rites of passage – shooting stars, boomerangs and tearful evenings

hello everyone. as you may or may not have noticed, you’re now on my new blog 🙂 i wanted a fresh start, but as this post meant a lot to me, i decided to repost it here. whether you’re a newcomer or a returning friend, i hope you’d enjoy reading this.

when we’re gone, when we’re gone

you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone

you’re gonna miss us by our hair

you’re gonna miss us everywhere oh

you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone.

this post is long overdue – it has been over half a year since i returned to hong kong, but i still clearly remember everything about my australia trip. 

for those who do not know what i am blabbering about – in the summer of 2018, i traveled to queensland, australia with some of my schoolmates.

every year, the whole ninth grade in our school travels to the land down under for a 28-day adventure-based learning programme. phones and all other forms of technology are strictly prohibited. this year, it’s our turn to go on this trip, and despite the wonderful things people have said about the programme, i was still a bit nervous and scared.

on the first few days, my groupmates and i only had brief conversations – at school, we knew of each other’s existence, but that’s pretty much it – we didn’t really know each other that well.

until the third day of the programme – which would forever be remembered as the day our instructor told us to capsize our canoes and jump into the water to practice rescuing each other. the water was really muddy and all of us were completely drenched in sludge and pondweed. we complained about it together – we were only given five minutes to take a shower afterwards, and we didn’t get to use the washing machines until day twelve, so we had to wash our wet and dirty clothes the traditional way – on a washboard.

looking back at this incident, it wasn’t all that bad after all – that day, we bonded over our mutual dissatisfaction with what happened and started having actual conversations. it’s not much – we weren’t super close yet – but it’s a start.

a few days later, we went on our first expedition. we set off from our base camp in mary valley and hiked all the way up mount tuchekoi and set up camp there. we reached the campsite just before sunset, so we had enough time to grab our head torches before the sunlight’s completely gone. then, we cooked dinner using a collapsible stove, also known as a “wokstar” (the pun though!) and a wok. i don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but i remember there were definitely capsicums involved. all of our expedition dinners contained capsicums – they were easy to carry and could be eaten raw, making them the perfect camping food.

we then had hot chocolate for dessert – the caterers back at mary valley were serious about expedition desserts – every time we go on expedition they would arrange for us to bring snacks, such as marshmallows, dried apricots, chocolate and rice crackers along with us to enjoy after dinner. after that we did a bit of stargazing and even saw a few shooting stars – we were ooh-ing and aah-ing and someone suddenly ruined the mood by humming the bag raiders song shooting stars (yes, the one from the meme).

our instructor then told us the seven sisters story, which is one of the most widely distributed ancient stories among aboriginal australia. there’s also a songline for this story – by repeating the words of the song, the aboriginal australians could travel long distances without getting lost. (i found aboriginal australian culture so beautiful and interesting, and when i got back to hong kong i immediately did more research on it.) he also told us about the southern cross, which could easily be observed in the australian nightsky, since it was made up of the brightest stars. we were then told that the five smaller stars on the australian flag actually represent the southern cross!

the next morning we woke up early and hiked to the summit, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. directly opposite mount tuchekoi was mount cooroora, and the view was stunning – we could see rays of sunlight ricocheting off the mountain, shining like a halo.

we then packed and hiked back to mary valley. i instantly went back to my cabin, changed out of my muddy hiking pants, and put my comfy sweatpants on. after lunch, i took a long 30-minute shower (which was against the rules by the way, since we were only allowed to take 3-minute-long showers because of limited hot water), then headed down to the conference room to unpack with my groupmates.

that night, we had free time, and i spent it playing card games with some of my closer friends.

the next day, we went orienteering. my groupmates and i were too lazy to look for clues, and had really poor map reading skills, so we tried asking other groups for the answer (and got it wrong in the end lol). after that we also learned how to belay each other to prepare for abseiling on the day after. that evening, we had a campfire, and roasted marshmallows around a huge bonfire. being the clumsy idiot i am, i got marshmallow powder all over my face and in my hair.

