic: Irene, Geoffery, Mayin, Cathy, Jia Hui, Gwen

There were sessions about AIESEC values, negotiation, giving constructive feedback, selling yourself, and many more. A crowd favourite was a series entitled “dreams”. In the first part of this two-part series, we gathered in our home groups with dimmed lights and lit candles in the centre of the group. Under the glow of the candle, we wrote down 10 of our identities on small pieces of paper. I struggled with what to include. Writing down how I viewed myself seemed to be a big step in confirming my role in this world.

Candles at LLDS "Dreams" Session
Candles at LLDS “Dreams” Part 1. Photo by Winnie.

We were asked to reflect on these identities, and rip up 4 of the least important ones. We were asked to do this again and rip up 3 of our identities. It was relatively easy to remove the first 4, but tearing up the next 3 made me feel like I’m parting with a little bit of myself. If that wasn’t difficult enough, we had to remove another 2. As we removed our labels of “sister”, “friend” or “student”, we were forced to reflect on what is most important in our lives. Next came something unexpected. The facilitators asked us to tear up the last identity if it said anything other than our own name. Ralph (intern with our project) was the only person who had his name as his last identity. The rest of us were left with nothing at all. I was confused. The facilitators explained that the identities that we give ourselves represented the values we placed on ourselves. We value ourselves as a “friend”, “brother” or “musician” but we should also keep in mind the bigger picture, which is ourselves as a person. We should also spend time taking care of ourselves in addition to the world around us. At the end, each group blew out their candle together to symbolize rebirth.

Dreams group
Dreams at LLDS. Photo by Winnie.

As I mentioned, this was “dreams” part 1. The second part of the session involved us drawing out 3 of the most important dreams in our lives right now. Since these are dreams, we were unbounded by money, time, and ability. I found it interesting that I kept on coming back to the dream of working with food. I wrote down that I would like to open my own restaurant, but what I drew was myself leading a cooking class. This was something that I haven’t actually thought about for a long time, perhaps since I’ve entered dietetics at UBC. I feel like I’ve been trying to live “realistically”, searching for career paths that would give me a comfortable and enjoyable existence. Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling so restless and dissatisfied with dietetics lately. There’s also been a few other reasons as to why I’m feeling like I need to do something I really REALLY love. Then again, as I’m thinking and writing, I keep remembering that I do love dietetics as well. Oh the dilemma of choice!

Anyway, back to the conference. We also had case study and AIESEC stimulation competitions. These activities were clearly aimed to get new AIESEC members familiar with the organization and training them to be future ambassadors. I was surprised at how much time and effort the existing AIESEC execs spent to ensure new members understood what AIESEC did and can communicate different aspects of the organization to different audiences. The case study and stimulations were really engaging and well done, I think new members walked away from this weekend with a clearer idea of AIESEC and how to talk about it. Bottom line: innovative and fun training pays off for any organization.

On the last day of the conference, Mehak and I went to the beach in the morning.

Beach at Port Dickson
Beach at Port Dickson

Waves were crashing against a small seawall. There were a few people wading in the water. We spotted a coconut washed up on the beach and took some photos against the background of the Pacific.

Coconut on the Beach
Coconut on the Beach

Other favourite moments of LLDS:

  • Showing affection for a stranger
  • Murder mystery
  • Group winning case study / stimulation
  • Sugar cubes
  • Dance, dance dance!
Until Next Time!
Until Next Time!

Life in Subang Jaya

When I left off at my last post, I haven’t yet talked about the last two members of our team, Mehak and Soraya. They arrived from Pakistan together on Sunday. We were intending to pick them up from the train station, but due to some miscommunication, we ended up meeting them at the apartment instead. It was very exciting to finally have everyone in the house. Upon their arrival, we asked them a lot of questions about life in Pakistan. For me, it was very surprising to hear how similar some aspects of their lives were to my own: we listen to the same musicians, wear the same type of clothing, and have similar aspirations for education. So far, I haven’t experienced any drastically shocking cultural differences between the interns. I don’t doubt this is because we have received similar levels of education and come from similar socioeconomic classes. It does feel like I’m living inside a little AIESEC bubble at times.

After Mehak and Soraya’s arrival, we went to Sunway Pyramids, a large mall close to Taylor’s University. It was very commercialized and westernized, with a lot of chain stores (The Body Shop, Aldo Shoes, La Senza, TGI Friday’s). The design of the mall is quite unique and elaborate, with a sphinx on the outside and an elaborate pyramid forming the ceiling of one of the wings.

