Last November, I was in Bangkok, Thailand to participate in the 2012 ASEAN Student Forum (ASF). It was organized by students and faculty members of Chulalongkorn University. The experience was amazing. I (literally and figuratively) fell in love with and in Siam.
I first learned about ASF through my Bruneian friend, Zuratul Zulkifli. She linked it to me on Facebook, knowing that I had a keen interest on attending international forums. I liked the fan page and read about the program.
What pushed me to apply to 2012 ASF is the fact that it involves ASEAN youth. Since my experience in Bali, I’ve wanted to build networks with more and more young people in the region because I know that I can learn so much them.
I submitted my application form and waited.
After two weeks, I got an e-mail from the staff of ASF. Out of 800 applicants from the Southeast Asian region, the organizers chose 50 foreigners and 10 Thai students. I was one of the ten chosen delegates from the Philippines.
It was a proud moment for me. I immediately booked my flights and got excuse letters because I had class for the duration of the conference. Days went fast and soon enough I was about to leave the country for my next big adventure.
I got a good deal for my flight since I only paid PHP 14,000 (USD 335) even if I booked only two weeks before. It was the first time I flew Philippine Airlines for an international flight. It was actually better than what I expected. Although, I would still prefer to fly Singapore Airlines if it wasn’t that expensive.
We left NAIA Terminal 2 at around 10 am and after three and a half hours, we were in Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi (pronounced as Suwanaphum) was huge. I actually had to ride eight to six walkalators to arrive at the immigration area.
We were welcomed by our coordinator, Need Pawarisa, and other student liaisons. After waiting for some of the other arriving delegates, we left for our hotel.
The delegates were housed in Bangkok Centre Hotel. The hotel was very accessible as it was relatively near Chulalongkorn University, where all the formal sessions were held, and it was right in front of Hua Lampong BTS station.
After eating dinner in Chamchuri Square with some of the Filipino delegates, we passed by MBK to see some of the cheap shopping places. We went back to our hotel around 10pm and our first day was officially over.
One Week of Love
The forum officially started with a tour around the Grand Palace and the Siam Museum. After being grouped and meeting our student liaisons (every delegate had one), we set off to see the cultural sites of Bangkok.
I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Palace – not only because I can take many photos there but also because it symbolized so much of Thai history, culture and religion. I was lucky that my student liaison, Ploy, was very patient and understanding. She did not get annoyed when I asked her to take my photo every five minutes (Thanks, Ploy!).
After touring around Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew the entire morning, we went to have lunch beside Chao Phraya river. This will, perhaps, be the most memorable part of my trip. This was the first time I met one of the most special persons I’ll ever value in my life (remember the “literally, falling in love” part?).
The group went to Museum Siam afterwards. We spent the entire afternoon there. Museum Siam is one of the few museums I’ve seen where the guests can actually touch the displays and relics. It taught me so much about Thai history and culture. In a way, I was able to compare Philippine and Thai culture.
Our second day ended with the Shadow Puppet Party. It was a soiree of sorts that served to break the barriers between delegates of different nationalities. The whole night was full of interactive activities and group dynamics.
The next two days involved the serious part of the forum. It was jam-packed with talks, group discussions and activities about the conference topic – the ASEAN Mind. It was an eye-opener to the different issues of the different ASEAN countries. It was an avenue for dialogue and creating shared solutions for the common problems in the region. I was particularly amazed at how each delegate represented his/her country.
I remembered so much of Bali during the discussions. It was another chance for me to represent my country and my school. It was a chance to show other countries that Filipinos are intellectually advanced and fierce yet friendly and fun individuals.
During the sixth night of the forum, we had the White Party. This was where I saw the wild side of the ASEAN. After all the debates and discussions, it was high time that we partied hard. We danced the whole night at Pathumwan Princess Hotel. I also attended an after-party with some of the delegates (but that’s another story).
Everything happened fast. I soon found myself in the last part of the forum, the Chulalongkorn University Academic Expo Tours. I have to admit that I was a bit wasted during the tours because of the after-party. I, however, still found the tour to be educational.
Chula is an excellent university. It was named after King Chulalongkorn, its founder, the young prince in “Anna and the King.” Comparing it to the top four universities in the Philippines, it had the land space of UP, the infrastructures of DLSU, the population of UST and the values of Ateneo (sorry, I’m biased).
The tour involved going around the different faculties of the university. It was an open house for high school students but the ASF delegates were given priority. The forum was actually held as a part of the CU Academic Expo, which was only held every two years or so.
After lunch, certificates were awarded to the delegates and liaisons. It was a bittersweet moment of good-byes and see-you-soons. All the delegates went back to the hotel to leave for their own countries. I, along with my org mate, Nikki Jurado, chose to stay in Bangkok for two more days to go around the city.
Everyone was sad to leave Bangkok after the forum. Perhaps, it is because in the one week we shared, all the delegates were bonded with each other. We saw how our cultures are so closely-knit. We knew that we shared a common identity – the ASEAN identity.
The ASEAN Mind, as I have said in my application form, will first and foremost be an awareness of the different peoples of ASEAN that we have a common bond, that we share a common identity, that we have the same problems and concerns and possibly, we can share the same solutions. I think the 2012 ASF achieved to give the delegates this awareness and knowledge of the different ASEAN countries.
In one week, I fell in love with everything about Bangkok – Chula, the Wats, shopping, my Thai and ASEAN friends, etc. I have one thing off my bucket list: to fall in love in and with Siam.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
(P.S. I can only write so much in one article. Hence, I’ll write about shopping and beer in Bangkok in my next article.)