the morning after, we woke and had breakfast early in the morning. then we took a bus to point pure lookout in brooyar state forest. i was really excited because it was my first time abseiling, and i surprised myself by taking only one and a half minutes to abseil down a 10-meter cliff, which was far above my expectations. we then had wraps for lunch. i was really disappointed because we didn’t have time to try the 30-meter cliff, but hopefully i will be able to return to the same spot next time and try it myself 🙂

when we got back to mary valley, we watched rabbit-proof fence, a film about indigenous peoples of australia. it was kind of boring, but i learned more about australia’s history, and that was nice.

the next day was a rest day, long-awaited by all campers. we woke late, and spent the day playing capture the flag. we then had a chapel session and sang he’s got the whole world in his hands.

he’s got the whole world in his hands

he’s got the whole world in his hands

he’s got the whole world in his hands

he’s got the whole world in his hands.

we then took turns making up lyrics and putting them into where the words “the whole world” should be, and praised the lord for always looking out for us. we put our group names into the song, and that was my favorite rewritten version – 

he’s got alkina in his hands…

he’s got binda in his hands…

he’s got coreen in his hands…

he’s got doongara in his hands…

he’s got ekala in his hands…

(oh, have i mentioned what our group names meant? they are all in the australian aboriginal language – alkina means the full moon, binda (my group!) means deep water, coreen means the last hill, doongara is strike like lighting, and ekala means lake. i really loved that the names were all in the language of australian natives, and that made me learn a lot more about their culture.)

the rest of the day was spent preparing for our next expedition, which would start the day after.

we woke up at 7, and took the bus to a lake whose name i forgot. we then started a journey of four days and three nights in the wilderness. i do not remember much about our second expedition, only that there were no flushing toilets and we had capsicums on a regular basis. some memorable moments:

  • i did not poo for four days
  • there were a lot of stars in the sky
  • i found relieving myself under the stars very romantic
  • it was weird
  • i was in charge of carrying milk powder and drank all of it to make my backpack lighter but then i had diarrhea because i drank too much milk
  • it was embarrassing
  • i farted in front of my groupmates
  • they farted in front of me
  • i ate many tangerines
  • i tripped into mud and my glasses fell off

yeah, well, my groupmates saw my embarrassing side, and i saw theirs. that made us a lot closer than before, and after this expedition we came up with many inside jokes and some of us even had nicknames. it was amazing how much you could get to know someone after spending hours hiking and canoeing with them.

when we returned to mary valley we started preparing for our first enquiry based learning project (also known as ebl 1). in our groups, we would split into teams of five and visit some small australian towns to interview people and find out more about the lives of australians. we had not had fried chicken for about half a month, and were all craving some, so we were all hoping that there would be a kfc in the town which we were going to visit.

after drawing lots, we found out that we were going to noosa, a coastal holiday town. my friends and i were really excited because the teachers and instructors told us we were allowed to do some shopping after we finished interviewing enough people for our survey. to our great dismay there were no kfcs in noosa, and we were not allowed any time to have lunch at the local restaurants, but we did manage to do some shopping before we left. i got some ice cream, mexican rice, a mermaid doll for my younger sister and a really cute set of mermaid playing cards.

that night we started working on our presentation and had a lot of fun drawing a large poster together. everyone was involved in the preparation process and it felt really good.

the next morning we continued working on our project after breakfast. when it was time to present, everyone came to our presentation booth and they all loved our work. that night we had free time again, which i spent playing card games and snooker with my friends.

after a day of rest which we spent reading, playing card games, and were forced into a game of capture the flag by the instructors, it was time for physically challenging activities again.

we went to brooyar state forest again, this time for rock climbing. when it was my turn i was really nervous. at first i was doing okay, but when i reached the middle i started panicking because i was getting muscle cramps. my groupmates cheered me on and promised me that they would let me have extra ham in my sandwich after i reached the top and abseiled down, so i gritted my teeth and with one swooping step, made it to the top. my dear groupmates, however, broke their promise and stopped me from getting extra ham. it’s for your own good, they said.

the day after, we went mountain biking in mary valley. mountain biking was my least favorite activity, because the seat of the bike was always higher than my waist, and there were no shorter bikes available so i had no choice but to mount my bike by jumping and immediately pedaling once i was on the seat. if i didn’t pedal at once, my bike would topple to the side and i would fall. fun, right? 🙂 in the end i had to stick pads to my butt to prevent it from getting bruised.