Mehak (L) and Soraya (R) and I at Sunway Pyramid Mall
Mehak (L) and Soraya (R) and I at Sunway Pyramid Mall

It is apparently common to have entertainment and recreational facilities inside shopping malls here. In addition to a bowling alley, movie theatre, ferris wheel, my personal favourite was the indoor ice rink (!). On the two occasions I went to the mall, there were figure skating lessons and a late night hockey match.

Hocky Match in Malaysian Mall
Hockey Match in Malaysian Mall

I’ve gotten to know the neighbourhood a bit better. About a 5 minute walk away from our apartment is a morning market with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cakes, breakfast items, and religious goods. I love this little market, some of the vendors speak Chinese and they’re usually very friendly.

Chicken Vendor in Morning Market
Chicken Vendor in Morning Market
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Vegetables

One of the famous dishes in Malaysia is Nasi Lemak. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, it’s sold by hawkers in food stalls everywhere, including at the morning market near my place. Mine consisted of rice garnished with sambal (a sweet chili sauce), peanuts, cucumbers, and topped with a fried egg. Everything is wrapped in wax paper and secured with an elastic band. The sambal sauce is sweet, salty, and spicy at the same time, with the crunchiness of the peanuts, coolness of the cucumber, and the soft rice, it’s a mouthwatering combination. The best part? It’s only 2 ringgits (approx. $0.70 CND)!

Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak: Rice with Peanuts, Cucumber, Sambal and Egg

In the area surrounding our apartment, we also have a few convenience stores and family run restaurants. We visited Cafe Sukimye, one such restaurant selling Chinese food. The food definitely had a very homely feel to it and we saw lots of neighbours stopping by for dinner.

Dominika and I at Cafe Sukimye
Dominika and I at Cafe Sukimye

I’ll leave this post with this view of a Malaysian suburb.

View of Subang Jaya from My Window
View of Subang Jaya from My Window

Until next time!

Airports, Hotel, and First Impressions of Malaysia

Before I launch into my journey, here’s one last reminder of Vancouver.

Diver in aquarium at YVR Airport
Diver in aquarium at YVR Airport

After a very long plane ride with my friend, I arrived in Guanzhou BaiYun International airport for my overnight layover.

My friend and I in the plane
Plane buddies!

Thankfully, the airline provided a free hotel stay for us along with free shuttle buses to and from the hotel.

Free Hotel at GuanZhou
Free Hotel at GuanZhou

Arriving in Guanzhou, I started chatting with another traveller, Simon. He told me he was also heading to Malaysia. It was very interesting to chat with Simon because I was struck by how unburdened he was by the monotony of everyday life, and things like education, career, and money. It’s not everyday that I get a chance to meet someone with such a different perspective about life.

Simon + I on shuttle bus to airport
Simon and I on the shuttle bus to the airport

We were treated to a beautiful plane ride to Malaysia. We flew over rivers, islands, and fields of palm trees before landing in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Mystery Island on the way to Malaysia
Mystery Island on the way to Malaysia

From KLIA, Simon and I took the express train to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station, which is a large train and bus station in the capital of Malaysia. Here, I met up with Elwin from the local AIESEC committee in Taylor’s University. Simon and I parted ways, he left in search for a hostel and I remained at the train station to wait for the other exchange participants.

After a couple of hours, Valentin and Dominika arrived in at the station as well. It was very exciting to meet them for the first time. After learning how to buy tokens and take the subway/ train system, we piled into Elwin’s car along with all our luggage and drove to our home for the next few weeks in the suburban city Subang Jaya.

Here, we met Laura, another intern from Germany. That very evening, we went to a birthday celebration for Kelly and Jia Hui, a couple of AIESECers from Taylor’s University.

Exchange Party Welcome Party May 31
Exchange Party Welcome Party May 31. Left to Right: Cathy, Dominika, Kelly, Elwin, Laura, Valentin.

There were a lot of people from AIESEC TU, it was interesting to meet the Malaysian students. They were very curious about us and our lives in our respective countries. I noticed that most people we met were of Chinese descent, and many of them spoke several languages/ dialects. I feel that because of the large number of Chinese speaking people in large cities such as Subang Jaya, it’s much more important to maintain the Chinese language through the generations. This is very different from my personal experiences in Canada. Although some families do place emphasis on speaking Chinese, many Canadian children of Chinese descent do not learn the language.

