A Different Kind of School Trip
This blog post is brought to you by Nicole Tay, a Communications and New Media Major at the National University of Singapore. She loves dancing, drawing, and documenting her life through writing, photography and blogging.
Spending the whole recess week in Thailand sounds like a nice treat for any NUS student, doesn’t it?
But when you realize this break in the semester could be very useful to catch up on assignments and study for tests, you start thinking maybe such a trip could be a risky ordeal!
That’s what I, along with other students who signed up for the Thai Painting and Drawing course (Module Code: SE3224), committed to when I chose to take this course.
Many NUS Students have never heard of this module before and are surprised to hear that it even exists in our curriculum! Most modules are theory-based, and seldom involve such hands-on work.
It consists of a weekly lecture and a tutorial once every fortnight. We spend lessons either learning about Thai Art History, or learning to draw traditional Thai art elements.
Getting the basics is essential for Thai art, and the whole two-hour lesson can be spent on practising a particular pattern, painting it with Chinese ink, and having our lecturer Dr. Johnson critique it.
Even though I do some design modules, like Game Design or Publications Graphics, this is the only class where I spend most of my lesson and preparatory time doing actual drawings.
It brings back fond memories of my time in Secondary School when we all had to go through compulsory art classes as part of our curriculum. I miss those times, and these Thai art classes are reminiscent of those lessons. The two-hour lessons pass so quickly; sometimes I feel like just staying back in class to continue to draw and paint!
Another unique part of the module requires all students to go on a compulsory trip during the recess week to visit temples with traditional murals and immerse ourselves in authentic Thai culture.
This might seem like a lovely holiday to most, but to NUS students the recess week is a precious time for us to catch up on schoolwork that we were lagging behind in.
Hence, I was initially very reluctant to go on this trip, especially because of the number of commitments I had to give up. Furthermore, before the trip, I hardly knew any of my classmates as I had taken the module on my own.
I only started packing for the trip the night before, and even overslept and arrived half an hour later than the appointed meeting time (thank God for budget terminal delays)!
I changed my mind when we touched down in Bangkok and got to our hotel room, though.
What awaited us was a lavish hotel room with an attached kitchen and 2 huge beds for my roomie and I. This really surprised me, as the trip was heavily subsidised and made very affordable to us.
I thought that maybe this trip wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
What we did on the trip was mostly to visit temples to take a look at the murals painted by amazing Thai artists of the past.
Mastering traditional Thai art is a lot about copying, and it is these classical works which we are trying to emulate when we draw and paint during class. Getting to see the authentic hand-painted murals was really quite an experience — it’s hard to believe that people were actually capable of painting such intricate and beautiful designs!
Dr. Johnson educated us about the origins of the temples, and more Thai art history as we visited temple after temple. It was tough, sometimes, to keep up with so much information, but we had to (the post-Bangkok quiz he planned for us after the trip ensured this)!
My favourite day of the itinerary was when our class got to visit the Pok Chang School of Fine Art in Bangkok, a university renowned for its outstanding art students.
This university teaches all kinds of art, including contemporary and even digital art, but Dr. Johnson specifically brought us to visit the Traditional Thai art section of the university.
There, we were allowed to view exhibits done by the students themselves. There were sculptures, paintings, and many different kinds of artwork, and to us, every single one of them was a masterpiece. I think all of us felt a little demoralised after seeing such magnificent work.
We also had the chance to talk to one of the lecturers at the university, who was so kind and patient as to draw and demonstrate his skills on the spot for us!
He told us that he is one of only 3-4 artists in Thailand who is an expert at charcoal drawings. What an honour it was for us to meet him and have him draw for us!
After looking around the students’ work, we were allowed to sit in during a traditional Thai art lesson and watch how the students work! This was a really fun experience for all of us, especially since the students were very friendly and helpful! They showed us their work, and demonstrated how to draw basic Thai Art elements like krajangs and kenoks. Though they are young, they’re so talented, and it was inspiring just watching them draw.
The lecturer even gave us a crash course on basic Thai art, and demonstrated how to draw with TWO hands at a time!
Aside from the daily planned itinerary, we were given quite a bit of free time to do whatever we wanted. So aside from immersing ourselves in Thai culture in the day, we continued to immerse ourselves in the rich culture of Thai night markets at night!
Every night was a journey to a new night market, filled with all kinds of affordable merchandise and interesting buys! We were lucky enough that our hotel was in a perfect location, within a close distance to many night markets and shopping centres!
On one night, one of the research assistants even kindly brought us to a night market near her house! To get there, we had to take a boat, to avoid the terrible road traffic jams famous in Bangkok. The boat functioned like an MRT train (except on water), complete with “boat stops” that resemble “train stops”!
After returning to our hotel rooms from a full day, complete with a fruitful shopping trip, we often spent the night relaxing and working on our drawing homework! It was a lovely week indeed, a perfect getaway in the middle of the semester.
Upon coming back to Singapore, we realised that we really burnt a whole week away. There was so much to catch up on! I immediately felt the weight of my responsibilities and commitments back home the moment I touched down.
It was as if we were temporarily transported to a world where we could forget our responsibilities as students for a while.
On this trip, I really got to know my classmates better, most of whom I have never talked to at all before the trip. Spending a week with strangers can really do wonders to cultivate new relationships and friendships.
Many of these new friends reading the module with me come from totally non-art-related majors such as Life Science or Material Engineering, but we all have a common love to draw. Some of them tell me that this is the only module that they truly enjoy in school.
We all lead hectic and busy lives, and many of us, being third and fourth year students, had to drop a lot of commitments to take this one-week “break” for the trip. But when so many colourful and interesting people get to spend a week together in an interesting foreign place, the experience is always rewarding.