in the evening we were briefed on our second enquiry based learning project, ie ebl 2. this time, we would be doing weeding work in mary valley, and would also be asked to write a poem about it afterwards.

in the morning a representative from the mary river catchment coordinating committee came to our base camp and gave us a talk on common weeds, also known as “invasive plants”. these include the singapore daisy and the creeping lantana. in the afternoon, we started weeding. i was shocked at how many weeds there were in the area, and after a few hours of work, we managed to get rid of most of them.

in the evening i sat with my groupmates and we wrote poems together. i wrote some haikus of low quality, and i think one of them consisted of the line “look around, feel”.  *facepalms* then we had a fun time sharing poorly written poetry with each other.

the next morning we started preparing for our third and final expedition. we also did a bit of “solo”, and were told to sit around on our own and reflect on our life. it was supposed to be a meaningful and deep activity, but being the shallow idiot i was, i fell asleep.

after dinner we watched the award-winning documentary film touching the void about some professional mountain climbers getting stuck on a mountain and almost dying but managing to make it out alive. i do not know whether they played the movie to scare us or to motivate us. if the former was their intention, it worked.

the next day we set off in the morning and said a temporary five-day goodbye to mary valley. this time, the expedition was 80% canoeing and 20% hiking, so i thought it would be not tiring at all. boy, i was so wrong. we canoed all day and i got a blister on my finger. my arm muscles hurt but i had to keep going because if i didn’t my canoe would go in the wrong direction. we were also going against the flow of the noosa river so it took an eternity for us to get to our destination.

but. we also saw some beautiful sights. we visited elanda point, where two kangaroos slept peacefully on the grass, the fig tree point jetty, where we looked at the stars, stuffed ourselves with marshmallows and sang our hearts out, and cooloola sandpatch, which was a naturally formed patch of sand in the middle of nowhere. we also had amazing food – vegan chilli con carne, canned tuna and a rich green curry with tofu, sweet potato, onions, and of course, capsicums. also, this time we camped at actual campsites, so there were flushing toilets 🙂

oh, and fun idiotic fact – i forgot to bring my columbia jacket along with me on this expedition, so i almost froze to death at night when temperatures dropped down to about 0 degrees celcius. it was a miracle i survived.

the day after we returned was a rest day, which i spent playing saboteur and other silly card games with my friends. then it suddenly dawned on me that we would be returning to hong kong in a few days’ time, and it was really scary because i felt so unready to leave.

finally, we had review and reflection days, which we spent practising our group skit for the final night performance. we decided to rewrite the song from tangledi see the light and also perform cups from pitch perfect. we also went for our “leap of faith”, ie attaching our harnesses to a rope and jumping off a high platform. it was terrifying, but i really liked the strange feeling it gave me – a mixture of joy, freedom, fear and excitement.

final night soon came. we had a delicious dinner of chicken legs, pavlova cake and pumpkin soup. our instructors were all dressed in their best attire – one of my group’s instructors, zahirah, who is from singapore, wore a baju kurung, and our other instructor, dave, wore a dress shirt and formal looking trousers.

when we’re gone, when we’re gone

you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone

you’re gonna miss us by our hair

you’re gonna miss us everywhere oh

you’re gonna miss us when we’re gone.

as soon as we finished singing i burst into tears, and so did most of my groupmates. zahirah and dave tore up too.

we were afraid to go home. we were afraid of returning to the real world. we were afraid to forget, we were afraid that we all would drift apart someday. the rites of passage had made me realize something within myself that i have never seen before, and i was not ready to go.

this post took a long time to write, because i was not sure what to include and what to leave out. if i included everything i came across in australia this post would take weeks to read. i want to remember everything – the little details – the way i rolled out of bed in the morning, how annoyed i felt when there was no space left on the clothesline, brushing my teeth and pooing simultaneously, the sweetness of every tangerine i ate, how i stuffed my face with marshmallows and got powder all over my face…

this was my rites of passage.

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