After we got back, Dominika, Laura, and I chatted in our bedroom about pretty much everything from the role of women in the family, to our expectations for this project, to our past travel experiences. It was really nice to get to know some of the girls early on.

On the second day, I woke up in the morning and almost screamed in surprise when I discovered Ralph in our apartment. He arrived in the morning from Lebanon. Later, he met Laura and Dominika as well. That morning, the 5 of us went to the university for a lazy brunch. June 1st is actually Malaysia King’s birthday, so a lot of shops were closed and the public transportation system was not running. So we mostly hung around the university campus during the day.

Taylor's University
Taylor’s University

The campus of Taylor’s University is very beautiful. The centre features a lake, where ducks and swans can sometimes be seen. Surrounding are 3 buildings. There are residences, lecture halls, a main library, and surprisingly, a hotel run by students in the hospitality and hotel management program. Today, I learned that there is also a cinema in the library, which plays a different movie each week. Apparently it’s a favourite spot for students to nap.

Shops inside Taylor's University
Shops inside Taylor’s University

Other similarities with UBC include:

  • Lots of Asian students
  • SUB-like food court (theirs is nicer)
  • Large fountain near the front of the University (ours is bigger)
  • Random bazaar with booths selling clothing, jewelry, and students asking for donations for charity

Our first project meeting is starting in 5 minutes, so I shall sign off for today!


Pre-Departure Thoughts

Sitting in the airport with 5 hours of sleep from the night before, after 4 years of flying back and forth between Toronto, Vancouver, and the occasional other destination, this is no longer a novel experience. 

However, today is different. 

Today I leave for a 6 week internship with Taylor’s University in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. The project I’ll be working on is called Raising Awareness with Reaction, which is aimed at educating high school students and the general public about HIV/AIDS. This internship was arranged through AIESEC, and I’ll be joining 6 other students from around the world. We’ll be sharing an apartment together in addition to working on the same project. 

I am truly excited to be travelling in Malaysia, which has been a dream destination for me ever since coming across Rasa Malaysia, a marvelous food blog that sparked my interest in Malaysia food and culture. After being involved with the Canada-Malaysia Nutrition Project, I felt like I would like to learn more about the country. So when I came across this internship in Malaysia, I knew that I wanted to apply. 

With regards to the internship itself, I approach it with cautioned enthusiasm. I am very interested in helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and I am a firm believer in preventative healthcare. Personally, I hope to approach this project as an opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. By bringing the issue to the forefront, we can begin to have open conversations about this disease. Much of what I’ve learned about HIV/AIDS came from the UBC Wellness Centre. As a volunteer, we receive training on a variety of topics, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The attitude I have towards HIV is very much reflective of the attitude of a very privileged Canadian. I think of it as a chronic condition that can be managed/ controlled with the help of antiretroviral medication, as long as the individual is not abusing any substances, and has access to housing, food, and social support. I do not believe in blaming the victim (ie: he / she deserved it). Truth is, I don’t know enough about the realities of living with this disease and how it impacts the multi-faceted existence in which human beings live. I know very little about HIV in Canada, and even less about HIV in Malaysia. I’m interested in finding out how students in Malaysia approach HIV given their diverse cultures set in an officially Islamic country. 

If it hasn’t been clear, I’m not sure what I’ve set out to accomplish by participating in this exchange. I feel a little over my head: there are people who dedicate their life’s work to HIV prevention in Malaysia, and I’m not sure if our group will be able to achieve anything meaningful in 6 short weeks. This is a bit difficult to swallow for myself, since I’m normally a very goal oriented person, and I can get frustrated if there isn’t a clear destination. From what I’ve heard from past AIESEC exchange participants, projects don’t always go as planned. I expect this to be a good exercise in learning to be flexible with any situation. 

A big piece of the puzzle that’s missing right now are my fellow exchange participants: 

Dominika – Slovakia
Laura – Germany
Mehak – Pakistan
Ralph – Lebanon
Suriya – Pakistan
Valentin – Germany
From our brief introductions via email, I sensed that this is a very diverse group. However, for one reason or another, we have all agreed to take on this project, so we must at least share some things in common. I really hope that we can all get to know one another well over the upcoming weeks! 
That’s it for now, I’ll post more once I get to Malaysia!